Big Little Me – The Millennials Take Control

In 2006, TIME magazine announced “You” as their Person of The Year. To underscore the cleverness of their decision, they utilized a mirrored computer screen for the magazine cover, all the better to make the reader nod their head. Yes, by god, the consumer is in charge of the Internet!! The point of the article was that for better or worse, the consumer would be creating and processing news and information that was as likely to come from a peer as from an expert. The fear was that we would soon be awash in torrents of uneducated drivel without a clear way to determine what was true and what simply Kardashian.

Time Magazine
What the authors of that issue could not begin to anticipate was how the democratization of this information would ultimately give ‘the people’ complete dominance over the world of commerce. Today, we don’t just use the web to select our preferred means of information, but to determine every element of the creation, production and marketing of all the goods and services that we interact with on a daily basis. Today’s millennial generation knows that whatever they desire can be created for them. They can purchase it, edit it, customize it, fund it, or make it themselves. Business has become a handmaiden to the consumer, as opposed to its vendor. Most companies are now literally in competition with its very consumer, as opposed to solely with another competitor.

Hunter, Gatherer, Creator?

Throughout time, those who could track down and capture the best, won. Post cave man, it was the social elite who could jet around the world and share with their friends the unique items uncovered in Capri or Morocco. That skill has proved equally valuable in the digital age. Those who could track down the coolest and most limited pair of Bathing Ape kicks scored the most social cred. But the parlance of digital tracking, buying and receiving has become almost remedial for the Millennial digital native. The next step? Creation. The web has now become the land of the bespoke item – a place where curation, the buzz word of 2010, is a thing of the past, but personalization is THE thing of the future. Millennials have known, from their days of being the ‘Baby on Board’, that the world will happily give them what they want, when they want it. And they don’t want Nike IDs…( sorry Gen X) ..changing the laces on their tennis shoes really doesn’t count…..

Nike ID

What About Me?

SO what do they want? Interestingly, it’s not a push for broad and sweeping changes, or a craving for new stores or services. Millennials are using the power of the Internet to literally create the exact items that they want. The means to do so pop up every day: whether on indiego or kickstarter, an Etsy craftsman, or a co-design shop like Lollydoodle, Threadless or ShoesofPrey , or even via shopping services such as Polyvore or Shopstyle. And if they do not want to make something from scratch, they know that they can still demand transparency, authenticity and proof of provenance from any vendor they so desire. And larger companies are already catching up with this demand. From clean and high-conscious creator sites like Zady, to behemoths such as Amazon’s Elements line of goods, the world of commerce is working fast to stay relevant and unique to a tribe of shoppers who know they can get anything, anywhere at any time.

So, about that person of the year……it is certainly still You – but not the upper case one. The Internet is not a social platform being demographically hijacked and re-directed to serve the good of the masses. Rather, it is a vast and ever changing bazaar of inspiration, and the craftsman, vendors and salespeople hungry to meet the needs these ideas generate. Millennials want what they uniquely want, one person at a time. The future is not how best to serve this massive cohort – the future is how to meet the unborn needs and tastes of each of the 80 million of them, one pair of shoes at a time.

Silver Is The New Black

Is age the final frontier?

Much has been made of youth, particularly in the fashion world. There are even laws in place now to prevent the ‘abuse’ of young girls under the age of 16, following the documentary Girl Model and the alarming increased use of prepubescent girls in ads and on the runway.

toddlers and tiaras
But a quieter movement has been underway: a veritable takeover of the heretofore toddler training grounds by women.

Carmen Dell'Orefice
Yes, real women, grown up women –sans braces and virginity.  This past season, over 20 models over the age of 30 walked the runways.  Dolce and Gabbana has hired a 63-year-old model, as has J Crew. American Apparel – that bastion of nubile youth – is featuring a 62-year-old in its campaign. At 80 year’s old, Joan Didion is the star for Céline’s latest campaign. Names of old – Amber Valletta, Caroline Murphy, Heidi Klum and the ubiquitous Naomi Campbell are racking up campaigns and endorsements faster than a teen can text, and you can’t spit without running into Kate Moss. There are even blogs and documentaries dedicated to silver-haired beauties. So what gives?? Why the love affair with all things silver?

Boomers Rule?

At first blush, the thought would be that the Boomers are, once again, demanding a change in the status quo, and have fought for a more age-authentic prototype to showcase the beauty and fashion looks that they are considering for purchase. This is a demographic that is proud of who they are, and prize their peers for accomplishments at home and at work. They want to see their own beauty and fierceness reflected on the runway, and like recognizing women of power in their ads. The irony here is this is the same generation that ushered in the era of the nymphet model. Up until the 1960’s, models aspired to look older. The youngest girls on the runways were at least 18, and makeup and hair were used to ‘age them up’.  When the 60’s raged in with its impudent focus on youth, youth and more youth, fashion followed suite. As the decades progressed, the demand became one of an arms race for the freshest, and youngest models that could be found – a race that continues today. However, the winds seem to be blowing the other way.

