The After Calendar: Eric Briones: “Digital fashion is one of the answers to the ecological problem”

(ETX Daily Up) – Does Gen Z have the power to make fashion more sustainable? In other words, can it drive brands to accelerate their environmental transition? An extensive topic, while the Z themselves, when committed to this issue, always turn to fast fashion, if not ultra fast fashion. Eric Briones, editor-in-chief of the Journal du Luxe and author of the book “Le choc Z”, deciphers the relationship this generation has with fashion, even luxury, in times of climate emergency. Here’s episode 14 of the After Calendar, our 2022 trend book.

Are Zs still so influential in the fashion industry?
Yes, it is clear. The force Z cannot be demonstrated. The purchasing power Z is highly sought after in the fashion world, but also in luxury. There is even an increase in their presence. In 2019, Gen Z weighed only 8% on luxury… Two years later, in 2021, we have already risen to 17%, and in 2025 it will weigh more than 20%, with a block of ‘millennials- Z’ at more than 70%. There is talk of a takeover of the youth in general, such that this has created a ‘marketingo-sociological’ phenomenon, the Zeennials. They are crosses between millennials and Z’s, born between 1992 and 1998, and starting out in working life. So the Z’s, and young people more generally, are influencing fashion and luxury more than ever before, and their power has become even stronger in the past year.

Can we talk about first luxury purchases for these Zeennials?
No, because the first luxury purchases had been made a long time ago, whether that was a gift for a birthday or, for example, for obtaining the baccalaureate. The first luxury purchase doesn’t wait for the first job, it starts in adolescence. And then there’s something that brought the Z into fashion and luxury, it’s second-hand. Access to luxury is also second hand. It is of course a question of accessibility, but it is also an agreement, an economic activity to get rich. They buy luxury, and rare pieces, in order to resell them. There are Z’s that fall 100% into a second hand category where the argument is not ecological but economic. Ultimately, luxury also serves to get rich.

Does this mean that sustainability doesn’t count for Zs?
Yes, of course it matters. We have entered what is called metamodernity. It is a mix between the modernity of the fifties, namely the Trent Glorieuses, which in a way corresponds to the almost naive belief in deferred happiness, and the postmodernity of the seventies which this time corresponds to a cynical point of view in which everything is deconstructed . With this metamodernity, we are almost constantly swinging between this belief in a glorious future and this questioning. Finally, it is the famous ‘at the same time’ Macronian. And the Z is in an oscillation regarding its consumption mode. This results in an extremely strong eco-fear, and at the same time in a passion, not for fast fashion, but for ultra fast fashion, and thus a phenomenon of hyper-consumption. However, there is a new element, it is the issue of digital fashion, which is digital clothing that does not exist in reality. Interestingly, digital fashion specialists present this new phenomenon, from an ecological prism, as the ‘killer’ of fast fashion. The Z now love clothes with an ecological claim, in this case an outward sign of ecology. There is indeed in this generation an ecological claim, and at the same time a tension, an ecological stress.

How exactly can we explain this paradox that persists among the Z: they want brands that are committed to sustainable development, but dress with the giants of fast fashion?
Since eco-fear is a reality, when asked about eco-responsible or sustainable fashion, this generation is necessarily committed. But there are also two things that challenge this eco-fear: the wallet and the desire to shine. It’s metamodernity, and I don’t have the impression that this paradox is badly perceived, as it really lasts. This is where digital fashion comes in, presenting itself as the ecological champion that will kill fast fashion, and responding to exactly these challenges.

Doesn’t this paradox lead to greenwashing?
No, because the Z also has an eye for detecting greenwashing. The brands woke up at night, all green, so there’s definitely a delay. The Z’s are anything but naive, so they are well aware that manipulation is involved. It is an eminently complex subject. It is easy to argue ecologically, but in practice it is much more complicated. It’s an industrial revolution. When we talk about ecology, we touch the whole chain, from how to design to how to sell and communicate, and even the after-sales service. Today, meeting specific ecological criteria inevitably leads to higher prices. And I am not convinced that this eco-fear leads to an ‘extra’ purchasing power being attributed to this type of product. I really wonder.

This commitment, while claimed, will it translate in five to ten years through a generation that will only turn to local, ecologically sound and sustainable?
I do not believe it. Is the Z willing to pay more for a garment made in France? I really wonder. There is the declarative and the reality. They are two very different things.

How could the metaverse be an answer to environmental issues?
So it is not the metaverse, but digital fashion that could be one, knowing that the problem of the metaverse will arise precisely from an ecological point of view. If we turn to an internet that is truly magnified, the big ecological topic of the next five years will likely be digital pollution. Therefore, it is important to distinguish between metaverse and digital mode. But I do believe that digital fashion can be an answer to environmental problems. At the moment, social networks are pushing for over-consumption of fashion, as it is not necessarily seen well to show up with the same clothes twice. This is also why it’s important to distinguish fashion from luxury – we don’t change Louis Vuitton bags every day, unlike more accessible clothing. We have the impression that fast fashion was invented for social networks, which encourage young people to consume too much and change clothes all the time. Where the problem arises is that it seems to have become a pleasure for them, even an addiction. In this, digital fashion is indeed an answer, if only because if we do a carbon balance between a DressX dress (a studio that designs virtual clothing, editors note) and a Shein dress, there is no photo. So yes, it’s an answer, but it’s not ‘THE’ answer either.

The influence of the Z has made it possible to impose gender fluid in fashion. How does he explain his failure to make fashion greener?
Gender fluid is a question of creation, style, designer personality and the openness of the brand to progressive values, while the question of sustainability is much more complex. It affects design, production, communication, sales, after-sales and even the distribution network. When a brand really tackles this problem, it has to change everything. From an industrial point of view, it is much more complex. And if it’s more complex, it’s more expensive.

Does that mean some brands will never get started, really?
Everything is in ‘real’. Let’s not forget that the ecological pretension, namely to appear with ecological clothing, is something very desirable. So what is certain is that all brands will claim to be ecological, even Shein claims that. No one escapes the green message. But the difficulty is to be both educational and desirable. It is the balance between Eros and Thanatos. Eros, because we are in fashion, in luxury, so we must be in beauty, the poetically desirable, and Thanatos because we are faced with the end of the world, and ultimately with our own death. We return to the oscillation of metamodernity, Eros returns us to ecological desire and pretension, and Thanatos to eco-fear.

Finally, are luxury and sustainable development compatible?
Yeah totally. And we can even say that luxury is intrinsically sustainable, for several reasons. We are in a principle of rarity, small collection, repair, transfer, proximity, even localization and protection of know-how. Concepts that inevitably bring us back to sustainability.

The After Calendar:
After the covid shock in 2020 we waited for the world of After, aligned, peaceful. Finally, it is the digital hybrid life that has imposed itself, with screens that have become essential to all our activities, from education to work, from love to shopping. This accelerated virtualization makes us nostalgic for a now idealized Past, a world and a nature. This is how Netflix and fashion, the end of such, the car of the future, bacteria, our new allies, the post-redneck, the NFTs, the electric shift in the car, the metaverse in fashion and beauty, ancient pride, cryptocurrencies , the city of minutes, virtuous fashion and our glossary of the 22 words we will use in 2022… Find all the trends in the fashion calendar ‘After 2022… Enjoy reading

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