This isn't about ranking. This isn't about classification. What Polimoda wanted to do with this research project was to investigate the inner workings of younger generations and find out what they think about the future of fashion.
To accomplish their goal, third-year Undergraduate in Fashion Marketing Management and Business of Fashion students and teachers followed the traditional methodology used for school projects. Each student group researched main values, references and questions that young generations would consider important for the future of fashion. This collaborative approach led to the creation of an online survey that was sent to all students between April and May 2020 via an online platform.
To get to the heart of the fashion matter, Generation Z and Millennial students from 54 countries participated in a survey made by and for Polimoda students. The research project was supervised by two faculty members. Participants had one month to answer the questions truthfully. About half of those who participated were in the 18-22 age group. The other half were in the 23-31 age group.
Students investigated and came up with the most honest and relevant questions to them. Over 300 students participated, but this research was not meant to be quantitative. We preferred using the answers as indicators of trends, sentiments and opinions.
Now let's get to the good stuff. Here's what we found out about the future of fashion.
Fashion is freedom. Fashion is expression. Fashion is creativity
When asked to summarize the essence of fashion, the message sent from our students is clear: fashion is freedom and creativity. Luxury does not belong to this territory. What is fashion, if not an expression? What is fashion, if not freedom? What is fashion, if it doesn't belong to anything? What is fashion, if not authentic?
Fashion as we know it comes from the experimentation and interpretation of social changes. The strongest brands have become relevant because of the risks they take, the declarations they make, or their aesthetic for young generations and subcultures. The market today is full of options and meanings. This research brings to light the global nation of youth's need to find their identity in fashion — just like older generations did — and with the same desire to belong to something in an authentic way.
“Luxury” does not reflect the future categories of fashion
The term luxury is no longer a way that young people differentiate brands. Brands, just like the media, have become a fluid category and — while magazine covers have become works of art — young people are looking at pixelated images on peer-to-peer platforms and content shared by their friends. Fashion is perhaps no longer a synonym of luxury. It's become a common language used by young people. With this in mind, could the Global Nation of Youth become a subculture?
The fashion system is judged by authenticity
Authenticity is the most relevant value for young generations in addition to freedom. The Global Nation of Youth is aware of fake news and the lack of truthful information on social networks. That being said, young people think authenticity is the most important aspect of the fashion system and they have a hard time believing what they read. They are looking for concrete changes and actions: the elimination of wasteful production practices, a true reorganization of production methods and most of all, brands that focus on meaningful and durable products with environment-friendly practices.
Brands must practice the inclusivity they preach
Brands promote a variety of different races and ethnicities in their fashion advertising yet, within their companies, young people acknowledge that there is still a struggle within work culture. Offering a bigger range of sizes and using models from all over the world isn't enough for younger generations. Companies must focus on diversity hiring. Young people would like to eliminate discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation, race and religion. Some brands must do the work within their companies on the inside and start practicing what they preach on the outside. They must promote freedom.
"This research brings to light the global nation of youth's need to find their identity in fashion — just like older generations did — and with the same desire to belong to something in an authentic way."
Young people in fashion want to feel like they belong
A sense of belonging is one of the most important values for younger generations. For Millennials and Generation Z, feeling part of a community is a fundamental aspect of life and also something they look for in fashion brands as well. When we asked our students about the meaning of "sense of belonging," they shared feelings on identity, music and their passions. Young people want brands to focus on what we all have in common instead of our differences.
The fashion industry generates anxiety and uses push to purchase strategies irresponsibly
Education is a key factor when evaluating a fashion band. Respect is an important value missing in the fashion industry. The market is aggressive and push to purchase strategies are stronger than ever. If you think about it, Instagram was a social network for sharing beautiful photos in 2011 and today, in 2020, it has become a giant e-commerce. Brand values are perhaps missing. Young generations are starting to notice this trend and believe communication that creates anxiety must be eliminated and brands — including their ambassadors — must start educating themselves and acting responsibly with their storytelling.
Is Gucci becoming a fashion benchmark for younger generations?
