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Gen Z: the rise of a new consumer group

I am not part of Gen Z, hell I am not even a millennial, but I will do my best to describe them. Just when we wrapped our heads around who millenials are and what their behaviours and spending habits are, a new wave of future consumers is rising. This is to show you how quickly things are changing; how we got from Obama to Trump comes to mind…

First things first, they have nothing to do with zombies…Gen Z is people born after 1996, so their early memories are not 9/11 and definitely not the death of Lady Di. If you remember the latter, you are, according to them, officially geriatric!

Vetements capturing the Gen Z spirit (image courtesy of Vetements)

They have been connected all their lives with fast internet and 4G (dial-up tone is a cute ringtone to them), and they have learned to see the world as borderless; global is “glocal” to them. Try explaining Brexit to them…They have been consuming social media, following and sharing as early as they developed motor skills. Being part of the vast cyberspace made them aware, early-on, of the incredible number of individuals that are out there. It is obvious to them that standing out in the crowd is difficult, but also imperative. Their never ending need to find their unique voice is admirable.

For them ambassadors of success are the millenials who disrupted everything (Uber, Spotify, AirBnB etc), and those bloggers who managed to make millions by travelling, photographing, and sharing their street food photos. Yes, they are entrepreneurial but they don’t necessarily care who Steve Jobs is. Don’t judge, do you know who discovered and commercialized the Compact Disc, or even how digital cameras work?

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Is being unabashed a sign of a revolution?

We need to talk about being unabashed. It is a word, and a concept, that has been in my mind for some time now. As per Oxford Dictionary’s definition, it describes a person who is not embarrassed, disconcerted, or ashamed. And as I have noticed recently, this is a growing attitude. This post does not try to intellectualise the term or discuss whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. Actually, it is more about recognising it, and seeing how it is changing our world and more specifically the fashion world.

Tommy Ton for Vogue Japan: Shiny Projects

It is a standpoint that is currently shaping everything; from world politics to fashion. It is about saying and doing what you think, and acting on your opinion; expressing yourself! It does not matter if you are wrong or if your opinion is fact-less; simply having an opinion is enough and invaluable. This is possibly the result of years of people saying exactly what they wanted online. We have always had opinions, which we learned to share online through following, posting comments, shares, and likes. But what is happening now is major. It feels like the private has merged with the public; that the online has slipped into the offline, and started to define it. Result: the boundaries between the perceived privacy offered online, and the brutal reality of offline blur even further. People stop hiding behind their online persona. If their opinion is valued online it is only legitimate to voice it offline, however challenging or shameless it is. Non-facts become alt-facts. Sounds like a revolution…

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5 changes that shaped 2016

2016 will probably go down as the year when voters rejected a liberal approach to life. The economic recession of previous years that brought us austerity, and the fully pledged globalisation in industry and production, attacked the least prepared segments of society. It was another “industrial revolution”, this time a more silent one. Workers lost their jobs not only to technology but to other workers thousands of miles away. This time the state could not assist; austerity wouldn’t allow it…

Fashion industry wasn’t unaffected by these global socioeconomic changes. The last few years, the industry has been going through a major paradigm shift; the latter’s results becoming more apparent this year. Years of wrong investment decisions and knee-jerk reactions have slowly shaped the industry to what it is today. Either struggling to react to current needs, a great example of this are the ailing chain retailers bleeding customers, or an industry that has ripped up the rulebook in its need to survive. The brand that used to be the definitions of sexiness and turned into a geeky mash-up of lace dresses with snake appliques comes to mind.

But let me be more specific and consider 5 key changes and trends we have seen this year. 5 new directions that have defined the year but will also shape the industry; an insight into things to come.

Demna Gvasalia and the Vetements design collective

Georgian born Demna Gvasalia together with his brother Guram and 5 more friends (all met during their time at Maison Margiela), created the design collective Vetements. And in a couple of years have become the hottest and most coveted brand. Their concept is simple but extremely efficient and uncommon in the fashion world. Design for them is a democratic process of conversation. Every member of the collective, whatever their background, has an input.

Vetements show

Breaking free from the hegemony of trend, their clothes address what they believe people will like to wear. They are inspired by urban cultures and subcultures, online influences, and streetwise youth to offer season-less fashion for cool individuals. They aim at people in-touch with reality, instead of selling a fantasy. Selling a make belief has been the go-to approach for most luxury brands so far, an approach interrupted by the rise of the social media.

Vetements’ relationship with social media on the other hand, is very interesting and one to watch. They monitor what is going-on, and choose all their runway models carefully off Instagram (an ode to the real person who will buy and wear their clothes). They are never involved in a cat and mouse chase between what the people want and what a brand is offering. On the contrary, by simply analysing what is happening they can offer consumers what they don’t yet know they want. Who knew they wanted the huge angular exaggerated padded shoulders they offered? Even traditional retailers with a more conservative clientele see anti-trend, anti-establishment and uber-expensive Vetements directional silhouettes fly off the shelf.

Vetements is not necessarily creating revolutionary new fashion, but is re-thinking the methodology of fashion creation, and the relationship between a fashion brand and its end-consumers. It is all about giving them what they want but have not yet looked for. A very Steve Jobs approach, a true revolution in 2016’s Fashion.

Their success has not gone unnoticed and Damna Gvasalia has now replaced Alexander Wang as the creative director of Balenciaga. I hope that Vetements’ methodology will now influence the design giant and other brands by proxy. I hope in other words that designers will be allowed again to create.

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Robot-made clothes: an apparel revolution

I really do not know how I feel about this. Part of me is excited with every technological advancement, but then another part of me is a bit worried. Concerned about the changes this innovation will bring. What does a fully automated production of garments really mean for our industry and for the people who work in it? How will our world change if robots make our clothes?

Sewbo announced recently that it has managed to use an industrial robot to sew together a T-shirt. It overcame the big hurdle of handling soft fabric, aligning it is such a way that it could sew it together. An astonishing success. The process is rather simple; the fabric is cut then dipped in a water-soluble stiffener that makes it rigid, almost like metal. This way, off-the-shelf industrial robots can handle each piece of the pattern, manoeuvre it around, align it and stitch it together. When the sewing process is over, the finished garment is dipped in a solution to remove the stiffener and turn fabric again into its original soft properties. The special stiffener is then collected to be re-used. No waste there.

Video Courtesy of Sewbo Inc.

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