Consumer Insights - Fashion

Does Gen-Z Need a Separate Set of Brands?

The world’s first digitally native generation is coming of age, and will soon decide the fate of brands. What must brands do to satisfy them? We dive into the world of fashion to find some answers.

Gen z boy on skateboard wearing red sneakers
Image Credit: Veg Non Veg

52% of India’s population is now made up of Gen-Z (1995-2012) and millennials (1982-1994), with the share expected to hold till 2030.

As millennials fade into the wings, Gen-Z is taking centre-stage. This is a generation raised with 4G, who uses selfies more than mirrors and has never heard the tune of a dial-up modem.

Retailers, especially in fashion, seem to agree that this generation has unique needs and are addressing them through new brands. 

Trent has seen significant success with its affordably priced, mass retail brand Zudio, which reported sales of  Rs 1,100 crore in FY22, nearly a quarter of Trent’s consolidated revenue. Myntra has launched Myntra Fashion Forward (FWD), a Gen-Z Brand, complete with a virtual fashion influencer called ‘Maya.’ Reliance is bringing back Shein, the fast-fashion giant from China, whose 2022 revenue of US$ 24 billion, was nearly equal to Zara and H&M combined!

There are a host of independent brands in this space, like Urbanic and Newme.  Gen Z-specific marketplaces have also sprung up. Capsul, founded by former Puma employees, Meenkashi Singh and Bhavisha Dave, is a marketplace for streetwear brands. While multi-brand sneaker /apparel retailer Veg Non Veg has been around for 5+ years now, sneaker reseller Mainstreet Marketplace, run by 24 year-old Vedant Lamba, just raised $2 million from some heavyweight investors.

Mainstreet Marketplace, a sneaker reseller founded by 24 year old Vedant Lamba, began life as a YouTube channel

I spoke to Gen-Z consumers, as well as founders, to find out how this generation is different and what that means for brands. 

Scarcity as Strategy

More reviews mean more sales, right? Not for Gen-Z.

According to Sumit Jasoria, founder of fashion brand Newme, typical e-commerce axioms don’t hold true for this group.

“Gen-Z craves exclusivity. They hunt for ‘statement pieces’ that are unique, mirror their style, are affordable, and crucially, available in limited quantities. Many of our customers intentionally avoid highly-reviewed items, as they are terrified it will be worn by everyone else.”

Sumit Jasoria, Co-founder & CEO, Newme

This sentiment was echoed by several Gen-Z shoppers.

Shopping was perceived as a personal quest, where others’ star ratings or reviews, bore little relevance.

“Imagine how awkward it is if someone else is wearing the same T-shirt. I really like Zara’s strategy because they make only limited stock and 2-3 similar designs,” says Dishu Dulani, a 21 year-old from Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh, who is currently doing her MBBS in Aurangabad.

Newme tackles this problem by releasing several design drops every week. Jasoria tells me they have a near-zero inventory model. Production is directed by a data science system that uses nine parameters to predict trends, and popular items sell out quickly. The idea is to make sure you don’t find the same piece next time you look.

Screengrabs fron Newme app showing one girl on white dress and one girl in pink dress like Barbie
Newme operates a low-inventory model, with weekly drops, based on a data science model

Thrifting Has (Finally) Arrived

Every single Gen-Z consumer I spoke to, from Chhattisgarh to Bangalore, said they either loved shopping from thrift stores, had tried it out, or were open to it.

Reasons ranged from curation, unique items and global inventory, to sustainability and ethics. Limited edition pieces can also sell for a premium, despite being used. Surprisingly, although affordability was a factor, it was always mentioned last, and was quite clearly a feature and not the benefit.

Neha Reddy is a 23-year-old, who works as an analyst with a VC firm in Bangalore. She is confident of her personal style and shops at thrift stores and smaller marketplaces to find unique, one-of-a kind items.

“Instead of offering thousands of items like Myntra, thrift stores and focused marketplaces like Capsul offer curated selections. Over time each store develops a unique personality, almost like a brand and I’ve identified some that really match my style over the years and stuck with them.”

Neha Reddy, 23, Analyst at Antler, Bangalore

Bhavisha Dave, co-founder, Capsul, says that they curate culturally-rich brands that resonate with the ethos of their buyers. While they stock international labels that come with corresponding price points, Dave points out that besides being conversation-starters, these pieces are eminently ‘re-sellable.’ “Our customers know that a T-shirt for Rs. 4000 from Carhartt WIP, (a brand that started as workwear, but is now one of streetwear’s top labels), could easily resell for Rs. 2000+,” she says.

Surprisingly, none of the people I spoke to had reservations about wearing ‘used’ clothes, and the idea of stigma seemed silly to them.

Perhaps the time has finally come for the Indian pre-worn industry, which has hitherto struggled?

Screengrab from relove.in showing how to buy and sell pre-used fashion
Screenshot from Relove.in. India’s pre-worn industry may make a comeback driven by Gen-Z’s love of thrifting.

Comfortable Living Many Lives

In the absence of Tik Tok in India, Instagram is not just the platform of choice for Gen-Z, it is a place where they can live an alternative life.

Influencer krutika different personalities Instagram
Krutika, a Gen-Z influencer, has 7 million followers and switches easily between girl-next-door and anime character. Image Credits: Krutika

Many Gen-Zers aspire to be influencers and they understand how the algorithm works. “On social media, authenticity is valued and your account will only be surfaced if you stand out from the others,” says Shradha Anna, 23, marketer at a Bangalore-based, fashion marketplace.

