Inside the Minds of Gen Z

The cohort differs from preceding Millennials is its “aspirational unapologetic-ness,” said Juv Consulting founder Ziad Ahmed.


Faith Andrews-O’Neal and Ziad Ahmed KATIE JONES/WWD

Increasingly isolated and more online than ever, understanding the Gen Z paradox is integral to appealing to them, according to Ziad Ahmed, chief executive officer and founder of the Gen Z-centric Juv Consulting.

Ahmed, alongside Faith Andrews-O’Neal, Juv’s director of the Live, said tapping into Gen Z necessitates understanding the nuances of the cohort. First and foremost, that starts with beauty’s role in their lives. “Eighty-two percent of Gen Z respondents say that fashion is important in establishing our identities,” Ahmed said. “We know that fashion and beauty are powerful vehicles of self-expression for a generation that is looking to differentiate ourselves.”

Ahmed posited that while Gen Z is maturing, it’s also solidifying — and challenging — its generational values. “So many of us coming out of the pandemic are challenging and interrogating our identities, asking ourselves how we identify and how we want to portray ourselves in the world,” he said. “So many of us are thinking of ourselves as a brand.”

Social media, which has played a critical role in the development of Gen Z, is a double-edged sword. “We think of social media as Gen Z’s first language,” Ahmed said. “We’re social media natives. My connectivity to so many people changes the way I interface with myself and in the world, and whether or not I’m loud or I’m quiet, social media is always there.”

As Ahmed put it, a disconnect between businesses and consumers has also led to a strained relationship between the two parties. “As business leaders and marketers, we’ve told young people that they can be perfect if they buy the right products and if they do the right things, they can have it all. We’re grappling with a mental health crisis because of so much content and comparison of ourselves to others,” he said. “What’s beautiful to us is truth and honesty, what cuts through Gen Z’s bulls–t filter is people who speak with clarity and with authenticity. What is beautiful to Gen Z is truth.”

Part of that, Andrews-O’Neal said, is representing wider swaths of consumers. “I grew up in a world of fashion magazines where no one looked like me, and at the same time, I had to fight the urge to believe that I was so far outside of beauty standards, thought that wasn’t validated by mainstream media.”

Andrews-O’Neal turned to the blogging site Tumblr, where the rhetoric around beauty also excluded her. “It was an era of people saying that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, or Jennifer Lawrence was being berated for liking pizza.” That changed, though, when she was in high school and Rihanna launched Fenty. “It was the first time I had seen anyone that looked anything like me represented,” said Andrews-O’Neal.

That epitomizes her mission, as well as the bedrock of Juv. “When I think of the future of beauty, it boils down to this idea that we all, regardless of how we identify, deserve to be seen and heard and held and felt.”

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