Gucci is the closest brand to Generation Z and Millennial values. Their scores ranked very high overall and they are considered authentic. However, the findings show that there might be a sense of mistrust. On the other hand, Jacquemus, a brand created by a young Millennial in the south of France, was mentioned for authenticity and sustainability.
"Young people want brands to focus on what we all have in common instead of our differences."
Outside-the-system fashion brands are rising in relevance
Young generations still love big brands because of their values, but there is an interesting panorama emerging of new niche brands loved for their authenticity, education and sustainability. A few examples are Gabriela Hearst, Pangaia, Bethany Williams and Nudie Jeans. Some of these examples aren't considered fashion brands, but digitally born brands offering communication and production in line with values of authenticity and education. Old school brands are still relevant: Rick Owens for a sense of community, Margiela for freedom and Prada for culture.
There is uncertainty related to sustainable fashion brands
Uncertainty is high in this area. Sustainability is still connected to brands like historically sustainable Patagonia and Stella McCartney. Some new brands are considered authentic with a less wasteful approach like Veja, Pangaia and Bethany Williams. Big brands with recent sustainable approaches were not strongly associated with sustainability as a value.
Instagram is the fashion medium and there isn't a fashion medium
There is no longer a clear distinction for young people when it comes to fashion consumption. They live between the fluidity of platforms and networks. Magazines are a macro category; books, music and social media are all considered "media" and Instagram is the medium of excellence as far as interests, truth and influence. Celebrities and influencers were not considered media by students. A high number of young people don't trust the media; they only trust their brains. Some say they are bored with everything, probably due to the overwhelming quantity of content they are exposed to.
What's the Truth about Fashion?
Over the last decades, fashion has detected, created and represented authentic social identity for cultural movements. Roads to freedom are explored when young generations express their deepest social motivations. Truth be told, what is fashion if not freedom?
Today, young people are aware of the lack of authentic artistry in the fashion industry and are demanding change. To be trusted once again, fashion brands must be meaningful, make statements, practice the diversity, inclusivity and sustainability they preach and build an honest community.
The quest for authenticity led to the downfall of fashion media. We know Instagram is very important and also overwhelming for Generation Z and Millennials. They are bored and overexposed to content and fake news. They have trust issues with what they read online.
As far as companies, big brands haven’t lost their touch and are still close to the values of young generations, including sense of belonging and freedom. However, there is an interesting landscape of new and more niche brands emerging — especially in terms of authenticity, education and sustainability. These values, together with inclusivity and cultural involvement, are the ones expected to shape the future of fashion, as seen by Generation Z and Millennials. That is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about fashion.
Discover the full research project here
Third-year Undergraduate in Fashion Marketing Management and Business of Fashion students: Camilla Chiarolanza, Laura Casini, Marco Covitto, Alessandro Candelori, Francesca Crestani, Anastasia Basano, Catalina Bastida, Valentina Doria, Steven Addae, Ella van Niekerk, Janie Marais, Arianna Fabris, Tanya Ganeriwal, Laius, Camilla Zanzotto, Kaja Steindl, Brando Coleman, Naomi Tajiti, Daniela Palacios, Daniela Ballon, Gianella Quesada, Alejandra Echegaray, Camil Guerra, Manuela Buitrago, Sumin Kwon, Maria Fernanda Ramirez, Antonio Ligorio, Maddalena Bartolini Baldelli, Alice Botteon, Diana D’Anniballe, Claudia Salutari, Desiree Silvestri, Bertolini Sofia, Cioffi Elisabetta, Gentile Francesca, Pellicci Federica, Claudia Passarella, Colette Cipriani, Maria Giulia Pergola, Sofia Arnoldi, Martina Corrente, Camilla Morel, Beatrice Deprati, Camilla Chiari, Caterina Patierno, Michelle Mitku, Arianna Vantini, Carolina Panetta, Ivanna Faidutti, Sara Vasconez, Natalia Smigielska, Mina Vuletic.
Faculty members: Lilit Boninsegni and Silvia Fossati, leading teachers of Polimoda's Business Department.