Episode 91: What are the cultural undercurrents influencing customers in 2024 and beyond?




Hello and welcome to episode 91 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. Last episode I talked about having a relatively slower start to 2024 and I have to say that has continued. I've enjoyed being able to think deeply about what I want this year to look like and I'm still not 100% sure, but I love that I've been able to give enough space to a lot of ideas at the moment and some of that thinking has led me to refine a couple of offers for 2024. And it's really come from being able to think about what problems business are facing, of course, because we always want to focus on the problem, but also what's going to help them realise their dreams. You know what's really going to help them become that brand that is either a leader or has really changed things up this year, or is doing things more ethically and is now the go-to that the customer trusts. And what is it that I can do to help those businesses achieve those goals and dreams that they have on their plate. So one of those offers is called a Circular Design Workshop. This really came from talking to business owners and looking at where the industry is moving to and what goals they have in terms of achieving a circular economy that align with global economic goals as well, and then thinking about the design teams and what they're going to be needing, because they're the ones on the ground, problem-solving and, I guess, given the responsibility to come to the table with solutions and ideas about how to reinvigorate products. And they're often the last one brought into the room and I know this because I've been in those design teams when, all of a sudden, leadership comes in and I'll say we have this great presentation for our new sustainability goals, our business goals and by 2025, we want to be able to achieve XYZ.

And you sit there in the design team and you think, okay, all right, how are we going to get there? And so you really are looking for that practical support on how to execute that, to be able to deliver on the company goals. And you know, as you know, my background is product and I've been in product teams. I've worked as a designer, I've worked as a sourcing specialist product developer all across the world, and predominantly in Australia and the UK, but I've sourced from all across the world in a number of different countries and multiple product areas, so I think it's a really good fit and something I'm passionate about is being able to give those designers the tools and even leadership teams to be able to contribute to the shift that fashion needs and that is, being able to design products that is fit for a circular economy. 

And I do want to mention if you follow me on LinkedIn you would have seen my post about this new workshop, and within the post I quoted a new survey that was done at the end of last year, in November, and it revealed that “the circular economy, sustainability and circular fashion are top priorities for 100 board members and senior execs, including CEOs, retail directors, chief operating officers, sustainability directors and finance directors in the UK, usa and Australia.” 

And one of the findings from that survey was that, while 49% said sustainability is regarded as highly important to the success of their business, only 21% described the quality of their sustainability strategy and program is excellent, and I think this really highlights the emerging gap between the vision and goals of a business and possibly senior leadership teams and the skills of the people given the responsibility to deliver the product. And if you've been listening to the podcast for a while, you'll know that there's this quote that gets sort of said every so often that says “80% of the environmental impacts of a product is determined at its design stage”. And you know, I'm not a huge fan of that quote because I think it suggests that all of the power and decision making lies with the designers. But it does highlight the focus and the pressure that is being put on design teams to be able to design with circular thinking in mind as well as sustainability. So if upskilling your design team or your leadership team is something that is on your list of things to do this year, get in touch. You can email me info@belindahumphrey.com and we can set up a time for a conversation about some of the options. 

So onto today's topic. Today I wanted to talk a little bit about customer sentiment and where that is sitting and reference a couple of reports that came out last year to maybe help guide you or give some little signals about where everyone is at, to help you try and incorporate any product shifts or messaging that you might be working on. Now, the first report focuses on GenZ and, as a refresher, that's a population born between 1997 and 2012 and I think, just generally and globally, there's a lot of focus on what GenZ is doing and what they're thinking and how they want to spend their money. And that makes sense because typically every next generation is bigger than the previous one, so their spending power is higher and there's often usually a shift, a cultural shift in what is cool and not to distinguish themselves from their parents. But in terms of financials, one report I read stated that they will make up “40% of all individuals of working age and be the largest consumer group, with a spending power of $33 trillion”. So there's a very obvious financial benefit to be focusing in on this demographic and, like I said, the second part of that is something I've been thinking about a lot like, actually, and it's true that every generation that comes next wants to distinguish themselves from their parents and I've been wondering whether that's the cultural or societal shift that needs to happen. Like I said, every generation that comes along wants to distinguish themselves as different from their parents. So I guess, as an example, much like it became cool to drink bottled water and uncool to mend clothes. I've been wondering if this cultural shift back to sustainability being cool is the missing piece to create a tipping point for change. And yeah, maybe it will come from this demographic wanting to separate themselves from their parents. 

