Demand for affordable fashion is evergreen among teenagers who want to wear the latest trends while sticking to a tight budget. Millennial teens drove the rise of fast fashion brands, such as H&M, Zara, Forever 21, as well as digital outlets that deliver cheap clothes right to our doorsteps (see Nasty Gal and Amazon). While Zs aren’t any less trend-driven than previous generations, their increased concern about ethical consumption and sustainability will mark a sea change for the fashion industry: Already, Forever 21 has filed for bankruptcy and H&M and Zara are shuttering stores.
Remember, this is the generation that’s had access to information through their smartphones since before they could walk. Gen Zs expect supply chain transparency, and refuse to feign ignorance about bad business practices even if they’re happening across the world. (Many Zs have told us that the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed over 1,000 garment factory workers, is the moment when fast fashion lost its luster for them). As outlined in Front Row Insights’ Woke Marketing report, 89% of Gen Z consumers prefer brands and corporations that contribute positive change to the world. Qualitatively, Zs tell us they’re highly concerned about fast fashion landing in landfills, microfibers from textiles ending up in our atmosphere, and exploitative labor practices abroad.
We don’t think “woke” consumption is a doomsday forecast for the fashion industry; rather a provocation to push innovation forward. One of the most creative solutions we’ve seen recently is the rise of digital-only fashion, which delivers fast fashion styles without creating more waste. Norwegian fashion brand, Carlings, for example, recently launched its first digital-only collection, with designs that the company’s “digital tailors” edit onto customers’ photos. Digital-only fashion house, The Fabricant, sells both ready-to-wear and couture looks, calling digital-only a new channel “for self expression.”
Some fashion industry insiders believe digital-only fashion will become a massive industry in the near-future: Not only does it provide Gen Zs with fresh looks to post on social media, but it also scratches an ethical itch (after all, there’s no manufacturing, no shipping, and no waste). As a recent Forbes article pointed out, virtual styling is already taking place on massively popular gaming sites, such as Fortnite, where players purchase in-game avatar “skins.” Fashion brand Moschino has offered virtual products in the computer game, The Sims. And the mobile game Covet Fashion, which lets players digitally style models in designer duds and accessories, brought in $53.4 million in sales last year, according to Vogue Business. Perhaps most importantly, digital-only fashion is a standout case study in how to rethink an industry based on consumer shifts in mindset. As Gen Zs step into their full spending power in the coming decade, brands in all industries should be reflecting on what radical acts of innovation will allow them to make their businesses more sustainable. Is there an area of your business that you can take digital-only to reduce waste?