First, certainly, boomers are asking to be recognized publicly and, given the unusually rich crop of super models that came to power during that generation’s salad days, there are plenty of great looking gals to chose from. But if you dig a bit deeper, there is perhaps a bit of a millennial story to be told here as well (and isn’t there always…).

Crispy-Fried Fast Fashion

Millennials, the cohort that fed and watered the fast fashion houses of H& M and Forever 21 have begun to show signs of a sea change in their shopping habits and practices. As they age up, moving away from their giddy teens and early 20’s, the cheap accessibility of on trend fashion knock-offs fed into this groups desire for immediate gratification, and the ability to try on new looks, and thus new personas, with a small swipe of plastic. Being on trend required little risk, just some stamina and some closet space. Icons in the industry flipped from actresses, to models to bloggers to YouTube empresses.  The idea of true original style became commoditized through product tie-ins, blogger bridge lines, and amateur fashionista street style dance offs.

Millennials Model Mandate!

As millennials mature and show every sign of beginning to desire – and accrue- a more high quality, longer lasting wardrobe, she is looking for a way to measure its value and longer term net worth. Retail provenance no longer provides that, much less the fashion editor’s monthly column! So, who to trust?  How does a girl find her way to this next stage of life?  She calls Mom, of course! This is a group that has always listed their moms as their best friends, and often, as their heroes.  They admire Hilary Clinton, and cheer for Helen Mirren. Equally, they think Malala deserves the  cover of Vogue.  Pretty is as pretty does. Interest and allure lie in accomplishment and a life richly lived – whether that is ‘bad girl’ Rhianna or an eloquent Emma Watson. So when today’s twenty something parts the waters of fast fashion and turns down the volume of the blogosphere, the cool, confident visage of the mature fashion model delivers confidence, trust and that desired dose of authenticity. Diane Von Furstenberg has it all over the latest 15 year old tottering down a runway.  Depth and richness of experience is the new superpower – let us see who can step up and win this arms race!

The Resolution Revolution

Ahh….. January 1st…. what New Year’s Day would be complete without a darkly thudding hangover, one broken high heel (or two), the need for massive amounts of carbohydrates and the determination to do better this year. In a word: Resolutions. Humanity embraces resolutions like a flotation device in a storm-tossed sea. They are a second chance in capital letters – an uncashed IOU to the Universe that this time, this year, we will get it right.

The Industry of Resolution
And resolutions are not just the province of us frail and failing individual human sinners, but are also the terra firma upon which hundreds if not thousands of industries are built. Without the gluttony of November and December, why would the shiny chrome temples of Bally’s and Equinox loom so large in January? And its not just the gym – January resolutions have given rise to a spectacular seasonal push for industries as diverse as career building, match making, financial planning, and of course, weight loss. That clean and snowy white blank calendar inspires in most people the belief, and fervent hope, that 12 months in the future lies a trimmer, smarter, richer, fitter human being, clutching an attractive mate, and setting off for a well deserved vacation, preferably on a private island.

Millennials Resolutions: Ummm, No.
But is this tradition of gluttony and repentance a rhythm that is slowly and softly fading? We queried a number of millennials, and asked about the resolutions they might be making for 2015. We were met with a) laughter; b) irony and c) an inquiry as to why we thought they might need to change anything about themselves??? Resolutions to this group seemed silly, weak and almost atavistic. In a world dominated by 140 word tweets and 6 second vines, with headlines and politics changing overnight, the thought of pre-planning personal change and direction over the endless course of 12 months seems impractical, and certainly, uninteresting.

Millennials are not looking to make long-term plans for dramatic changes in their personas, or to lay out a step-by-step direction to a new and somewhat fantastical life. This is the multi-hyphenate generation: a population of bartenders/stockbrokers/jewelry makers. If they want to be or do something, they do it. If they dream of moving to Costa Rica, it is something they can make happen through Airbnb overnight travel apps, and a deeply connected social network. The recession and retraction of opportunities have fostered in this cohort a freedom and an imagination to try and experience a vast range of identities. And, since the traditional path of career training/marriage and family seems financially out of reach, there seems little to stand in the way of pursuing constant personal growth, 24/7. The extended time to play and try has resulted in a new creation economy that fans the belief that anything is possible for anyone, at anytime.

What is interesting is that the origin of the word resolution – for both the French and the Latin form – to break into smaller parts. The word resolution then came from the idea of breaking down larger goals into smaller manageable steps. Perhaps these baby steps were necessary in the more structured and perhaps more tenured world of past generations. Resolutions speak to the idea of working in steps toward a better life. Millennials call those goals, and embark upon them the day they make them.

The Future of Self-Improvement?
So what do the Bally’s, Weight Watchers, and Monster.coms do in the months ahead? Well, that generous slice of the world’s population that live in the land of Boomers and X-ers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Their planners are out, and their apps are plugged in – resolution ready! But if these companies are looking to tap into the next group of reformists, they will need to rethink their time frames.

Carpe Diem!