There was a time when buying fashion was solely an investment in yourself. You bought fashion, at varying price points, thinking little or nothing of its intrinsic value after you’d finished using or wearing it. If it was lucky it would make a few pounds at a local charity shop after being donated. It was only very special showpieces or clothing worn by famous people that held any real value.
Left - Dolce & Gabbana sold its last Alta Moda Couture collection in NFT format
Today, designer fashion is being spun as ‘Contemporary Vintage’ or ‘Future Vintage’. It is being sold on the promise that it will retain some type of value or even increase. A generation of younger people are being asked to pay increasing prices for trainers and clothes on the pretence that they are an astute investment. Sounding like a giant Ponzi scheme, and adding in things like NFTs, are we seeing a new generation being hoodwinked into ‘investing’ into fashion?
“I think it's a complex landscape here, almost half of the UK Generation Z saw some negative alteration to their employment through the pandemic period, and for this generation, it's increasingly hard to get into meaningful work.” says Petah Marian, founder of Future Narrative, a retail, culture and consumer trends expert.
“This sense that the system is rigged against them is leading to all sorts of speculative behaviours, be it trying to get access to limited-edition trainers to flip, or in some cases crypto currencies. Some people do make considerable amounts of money out of selling items, but, unless you know what's going to hold value, it's a risky game, as a lot of the future value lies in how well it will resonate later on.” she says.
In November, London designer fashion retailer, Machine-A, with self-described 'contemporary vintage’ e-commerce site Byronesque, launched a vintage area selling archival and rare runway pieces from the like of Rick Owens and Raf Simons.
“As I understand it, contemporary vintage is just a new way of marketing vintage items. The way that Machine B is positioning itself is that the contemporary vintage selection will be key vintage items from a series of iconic designers that have a certain cult appeal.” says Marian.
Called Machine-B, it launched at the Machine-A store in Soho and online. What was interesting was how Machine-A was using these archival pieces to promote its other contemporary designer offering and labelling it as ‘future vintage’. This speculative retail approach included small and lesser known brands such as Stefan Cooke and Kiki Kostadinov.
Kerry Taylor, founder of Kerry Taylor Auctions, the world's leading auction house specialising in vintage fashion, fine antique costume and textiles, says, “I have concerns about people purchasing trainers for hundreds of thousands of dollars – when we know that items made from rubber or plastics in the 1960s have started to revert/disintegrate. High quality artisanal items such as Hermès handbags however are probably only going to increase.” she says. “I would trust vintage vintage as it has an established track record rather than ‘contemporary vintage’ which is a bit of a contradiction in terms. We have no idea of the marketing hype will come true.” says Taylor.
Taylor thinks brands and designers are marketing their clothes and product like this to make them seem more special in a world flooded with brands and garments. If you were to ‘invest’, what would you look for?
“They should buy what they like rather than just for an investment. Investments can go up or down – but if you love a piece – then it doesn’t matter so much. Always check condition – avoid anything altered or with damage.” says Taylor.
Marian thinks brands that have a strong and passionate fan base or items that either speak to a brand's codes or are exceptional examples of where it departs from it are more shrewd investments, as well as items that have a limited release.
“It's part of the broader narrative around circularity and retailers slowing consumption around new items, while also generating buzz around key designers by elevating second-hand items as "archive pieces" that are special and rare.” says Marian.
Right - Burberry's first NFT collection launched in August 2021
Fashion brands are offering other avenues to invest, and making their brands look more attractive in the process. NFTs or non-fungible tokens, offer a chance to buy digital versions of an item. Individuals need to establish a digital wallet to store your cryptocurrency in order to purchase an NFT.
In June, Gucci partnered with Christie’s selling an NFT video called ‘Aria’, the title of its AW21 collection, for $25,000, while in September, Dolce & Gabbana sold an NFT couture Alta Moda suit for £740,000 at auction. The new owner also got a physical suit for that price. Dolce & Gabbana grossed $5.7 million from its first auction of NFT collectibles.
Tying fashion items and collections to NFTs raises the investment levels, but are NFTs likely to be a good long-term investment?
“It's very early to say what the mass uptake will look like.” says Marian. “There's a passionate community of collectors that are driving up the value of NFTs at the moment, but I can't say what the long term value of the current releases of NFTs. I think NFTs are here for the longer term, but it's very early to say what the value or the market will look like for individual assets in a year or two years from now yet.” she says.
