ZCon, a Gen Z Conference, Kicks Off in L.A.

Takeaways from the event, produced by Juv Consulting with support from title sponsor Snapchat, E.l.f. and Dove, among others.

JUV Consulting

Juv Consulting’s Ziad Ahmed, cofounder and chief executive officer, and Olivia Frary, senior director of community and partnerships. COURTESY OF JUV CONSULTING

Gen Zers made their voice heard at ZCon in Los Angeles, the first conference of its kind.

“It’s about taking the microphone back,” said Ziad Ahmed, cofounder and chief executive officer of Juv Consulting.

The digital marketing agency, cocreated by Ahmed at the tender age of 16 in 2016, hosted the inaugural event at coworking space Second Home in Hollywood on Aug. 3 and 4 with support from title sponsor Snapchat, as well as E.l.f. and Dove, among others.

“Of course, a big part of us taking the microphone back is asserting how much Gen Z already has to say,” Ahmed said. “But ZCon is also an admission of how much we still have left to learn.”

The words sum up ZCon, which was produced with intention (from limiting waste on site to featuring interactive activations and encouraging open dialogue across generations). There were panels with Gen Z activists, thought leaders, entrepreneurs and creators, with discussions about social media (the need to unplug), culture (uniting community), media (diversity and inclusion), women’s sports (representation), workplace (transparency) and the climate crisis (action-oriented solutions). The space served as a platform for Gen Zers to converse and connect with each other and companies IRL on topics impacting the future.

Here are key takeaways:

Overconsumption is top of mind.

“My hot take is Gen Z is just not as woke as we think we are,” said climate activist Sage Lenier. “We are literally the Shein generation. We can’t buy ourselves out of the ecological crisis. The ecological crisis is caused by consumerism.”

She said that 45 to 60 percent of household global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the production of household goods. “When you break it down, it is the fashion industry,” she continued. “It is the technology industry. Our consumption is what fuels the climate crisis. No one’s just burning fossil fuels for funsies. They’re doing it because it’s profitable.”

To effect true change, Lenier said, people need to buy less. “So, there really isn’t a need for sustainable fashion. It’s fun sometimes, and I definitely buy a piece or two here and there, but secondhand is the best option,” she said. “And then sustainable alternatives for the products that you do need, like sunscreen, soap. That’s where I’m looking for the innovative. But when it comes to non-essentials, the best option is none or just secondhand. We need to de-grow the fashion industry and grow a secondhand fashion industry.”

Sustainable fashion blogger and labor rights activist Aditi Mayer agreed: “Fashion is the entry point for so many young folks to understand sustainability as a mindset. So basically, going beyond this idea of sustainability being something you can buy. Yes, you can buy more sustainability, but the movement itself can’t be bought. That’s a mindset.”

Mayer said she creates content with the idea of trying to “challenge a culture of disposability.”

“People engaging in the secondhand economy are really critical,” she said, “tangible ways to help people understand what that looks like. Is it enough? I think it’s a gateway.”

She said those entering the sustainable fashion movement, because of their love for thrifting, start thinking more critically about labor rights in the space. “And now we have a whole quarter of the internet that’s dedicated to people trying to hold brands accountable,” she said.

Brands rooted in authenticity will win.

Speaking on companies he looks to invest in, venture capitalist Patrick Finnegan of Intuition Capital — who’s backed more than 150 businesses including Thirteen Lune — said: “I love seeing people tackle a problem in an authentic way. Not in a way that’s like, ‘Oh, I see a market. There’s an opportunity. Here’s an exit.’”

He cited as an example Starface, started by Julie Schott and Brian Bordainick. The company was instrumental in helping to destigmatize acne with its star-shaped pimple patches, adopted by the likes of Justin Bieber. “It became a cultural moment,” said Finnegan. “There was no shame attached to it.”

He went on, “When I look at my successes versus my failures in terms of marking my portfolio down and marking it up, it’s about finding founders that really care about what they’re doing…So, Julie started Starface, and then she saw what was going on with the Supreme Court and then they created a new competitor to Plan B, which is called Julie, which is flying off the shelves right now. So, it’s about finding people that really care about what they’re building. And they’re not just in it to make the money, they’re not just in it for the clout and the validation, but they’re in it for the hard work. That’s really, really important.”

The need for social media regulation.

“Social media is like a knife. You could use it as a weapon, or you could use it as a tool,” said Daniel Ojo, sharing a quote he overheard.

The director of social impact at Juv Consulting led a talk titled “The Internet Raised Me,” on self-esteem and the effects of a digital youth. The Gen Zers, who are social media natives, discussed their love-hate relationships with social media platforms and the importance of taking their online conversations to the real world for in-person connections. During the chat, humanizing social media — a key theme throughout the conference — was discussed, with much talk around the need for establishing standards for safety and equity online.

The topic was also discussed in a talk called “The Loneliest Generation.”

Nineteen-year-old internet personality Ellie Zeiler told the crowd: “I was talking about this the other day…Someone was like, ‘Do you wish the government would just cut down on social media and make rules. And of course, me being 19 and loving to scroll on all the top comments of everything and, like, do it until 3 in the morning, I was like, ‘No, I don’t want that.’ But I wish that instead of asking us, they would just do it. Because I know that we will all get used to it at some point. I just wish there was some regulation at all.”

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