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Inclusivity Over Exclusivity: How Young Consumers are Forcing Luxury Brands to Change

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When Merriam Webster defined luxury as “a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort,” it’s unlikely the word wizards envisioned hoodies and sneakers. However, that’s the very literal direction millennial and Gen Z consumers are guiding the luxury market toward.

A new white paper, “The New Luxury,” by Highsnobiety sheds light on what qualifies as luxury with young consumers in 2018.

The publication surveyed more than 7,000 readers and non-readers aged 16-34 on their style tastes, spending habits and the luxury brands that resonate with their socially conscious, democratic views, revealing that streetwear, storytelling and culture trump traditional elitist ideals of luxury.

“Today more than ever, what constitutes ‘the best’ is changing, and what so too is the definition of ‘luxury,” Highsnobiety reported.

Balenciaga, Gucci, Nike, Louis Vuitton and Off-White were the top five brands Highsnobiety readers mentioned when asked about their most expensive apparel and footwear purchases in 2018. Calvin Klein, Prada, Raf Simons, Stone Island and Yeezy rounded-out the top 10.

With many of the brands’ creative directors under the age of 45, the results of the youth movement that swept through luxury houses last year may be taking shape. But the list also underscores the importance of innovation, streetwear and brands with a message.

Balenciaga’s Triple S kick was named Lyst’s hottest sneaker of the year. Meanwhile, Stone Island is pushing boundaries with technical outerwear, Louis Vuitton fanny packs are a hot commodity and Prada socks became an ‘It’ item in 2018.

And Nike certainly didn’t nab its No. 3 spot with exotic leathers, meme-worthy designs or redesigned logos. The brand earned the spot with what it knows best, sneakers, well-time collaborations with brands like Off-White and a risk-taking campaign with Colin Kaepernick, whose protests against racial injustice have drawn praise, outrage and a spike in sales.

This poses the question: what is a traditional luxury brand to do when a swish is more covetable than a monogram?

The easy answer is, “Just do it,” but there’s a host of qualities millennial and Gen Z consumers seek from the labels they flex, value and consider luxury, according to the paper.

Whereas “old luxury” was based on the feeling of belonging to an elite and aspirational club, Highsnobiety says “new luxury” centers around being an individual. More than 80 percent of consumers surveyed said they believe what their clothes represent is just as important as their quality or design.

And differences are subtle but pointed: new luxury consumers favor unique product over exclusive items, artful over artisanal, personalized over customized. The new luxury consumer also chucks traditional views like luxury as an “expression of wealth.”

The new barrier of entry is the journey (i.e. the fashion festivals, long lines and waitlists) consumers take to obtain sought-after collaborations and limited-edition products and the knowledge gained during that journey.

New luxury consumers know drop dates, follow the resale market and create a network of like-minded cohorts who double as their competition. Sure, they may flaunt a style on Instagram, Highsnobiety says, but they value the item because it allows them to buy into a lifestyle or community.

By putting in the legwork, new luxury consumers feel like they’ve earned the item through participation.

“The paradigm is shifting from exclusivity to inclusivity: once a form of de facto elitism, luxury today is more democratic,” Highsnobiety wrote. “While it still comes at a cost, that cost is now more closely aligned with knowledge and access as opposed to cold, hard cash.”

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