How fashion brands are trying to connect with Gen Z

Much like millennials before them, Gen Z — the demographic born between 1995 and 2010 — has been a particularly tough nut for fashion and beauty marketers to crack.

The 61 million members of Gen Z are defined as the first generation of truly digital natives, born into an era in which the internet had always existed and was never a novelty. As a result, more than any other generation, they are drawn to the ephemeral nature of apps like Snapchat, and shy away from owning products in favor of renting. This has translated directly to how they make purchases; Gen Z teenagers are more frugal and money-conscious than their millennial counterparts, despite growing in spending power at a rate that surpasses millennials, reaching an estimated $44 billion.

This cautious attitude about spending is a confluence of several factors that have, in many ways, made this group risk-averse, including coming of age in a particularly challenging economic and political climate, according to Kate Lewis, svp and editorial director at Hearst Digital Media. Speaking at the Fashion Culture Design conference in New York on Friday, Lewis — joined by other fashion industry notables, including Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine — discussed the challenges of marketing to this group of younger consumers with very distinct tastes and an advanced digital literacy.

“There’s a focus on rental, instead of acquisition,” Medine said at the event. “Look at Spotify and Netflix; [Gen Z doesn’t] own any of these things. Look at Uber, Airbnb and any number of the fashion rental programs that are emerging. All of these things have felt so farfetched to [millennials], because we wanted to own our stuff.”

Medine said, when it comes to fashion specifically, members of Gen Z may opt to rent a prom dress from a company like Rent The Runway, rather than shell out full price at a department store. MaryLeigh Bliss, chief content officer at millennial marketing agency YPulse, echoed Medine, and said Gen Z’s proclivities toward the sharing economy make sense, given that they were more impacted by the economic recession than any other generation. According to YPulse data, 62 percent of Americans ages 13-17 don’t remember a time before the recession.

Gen Z also has a particularly strong tie to streetwear culture, according to Jeff Staple, fashion designer and founder of Staple Design, Inc. For the younger generation of Americans, who were essentially born with a mobile phone in their hand, waiting in product drop lines that have become synonymous with streetwear and talking to real life people have become somewhat of a novelty.

“I’ve never enjoyed standing in line. But, [for Gen Z], they’re so used to getting something off of Amazon in one click or off of eBay. Now, they want to line up, because it’s an opportunity for them to hang out and socialize with their cohort,” Staple said, speaking at the event.

Staple pointed to Gen Z streetwear brand founders that are turning the business model on its head, including Neek Lurk of Anti Social Social Club. Lurk has found success in creating basic T-shirt and hoodie designs on his computer, sharing them on Instagram and selling thousands of dollars worth of product before the garments even go into production. “He’s the kind of guy who’s building a brand where people think it’s cool that he’s not trying,” Staple said.

Perhaps the most overarching theme of Gen Z is a focus on individuality that expands upon the non-conformity of millennials. YPulse data shows that 82 percent of consumers ages 13-17 don’t care about brand names, 75 percent enjoy testing new brands and 66 percent think brands that experiment with new ways to sell or deliver products are innovative. As a result, the Gen Z set is creating unique pairings and establishing looks in ways even the designer never thought of, said Leslie Ghize, evp of the trend forecasting company TOBE.

“Their sense of style is their own, of course informed by what they see and how they see it — but prescription does not appeal to them. It seems too contrived,” she said.

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