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New Cohort of Young Consumers Values An Ironic Brand Aesthetic

Most are aware that Gen Z as a whole values authenticity and activism, but a new subset within the cohort is taking those priorities to another level.

Retail data analytics company Edited described a new group of young people slated to heavily influence the fashion industry—that is, once they have enough money to do so. Aptly named Carly (which stands for “Can’t Afford Real Life Yet”), this subgroup has yet to gain spending power, most likely because of their age. Like their Gen Z peers, this cohort was born between the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2010s, but typically falls on the younger end of the spectrum.

The cohort is defined by young people who thrive on memes and other viral, short-lived content, appreciate flaws and irony and believe they have the power to make change. Typically optimistic and community-driven, they often flock to brands with “tribe-like” followings—Kith, Madhappy, Parade—and demand ethics and transparency from them.

One of the group’s most beloved brands is Starface, a skincare brand that makes cheerful, star-shaped blemish patches that people can place over their imperfections. According to Edited, other brands could learn a valuable lesson from the skincare company.

“Keep a finger on the pulse for emerging brands such as Starface that not only accept flaws, but actively celebrate them,” Edited noted in the report.

Style-wise, this cohort is attracted to bold, cheerful colors and an “ugly” aesthetic. They favor streetwear, normcore and ironic apparel items such as Crocs. Post-pandemic fashion, such as tie-dye items and casual wear, is also reflective of this group.

Carly joins other Gen Z subgroups such as the VSCO girl, known for her love of sustainability and trendy fashion; the e-girl and e-boy, defined by their interest in video games, memes and anime; and the Cottagecore crowd, which has carved out a sort of counterculture for those who wish to live in an idealized farm life.

COVID-19 has birthed a number of different consumer types, including Stabilizers, who prioritize simplicity and “radical acceptance” to cope with the new normal; Settlers, who are mostly millennials and Gen Xers focused on building community; and New Optimists, “joyful activists” who prioritize adventure and socializing.