Add the growing noise around the Metaverse - the British Fashion Council (BFC) recently announced a brand new category as part of The Fashion Awards 2021—the first ever Fashion Award for Metaverse Design exclusively with Roblox - and the way digital and physical items are blurring, these new ways of owning or consuming as item are selling themselves as investment opportunities to a younger and more engaged consumer.
All investments are speculative. By linking and promoting positive examples of fashion items increasing in or holding their value, brands are cleverly giving the illusion that it is a certain. This is targeted at the younger consumer queuing at stores in Soho or entering ballots for items happy to pay significant sums of money with the idea lurking in the background that they will be able to resell it at some point or even flip at a profit. Websites like Stock X continue to propel the hyped hysteria.
Left - Hyped kids? Luxury brands are invested in giving the perception their goods will retain or even increase their value to younger, Gen Z consumers
Fashion has never really been a serious investment before. Fashion, in its nature, is fickle and unpredictable. Implying that something is resellable at a price close to what you paid for it and/or a solid investment is another pull brands are using to activate the purchasing power of their expensive products. It doesn’t feel like you’re chucking your money away like it did in the past to a generation more careful with money. This bubble is getting bigger and we all know what happens to bubbles when they get too big.
Buy TheChicGeek's latest book FashionWankers - HERE
Check out TheChicGeek's new shop of fabulous plants & books - Give me Penis Cactus!
Move over Millennials, sadly, it’s not all about you anymore. Generation Z is primed to take centre stage and retailers and brands are asking this constantly ‘on’ generation exactly what they want.
Generation Z are those born between 1995 and 2010, which means that the oldest are about 23 and are entering the workforce. Their spending power is increasing, their influence growing and they are a generation who doesn’t know life before the internet and mobile phones.
Younger focussed fashion and sports brands want to know what these young people want and what better way to do that than getting them to design the clothes themselves.
Left - ASOS's new Generation Z designed COLLUSION label
This new trend in Generation Z designers is mirroring the multifaceted desires and identities of this group of people.
Online behemoth, ASOS, recently launched its ‘COLLUSION’ brand. The entire brand is shaped and ‘focused' by Gen-Z with a line-up of 6 collaborators. The brand is exclusive to ASOS and can be found on COLLUSION.com which links through to the main ASOS site. The blurb says it “is built for a new generation united in their pursuit for inclusivity and representation. The 200-piece, animal-free collection is designed to fit seamlessly into the wardrobes of those who helped shape it”.
It goes on, “From the cut of a jacket, to the way that it is marketed, photographed, styled and sold, this collection is the result of extensive research into the values that this generation sees as non- negotiable”.
The brand speaks as a collective. Categorisation by gender is unnecessary, COLLUSION is ranged as one collection – for everyone. The brand’s website allows for navigation by product category, style or mood, rather than by men’s or women’s. The debut collection and the regular drops beyond it will be available up to a size 6XL. Price points for launch range from £5 for jersey basics to £70 for statement outerwear.
The initial six collaborators were selected by COLLUSION's cultural social team who find tastemakers and talent. The six were chosen from a wide pool of young creatives and all come from different backgrounds, areas, and professions. Students, stylists, activists, image-makers, authors and YouTubers.
It says, “COLLUSION is a manifestation of what this first contingent of six want the future of the fashion industry to look and feel like. Working in collaboration with a team of standalone designers and creatives assembled by ASOS, each industry experts in affordable fashion, the six are consumers of, consultants to, and architects of this brand. Their brief: to realise an authentic, vibrant wardrobe which speaks directly to themselves and their Gen-Z peers”.
Chidera Eggerue, 23, blogger and author, says, “I joined Collusion because I wanted to be part of something that created the change that I want to see,”. Chidera is known to her followers as The Slumflower.
Right - Brands giving the next generation what they want by getting them to design it - ASOS COLLUSION
The collection is animal-free and has been recognised a number of times in PETA’s vegan fashion awards, first launched in 2013, celebrating the most desirable cruelty-free clothing and accessories on the market.
So, what’s been the reaction? The brand says, “COLLUSION has been applauded both on social media and in the press for its unwavering commitment to diversity and body positivity. Publications such as Vogue, i-D, Dazed and Grazia have featured the brand and commended the daring approach for a big backed brand towards gender neutrality and its direct involvement with Gen-Z”.
