SUSTAINABILITY: A CORE VALUE OF GEN Z
With the grave reality that our environment is in danger, it’s no wonder why sustainability is so important to the Z Suite — and why Gen Z wants to support brands who make a concerted effort to reduce their footprint.
This generation is acutely aware of how companies make and source their products — and, like Shaban said, nothing will go past them. “Many of us will only shop at companies that are more sustainable or even go thrifting as an alternative to buying fast fashion products,” says Hussain.
“Brand values and what a brand stands for are ways in which Gen Z chooses which companies they want to support,” explains Gabriela Brown, Goizueta alumna, Z Suite’s community director, and Berns social media manager.
“Gen Z wants to be loyal to a brand that they trust and like,” adds Kane. “But if that brand releases a new line that isn’t sustainable, they’ll often jump to the next brand. It’s important that brands really understand – deeply at the core — what is driving consumer behaviors.”
AUTHENTICITY: ‘WHEREVER WE SPEND OUR MONEY SHOWS OUR SUPPORT FOR A BRAND’S IDEALS’
Along with sustainability, authenticity is just as important to this generation. This is because many see their purchases as extensions of themselves. “Wherever we spend our money shows our support for a brand’s ideals,” Hussain says.
Due to the emergence of TikTok and the high usage of Instagram and YouTube amongst Gen Zers, the pandemic has opened up the opportunity for anyone to become a social media influencer. Plus, Brown says that many companies are looking for user-generated content as a way to have authentic voices come through. “Brands want to tap into individuals who use their product in their own life, whether that’s a skincare product or an article of clothing,” she explains.
Kane says whether people have a million, 100,000, or 1,000 followers, they’re considered influencers if their content is influencing others in a positive way.
With there being less gatekeeping to becoming an influencer, Gonshar believes that it’s increasingly important for influencers to integrate what they’re promoting into their lifestyle in an authentic and genuine way. “Finding influencers that are consistently real is one thing that brands need to look for in order for people to trust them,” she says.
INCLUSIVITY: ‘NO LONGER SOMETHING PROGRESSIVE; IT’S A GIVEN’
On top of sustainability and authenticity being at the top of Gen Zers minds, so is inclusivity; According to Gonshar, if a brand isn’t sharing a voice of inclusivity, it simply won’t last. “Being open to all types of identities is no longer something progressive; it’s a given,” she says.
But this generation sees right through brands that take the easy way out; Shaban says that businesses who simply add a rainbow to their packaging as a way of virtue signaling don’t make the cut. Again, they want to see action behind a brand’s perceived values.
Marina Cooley, Goizueta marketing professor, says that the importance of action aligning with values is because Gen Z cares — deeply — about the impact brands have on people. This generation expects influencers to be inclusive and take a stand on social issues.
“They can’t just hit the mute button,” she says. “Influencers have to stand up for the issues we’re facing today.”
“As a company, you’re judged by what you’re doing today — in this second,” adds Hershatter. “It’s an enormous amount of pressure.”
‘I DON’T THINK WE COULD’VE GOTTEN AN OPPORTUNITY LIKE THIS ANYWHERE ELSE’
Since joining the Z Suite, Shaban, Gonshar, and Hussain have become more clear on their values and what they offer to the workforce. Plus, they’ve become more confident and have been able to leverage networking opportunities, like the Retail Influencer CEO Forum on Sept. 12 hosted by Berns’ Retail Influencer Network.
This half-day summit brought together over 35 speakers during New York Fashion Week. This gave the Z Suite members the opportunity to meet each other in-person, as well as provide brand leaders with a deep understanding of Gen Z’s values, priorities, and shopping behaviors.
“A lot of the people who were there, even CEOs and founders, were young themselves,” says Hussain. “Many had already started their own companies and represented the ideals of Gen Z.”
As the Z Suite continues to grow, Brown and Kane are trying to find more avenues to bring its members and thought leaders together; at the event, two members were offered internships, showing the power of bringing Gen Zers together in one place.
“I don’t think we could’ve gotten an opportunity like this anywhere else,” Hussain says.
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