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Why Nike, Adidas and Vans Get Gen Z’s Vote

Nike, Adidas and Vans get the Gen Z and millennial vote for apparel and footwear brands best aligned with their progressive values, according to Cowen research.

By 2028, Gen Z and millennial consumers are poised to make up 70 percent of the population, up from 60 percent today. Within the U.S., the investment bank’s fourth-annual report on the rising cohorts says they stand to inherit roughly $60 trillion in wealth by 2050, underscoring why fashion and retail must meet the demands for sustainability, secondhand goods and efficient paths to purchase of a consumer base that accounts for 20 percent of U.S. spending today.

Social and environmental issues loom large

Based on Cowen’s survey of shoppers between the ages of 18-34, the report, led by managing director and retail analyst John Kernan, detailed a growing interest in social and environmental impact.

The majority (81 percent) of 18-24 year olds and 80 percent of 25-34 year olds said that social impact and sustainability are very or somewhat important factors in their decision-making process for purchasing apparel and footwear. Those numbers are well above older demographics, which on average registered at 62 percent. “We believe brands and retailers that are investing behind sustainability and the circular economy stand to be best positioned among younger cohorts,” according to the report, which called these shoppers “a segment of the population that places rising importance on what their brands stand for and how they are manufactured.”

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Nike ranked No. 1 among apparel and footwear brands most aligned with Gen Z and millennials’ social and environmental values, capturing 32 percent of the vote for 18-24 year olds and 29 percent for 25-34 year olds. The results echo Piper Sandler’s recent Taking Stock with Teens survey of  Gen Z shoppers, which also saw the athleticwear titan in pole position. Adidas came in at a distant No. 2, capturing 14 percent of the younger cohort’s vote and 16 percent of millennial interest. VF Corp.-owned Vans was the next highest ranked at 12 percent for Gen Z shoppers and 7 percent for 25-34 year olds. The skate shoe brand also glided into No. 2 position in the Piper Sandler survey. The North Face, Under Armour and Columbia jockeyed for positioning, each capturing between 5 percent to 9 percent of young shoppers’ interest this year.

When it comes to shopping sustainably, resale has become a key channel for teens and the college-age crowd, showing sizable year-over-year popularity gains. Among 18-34 year olds, adoption has grown 33 percent since 2020, with 44 percent of this cohort purchasing from a secondhand marketplace this year. Sneaker and streetwear sites StockX and GOAT saw the highest user bases, along with peer-to-peer re-commerce site Poshmark.

Piper Sandler’s survey also highlighted teens’ appetite for shopping secondhand and selling used goods, with 51 percent of respondents buying from a resale marketplace and 62 percent unloading used wares.

The concepts of inclusivity and equality have also become increasingly pivotal to shoppers’ decisions to purchase, engage with and follow brands. Fifty-six percent of millennials and 57 percent of 35-44 year olds said that a brand’s stance on these issues was important or very important to them in 2021, up from 41 percent and 38 percent, respectively, in 2020. Half of Gen Z respondents agreed, up from 44 percent the year prior.

Best-loved brands

In addition to being a fan favorite for its social and environmental efforts, Nike led in the category of athletic apparel and footwear, reaching 51 percent favorability for shoes and 41 percent for clothes among Gen Z, and 38 percent favorability for apparel and 37 percent favorability for footwear among millennials. Cown analysts believe consumers appreciate its “innovation cycle, digital transformation and demand creation spending that drives brand heat and draws a steady influx of new consumers.” Meanwhile, athleisure remains a staple for these consumers, demonstrated by Lululemon’s status as the other casual lifestyle brand that saw significant gains in 2021. Bolstered by its popular leggings and sports bras, the company has seen a 5-percent increase in favorability among 18-24 year olds since 2019, with 9 percent preferring it over the competition.

The findings jive with the teen survey from Piper Sandler, whose senior research analyst Erinn Murphy described Nike and Lululemon as reaching “new highs” within the apparel category, while Nike also reigns supreme with school-age sneaker fans.

Digital still rules

According to Cowen’s research, 69 percent of Gen Z shoppers and 64 percent of millennials spend four or more hours on their smartphones daily. TikTok has become a key driver for product discovery, with half of the platform’s users copping to purchasing a product they saw on the platform. More  shoppers ages 18-34 are using social commerce as a means of searching for a new item of clothing in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic, and more users than ever indicated that they had purchased from a brand they found on a platform, the report said.

But even amid the growing influence of social media on commerce, Amazon still looms large in the eyes of consumers. “Among Gen Z and Millennials, more often than not, the search for a new item of clothing, footwear and accessories is made on Amazon,” analysts wrote—”much more so than Google Search or at a brand’s website.”

Among Gen Z shoppers, 31 percent conducted clothing searches first on Amazon, and that figure is even greater (37 percent) for their millennial counterparts. The mega-e-tailer has remained the most likely venue for shoppers looking to research products or to make purchases (38 percent of respondents, up from 34 percent in 2020). Notably, the marketplace is also pulling market share from social media, as shoppers cited it as the top place to purchase a newly discovered brand’s product.

Teens surveyed by Piper Sandler revealed similar sentiments, with 52 percent citing the site as their preferred online retailer.

Off-price retail is also gaining traction with teens and early 20somethings, as 61 percent of 18-24 year olds and 63 percent of 25-34 year olds had recently shopped at a TJX store, Ross or Burlington, notable upticks from 48 percent and 52 percent, respectively, two years ago.

Additional reporting by Jessica Binns.