Why are we such overgrown babies we need our name on everything from PJs to Percy Pig cushions?
- Good Housekeeping named personalisation as top trend for the festive season
- The ‘personalisation market’ is now worth £1 billion a year in Britain alone
- Esther Walker argues name, image or initials on everything has gone too far
As a child, I longed to have my name on my possessions. I recall the crushing disappointment I felt on family days out, when rotating display stands of named mugs, keyrings and pencil cases in gift shops never featured my name.
I longed to be called something more normal, like Clare or Rachel or Emily, rather than Esther.
I was so into personalisation that when I was a teenager, instead of buying friends a birthday gift, I would go to one of those decorate-your-own pottery places and paint a mug or a bowl with their name on it.
But I can now say that things have gone too far. This Christmas, personalisation of absolutely everything has become a vainglorious mania.
As the ‘personalisation market’ is now worth £1 billion a year in Britain alone, Esther Walker argues having name, image or initials on everything has gone too far
Good Housekeeping has named it a top trend for the festive season, going so far as to suggest readers buy a monogrammed linen napkin for each dinner guest on the big day.
The ‘personalisation market’ is now worth £1 billion a year in Britain alone, and from dressing gowns to water bottles, you cannot move, on the literal or virtual High Street, without stores offering to embroider, inscribe or print the recipient’s name on a gift.
At Marks & Spencer, a survey found more than half of all customers searched for items that could be personalised.
So the store now offers the service for 55 items, including pyjamas, stockings, Harry Potter hoodies and (on every parent’s pester-power hit list) Percy Pig cushions.
Please can this madness now stop? As if adults indulging in this fad aren’t bad enough, we are fast creating a generation of egomaniac children who expect — no, demand — to see their name, image or initials on everything they touch. And a mountain of landfill that can’t be easily handed down thanks to the names splashed across it all.
Of course, we buy these things with good intentions — we think it shows more thought than something bought mindlessly online. Personalisation makes the whole process feel less clinical.
But it means retailers are laughing all the way to the bank. Not only is there a mark-up on the process of personalising an item, but they are also non-returnable . . . and a lucrative side-hustle for shops struggling to persuade us we still need yet more new stuff.
Sure, your husband has a dressing gown, but does he have his initials on the lapel? Your dad definitely needs a keyring saying ‘Alan’s keys’, and your sister-in-law must have an apron saying ‘Mrs Jones is in charge’.
Esther said retailers are laughing all the way to the bank – not only is there a mark-up on the process of personalising an item, but they are also non-returnable
And why not make the Christmas tree all about you, too? Online retailer Not On The High Street, one of the first to offer a huge raft of personalised things you never knew you needed, has seen a surge in orders for personalised tree baubles.
Children’s toys take it further. The company Wonderbly specialises in books with your child as the hero.
There are a range of titles such as Bedtime For Emma, Christmas Wishes For Charlotte, or, slightly terrifyingly, Ten Little Adams (replaced with your own child’s name). The illustrated books even let you choose the skin tone and hairstyle of your child so that the main character roughly resembles them.
What a world away it seems from my days working at Bond Street jeweller, Tiffany & Co, 20 years ago. Back then, having items engraved was a hassle and we all dreaded a customer requesting it.
The text had to be printed out carefully on a form, with a hand-drawn indication of where it should go on the item. Then it was sent off to the engravers. It took weeks for it to be returned. I lived in fear that I had bungled the form and it would come back all wrong.
Now, customers can fill out a request themselves on the Tiffany website and machine engraving has a five-day turnaround.
Of course, deciding to personalise an engagement ring is different to the ‘me, me, me’ knick-knacks we are flogged today.
Esther questions if the personalisation craze is creating a generation who think the world revolves around them
My children are now aged eight and ten, but when they were smaller, I splurged on personalising everything for them. I even got my son a personalised football comic where he was the main character.
He didn’t really get it. I, on the other hand, was delighted. I wanted them to have the thing I had craved but was denied because of my name.
But then it occurred to me that, if I didn’t stop quickly, I might one day realise I’d turned my children’s rooms into a shrine to their very existence.
What does it do to a child’s brain when everything has their name on it? Is the personalisation craze creating a generation who think the world revolves around them?
It must make sharing a nightmare: ‘No, that’s my towel/pencil/mug.’ Even worse, none of it can be given to charity. I have no snobbery about buying from charity shops — my favourite coat is from Oxfam — but would I have bought it if it had someone else’s name on? Probably not.
A few years ago, I spent a year as an ‘influencer’ on social media, and I was invited to parties hosted by brands and product launches. It was almost standard that you would be given a personalised item as a gift.
I gave away almost everything I accumulated during that time, but the personalised items are still loitering: a hat, a silk sleep-mask, a nightshirt, a bracelet, a straw basket and a make-up bag. A tin of Quality Street, renamed ‘Esther Street’, could be recycled, although I felt bad about it.
It started to feel like one of those cautionary tales. All I had wanted as a child was for my name to be featured in a gift shop carousel. Now it was on everything. Take it from me, that’s not a good idea.
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