Gen Z will be coming into spending power over the next few years and is predicted to make up 40% of consumers by 2020. By then, online shopping could be at its most seamless yet, with relevant products suggested by a personal chatbot, payments made through facial recognition and driverless trucks delivering within the hour. All this talk could have bricks and mortar retailers quivering in their boots, but research shows that this generation is actually pining after real physical connections with a brand.
With every brand, comes a purpose. This purpose gives our Gen Z audience a reason to buy into the brand’s culture. We know that the youth of today want to discover brands that share their values, so wearing a logo represents who you are, and what tribe you belong to. These brands have ‘cool’ status, so wearing their products signals you’re someone with their finger on the pulse (quite literally, waiting for a product to drop).
Anti Social Social Club has a strong tribal culture. It’s a brand built for those that don’t fit in. The brand stands as a statement against normality – its founder claims to be someone who people ‘never really liked’, and his products represent his ‘lowest days’. A sad story but one that gives the product a purpose for like-minded teens.
Skate-informed brand Palace was started by Lev Tanju and his friends, who used to make up skate collective ‘Palace Wayward Boys Choir’. This idea of a brotherhood is something that translates through to the brand’s purpose. By buying into Palace, you are buying into a part of the Palace family.
For Gen Z, getting your hands on the most Instagrammable product with a compelling story is a key driver. The trend of ‘stuffocation’ has shown us that we’re at product saturation point. In response to this, Gen Z is looking for more meaningful and personal products to purchase.
Take for example, Kanye West’s Life Of Pablo pop-up series form 2016. There were 21 pop-ups in total across 21 cities and each city received its own original collection with unique colourways and logos. For Gen Z, this level of personalisation gives West’s brand some credibility, as he is seen to be giving back to his fans.
Streetwear product is also given new meaning through its exclusivity. For the average consumer, seeing the words ‘sold out’ in-store and online can be frustrating, but with streetwear, there’s an understanding that the product is exclusive and won’t stick around for long. This also creates hype around a product range. If you take a look at Anti Social Social Club’s website, you’ll see that everything is sold out, but this just increases the hype around the next product drop.
For Gen Z, buying products can be really easy. It’s simply a case of unlocking your phone, heading to your favourite website, and then waiting a few days for your purchase to be with you – now where’s the fun in that? Streetwear brands are making the process of getting your hands on one of their latest products fairly gruelling. But the reward at the end is knowing you are one of X number of people with that product.
Supreme is a brand that has got this down to a (box logo) tee! They’ve introduced a new but slightly nostalgic system whereby information is released on old-school platforms like forums, facebook, and by WOM. The idea is that you sign up to a mailing list, and are then emailed with a location where you can queue to get a ticket….to stand in a queue. In an article about product drop queues on Hypebeast George Stewart-Lockhart describes how Supreme has gamified the process: at 10 am he was told to head to skatepark BaySixty6, then queue for a ticket with the number 174 on it. He’s then told to come back to the queue at 10:30 on Thursday, with his ticket, where he then waits two hours to be let into Supreme, after queuing around the streets of Soho (in 174th place).
Gen Z craves time spent with people in real places. Social media allows them to connect with brands and people 24/7, so why are they choosing to queue for hours to enter a store? Streetwear stores represent a central hub for these brands. Being able to be seen there and experience waiting in a queue with other people just like them, makes them feel part of a movement.
Brands like Off-White are doing more to make the in-store experience an extra special experience.
Collaboration is a hot topic when it comes to Gen Z. Nike recently collaborated with Off-White to create a range of iconic Nike sneakers, named ‘Ten’ redesigned by Off White’s creative director Virgil Abloh. To coincide with the release of the sneakers, Nike announced an ‘Off-Campus’” event at the London NikeLab 1948 store, where fans could attend workshops and lectures. Although the product is the obvious collaboration here, Nike and Off White have used their space as a hub for collaborative moments between the brand and the consumer. Nike calls the Off-Campus locations, “A cultural destination and learning environment for the advancement of sport, design and innovation”.
Streetwear brands are also being creative with their spaces, and using the power of digital to drive their audience to locations. ASSC worked with Frenzy to create an online pop-up shop that only worked when the consumer was standing in a specific location. ASSC displayed pink billboards with a phone number on them around LA. Consumers who phoned this number were given Morse code that provided details of the product drop. When standing in the location, they could unlock the product online and purchase it.
Streetwear brands have such a cult following that their customers become fans. It’s the fans that take the brand from 1 to 1000 mentions on Instagram in seconds, and this all stems from the hype and excitement that surrounds them. Imagine the brand is an A-list celebrity. The moment you know they’re going to be in a certain location, you run to try and get a peek. With streetwear brands, you herald the brand name on your T-shirt and shout about it on social media. It’s this collective feel and authoritative attitude from the brand that makes Gen Z flock to their stores.
The personalities of these brands are rooted in being effortlessly cool and not looking like they’re trying too hard – and there’s no prescriptive rulebook for that, it’s all in the nuanced execution of the brand pillars explored above.
Supreme (like many streetwear brands) with its carefully honed business model that relies on exclusivity, has transcended normal retailer status and become a star in its own right – with its own fan clubs. To enhance this air of stardom its campaigns feature the likes of Kate Moss, Mike Tyson, Morrisey and even Kermit the Frog. All are moodily shot by celebrity photographer Terry Richardson. Supreme’s TOV is pretty indirect and never chatty, its personality is defined by its air of mystique.
ASSC’s personality is all about giving its tribe a voice. Its Instagram is filled with reposts from loyal customers sporting ASSC hoodies, often with captions like “where’s my s**t” or “put my s**t in the mail!”. The brand celebrates its customers behaving rudely or anti-socially, allowing them to contribute to the misfit personality. Phrases like ‘get weird’ and ‘I’m happy but you don’t like me’ are littered throughout its Instagram and it relies on its fans to perpetuate this TOV throughout social media with the #assc.
Streetwear brands are engaging with customers in new ways. They’ve mastered experience by dropping exclusive products, creating tribe cultures, building endless hype and making fans out of their customers. Furthermore, they’ve shown that teens want real-life connections as well, and if that means queuing for hours at a product drop, so be it.
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