• Ella Handy

Does the Fashion Industry Need to Engage with Generation Z?

Many high-street stores are going bust; ‘16 stores closed their doors every day in the first half of 2019 while only nine opened’ (Butler, 2019) and ‘from March 2016 to 2019 UK retail lost 106,000 jobs’ (News, 2019). An opportunity that may be worth considering would be engaging with the upcoming Generation Z and their new demands. The Insider defines Generation Z as “the 72 million people born between 1996 and 2010” (Insider, 2019). This large percentage of people alongside their ‘unique beliefs, behaviours and experiences’ (Hanbury, 2019) could be seen as an influential consumer base that would be worth engaging with.

It is suggested that brands should interact with this generation to gain knowledge and foresee their needs; sustainability being a core value. ‘Alongside the high-street, online stores are also showing signs of decline due to highlighted issues amongst fast fashion and fashion’s impact on global warming’, 2019 highlighting ‘that more than two tonnes of clothing is bought each minute in the UK, this produces nearly 50 tonnes of carbon emissions’ (Wightman-Stone, 2019); ‘66 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods,’ (Anon., 2019). These statements highlight the opportunity for the industry to tap into Generation Z’s environmental awareness for the benefit of both the environment and its own financial gain. 

By understanding this generation’s fast paced lifestyle it may help brands to stay ahead of their shopping habits, constantly hitting the target audience with the correct products and marketing strategies in the hope of preventing dips in profits. Some brands have begun the process of introducing new ways of shopping, engaging with this generation more so than others:

- Hindmarch and Mother of Pearl Fashion Week presentation focused on mood, message and on the world outside of industry (Jacobs, 2019).

- Kate Spades window display for the Saturday campaign reflected a digital window on the shop front where customers could shop without stepping foot in store.

- Mac Cosmetics recently launched their “Virtual Try-on Mirror which allows customers to try out all the makeup styles without having to physically try it on.

- TopShop currently gives virtual reality glasses to shoppers so that they can feel like they are front seat by the catwalk runway, seeing the clothes be worn and real time.

Generation Z seem to engage with fashion very differently than before; through research I found there were recent changes in marketing and shopping that I shall pose as three questions:

1) Are influencers still influencing?

The merge of talent through music, fashion and culture seems to be growing in popularity with brands such as Adidas and Burberry engaging with this marketing technique. Adidas Tango Squad is an example of micro-influencers, highlighting the change in impact that mainstream influencers are having. The campaign merges football, fashion, music and culture to grow the young footballers’ reputations from scratch, allowing passionate footballers to develop themselves and gain a reputation on their own terms (Adidas, 2019).The 12-part documentary series is on Youtube which is an example of successful engagement with Generation Z given the latter’s shorter attention span. ‘Burberry’s acoustic sessions are part of chief creative officer Christopher Bailey’s vision to bring together fashion and music under one roof’ (Stacey, 2019). Where influencers may have previously been based on the number of followers, evidence from the Adidas Tango Squad campaign suggests that the new generation are buying into talent and those who have a story. Creating a relationship with the consumer may help them to feel represented, creating something to which they can relate and buy in to, increasing return sales and increasing profits for brands and companies.

Elise by Olsen recognised the negative impact of social media and influencers which generate a feeling of needing to belong; Olsen developed a magazine aimed at implementing and conveying values with no negative impact. The magazine involves young talent who may not be noticed due to their lack of experience or age. This is an example of how someone from Generation Z (at the age of 16) has already been so successful and the impact she has had on the generational breakthrough. She states, "The most brainy are not the ones to success but the ones who can gain and access knowledge, the most forward thinking and leading age brains." (Olsen, 2016).

2) Does Catwalk Culture need to change?

Innovation may be seen to be lacking in catwalk culture as they are repetitive, a conveyor belt of 'thin, white women with loads of dosh' (Jacobs, 2019). Generation Z are unique amongst the generations in the sense that they are individual and ‘don't see diversity unless it's absent’ (Dorsey, 2019), therefore increasing diversity and style of shows may engage a wider audience, including Generation Z. More interactive and theatrical shows with the inclusion of racial and physical diversity are starting to emerge, an example being Karl Lagerfeld’s beach at the Grand Palais - representing an improvement of fashion presentations, turning catwalks into a fantasy, a presentation and an experience.

3) Has Generation Z changed the way we shop?

Current brand closures and liquidations suggest there has been a change in the way the majority shop. Generation Z are ‘turning to resale and upcycling platforms,’ (Business, 2019); they want the experience of ‘in-store shopping with the convenience of online shopping’ (Downey, 2019). New ways of visual merchandising are focused or made up of the following factors: dynamic lighting, interactive merchandising, neuromarketing, augmented reality and minimalism (Downey, 2019). These techniques alongside the idea of in-store experiences, when tailored to the values they hold, help lead to further engagement with Generation Z. Campaigns involving parents and family, such as Ovie x ASOS, appear to demonstrate another aspect of successful engagement. Generation Z feel inspired by family history and culture, and relationships are an important theme to include in promotions. Such techniques of engaging with the consumer base will hopefully lead to a boost in in-store shopping while helping to restore the novelty of the high-street.

Overall I feel a pause of those in industry has occurred ‘partially due to fear' (Loschek, 2009). Industry comes across as too scared to create change or break down social boundaries, with a fear of creative destruction. Creative destruction is a key element when creating trends and new ideas, and it is a possible solution for addressing the issue of change in demand from Generation Z that has been highlighted in the UK. With Generation Z being ‘Tech dependant’ (Dorsey, 2015) and seeming to have a continuous change in demand, there is an opportunity for industry to gain profits from many new and upcoming trends. Industry talks about 'enhancing digital experiences', but 'technology is the experience' (Dorsey, 2019). This poses the question whether industry should be looking into synthesising traditional or innovative ways of shopping rather than focusing on technology, a method already in place.

Having discovered that Generation Z are ‘all about sustainability, inclusivity, diversity and youth empowerment,’ (Hanbury, 2019), I feel this knowledge should be synthesised with in-store experiences and brand values for full customer engagement. "This generation will fuel a massive change in how people shop" (Dorsey, 2015), therefore engaging with this generation on the high-street increases the chance of boosting sales, keeping brands running and bringing back the novelty of in-store shopping. "The greatest predictor of the older generations are what the younger generations are doing." (Olsen, 2016).


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