This was clearly in contrast to the real lives of these young people, especially in small towns, where being different was frowned upon and would lead to parental pressure, or for the women, even harassment on the streets.

According to Jasoria, 70% of Newme’s customers are in Tier 2 and 3 cities and they often buy trendy clothes that can only be worn online, or on college campuses. “They will wear the clothes and post Instagram reels,” he says, “but then switch to more conservative attire when they go home.”

There are multiple WhatsApp groups where clothes can be exchanged after being worn a few times. The more intrepid post content from the trial rooms of malls, obviating the need to buy anything at all!

There is no getting away from the fact that this generation is markedly more expressive than the previous one. As Arman Mehra, a post-graduate student in Delhi, tells me, “My parents always wanted to blend in, I want to stand out.”

The THC Take

Does selling to this audience require a focused set of brands, and will incumbent brands be unable to make the leap?

Certainly, most Indian companies have chosen to launch separate ‘youth-focused’ brands, from Titan’s Fast Track, to Trent’s Zudio. However, global giants like Gucci, Maybelline and most notably, Nike, have successfully ‘aged down,’ to address shifting audiences.

Screenshot from Capsul showing front and back of boy wearing T shirt and jeans
Screenshot from Capsul. Carhartt, started life as a workwear brand in the 1800s, and is now worn by a diverse audience from blue collar workers to hip-hoppers. Carhartt WIP is their European label.

Capsul’s Dave points out that thoughtful attitudes towards brand-building are the reason some global brands have managed to stay relevant. “When a Louis Vuitton does a collab with Supreme,” she says, “They are doing it to gain cred with Gen-Z – it’s not about immediate sales. To appeal to Gen-Z, you need a team that understands them, and that should be your starting point.”

Screenshot of tweet
To target Gen-Z, start with a team that understands them. Screenshot: madcopywriter

I was heartened by the many conversations I had, and it was clear these young people are quick to see through inauthenticity and would not hesitate to call out bullsh*t. Brands need to engage with them deeply, before taking any decisions.

18 Comments

  1. Nice one Sarath. Brands seem to also be missing the story when it comes to Gen Z’s attitude towards data, privacy, and personalization. I recently wrote a deep dive on Gen Z and the opportunity for brands to engage them with a more privacy-led CX on the Yes We Trust Privacy community. Marketers and readers of this column may find it of value:
    https://blog.yes-we-trust.com/consumer-data-privacy-for-the-next-generation-will-legacy-brands-get-it-right

  2. Such an interesting piece, thank you! It’ll be interesting to know how the behaviour of this Gen Z shifts basis the industry they are shopping from. For ex: the insights from this article is also applicable to a makeup brand but where does skincare fit into this? What is the Gen-Z attitude towards purchase of skincare brands? Would love to chat about it!

    1. You bring up a valid point and it was something I was tempted to pursue during these interviews, but could not fit into the scope of one article. Fashion, especially clothes are more about self expression, and typically have a lower ticket size. I heard some indications about how brand perception is different for other, higher intent purchases. I would expect skincare to be have different dynamics as it’s more private.

      We thought fashion was a good place to start understanding the underlying consumer mindset, and some of that can be generalised to other categories, but it definitely needs more nuanced research into each category. Hopefully, this helps frame some of those questions.

      If you have insights to share on other categories, would love to chat more.

    1. Hi Sam, Out of the 4 consumers I spoke to, 2 were not from metros. One was in Aurangabad, originally from Rajnandgaon in Chattisgarh, and the other was from Puttur, Karnataka. Also, Newme, whose founder I interviewed sells primarily to a tier 2, 3 audience.
      We definitely don’t mean this to be the final word on Gen-Z, but hopefully it raises some interesting questions and directions to do more research.
      You might also be interested in this earlier article by THC on the next billion: https://thehardcopy.co/the-fabulous-next-billion/

  3. Nice article. Great insights on the fashion trend. Now I know that there is a world beyond my white and blue shirts 😉

  4. Good insights. Don’t you think YouTube shorts is where the Gen Z migrating to? Are they just on Insta (given tiktok is not there in India)?
    Anecdotally, i think YouTube shorts is where the action for Gen Z is moving to, though would love to how your research sees this.

    1. In my interviews, I heard about Instagram being used the most, but I do know that companies are marketing through YouTube videos, which are definitely popular among the audience. But consumers themselves spoke about posting on Instagram, even if using inspiration from YouTube.
      However, our sample was small and meant to be exploratory, so I can’t say for sure. Instagram would be a safe bet, but more research could look at emerging channels. I’m sure things will change quickly for this audience.

        1. Great piece! Would be great to know what Gen Z thinks about maintaining their body via exercising, do they see it important for looking fashionable? How do you think fitness industry gets impacted?

          1. It’s an interesting question. Unfortunately, it did not come up organically in interviews and I did not probe into views on fitness. I suspect the new generation would be more fitness conscious, but perhaps the motivations for it might be different, which would need to be understood better to shape messaging. Sometimes there are subtle differences in how the same facts are seen by an older vs. younger generation. The desire for likes on Instagram for example – one would normally interpret it as peer pressure, but these consumers spoke about it as pressure to be themselves, which was fascinating.

            These are only opinions or hypotheses though, and needs more research.

    1. In a time when fast fashion is looked down upon, ‘releasing several design drops every week’ and ‘The idea is to make sure you don’t find the same piece next time you look.’ definitely sounded worrisome. Only to be allayed by what followed – the rise of thrifting and platforms like Relove that extend the life of clothes by keeping them away from landfill.
      An interesting story, Sharath.

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