I’m not sure this generation even read these publications anymore, but, it’s commercial success will be judged with how many follow up collections there are.
This burgeoning woke generation has also come to the attention of sports brand, Champion. They’ve just launched a capsule line of T-shirts inspired by the power of words and how the negative labels used to describe young people can influence and determine their identity and behaviour.
Partnering with the London-based charity ‘London Youth’, which represents 400 community youth projects across the city, and called ‘Champion London Youth’, the T-shirts are each inspired by the personal stories of five young people who have faced stereotyping and have overcome this with the help of their youth clubs and organisations.
Local authority youth service budgets across London in 2017/18 are £39 million lower than in 2011/12. This represents an average cut of £1.5 million or 44% per local authority. During that period, 81 youth centres were closed and there were 800 fewer youth workers.
Gill Goodby, Head of Communications at London Youth, says “We combined with The Corner agency to produce a film to challenge the perceptions of young people and every newspaper headline having ‘youth’ and ‘violence’ in the title wasn’t representative. The T-shirts with Champion came from that film,” she says.
Subira Damali, 23, from Lewisham is one of the chosen designers of the T-shirts, and describes how she became involved, “I’m part of Lewisham Youth Theatre. They send me acting opportunities and I applied to be on the film”.
Left - Subira Damali & her daughter
A young mum, she was interviewed for the film and wrote a few words that people used negatively to describe her. “Then somebody said, ‘This is going to be on a T-Shirt’. It’s about breaking down stereotypes and designing clothes helps confidence, leadership and is therapeutic,” she says.
Renowned designer Tim Head transformed the experiences of these young people into limited edition designs, which will be available for sale in Champion’s Soho store and at Urban Outfitters. Champion will be donating all profits to London Youth to help fund the charity’s arts, sports development, youth social action, employability and outdoor learning programmes.
If they design it, then, hopefully, they’ll buy it. Or, so the thinking goes. Asking the next generation what they want seems almost too simple in its concept. But, this generation is very individual and it wants to be seen that way.
This feels like the natural progression of personalisation and customisation and a step to the future where we’ll all be able to share a hand in designing what we want.
Today, retailers and brands are up to the size and speed of being able to tailor collections for certain generational groups or be reactive to their wants and desires. It makes business sense, but will it be this straightforward?
This is a generation of confident young individuals who know what they want and want their clothes to reflective their disparate identities. Brands will just have to try as hard as they can to keep up.
As this year’s A Level and GSCE students collect their results I’m going to look at the reasons behind the death of the Saturday job amongst this demographic - Generation Z or iGen - why they seem to need less money and whether this will make them less attractive as a target market to marketeers, brands and retailers.
According to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) some 42% of 16- and 17-year-old students were studying and working simultaneously in 1997. This had dropped to just 18% in 2014.
Post-millennial youth - those born after 1996 - have been labelled as ‘Generation Boring’ or ‘Generation Sensible’. A recent survey by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service showed teenagers are becoming less likely to have sex, preferring to spend time with their families and having romantic relationships online. Teenage pregnancy rates have fallen by 55% in the last decade to their lowest ever level (July 2018). Add this to the rates of smoking, arrests, drug taking and drinking all falling and you can see why older generations are perplexed at this conservative and law abiding wave of youngsters.
Hannah Elderfield, Consumer Behavioural Analyst, Canvas8, says, “From paper-rounds to sweeping up at the hairdressers, Saturday jobs can give a first taste of independence and provide useful future skills. But, data shows that less British teens are taking on part time work, with pressure to get good academic results partly the reason."
“Research conducted by the BBC found that the number of young teens working part time jobs after school or at the weekend has declined steadily since 2013. Businesses employing kids aged between 13 and 15 are required to apply for a permit, and the number of permits issued in 140 local authorities across the country fell by a fifth – dropping from 29,498 in 2012, to 23,071 in 2016.” says Elderfield.
“When looking at dropping levels of Gen-Z taking up weekend jobs in general, it’s important to recognise the pressure teens today feel to do well in exams. 61% of 15- to 17-year-olds believe that good grades are more important than happiness! As a result, they’re channelling their focus into a different type of work, the hard work of studying.” she says.
