I recently read an article on Youthpolicy.org about the growing segment of young people in the Arab world and it got me thinking about the millennial generation, what it has in store and how it will shape the future. The article stated that, in the Arab countries, young people are the fastest growing segment, with some 60 per cent of the population under 25 years old, making this one of the most youthful regions in the world, with a median age of 22 years, compared to a global average of 28. Millennials have an estimated spending power of $2.45 trillion, which needs to be taken seriously. It fascinates me how this generation will shape the Middle East and in a smaller context the retail and fashion landscape. What innovations will they bring? Will their focus shift from luxury to something else? What will the perception of them be? Who knows how behavioural patterns of millennials will change over time, but for now the effect on society, retail and fashion can’t be ignored.
So what are their traits? Ask my peers and they’ll say that millennials are spoilt, erratic, glued to their phones, fickle and demanding. However, they’re heralding a lot of positive change, so I have faith in millennials. They’re early adaptors of technology; they’ve seen their parents live through hard economic times and a continued unstable political landscape in the MENA region, from which they’ve gained a different perspective, and desire a more balanced life; they have a stronger, more unified voice; and in terms of emotional intelligence, they’re much smarter than us. They are also far more authentic than previous generations, which is a key millennial component. They’re becoming drawn to smart choices, meaningful luxury and brands associated with good causes. They live in a digital world, one you can’t hide behind, as you get found out if you’re disingenuous.
How that translates to business and fashion is through their need for a more honest approach from brands, coupled with more genuine experiences from their purchases – a sense of a connection, a personal relationship with a brand, a story from A to Z, from what they see digitally, to what they feel, do and buy in store. Millennials demand more, so brands have to do much more, driving bigger customer focus.
Amazon began this top level service with its ‘one click’ purchase. Millennials expect that, from basics to luxury. High end brands realise this and now look to drive not only the consumer experience, but also build the digital and content experience in a bid to build, captivate and capitalise on the millennial market. They’re pushing brands, I see it every day. Part of upping the ante is through storytelling – a millennial’s greatest tool – creating engaging content and building that relationship with the consumer. Dubai’s home-grown retail concept S*uce always gets it right, thanks to its clever marketing. It takes you on a 360 degree journey whatever it is doing, from digital to print to event and post-coverage, with an omni-channel approach. Designer
Faiza Bougessa also hits the mark, creating a buzz before she’d even showcased her debut collection thanks to savvy marketing, while Khulood Thani, Mochi and Nathalie Trad constantly create smart content with substance. They’re unique, creative and inherently understand their brands and who their audience is. I attend a lot of conferences, and the current conversation from the big retail partners is that the time is now for brands to tap into this millennial market, but how to do that with intelligent, engaging content and experiences? Take a brand like Chanel, that jumped on the millennial bandwagon early on. Lily Allen, Kristen Stewart and Lily-Rose Depp have brought Chanel to the attention of a completely new demographic.
Another smart way brands are capitalising on millennials is by hiring them. Because millennials want someone that speaks their language. In this sense, everyday millennials are influencers themselves, who look for a reciprocal relationship in their peers based on mutual principled outlooks – those with authenticity, creating both interesting and genuine content. For them, it goes beyond followers and social media figures; they’re looking for posts with purpose, content with a conscience. Hence the rise of people such as Parvané Barret, the French/Persian blogger behind AStateofstyle.com, and Sofiane Si Merabet, the Algerian owner of Karta creative agency; two examples of millennials creating unique content that speaks to other millennials in an honest and thought-provoking way. It is this kind of authenticity that paves the way for a smarter, more heartfelt approach to content, social media output and storytelling. Millennials influencing millennials. Therefore, it is our duty to watch them, guide them and no longer dismiss them – after all, they are the future of the world we live in.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia.
Nez wears: Dress, Victoria Beckham at Boutique 1.
Photography: Efraim Evidor