It feels like the term “millennial” has been the business world’s go-to buzzword for the past seven years, and the fashion industry is no exception. As of late, however, a new demographic has captured fashion’s attention: Gen Z. This group is loosely defined as being born between 1997 and 2014. Now that many Gen Zers are coming of age, and most importantly, starting to make their own purchases, fashion brands are redirecting their millennial-geared efforts to making changes that will attract Gen Z dollars. Given that this new consumer generation has such specific traits and tastes, fashion brands will need to adapt if they want to keep making sales.
Traditionally, luxury fashion is all about aspiration and exclusivity. Gen Zers, however, value community, authenticity, and transparency, creating a disconnect between themselves and older fashion brands. Even more, Gen Zers expect the brands they choose to buy to reciprocate by living up to their expectations, subverting typical consumer loyalty. Much of Gen Z’s expectations for brands are related to their social aspects—they want brands to be sustainable, inclusive, and politically active. Gen Zers also value individuality, and products that celebrate and foster this. While Gen Z is more likely to spend money on luxury fashion than millennials are, they are also more likely to spend money on experiences over possessions. For this reason, they value experience-based brands that craft a strong product story. Finally, Gen Z primarily communicates with images and are wiser to ads, so marketing campaigns have to be digital and more visually creative to get them on board.
Yes, Gen Z may be a completely different kind of consumer, but older brands can avoid becoming obsolete by shaking up their strategy. Nordstrom, Teen Vogue, and Gucci are all fashion industry fixtures that have implemented changes in their business models to better attract Gen Zers.
On October 3, Nordstrom opened up its first Nordstrom Local store in Los Angeles. Nordstrom Local is experience-oriented; shoppers can purchase beverages or get their nails done. There aren’t any clothes for sale but customers can try samples on and place orders in store. Personal shoppers are also available to help customers pick out a personalized wardrobe. Nordstrom Local is a bold move by the age-old department store that’s sure to attract curious Gen Zers looking for more individualized, showroom-like Nordstrom experience.
The Teen Vogue many remember was filled with luxury brand ads and unattainable “It-girls.” However, after the 2017 election, the magazine completely rebranded itself and revamped its content to capture a new Gen Z readership. Now, the magazine is more text-heavy, with stories that emphasize inclusivity and activism, educating its readers about current events. The magazine embodies Gen Z values by featuring more people of color, and those who identify as LGBTQIA. Teen Vogue’s readership and popularity has also increased immensely in the past nine months among Gen Z readers.
According to the Galore/Business of Fashion survey, Gucci is the luxury fashion brand that resonates most with Gen Z consumers. Under Alessandro Michele, the brand has leveraged digital media and social media trends to create marketing campaigns that cater to Gen Z’s tastes. Most notable of these was the release of Gucci memes with the hashtag #TFWGucci during spring of 2017, where the brand partnered with popular online memers/artists, such as Polly Nor, to create memes that advertised Gucci watches. This Gen Z-friendly campaign captured the attention of the consumer demographic. Gucci has only become more popular with Gen Zers through different Instagram art collaborations, street art ads, and products that emphasize a philosophy of eccentric individuality.
Older brands have to adapt to Gen Z tastes because of the countless new brands whose products, business models, and marketing strategies have had the demographic in mind from the start. Athletic brand Outdoor Voices and clothing brand Everlane have both gathered a strong Gen Z following.
Outdoor Voices markets itself as more than an athletic brand—it’s a brand community. Instagram posts feature women (mostly influencers) in Outdoor Voices clothes, using the hashtag #doingthings to celebrate the fun, active lifestyle that the products support. The hashtag doesn’t promote the products, but rather the experience of Outdoor Voices. Even more, consumers can build customized “Rec Kits” based on their individual tastes and activities. Outdoor Voices recently received another $9 million in funding, and it has been projected to challenge the dominance of women’s athletic wear brands like Lululemon, Nike, and Adidas. The brand’s experience-based, inclusive, customizable model is ideal for the Gen Z consumer, evident from its strong digital community.
Everlane embodies Gen Z’s interest in transparency and sustainable, ethical practices. The brand operates on a philosophy called “Radical Transparency,” where factory partners, high-quality materials, and the true cost of making each product are all communicated to consumers. Everlane recently released a line of eco-conscious jeans, which cost $28 to make, and sell for $68. The brand’s authenticity and transparency attracts Gen Zers, who are also able to ask questions about the products on social media. The brand taps into Gen Z’s desire to extend their activism into the clothing they purchase.
Nordstrom, Teen Vogue, Gucci, Outdoor Voices, and Everlane are all prime examples of how fashion brands can tap into Gen Z by responding to the demographic’s characteristics. As more Gen Zers grow old enough to start making their own purchasing decisions, and as they become adults with steady jobs and a salary to spend, older brands must either adapt or risk being outcompeted by business models that cater to the experience-oriented, authenticity-searching, and socially active Gen Z shopper.