How gen Z is defining a new fashion zeitgeist with community at its heart

Anna White
Anna White
September 13, 2023

Social media is a means for community and connection. With 88% of gen Z communicating with friends and family via social media, the next generation is digital and (more importantly) social. As a result, the demands on fashion brands, and their parameters for connection, desire, and affiliation are changing too.

How community defined hype

Long before ‘viral’ had entered global vocabulary, youth-led spending patterns indicated a desire for community. Early iterations of streetwear in London saw communities emerge from the long queues that lined the storefronts of Palace and Supreme. Affiliation to the communities created around those brands which sold out so quickly saw early Facebook Groups created with the sole purpose of resale. The unsung result of those Facebook groups: grounding communities online.

Streetwear’s foundations in identity and online community created an unprecedented culture in fashion where mid-price-point items retained value as a result of the culture cultivated around them. It marked a love affair between community and fashion that bigger brands struggled to replicate.

Enter TikTok. The platform offers a new medium for the next generation of consumers to experience, understand, identify and shop, reinvigorating the role of fashion in culture.

Entering our fashion era

Fashion’s integration with culture has never been so prominent. In the hands of gen Z, TikTok trends have cultivated a new zeitgeist (as TikTokers might call it, a new fashion era). The platform is redefining the way in which gen Z shops, not just in terms of where they’re buying, but also what they’re buying.

TikTok’s capacity to tap into and champion all kinds of creative, personalized niches has had a transformative impact on fashion, and the ecosystem of cultures surrounding and interacting with it. Mirroring the community focus of London’s streetwear, TikTok acts as a vehicle for conversation around passions, interests and personal stories.

Brands that successfully tap into this can access the immense opportunity that the platform creates. For its record-breaking SS23 show, Diesel invited 3,000 members of the public, on a first-come-first-served basis. 70% of the tickets went to 18- to 25-year-olds, and the event trended on TikTok globally, amassing 11.9m views under the hashtag #dieselshow.

Trending hashtags ending in ‘core’ quickly became integral to algorithms on the app, and to the internet vocabulary that followed, marking a generation obsessed with new niches. From ‘dadcore’ and ‘normcore’ to ‘balletcore’ and ‘gorpcore’, the terms inform the subcultures that surround them, uniting like-minded users on the app with creators that produce content that resonates specifically with that demographic.

Gorpcore creators went viral wearing Arc’teryx jackets in the shower, and technical running trainers are seeing booming trade in growth. Even Nike joined in, enlisting the help of TikTok football creators like @Ben to authentically promote their latest football boots.

Nike’s recent collaboration with London streetwear brand Corteiz tapped deeper into the microcosm of British streetwear to produce 3 new iterations of the classic 95 trainer, which all immediately sold out.

Partnerships between brands and creators can become more targeted as they tap into loyal, invested audiences, and can leverage creators with personalities that audiences relate to and trust. Trending moments online take fashion beyond runways and storefronts and entrench brands in culture authentically.

How community is trending

Competing with social media, traditional advertising falls short for a generation of buyers which speaks its own language and looks for trends at a different pace. By tapping into creators, brands are homing in on culture. The brands that stand out, succeed, and create ideas that live beyond the runway are those leveraging community. To do so successfully is near-impossible without the community-defining forces of social media, and its creators.

Small brands and global companies alike can cultivate communities. Larger brands like retailer Jacquemus have leaned into a playful approach toward the seriousness of fashion. The brand has cultivated community through its hugely Instagram-able collections, tapping into different niches. In 2022 it leaned on tennis and vintage sportswear for a collaboration with Nike. In its latest SS23 collection, it took inspiration from cultural icon Princess Diana. Through cultural references and a creator-heavy audience at shows, Jacquemus has created a cult following that causes ripples across social media platforms every season.

Smaller brands getting involved include the likes of Cowboys of Habit leaning on y2k internet culture to produce t-shirts that create a microcosm of its consumer-community through self-referential design.

While there’s room for brands big and small, gen Z is calling on them all to do more, inviting brands to share their stories and forge connections. It’s a generation persuaded by purchases that tell stories, make references, and carry meaning. Gen Z is seeking connection to these brands, tying them to ideologies, interests, associations and even language. Without a strong brand identity, story or offering, brands will struggle to keep up and align with communities and culture.

Fashion is intimately linked with self-expression, meaning that the power of social platforms and the voices of creators is pivotal to unlocking a new means for connection and creativity for self-expression to evolve.

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