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Bold Collaborations and Authenticity Are Key to Staying Relevant in Fashion

The rise of nostalgic fashion has reinforced the fact that, when it comes to style, it’s all essentially been done before. For fashion brands to stay relevant, it’s less about creating the next new trend and more about identifying creative partnerships that can tap into the right demographic.

According to Highsnobiety, a brand that covers the “style-obsessed” culture of today, that demographic is Gen Z’s subculture that values authenticity and nonconformity. Highsnobiety led a panel at Project New York that outlined the ways Gen Z is influenced by cultural staples of today, such as streetwear, ’90s hip-hop, memes and more—and how brands can be a part of that conversation.

“If you look at music sales, the Gen Z generation is absorbing and consuming more hip-hop than ever,” said panelist and Highsnobiety co-founder Jeff Carvalho, adding that music is just one element that shapes the demographic. “The generation of today is embracing all creative types under one umbrella and helping not only to change the voice of the generation, but they’re also changing how brands work with culture.”

One of the key examples of this was rapper Travis Scott’s collaboration with Reese’s Puffs during Paris Fashion Week last year. The partnership included branded hoodies, T-shirts, cereal boxes, bowls and spoons that debuted at a popup and were sold online. Within 15 minutes, the boxes, bowls and spoons were sold out on the online shop.

While there may appear to be a gap between sugary cereal and a famous rapper, today’s marketing is able to fill in that space and make a big impact when done right.

To get it right, brands must listen. It’s important to find natural connections and use them strategically. In a culture that uses memes as “comedic currency,” brands could benefit from incorporating them into their community-building efforts—but “only if they’re good at it, and only if they have a cultural advisor,” noted panelist and creative director Gia Seo, referencing a Gucci campaign that brought together influencers to engage in a meme-designing challenge that fell flat.

The problem with focusing on creating the next viral campaign boils down to an unspoken rule of authenticity: Trying to be cool is inherently uncool—and Gen Z can pick up on this immediately.

“It’s just being aware of what’s happening around you,” said panelist Brian Trunzo, Project’s head of sales for men’s wear, “and realizing when your product is touching a cultural moment, and where you can take that, own it and push it further.”