Crypto to Clothes: Gen Z The Investment Generation

Before 2019, words like dogecoin and finfluencer might have sounded strange to the common ear. But in the wake of Covid-19, members of Gen Z are taking finances into their own hands, spurred on by the rise of financial literacy content on social media, a culture of flipping streetwear, and new investment apps like Gemini.com. And that’s changing how and why they consume luxury goods.

Gen Z increasingly is seeing fashion as an alternative asset class. With more cultural significance than traditional stocks and shares. More and more young shoppers are investing in iconic brands and hero items that serve as long-term assets to their wardrobe and their wallets.

“We’re coming out of a pretty stressful moment and from a consumer perspective, you want to make sure what you’re buying will stick around for a while,” says HSBC analyst Erwan Rambourg, who noted a move to “buy less, buy better” in fashion. As China and the US rebound, luxury labels are recruiting new consumers, he adds, with a K-shaped economic recovery meaning many affluent consumers are better off and readier to invest than before.

Wearing luxury goods on Instagram was once the ultimate aspirational content. Now, flipping them for profit is inspiring a generation on Gen Z-favoured platforms like TikTok and YouTube. “It’s both cultural currency and bragging rights,” says Mary Noel, business development director at Gen Z consultancy DoSomething Strategic. “Investing in fashion is entrepreneurism for Gen Z but also there’s a sense of charting new territory. They can see other people are making money on social media and want to try it.”

Gen Z are taking finances into their own hands

In fashion, first-time luxury buyers are not going for alternative, fancy seasonal products, says Rambourg. “They’re going for the iconic product that they’ve been looking at for a while. That’s why every single brand over the past 12-18 months started to focus on their key ranges.” Iconic pieces are popular on resale sites. The black Gucci Marmont bag, arguably one of the most timeless hero pieces produced under Alessandro Michele, is up 76 per cent on Vestiaire since May 2020.

MatchesFashion says it has seen an uptick in high-ticket sales from fine jewellery to handbags, including the Cassette from Bottega Veneta, the Niki handbag from Saint Laurent and the Roman Stud from Valentino. Its private shopping team highlighted that clients are opting for investment items in lieu of a holiday. 

Gen Z’s earnings from stocks and bonds are predicted to bring in just a third of the returns enjoyed by previous generations, according to Credit Suisse’s global investment returns yearbook 2021. Since the traditional system might not work for them, young people are taking investment into their own hands by reselling luxury or streetwear or buying crypto, says DoSomething Strategic’s Noel.

DoSomething Strategic, in a survey, found 45 per cent of Gen Zers go to social media for financial advice. The stock market feels like “someone else’s game” to young people, says Gerome Sapp, co-founder of sneaker investment startup Rares. “So when you offer them alternative asset investments, whether it be handbags, music rights or sneakers, they gravitate towards it.”

Resale platforms have enabled consumers to invest

With sophisticated authentication, resale platforms enable consumers to trade luxury goods securely. This has created an investment mindset in consumers, who can buy expensive or rare clothes and accessories and sell them later, maybe even at a profit for the more collectible items, says Anita Balchandani, partner and EMEA fashion and luxury lead at McKinsey. 

StockX is modelled entirely on the idea of high-demand consumer goods as alternative asset classes. The concept has “really picked up steam” in recent months with the rise of investment apps like Robinhood and Appease that are improving financial literacy, says StockX senior economist Jesse Einhorn. “One of the big storylines over the past year is how these alternative asset classes have caught fire — people are starting to see consumer goods differently.” 

Gen Z cares about the cultural significance of clothes and accessories. Where traditional investments are faceless, investing in fashion enables Gen Zers to align with certain brands or musical artists. “The StockX customer is overwhelmingly young and overwhelmingly attuned to current culture,” says Einhorn, with 75 per cent of its total user base under 35 and the majority of app users under 25. “For those people, it’s meaningful that the products they invest in are the products they believe in.” First-time sellers have sold $800 million worth of products on StockX from March 2020 to April 2021, according to the company, which cites Covid-19 as a major factor, as users seek a “side-hustle”.

Rares allows users to buy shares in rare sneakers in a sneaker “IPO”. They can sell their shares in secondary trading or hold onto ahead of a sale. The company, which has the tagline “invest in the culture” recently made headlines for buying the world’s most valuable shoe, Nike Air Yeezy 1s worn by Kanye West at the 2008 Grammys for $1.8 million. Shares in the shoes, among other styles, will be available later this month on the platform, which aims to introduce a new generation to investment and boost financial literacy.

In fashion, first-time luxury buyers are not going for alternative, fancy seasonal products, says Rambourg. “They’re going for the iconic product that they’ve been looking at for a while. That’s why every single brand over the past 12-18 months started to focus on their key ranges.” Iconic pieces are popular on resale sites. The black Gucci Marmont bag, arguably one of the most timeless hero pieces produced under Alessandro Michele, is up 76 per cent on Vestiaire since May 2020.

MatchesFashion says it has seen an uptick in high-ticket sales from fine jewellery to handbags, including the Cassette from Bottega Veneta, the Niki handbag from Saint Laurent and the Roman Stud from Valentino. Its private shopping team highlighted that clients are opting for investment items in lieu of a holiday. 

Gen Z’s earnings from stocks and bonds are predicted to bring in just a third of the returns enjoyed by previous generations, according to Credit Suisse’s global investment returns yearbook 2021. Since the traditional system might not work for them, young people are taking investment into their own hands by reselling luxury or streetwear or buying crypto, says DoSomething Strategic’s Noel. DoSomething Strategic, in a survey, found 45 per cent of Gen Zers go to social media for financial advice.

StockX is modelled entirely on the idea of high-demand consumer goods as alternative asset classes. The concept has “really picked up steam” in recent months with the rise of investment apps like Robinhood and Appease that are improving financial literacy, says StockX senior economist Jesse Einhorn. “One of the big storylines over the past year is how these alternative asset classes have caught fire — people are starting to see consumer goods differently.” 

Rares aims to improve financial literacy among its audience via its sneaker IPOs.
Rares aims to improve financial literacy among its audience via its sneaker IPOs.  RARES

“Sneakers are a newly discovered asset class,” says Sapp, who played in the NFL before helping start Rares. “They’ve been outperforming gold, the S&P 500 and other top-performing securities, as it relates to investment value, your return on investment.” Rares has plans to expand to other product categories.

The rise of demi-couture in response to demand

It’s not all about flipping sneakers. Young fashion brands have identified demand for higher ticket, special pieces among Gen Z customers. When buzzy 24-year-old designer Harris Reed set out to release their debut collection, they turned down major luxury retailers to position the brand as demi-couture, a growing category that means bespoke pieces at a price point somewhere between couture and ready-to-wear. “I don’t want to just be another brand to pump things out there, I am looking for longevity,” they say.

With a steady flow of orders alongside the VIP business (they’ve recently made pieces for Harry Styles and Miley Cyrus), Reed was surprised at the demographics of their global customer base. “The people buying the higher-priced gowns are actually 22 to 26 years old,” they say, “it’s very young, which is crazy when you think about the price brackets.” Harris Reed pieces typically range from £10,000-£21,000. “Conversely, the older 40 to 50-year-old customers are more likely to buy the less expensive pieces from the collection, like headdresses.”

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