Why Gen Z's Are Demanding Transparency
Millennials were first to drive the conversation around sustainable fashion, but Gen Z’s have taken it to another level.
Millennials were first to drive the conversation around sustainable fashion, but Gen Z’s have taken it to another level. As the sustainability conversation continues to rise, it has now shifted from “any step is a step in the right direction” to “sustainability isn’t enough.” With the current events in 2020, consumers expect brands to have a solid stance on environmental and social issues. It is not an option anymore. And as consumers are beginning to see transparency from forward-thinking brands, Gen Z questions why all brands aren’t making this information available. Gen Z’s make up about 20% of the world’s population, which makes them a large cohort for businesses to target. But, growing up they have felt they have been lied to their whole lives by the brands pushing product on them. To make things worse, Gen Z is terrified for the world they are going to grow up in, wondering if there will even be a world for them to live in. Eco-anxiety is a real problem and Gen Z does not appreciate greenwashing tactics that lead them to believe they are buying a more responsible product. The uncertainty in the world is confusing enough and to throw misleading and false sustainability claims into the mix for consumers to navigate through has pushed Gen Z to not only crave transparency, but demand it.
WHY THE NEED?
Consumers are extremely frustrated with brands who are talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Gen Z is an extremely smart and skeptical cohort. They do not want to be fooled and truly believe that knowledge is power. In the past, not caring was associated with being cool, but thank you to Boyish for coining the slogan “#CoolToCare” because, in current times, it really is cool to care. Gen Z loves to appear “woke,” staying on top of the current events and ensuring they are educated on the latest environmental and social issues. If you do not engage with social media, you might have missed its transformation within the past few months. Millennials and Gen Z’s are using social media as a tool for good and a tool to educate. No longer are the days of filling your feed with beautiful pictures and one emoji captions. Social media has become a place for consumers to learn and create change. Pretty pictures, of course still have their place, but these pictures need to be backed up with substance, value, and meaning. As we continue to decide what is truly important to us as a society, we are also becoming more emotionally involved. In marketing, one of the main tactics is to pull at the consumers’ heartstrings and to get the customer emotionally attached. Once you form an emotional connection, it is very hard to break or deter that. The same idea lives here. Because Gen Z feels personally targeted by greenwashing and false marketing claims, the only way forward for them is to create a trusting relationship through transparency.
Transparency will be the way forward in ensuring your claims are correct, but being transparent does not always translate to sustainability. Fashion Revolution recently came out with its Transparency Index that ranked H&M as one of the most transparent companies in the world. Of course, people were outraged when they saw this, as they felt as though being transparent meant H&M was one of the most sustainable companies in the world. Transparency only means being transparent, it does not necessarily mean a company is being environmentally or socially conscious. However, it is a large feat for a massive company like H&M to trace their supply chain and proves that it is possible for all to be transparent within their supply chain. This brings us to “convenient transparency.” Convenient transparency refers to only showcasing the information you wish to. At the moment, brands choose to share Tier 1 and 2 levels in the supply chain, but it is very rare to see Tiers 3 and 4 addressed, as well. For brands, opacity in the supply chain has been positive for some, using excuses for ‘not knowing’ the factory they had been using subcontracted facilities that employed slave labor. However, not knowing is just as dangerous as knowingly using slave labor. It cannot be an excuse to hide behind the tangled supply chain. It is your job to know where and how your products are being made. Consumers and especially Gen Z now believe that if you aren’t disclosing it, you aren’t proud of it and are thus hiding something you don’t want your customers knowing. It is time to share your wins, and be honest about the challenges you face in making your brand transparent.
Naturally, traceability will be the next step in creating a truly transparent supply chain and ensure consumer trust. But, we need to see a true commitment from brands to make this information accessible. It is not hard for Gen Z to sniff out the buzzwords and perfectly worded sustainability slogans, so do not have your PR team work on copy that alludes to the fact that you care. You actually need to care in order to put the resources in place to create and sustain a transparent supply chain you are proud of.
COLLABORATING WITH SUPPLIERS
As mentioned, it is not an easy feat to trace your supply chain, which makes it crucial to work closely with suppliers and crucial to treat these relationships as partnerships. COVID-19 has exposed how delicate and interconnected our supply chain really is, showing us that every link in the chain relies on one another. As brands become more connected to suppliers, long-lasting relationships, versus purely transactional ones, will be formed and thus, it will only be natural to want to promote who and where you are sourcing from. Overall, the fashion sustainability conversation is evolving into one of sustainability plus transparency, demanded by the rising Gen Z cohort. As consumers are beginning to have access to the information behind their clothes, they are going to expect it from brands very shortly. Transparency is the only way forward to ensure consumer trust and creating a relationship between your customer and your brand. The time is now to start tracing the value chain and evaluating where you can improve, so you are proud to be a transparent brand.