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If Dresses Had Causes

A conversation between brands and Generation Z

Updated

By JOHN LEGASPI

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It all started with the shifting of colors. The sudden change from flamingo pink to the sunny yellow marked the arrival of Generation Z. Born after the creation of the world wide web, Generation Z, also known as Centennials or simply as Gen Z, are true digital natives. They are highly adept to the digital stratosphere.

Generations are born from cultural shifts, says Marcie Meriman, executive director for Business Strategy and Retail Innovation at EY Advisory to WWD. These cultural shifts are factors that mold a generation, defining its unique characteristics.

In every generation, fashion is dictated by societal norms, almost like anecdotes of generations past. But it has always been obsessed with the youth. The industry opens the book of the past, shaping it in a way that will appeal to the young.

THROUGH THEIR INFLUENCERS

According to a recent study by We Are Social and Hootsuite, Filipinos spend more than 10 hours online every day, hours spent mostly on social media. There is a craving among Pinoys to always be in the know. With the network brought by the Internet, it has become easier to reach wider audiences.

This gave birth to the so-called influencers. The likes of Kylie Jenner and the Hadid sisters, and local ones like Michelle Dy, Camille Co, David Guison, and Laureen Uy, influencers are stars made by online platforms. They have great social followings and most of their success can be attributed to Gen Zs.

The Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK) finds that 46 percent of Gen Zers follow more than 10 influencers on their social media accounts. With Gen Z making up 40 percent of the world’s current population, they have inevitably become starmakers, with every like, re-tweet, and subscribe. To adapt, brands are now bringing not just models on the runways but social media influencers, as well.

Instead of responding to stereotypical models, Gen Zers prefer to follow those they find real and relatable. Think of the black models on the Zendaya x Tommy Hilfiger runway show and The World of Savage x Fenty show. Apart from wanting good style, Gen Zers look up to influencers who scream “change,” even if only through their wardrobe.

WEARING THEIR CAUSES

With almost unlimited access to information, Gen Zers opt to be part of the conversation. They are the “woke” generation, with radars that beep whenever they spot social injustices committed by brands and designers. A Dell Technologies study, which included 17 countries with 730 Filipinos from high school and college, shows that this generation prefers brands and companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.

Gen Zers thrive on brands that reflect their sense of social justice. They love brands that use their products to evoke social change. They wear their advocacies on their sleeves.

Gen Zers seek purpose and meaning. They are eager to affect change in society. Gen Zers thrive on brands that reflect their sense of social justice. They love brands that use their products to evoke social change. They wear their advocacies on their sleeves.

Retail brands and designers, as a smart marketing move, now turn to ethical fashion. They are adding more substance to their style. Evenfast fashion like Uniqlo and H&M now actively pursue environmental sustainability efforts. Ked’s, with its “ladies first” movement, has brought the brand’s history of pioneering ladies sneakers to the fore. In the local scene, Bench is dressing their brand in patriotism by promoting locally made products. Efforts like these become major selling points for fashion and retail brands, as far as Gen Zers are concerned. There’s change even in a single article of clothing.

A Bloomberg study shows that Gen Zers want corporations to take a clear stand on issues. Some 40 percent of Gen Zers say they’re willing to pay more for a product if they knew the company was promoting gender equality. Another 42 percent would support companies that have racial justice initiatives.

Even luxury brands such as Burberry, Michael Kors, and Gucci are making more ethical choices by abandoning fur and by repurposing old merchandise into newer pieces to minimize wastage. The past years have been an awakening in fashion, thanks in large part to Gen Zers. Everything has become more inclusive. Everyone wants to be more socially responsible. Designs have to serve a larger purpose. SSI, a prime mover in luxury retail in the Philippines, has also introduced the Green Wanderer fair to champion sustainable travel.

THE PURPOSE OF FASHION

They just want to be free. They want everything to be light. They want to combine different brands because they are not loyalists,” says Fila Philippines president and CEO Cris Albert. With their voices loud enough to be heard by brands, through every channel they could use—Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter—are Gen Zers dictating the trend? “In fashion, there is always the push and the pull,” says stylist and brand consultant Andre Chang. “It’s a vice versa thing. It may come from the Gen Z market and it may come from the brands. A collective contribution from both sides is creating the trend.”

At any rate, there is an adjustment. Retail brands are focused not only in dressing Gen Zers but also their stores, decorating each wall with Instagram-worthy designs, putting hashtags on mirrors. It’s real life mimicking the digital. “Brands are now playing a certain niche for their target market,” says Chang. “So what the Gen Z is currently into is immediately filtered by the brands.”

How brands dress this generation continues to change, but if there’s one trend, there’s one thing that should be more than just a trend. It is how Gen Zers are pushing for style with a bit more substance, for a chic that has lot more conscience. Whether or not brands only subscribe to this change in order to keep their sales up, their efforts to dress Generation Z accordingly have produced style grounded on purpose.

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