Data, data, data. We live in a world so consumed and often distracted by the false comfort of data and the pursuit of measurable ROI that many of us fail to recognize trends, evolutions and movements when they are sitting right in front of us. Because of our reliance upon quantifiable facts, we have lost our intuition — our ability to listen and trust what we hear and see. Instead, we assume data is somehow more objective and absolute when, in fact, it is simply information that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways.
We, like many of you, have spent our lives finding insights through analytics. But in our experience, that alone does not suffice. Data is necessary scaffolding, though it is rigid and often subjective in its interpretation. When you have 35-plus-year-olds interpreting — i.e. deciding — what 13- to 24-year-olds are saying, things get a bit unreliable for our taste. And, having read study after study detailing what Gen Zs think and how they will behave, we found that the data and analyses were not necessarily inaccurate but they were inflexible and wooden.
Researchers wanted to wrap Gen Z up with a bow and assign absolutes to them, which is deeply unrealistic given that much of Gen Z’s consistency lies in its inconsistency. Imposing rules and structures that worked for understanding previous generations just won’t cut it for Gen Z.
Therefore, we started Irregular Labs and The Irregular Report to strike a balance between objective and subjective, data and narrative, universal and personal because we believe in data with a pulse. We need the objective studies along with the voices and subjective opinions which reflect the nuances of this generation — the better indicators, in our opinion, of shifts and trends. Think of it this way: data is black and white, which feels good, a sense of control. But we need the grays. That is where the truth lives…especially when it comes to Gen Z. Because with them, nothing is ever static — one day something is black and the next day, it is white.
Furthermore, that data needs to be translated by its subjects along with seasoned experts. Otherwise, all of us are making some pretty big decisions with global implications on “facts” that are less than accurate. Data is important, but at Irregular, we have yet to see a Gen Z data point that our community had not already voiced or expanded upon.
Take, for example, the current conversation around fluidity and Gen Z. We have all seen the graphs, numbers and diagrams detailing Gen Z’s fluid approach to gender. While we completely agree that Gen Z is fluid — it is not limited to gender identity. Through listening to our global community of Gen Zs, we realized that their fluidity is fundamental to how they see and navigate the world. Often people think of them as contradictory but that is based upon a binary point of view.
For Gen Z, all things are equal, interchangeable and disposable and this extends to their identity beyond gender. Unlike older generations, Gen Zs embrace their micro identities and exhibit an equipoise that allows them to easily reconcile “differences” on both a personal and community level. Think about it: this elasticity will impact the systems and structures that they build and run, the way they work, and, how they buy. But data has yet to reveal these nuances and insights. It’s only by embedding living, breathing Gen Zs into the research process that such valuable observations come to light.
So what does this mean for anyone working in fashion, beauty and luxury who have finally mastered Millennials only to be confronted with a generation who appear to be profoundly and fundamentally different from their predecessors and, quite possibly, any generation living today? A generation for whom the rules, methods and structures of collecting and interpreting data no longer suffice?
Adapt and expand. Don’t discard quantitative research but recognize that it is more reliable, more revealing and more relevant when accompanied by raw and unfiltered opinions. Our simple advice: listen to the shouts but make sure you pay equal attention to the whispers.
Molly Logan is cofounder of Irregular Labs, which is a company that connects the ideas, insights and imaginations of girl and gender nonconforming Gen Zs to the world. Taylor Clark is also a cofounder of Irregular Labs and is an expert in Millennial and Gen Z trends, consumer behaviors and preferences.
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