Leila Willingham, Founder @Digipigz, which targets this demographic and offers ‘market research and insights supplemented by their community of industry astute 16-24 year olds’, says, “We think that statistics like that will mean marketing professionals label Gen Z as 'lazy' and what they won’t be interpreting is that Gen Z are very future focused and these statistics could be off the back of their dedication to learning and prioritising their studies over a job at that age. It may even be that they are doing work experience as opposed to paid work.”
Today’s teenagers don’t seem to be so driven to get themselves a part-time job, like previous generations, and it’s not because of a lack of opportunities. The number of jobseekers per vacancy has fallen to a record low despite a drop in the number of posts on offer. There was less than one person for each vacancy in June 2018 even though the number of advertised jobs fell by 5 per cent to 1.1million compared with a year ago, according to job site, Adzuna. Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics showed there are 32.4million people in work in the UK, a record high, and 388,000 more than a year earlier. The National Minimum Wage for people under 18 is £4.20, compared to £7.83 for those over 25. But, you would think this would make them more attractive to low-skilled employers? But, Generation Z seem to be set on concentrating on their studies.
Mia, 15, from London, says, “I don't have a Saturday job because I spend most of the day at a Dance School, which is my exercise and release from the pressures of school. I also have an absurd amount of homework which can take on average 2-3 hours a night/day, leaving little time to work or socialise. I also need some time to relax and recuperate.”
Her father, Darren, says, “I feel that the amount of homework received certainly affects the possibilities of part time work. The kids, today, are under a huge amount of pressure to live up to an adult role model, living a fantasy lifestyle. To be able to do this they know they need to succeed at school to achieve a high paying job. I also believe that parents are being lent on more to assist with these social lifestyles. I had a part time job from the age of 12 to 17 and didn't rely on my parents much. But, at the same time I received a fraction of the workload from school that children seem to receive today.”
“Many people think it’s better to get qualifications before leaving education to work straight away as many believe it is the best way to achieve a high income.” says Rhianna, 16, from Hounslow.
It’s not ‘cool’ to be seen flipping burgers or stacking shelves when you’re living ‘your best life’ on social media. If Generation Z are too busy studying and doing their homework then they aren’t spending money on going out, drinking and maybe the knock on effects of needing new clothes to go out in etc. But, this doesn’t take into account teens documenting their lives through social media and the tendency towards materialism and showing off what they have.
Rihanna, 16, says, ““Some people get their money from 'cool' jobs like modelling or Saturday jobs, but many people use other illegal ways to allow them to quickly achieve the 'lavish lifestyle'. I get my money from my Mum and Dad and my grandparents, but I have to do jobs around the house. People want money and usually don’t mind sharing the fact that they have a job if it enables them to flaunt the expensive things they have bought on Instagram.”
Mia, 15, says, “There is definitely a truth in not wanting to do 'uncool' jobs. On Social Media you don't really see people working Saturday jobs and most of what you do see is a glamorous lifestyle. This creates a false impression of what you should be aspiring to.”
Teenagers are more reliant than ever on their parents for money. Liliah Zion, 14, from London, says, “My Mum gives me £40 a month to my account for which I am supposed to help with household chores, but, then I get more on top. Everyone just relies on their parents or sells clothing/stuff on depop.”
Her mother, Caroline, says, “I want my 14 year old daughter to work, as does she, however, I think she in the minority, and I recently asked a friend, who owns a long established West London clothing store, if she could work. He was dubious, but said "yes if she was genuinely into it” so that’s on the cards. She has been babysitting to earn money for herself . One of her friend’s Mum’s recently told me her daughter couldn’t even comprehend that she needed to work… ever and her fear was that because she doesn’t.”
But, not all of this generation are studiously just looking at their books or screens. There is a group of young entrepreneurs using their skill set and talents to make extra income. Jenk Oz, the 13-year old CEO of iCoolKid Ltd. a website highlighting ‘cool’ hobbies and activities for the younger generation, says, “We are definitely witnessing a trend of teenagers moving away from the traditional ‘Saturday job’. However, the truth is that the idea of young people seeking part time work, and starting their own businesses is thriving more than ever before. Young people want jobs that help to enhance their CV for university applications - as it’s so competitive - and they want to feel like their employers and job contributes in some way to their interests and hobbies. Gone are the days when a dish washing job in the local restaurant or a paper round are the only options. Now, with the rise and influence of social media and the internet, young people are open to a whole range of money making opportunities which just weren’t possible previously.”
