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Future-proof fashion brands must listen to — and learn from — Gen Z: Report


Gen Z reacts strongly to how brands respond to relevant social conversations, both positively to authentic brand activism and negatively to tokenism and performative acts. Also, this generation’s fashion purchases are influenced by the commitments brands make to social and environmental sustainability, says ‘Futureproof’, a Depop and Bain & Company collaborative report on Gen Z behaviours and aspirations.

The report presents an in-depth investigation of how Gen Z is reimagining newness in fashion to fit its needs and its values.

“Gen Z embraces a nuanced relationship with social media that acknowledges the positives and the negatives of platforms. Our interviewees shared their appreciation for the enhanced global exposure and connectivity that comes with social media. However they also recognise the wider negative impacts on society — from data privacy issues and the influence of algorithms to compromised mental wellbeing arising from filtered digital realities, constant comparison and online abuse,” say the report’s authors Federica Levato, Bain & Company partner and head of Bain’s Fashion and Luxury vertical (EMEA), and Fabio Colacchio, partner, Bain & Company’s Fashion and Luxury vertical.

Gen Z personas on social media tend to stand out, compared to their millennial counterparts, for being more authentic and spontaneous – and less filtered and curated. Similarly, Gen Z fashion is distinctively experimental and hybrid. Its members gravitate towards high-low fashion collaborations mixing vintage and streetwear. While they still look to (fashion) brands for trends and inspiration, they choose how to style themselves, the report states.

Although interest in sustainable fashion has grown across generations, Gen Z’s concern for the environment has fuelled media coverage, consumer pressure and budding corporate change in the fashion industry (including sustainability initiatives, sustainability-linked bonds, certification and insurgent business models), Levato and Colacchio say in the report.

“This generation took the lead during the global climate strikes and is the generation most willing to pay more for sustainable fashion. We discovered that 90% of Depop users have made changes to become more environmentally friendly in their daily lives – and more sustainable fashion practices are at the top of their list. They were also eager to specify that sustainable choices should not just be the right thing to do, but the thing you want to do,” they write.

Within this context of fluid self-expression and exchange centered on experimentation, authenticity and conversation, Gen Z is also reimagining newness, according to the report. For them, it does not necessarily mean fresh off the press; nor does it signify new materials, additional manufacturing, or consumption in the traditional sense. In fact, this fluid newness can imply tapping into trends through archived or out-of-stock branded items. For Gen Z especially, newness also means one-of-a-kind vintage, repurposed or recycled fashion.

The concept of fashion newness in the digital platform economy has begun to extend beyond product to include content and experience. Fashion newness can be embedded in the storytelling surrounding the items. For Gen Z, the emotions associated with newness can emerge through conversation and connection with peers, the report says. “The increase of online secondhand fashion platforms is an example of the growing demand for propositions that marry value with values: community with an intuitive user experience; affordable prices with sustainability; sustainability with newness; and newness with a network of like-minded buyers and sellers,” it adds.

Product or content, product or experience, physical or digital, individuality or community, profit or planet, business or empathy. It used to be one or the other; increasingly, it will be a mix of both. That’s what Gen Z consumers demand.

“Futureproof brands will be those that listen to and learn from Gen Z— and then embody them in the platform economy. Futureproof fashion will create value that is non-binary, just like the humans it serves,” the report asserts.