the Insiders


October 31, 2011 4:31 PM

Seven Billion Souls

Today we are seven billion....

Today we are seven billion. At least according to the United Nations, which officially celebrated the milestone today. Whenever the seven billion mark is actually hit, it's been a whirlwind of growth. 

Global population has soared 75 percent since 1974, when there were just 4 billion of us. And someone born in 1927 has seen our numbers shoot up by 250 percent. 

Whether or not this mad dash is wise or sustainable or controllable or a sign of serious trouble ahead, it's something to marvel at. 

Go humanity go! 

But where? Where are all these fresh faces? 

Asia, which today accounts for 60 percent of global population, is projected to continue to be the world's most populous region in 2100 despite a slow late-century decline. Africa is set to swell from 1 billion to 3.6 billion people by the end of the century. 

In contrast, the combined population of the Americas, Europe and Oceania is poised to grow from 1.7 billion today to nearly 2 billion by 2060 and then begin to drop off. 

Fashion and the rest of the business world are attuned to these changes. 

U.S. and European companies are looking internationally for growth in general and to China specifically, where Levi Strauss & Co. launched its Denizen brand, Hermÿs has Shang Xia and Starbucks has 500 coffee shops. 

With all these people everywhere, China's not the only game in town. The biggest kid on the block, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., recently gained a toehold in Africa when it took over Massmart Holdings -- a promising sign that at least something is going on with the consumer there. 

Broadly speaking, I bet retailers and apparel makers are ready to tackle the sheer numbers of these demographic changes. 

It's the changing consumer mores that will probably throw established brands for a loop. Not only are there more of us now, everyone's talking -- on Facebook, on Twitter and elsewhere. Consumers are touch-screen ready and they're comparing notes and when they shop online they're comparing prices. They're logging on and tuning in to brands and participating in the process in ways they never did before. And they're doing it from everywhere. 

The companies that are really going to own the increasingly borderless market with 7 billion shoppers are the ones that know how to talk to these new consumers.
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