“For example, there’s so many digital orientated jobs which kids can get involved in today, and carry out remotely. From slime manufacturing and selling via Instagram, to writing social media copy for brands during their lunch break (so they can market better to teens), to personalising badges and selling them on Etsy – there’s so many creative activities that young people can try.” says Oz.
“These types of jobs work better with school schedules and present more opportunities for individuals with entrepreneurial flair, a key attribute of Gen Z’ers today. As most of these jobs are done remotely from a bedroom or garage, the wider public don’t see young people doing them – which makes their part time jobs less obvious. Today’s teens and tweens are starting their own businesses that suit their schedules and personal interests – rather than opting for the traditional weekend jobs.” he says.
Hannah Elderfield, says, “Embracing a long term view, they’re using every opportunity to give their careers a head start by swapping would-be weekend shifts at supermarkets for study and experiences. That's not to say they're abandoning work completely – many are finding ‘side hustles’ using tools like Pickle or launching entrepreneurial projects early on, on resale platforms such as Depop."
“Gen-Z’s disposable income is dropping, which has a knock-on effect on the brands they buy from. While they might not be buying into their favourite brands as often as they’d like, they’re still engaging with them, which is important for marketers to consider in the long run. More often than not, that engagement is happening online via social media channels. Eight out of ten Gen-Zers say that their purchases are influenced by social media and over half of 13- to 17-year-olds say they would rather their favourite brand be advertised via influencers.” she says.
Leila Willingham says, “These statistics paint Gen Z in a bad light and if marketing teams aren’t careful, and don’t take time to understand this complex generation, there’s a danger they’ll disregard this generation and later loose out when Gen Z have huge spending power and will look to brands that align with their values/beliefs and have a track record of being good on social, innovative with tech and accepting of diversity, for example.”
Brands need think long term about this generation. It's about raising awareness and desire in the hope of reaping the benefits when they can afford to make larger purchases and buying decisions in the future. This is especially true for luxury brands.
If these teenagers aren’t going out clubbing and drinking like previous generations, then what are they doing with their spare time? “Nothing most of the time. They might play Xbox (mainly boys), go to the park. Go shopping. Meet at friend’s house.” says Rhianna, 16. “See friends, actually and digitally, and pursue hobbies like dancing, exercising, for boys football or skating or mates’ time.” says Liliah Zion, 14. Mia, 15, says, “I don't go out as much, but generally split costs with parents, depending on what I am doing. There is also an expectation as a teenager to dress or act in a certain way (thanks to social media and peer group pressure) and this can be expensive. I generally save up for something special or ask my parents.”
When not online with each other, it feels like teenagers are spending a lot of time in each other’s houses with their activities watched over or supervised by parents. Because they have less disposable income, they are going out less to places involving drinking, smoking and drugs and probably a reason why many of these night time economy places have closed or are struggling to survive, giving even more reasons not to go out. It’s also an element of peer pressure in reverse. If your friends don’t have part-time jobs then, maybe, you don’t feel as much pressure to get one. You also don’t feel left out by having less money. As long as you can afford your phone and you have the internet and social media, then you have a satisfied social life. Is it all ‘Netflix & Chill” without the sex, or is that already yesterday’s news?
Life, it seems, gets very serious from an early age today and Generation Z is a reflection of this. Growing up through the age of austerity, they are very focussed on their futures. “Today, we know how important it is to achieve good grades to allow us to follow the career we eventually want to succeed in. I feel that paid work can be delayed for now until we begin to work professionally and if I study hard enough the results will come in time.” says Mia, 15.
The pressures and time constraints of studying is weighing heavy on the ability and motivation to get part-time work. This is probably why the country’s exam results have got steadily better over the past few years. There are over 7 million 16-24 year olds living in the UK and the number of full-time students rose from 2.16 million in 1996 to 3.24 million in 2014.
But these young people are missing out on valuable experiences. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) report also stated 'earners and learners' are likely to perform better and earn more than those students who focus only on their studies in the longer term. They are also likely to earn more than those just in full-time education, with a premium of 12-15 per cent. Part-time jobs are also excellent ways for young people to gain experience of the working world, a factor which 66% of employers say is important when recruiting.
It’s clear Generation Z aren’t being lazy. On the one hand we have a very diligent, healthy and focussed generation which seems to be putting education before anything else, but, on the other, a generation without as much life experience and rebellious streak as previous ones. This generation is concentrating on learning and their revolution will just have to wait.