News & Runway

Will Luxury Brands Need to Adopt Ethical Practices to Woo the Millennial Generation?

Everlane Swing Trench

Image: Facebook/Everlane

In a new book out in France, Gen Y and Luxury, authors Éric Brione and Grégory Casper explore the millennial generation's shifting views on luxury products. In a translated excerpt which was published on the innovation and trends blog PSFK, Brione and Casper suggest that members of Generation Y are passionate about high-end products — but also savvy shoppers. Millenials are more likely to purchase upscale items on the basis of quality, not status value or sloganeering. Below, Brione and Casper explain why brands may have to change to reach this increasingly influential generation: 

"The Yers are cautious with the word 'luxury,' as marketing has been overused within the luxury industries, especially since the emergence of Masstige in the 2000s. The Yers do not want to be reeled in by a pseudo luxury offer. They demand 'value for money' from the luxury brands, transparency, and rarity. They also expect them to follow moral requirements.

Generation Y considers the luxury purchase the perfect one, in the sense that this purchase represents an economical investment and carries a real sustainable development value…

Generation Y is showing us the features of this new luxury: pluralist, more experience oriented, more ecological and social and more innovation centered."

(Emphasis mine.)

In How Luxury Lost Its Luster, journalist Dana Thomas documented this shift towards pseudo-luxury: In the past few decades, many top brands have degraded their production and quality values to a shocking extent. Today many high-end labels manufacture some products in the same factories used by their mass market counterparts, often with low-quality fabrics. (This is especially true in the case of licensing, which is when apparel or accessories are produced by a third party that has purchased permission to use the label's branding and logo.)

Although fast fashion is a huge global industry which has a devastating impact on both workers and the environment, the big high-end brands that follow the same practices are, to my mind, more despicable. Shoppers have varying degrees of awareness about how the clothing industry works and how their purchase fits into the larger system, but no one who buys a $5 dress from Forever 21 harbors any delusions about what they're getting. The girl who's buying a $5 dress just wants to wear something cute this weekend; she doesn't care whether the item lasts and lasts and she doesn't care how it was made. I hope more and more people learn to care about what they buy, but ultimately, it's their right not to. 

But on the high-end side, the business model is based on smoke and mirrors. Fooling people. You stage a lavish, publicity-generating runway show; then you sell bucket-loads of sunglasses and perfume produced by some other company. You talk up your brand's heritage and legacy, its tradition of artisanship and quality; then you sell handbags whose parts were fully manufactured in China, and merely assembled in Italy. 

everlane trench cost breakdown

Image: Everlane/Facebook

The luxury industry is due for a radical change. And if brands need a blueprint for how to move forward and win the hearts of the millennial generation, I suggest they look to Everlane. The San Francisco-based startup works with a select number of factories to produce and sell beautiful, high-quality basics at reasonable prices. The site provides shoppers with plenty of information about how and where various items were made, often with a cost breakdown (pictured above). I'm not getting paid to say this, and in fact I've doled out quite a bit of my own money to invest in Everlane pieces. 

And I'm not the only one. A couple days ago, the barista who was making my coffee asked about my blouse: "Is that Everlane?" she said. "I just got one too. I keep buying from them. I can't stop."