It’s been a whole month since Pause Fest 2019 kicked off, with the world’s leaders in innovation, tech and creativity gathering in Melbourne to share insightful presentations and panels covering topics from entrepreneurship, tech revolutions, the future of work and more.

Among the list of companies presenting were WGSN – the world’s leading trend forecasting platform (who share insights and upcoming trends that shape the fashion industry as we know it!). WGSN is an essential tool for global and local fashion brands alike, and Fashion Equipped have recently started offering WGSN access as part of our SYFB premium enrolments.

We were lucky enough to see Sarah Owen, Senior Editor at WGSN (all the way from New York) giving a fascinating keynote entitled ‘Welcome to Generation Z’, which explored the upcoming generation of young people and the ways they interact with brands and each other. In a large cinema-sized lecture theatre, it was difficult to find a seat as it seems we weren’t the only ones eager to hear what the renowned ‘trends guru’ had to say!

Owen instantly commanded the room with her polished speaking skills, relatable down-to-earth demeanor and of course, the fascinating subject matter of her presentation. Here are some key insights we gained from her valuable talk.

“We predict the future…but we don’t really talk about what’s happening now”
– Sarah Owen, WGSN

Who are Gen Z?

Owen described Gen Z as ‘anyone who is currently between the age of 8-23, or born from 1995 onwards’. This generation have been observed as the first group of people brought up with the internet and social media as a vital and constant part of their everyday lives. Owen shared findings that nearly half of these young people are online on a near constant basis. This marks a clear shift from ‘checking your social media’ to an always-on approach.

What does being online constantly mean for young people?

Many young people experience genuine anxiety when out of phone reception or they’re unable to access wifi, with Owen showing us a pyramid of Gen Z’s ‘new needs’, where wifi and battery life were listed on the same level as food/warmth/shelter/health. Gen Z’s are also described as having an ‘8 second attention span’ (however, Owen reassured us they will engage with the right kind of long-form content in a native space). 

Over many interviews with Gen Z’s and getting to know them on a personal level, Owen believes they are split into two distinct ‘camps’ that she endearingly named ‘Gen Me’ and ‘Gen We’.

‘Gen Me’

‘Gen Me’ encompasses the Kylie Jenners of Instagram – they’re follower-focused, will embrace trends, and have been seen to use social media as a form of escapism. As consumers, they’re drawn to interests like makeup, skincare and health, with many developing a carefully fabricated personal brand on social media. Owen also remarked there’s been an increase in teenagers undergoing plastic surgery to look more like ‘Snapchat filters’ in real life (hopefully not the dog one?!).

What is means for brands

For Gen Me, everything is #content. Owen said that if brands want to connect with this demographic, they should create spaces with’ social currency’ – that is, Instagrammable environments to create FOMO among their fans. Other activities important to Gen Me’s were things like limited edition products, timed releases and even things like upcycling or re-selling high end products (which makes a lot of sense for social media influencers who may only be wearing an outfit once for a picture).

‘Gen We’

Like a pair of polar opposite sisters, Gen We shows a completely different side to Generation Z – one that is more socially aware, driven by justice and genuinely concerned for the future and how they can contribute to the big picture. Gen We’s have been seen to boycott brands that don’t align to their values (as well as ‘buycotting’, which is purposefully buying products from brands they feel share similar values with). Gen We are driven by empathy, causes like mental health, human rights and caring for the environment. They represent the conscious consumer, and they’re pushing back on the ‘fast fashion’ movement, and instead want to purchase products that have longevity and quality.

What it means for brands

Gen We tend to be ‘lowsumers’ rather than consumers, and they look for transparency, community and authenticity in the brands they interact with. Gen We represent a huge opportunity for local, ethically focused brands to build authentic relationships with these young customers. To do this, brands need to share their values and why they’re the feel-good alternative to the fast fashion Gen Me’s are eagerly snapping off the shelves.

The 3 Core Values That Drive Gen Z’s

Despite being polar opposites when it comes to consumption habits, Owen said both Gen Me and Gen We share three unifying traits. These are a desire for Individualism (being drawn to brands that celebrate self-expression and empowerment), Delaying Adulthood (Taking longer to embrace ‘adult’ responsibilities and rituals such as getting a driver’s license, having romantic relationships, buying a house etc), and what Owen called the ‘Beauty & Backlash of Connectivity’, which shows the rise of mental illness and feelings of inadequacy and isolation among youths who have grown up with endless access to the internet.

In summary, this wonderful talk shared optimism about the future, but also an element of realism around the fact that growing up with constant access to the internet may actually be driving these young people to miss out on genuine and real interactions with each other. One of the highlights of Sarah Owen’s talk was her sharing how much the Gen We demographic inspires her, and how she believes in their optimism and desire for change. Owen jokingly remarked she’s left a lot of these interviews thinking to herself ‘They’re going to save us, aren’t they?’, and whether they are or aren’t, Gen We believe the new ‘cool’ is caring, and we’re completely behind that.

For more insightful articles around fashion trends and consumer behaviour, we encourage you to visit the WGSN blog. You can also follow Sarah Owen on LinkedIn here.

If you want to know more about how you can gain access to WGSN combined with our ‘Start Your Fashion Business’ Online Programme to equip you with the edge you need to succeed in fashion – contact us at info@fashionequipped.com.au