So the first report I wanted to mention was the NXT sustainable consumer report, 2023, and that was from Above the Clouds, and it had a couple of interesting insights, in particular, around the behaviors of different groups. But I wanted to highlight just one main idea here today, and it was when they were talking about Gen Z. 

So during their research and this was with Scandinavian participants, they found that 8 out of 10 view sustainability as an intrinsic part of their identity. They proudly embrace sustainability values and they integrate them into their self-identity and image. They see demonstrating knowledge about environmental and climate issues, while living a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, as a captivating trait capable of impressing and attracting others. The researchers labeled this effect as “The Tinder effect”, whereby someone can be seen as more attractive if they have this knowledge. It's like a new status symbol, an admiration for those who have enough knowledge about sustainability to live a sustainable lifestyle and connect it with their self-identity. Now, the flip side of this is that if you do not live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, you'll be less attractive when you're going out to meet someone. However, despite all of this, a staggering 9 out of 10 Gen Z respondents admit to lacking knowledge about how their consumption habits impact the planet and, interestingly, they also discovered a list of words that consumers are the most tired of seeing or hearing. Climate neutral being the worst, then climate positive, sustainable, sustainability, eco-friendly, gosh I think that one is the worst for me and then responsible products. So, going back to that earlier notion of Gen Z wanting to separate themselves from their parents, it's interesting that this notion of the Tinder effect is popping up and it's part of their identity and it's really creating a new sense of status or luxury. 

From an Australian point of view, I wanted to mention the Australian Ethical consumer report from Baptist World Aid from last year, and this predominantly focused on the ethical part of fashion, but has some sustainability or environmental insights as well, and there were a couple that really interested me. The first one was that 70% of Australians want their shopping habits to reflect ethical practices over the next 12 months, and this was actually a decrease from 87% in 2021. And I wanted to mention this as it is a disappointing reduction. However, I think it was mentioned further down in the report that there are a couple of other findings that might help to give more context. So close to two in five Australians, 35% consider ethically produced fashion items as too expensive. Suggesting cost remains a significant concern, and the barrier of not knowing what brands are ethical has slightly reduced from 39%. So I think, if we look at a broader context, this shows that the cost of living is forcing people to prioritise their own immediate environment and there is still confusion about what ethical fashion is, and this is leading to customers not taking any action. 

They also found that when considering the environmental and social impact of their fashion habits in the next year, 52% of Australians are most likely to reduce the amount of products they buy, 51% will research how to responsibly dispose of their fashion and 50% will learn to repair something they own. The biggest influence on purchasing decisions is value for money, at 73%, followed by good quality at 66% and low price at 54%. And just as a comparison to the earlier report that focused on GenZ, it was interesting to see that the generation most active in engaging with ethical fashion is GenY, who are 29 to 43 years old, they've got the highest ethical global citizen score of 71, and they are followed by GenZ at 66. So it's worth stating the obvious that you shouldn't be dismissing older generations. 

In summary, with GenZ customers valuing this new form of sustainability status, brands must move beyond the traditional notions of luxury, such as heritage, prestige and exclusivity, and embrace a fresh set of principles that include inclusivity, sustainability, transparency, green technology and circular innovation. Customer activism is growing and customers are looking to educate themselves on how best to spend their money. They are aware that where they spend their money can create change, and so brands that are able to easily communicate to their customers, both online and in-store, will attract this customer. Finally, customers will need to see their purchases as being good value for money as well as good quality, and they are looking to incorporate circular principles such as reduce, recycle and repair into their repertoire. So, again, brands that are expanding in this way and have really got their product offering nailed will be able to speak to and respond to this customer need. 

And that brings us to the end of today's episode. Hopefully that has given you some food for thought when it comes to the ever-evolving customer mindset and how you might best attract those people to your products and your business. 

As I said earlier, I've introduced a Circular Design Workshop for 2024, so if you're needing to upskill your design team, send me an email, info@belindahumphrey.com and we can have a chat, as always. You'll find the show notes and any links for today's episode on the website BelindaHumphreycom in the podcast section. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time. 

Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch, head over to belindahumphrey.com or you can find me on Instagram at BelindaHumphrey_ 

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change. 


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