The Impact of Generation Z on the Imprinted Sportswear Industry
This year I’ve decided to talk about trends instead of predictions. Why? Because these trends are things that we’re seeing happening right now, things that we know will continue into the future. They are more concrete. They are real and you need to know about them. At the top of the list for us as an industry is the future impact of Generation Z. You might not see the results of this generation for a few years, as the oldest “Zers” are still in their late teens or early twenties. But down the road, members of Generation Z might be your best customers–and they might also be your best competitors.
But let’s back up a few steps. As a custom garment business owner, you are probably catering to several generations of customers right now. You might recognize that certain age groups tend to have similarities when it comes to design styles (traditional vs. bling vs. full color overall graphics) or a preference as to how they like to place orders. Some customers require a face to face visit, others are happy to reorder online. Understanding the needs of different customer groups can help you serve them better in the new year. Let’s do a quick review of the generations as they are defined by most. (Keep in mind that there is some overlap of years for the generations–there are no precise dates–this serves only as a general overview.)
Generation X or Gen Xers, are normally defined as people born between 1961 and 1981. If you are a Gen Xer, you might have some overlapping characteristics with Baby Boomers. Gen Xers are next in line to rule the world and many already are, in both the world of politics as well as in charge of running major corporations as Baby Boomers retire. While many Gen Xers are very comfortable with online shopping, they still remember the good old days of shopping in brick and mortar shops or malls. Like the Baby Boomers, they used libraries, read newspapers and have a growing nostalgia for books printed on paper. They are also well known for their entrepreneurial spirit and there are many successful and well known Gen Xers active in the imprinted sportswear industry. As customers, they are probably fine if you aren’t able to email them a copy of their receipt. But members of Generation Y would like to have an emailed receipt as an option.
Generation Y, also sometimes called Millennials consists of people born between the late 1970’s and the mid 1990’s. As lifelong consumers with access to a global marketplace, they have been making buying decisions for a long time and they embraced new technology as it became available. The Millennials have high expectations for custom goods, since the internet showed them how easy it is to order custom shirts, mugs, shoes–just about anything–online, overnight, now. They don’t have patience for mistakes or bad service and won’t hesitate to post negative reviews on social media if you don’t deliver. They are probably the most demanding and fickle of your customers right now. Millennials are also well known for their entrepreneurial spirit, and are probably partially responsible for the fantastic boom we are currently experiencing in the custom industry. In fact, they might be in charge of running the online company that is taking away some of your business. But they shouldn’t be your biggest worry–as we’ve mentioned before, the big online custom companies have been doing everyone a favor by popularizing and advertising the need for custom items. Younger generations are literally growing up in a world that demands and prefers customization.
Which brings us to Generation Z, or “digital natives.” These are people born in the mid to late 1990’s to 2009, who have never experienced a world without the internet. They have a lot of very interesting characteristics, but one of the most interesting traits attributed to Generation Z (according to Business Insider) is that Generation Z kids are more entrepreneurial than millennials. Business Insider quoted a study by Millennial Branding that said, “72% of high school students want to start a business someday and 61% would rather be an entrepreneur than an employee when they graduate college.” This is a statement that should not be taken lightly by anyone involved in the imprinted sportswear industry. Not only will this generation continue to have a need or demand for custom items, they will also be very interested in creating and selling the items themselves. They will have a high level of technological understanding, they will be more open to new technologies, such as Direct to Garment, Laser, Heat Printing and Sublimation, than previous generations. They will be looking for faster, easier, better ways to customize. As an industry, we need to learn to serve Generation Z kids with the technology, versatility and speed that they have grown to expect and demand. These demands and desires for fast customization are not limited to Generation Z–but Generation Z is moving at a much faster pace. I know because I’m a baby boomer with Gen Y and Gen Z kids! It’s wonderful to see them embrace the new customization technologies, new heat print materials, new reflectives, new ways to design and create artwork. So when your Gen Z grandchild, child or neighbor tells you they’re thinking about skipping college and starting a business, don’t be surprised if that business has something to do with personalization or imprinted sportswear. It’s the perfect cup of tea for Generation Z.