The Baby Boomers have always been the generation in the spotlight, the ones who demanded social change, whether it be through music, politics, or fashion. Their descendants, however, have been discredited in the past, written off as lazy and prone to feelings of entitlement. However, this school of thought is quickly fading, and those who are Generation Y(those born between 1970 to about 2000 - in other words, US!) are now being known as the most influential buying demographic, and the generation that is rapidly changing the pace of the fashion industry.
On February 2nd, Fashion Group International held an event, “Y they Buy” where an industry panel discussion on Gen Y’s purchasing habits. Victor Barac, consultant for Applied Anthropology Consulting, defines Generation Y as a "culturally diverse generation that has been the first to come of age in a technological environment".
Gen Y-ers rely heavily on multimedia communication and bloggers, who are now seen as the new ‘authority’ thanks to their ability to put out the most current news in the fastest amount of time. Therefore, its no surprise that this fast-paced generation who seeks instantaneous information would expect the same when it comes to fashion.
The concept of “fast fashion” was created in response to the demands of Generation Y, who often see a trend on the runways of Paris on Tuesday, and expect a less expensive variation of that trend hanging in their closets by Friday.
John Muscat and Jennifer Wells, co-owners of Line Knitwear, agreed that their clients demand the trends immediately, but added that their expectation of timeliness does not mean that costs be excessive or that the quality suffers. “Customers are more savvy,” said Wells, adding “they want affordable, stylish clothing without quality loss”. Gen Y has forced Line to work harder and faster at churning out the trends quickly enough to satisfy the ever-changing needs of their customers. Muscat and Wells also commented on the fact that Gen Y is more in tune and more knowledgeable when it comes to fashion thanks to the intense media scrutiny of the fashion world.
Sarah Casselman, Fashion Market Editor at Fashion Magazine and panelist for FGI’s event has also seen changes at Fashion thanks to the demands of their 18 to 24 year old readers. To reach the Gen Y market, editors at Fashion Magazine have also been turning to bloggers, saying that although many of their trend stories are based on ready-to-wear, its important to follow bloggers who may be able to pick up on smaller trends. Seeing the value in accessing fashion through the internet, the magazine’s online department has been granted a greater budget and updates the site daily with web videos and photographs of street style in the hopes of remaining as relevant as possible in the time between their monthly issues.
Technology is not the only trigger in this recent shift towards Gen Y’s demands for fast fashion. Panelists also discussed retail giants like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21, who are all vertically integrated and have the ability to find a trend and translate it into garments in as little as two weeks.
Celebrities are also crucial – Generation Y is immersed in celebrity culture and often defines a brands success by the celebrity who wears it. With luxury brands having the greatest amount of access to celebrities, small-time designers must allocate significant amounts of money into PR and marketing in the hopes of breaking in.
While there is no doubt that Gen Y is changing the inner-workings of the fashion industry on all levels, its hard to say whether its for better or worse. Small retailers are struggling to compete with commercial retail giants, reputable magazine’s struggle to stay current, and new designers must compete with established fashion houses for recognition. However, consumer’s are wiser now. Thanks to technology bringing fashion into our worlds in a way it never was before, we are smarter, savvier shoppers, and we’re all a little bit trendier. Generation Y is definitely demanding when it comes to style, but if it makes the streets of Toronto that much more fashionable, it can't be so bad.