How are Gen Zers democratizing the concept of luxury?

Luxury is no longer about the exclusivity. Gen Zers are now reshaping the idea of luxury with their evolving digital habits and ethical concerns. Being the youngest cohort, they would be representing the largest consumer base by 2030. It is predicted that by 2026, about 60% of the luxury consumers would be Gen Z and Millennials. While heritage and exclusivity was a major driver for the luxury market, Gen Zers have a different take on this. They do not prioritize brand names as their consumption is mainly driven by digital communities, ethical concerns and individual identity. Luxury brands are now shifting their marketing strategies to cater to this new consumption behavior. While this has opened up numerous possibilities, the luxury market has been democratized. What was once elite and private is now widely within reach.

So what are the typical Gen Z characteristics and how have they reshaped luxury to be more accessible and affordable?

Virtual consumption:

In a recent survey by McKinsey, almost a third of Gen Zers across APAC spend six hours or longer a day on their phones, a considerably higher number than millennials (22 %) and Gen Xers (10 %). As this is the first generation to be born completely in the internet age, a majority of Gen Zers’ consumption is defined through the way they look at brands on social media and other digital platforms. With a digital-first lifestyle, they make a maximum percentage of their purchases online. What TV ads did for boomers and word of mouth for Gen Xers, influencer marketing does for Gen Zers.

Owing to their tech-savviness and excessive social media consumption, the concept of ‘digital twin’ has become very popular. A digital twin is a virtual replica of a living physical entity. These virtual twins are used to represent oneself in any digital platform ranging from social media to popular games. Since they can be anything from completely unreal to an actual carbon copy of physical selves, Gen Zers tend to spend time on their virtual twins to code a utopian life. They buy virtual goods, which are ideally non-physical objects for sale in online communities and games.

But how does this affect the luxury market?
In order to cater to theses online communities, luxury brands are also changing their outlook of marketing. Various brands have now started collaborating with individual designers and gaming companies to produce goods for these ‘virtual twins’. Since these goods are only present online, the price points are much lower.
For example, Louis Vuitton collaborated with the online game ‘League of Legends’. Apart from the real-life collection which included clothes and accessories, they also launched a collection for the digital avatars on the game, where each player could buy a piece of virtual clothing for just $10. This initiative not only lets consumers buy a Louis Vuitton accessory for a much cheaper price but also has increased access to the goods for a number of players.
100 thieves, a brand known for items that sell out in minutes, recently went virtual too. They uploaded virtual versions of their apparel on Nintendo’s Animal Crossing game, in turn enabling gamers an easier reach to their ever exclusive goods.

Apart from just designing virtual goods, luxury brands are targeting the digital-first lifestyle by collaborating with well-known influencers and streetwear brands. This sets expectations for a mid-level price point, to ensure affordability for the regular consumers of the streetwear brand. This shift from exclusive heritage-based marketing to inclusive social media propagation has in turn increased access to products.

Rentals and Remakes:

Apart from being digitally savvy, Gen Zers are also known as the most conscious consumers. Sustainable, eco-friendly consumption is a must-have for this generation. They share a common commitment to voicing concerns on environmental well-being. Terms like ‘slow fashion’ have gained momentum in a very short period of time.

How are luxury brands reacting to this?
Since Gen Zers are always on the look-out for a guilt-free consumption, it is no different in the luxury sector. Various mainstream luxury brands are addressing this concern not just by producing less, but also facilitating the sharing of already existing resources. Renting as a concept has entered the luxury stream as well.
Recently, Selfridges stores launched ‘Project Earth’, where they would not only be reselling pre-used luxury items but also renting a few designer outfits through the Hurr collective. The collection is supporting the rental revolution by letting consumers rent designer outfits for almost a fraction of the buying price. Similar patterns of renting high-end products are being replicated in various industries apart from just fashion.

Another way Gen Zers reflect on their environmental concerns is by re-making the iconic luxury collections by themselves. There is a hype around homespun products as they also question the nature of fast fashion. With the pandemic enforcing lockdowns, most of them are engaging in artsy activities. In response, luxury brands are conducting tutorials in collaboration with well-known designers to help educate the audience on creating a new garment altogether. A few of them post the basic blueprint of the product online. Anyone interested can download the blueprint, source their own material, and create the product with a hint of their personal touch. Some of them are also sharing a few resources that are needed for the process.
Recently, Tik-Tok users took the challenge of recreating the JW Anderson cardigan worth $1600 using the materials they had along with a few crochet video references. The trend picked up only to, later on, be formalized by the brand itself.
Alexander McQueen hosted a tutorial on its Instagram page, to teach their consumers the process of making patchwork coat and suit, similar to the one from their latest collection. Customers could put together any leftover pieces of fabric and scraps available at their own home to create a personalized version of the luxury collection. While these initiatives encourage the curating generation, they also ensure that the creation is accessible to all in a much easier fashion.

In conclusion, the luxury segment is already entering a phase that goes beyond just the ‘brand name’. Gen Zers might actually lead the ‘silent luxury’ movement, where products are recognized not by the glamours, but by the actual story behind them. Brands would now have to reimagine what ‘exclusivity’ means in a digital world with unlimited accessibility. They would also have to identify what the new ‘brag factors’ are for this generation. It is time to reimagine the levers that have defined luxury until now.