Essay: The Power of Generation-Z

How the under-20 squad is changing the status quo.
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Dear fellow members of Gen-Z,

We have the power to change everything. Over the last few years, the fashion world has undergone immense changes. The fast rise of technology has unquestionably affected the way that the whole industry operates, and we have a new set of consumers with a new perspective. And this has been established by Gen-Z – the generation born after millennials, also known as the under-20 set.

A specific aspect that changed is fashion marketing. Now, it may feel like our generation is not yet the most relevant, but we are serious consumers. According to Upfront Analytics, by 2018, there will be more than 80 million members of Gen-Z in the U.S., responsible for over $200 billion in spending. For now, 9.7% of adults say that their children influence 100% of what they buy. Therefore, Gen-Z is a significant market on the rise.

Ever heard of what recently happened to the once-desired-by-everyone American retailers like Aéropostale and Abercrombie & Fitch? In recent years, their sales have dropped tenfold. Since 2010, Abercrombie has closed more than 275 stores and Aéropostale filed for bankruptcy protection this year, along with closing of all its Canadian stores. Researchers and brand insiders chalk this up to the brands' ineffective advertising. These brands were not able to understand the new generation of consumers, who get most of their fashion influences, entertainment, and news from social media.

The fashion industry should be deeply exploring the distinct marketing that Gen-Z demands, and be able to apply what they need with consistency. Nowadays, there needs to be a balance of resonating to a teenage audience and staying relevant to the older target audiences, as our generation hasn’t completely taken over the world (yet!)

As mentioned before, we spend most of our time on the Internet, or more specifically, on social media. According to the Pew Research Center, 92% of teenagers go online daily and 24% are almost constantly online. Unlike millennials, Generation Z consumers tend to prefer Snapchat and Instagram, as well as Secret and Whisper, to traditional social media platforms like Facebook; a quarter of 13 to 17-year-olds have left Facebook this year alone. Therefore, most fashion brands have adapted to this, now they producing robust depictions of their aesthetic on Instagram. Snapchat is mostly used for behind-the-scenes looks and for general highlights, to give a more personal and intimate view of a brand's day-to-day activities.

But despite more access to fashion, Gen-Z spends less money on clothing. Our upbringing has been more conscious and more aware of what is happening around us. According to The Business of Fashion, this is mainly because we have grown up during economic recession and times of crisis. Fashion expenditure decreased from 45-38% from 2005-2015. Consequently, it is considerably harder to market Gen-Z, as it is more difficult to attract our attention enough to make a 'splurge' purchase.

So what is it that we look for in a brand? Originality. We really enjoy feeling authentic and comfortable in our skin. I think that creating our own style and being different has become a major concept for our age group. Diversity in general is also something that teenagers nowadays are actively seeking; an accurate representation of the people in our world is crucial to that same feeling of authenticity. Addressing the Abercrombie & Fitch problem, this brand failed in part because it always promoted exclusion; the overall “we are the good-looking cool kids with ‘hot’ bodies” message does not go with our ideology – inclusion is in.


There is another very clear example of the 'representation effect' and how it helped American Eagle turn around dismal sales numbers. In 2014, they launched the ‘Aerie Real’ lingerie campaign through the company's sub-brand, Aerie. Aerie Real featured unretouched photos and touted the Instagram-beloved face of curve model Barbara Ferreira. The result? Sales went up. Since then, Reuters says they have continued to rise 32%t in the first quarter of 2016.

The New York Times has also identified the trends that predominate amongst Gen-Z, and including gender fluidity. This is another substantial aspect of the inclusion conversation. Gender-neutral clothing has become very popular; even large worldwide retailers like Zara have launched “Ungendered” collections, consisting of unisex everyday basics. Other fashion retail giants, like Forever 21 and H&M have also combined body-positive, gender inclusive images with staying very active on social media. Thanks to tech, retailers can listen to feedback from Gen-Z consumers and apply it to how they do business.


Migration to social media has been the key. I believe we view social media as a wholly personal experience; we constantly use it to share both the special and mundane moments in our lives. Not only we enjoy making it about ourselves, but we also use online networks for inspiration. Style inspiration from others as well as directly from fashion brands on platforms like Instagram is ubiquitous to being young in 2016 and this is precisely why young influencers are flooding the industry.

This youthquake is particularily noticeable in fashion campaigns, which have gone through drastic evolutions since the dawn of social media. The attention to young celebrities is palpable. Calvin Klein has featured Kendall Jenner, Justin Bieber, and 18 year old Lucky Blue Smith; the latter, famous for his platinum blonde and icy blue eye features, has also been the face of Tom Ford, too. Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2016 womenswear campaign starred Jaden Smith, challenging standard conventions of gender in advertising. Nineteen year old actress Chloë Grace Moretz has landed multiple campaigns for Coach, while 15 year old Willow Smith was named Chanel’s brand ambassador this March.

Marketing has changed for good, both in the foreground and behind the scenes.  This is perfectly illustrated by Burberry’s new ‘This is Brit’ fragrance marketing scheme, which tapped Brooklyn Beckham as the official campaign photographer. This attracted its fair share of criticism, and in essence, it was a marketing strategy. Beckham has a large following base – 8.5 million followers on Instagram – and it is mostly composed of teenagers. As a result, Burberry is now meaningful in the eyes of his devotees.

A video posted by bb (@brooklynbeckham) on

Even though brands still need to focus on existing demographics beyond Gen-Z, establishing links early creates a lasting bond between this generation and the label in question.  Completely jumping into the new marketing and forgetting about the original target consumers (generally in the 30+ category) may bring severe and dramatic consequences to sales. Also, our generation is not yet in total control of the economy; most of us cannot afford to shop at luxury brands.  But for now one thing is certain: Gen-Zers, we are turning the fashion world upside down.
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Read more: Need some motivation?  Discover these 10 creative young women using Instagram to change the world.  We also compiled all of the best advice that fashion editors have ever given us - from the top brass at Harper's Bazaar, Glamour, Refinery29, and more.  


~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~
Ian Cavazos is a Senior Fashion Features Contributor for Couturesque magazine.  You can read more of his work at this link.
 

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I founded Couturesque Magazine when I was 15 years old because like many of my peers, I felt ignored and talked down to by all of the other teen fashion publications out there. I figured that at the end of the day, the people who knew the most about my generation, were the people who belonged to it. The fashion industry is becoming increasingly dependent on the creativity of younger voices who challenge the status quo and make us rethink what we wear and why we wear it. And that is exactly what Couturesque set out to celebrate - authenticity, intelligence, originality, and diversity... in other words, what makes Gen-Z tick. Fast-forward to 2016 and we now have a staff of more than a dozen fashion distruptors contributing to our daily content from all around the globe, 100K+ readers following us from Toronto to New York, to London, Copenhagen, Berlin, Tokyo, and Tel Aviv, and a plethora of big-wig industry fans and collaborators. But what matters to us the most is the responsibility that our publication has to make a positive impact in the lives of those who come across it - we stand against retouching our photoshoots and we stand for sharing the beautiful, individual, complex voices of everyone, especially those who feel marginalized by mainstream fashion media. We hope that you love our site as much as we do and that you take the time to follow us (Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Pinterest / Tumblr / Snapchat / YouTube) throughout our journey to make fashion accessible to the powerful young adults of today.

xo,
Tia Elisabeth Glista
Editor in Chief