Zehra Naqvi

6 May 2018
The term “Millennial” is rarely used in a positive light. Many regard this generation as selfie-takers and Netflix-watchers rather than record breakers. The increasing use of social media by Millenials has forced many fashion companies to reevaluate their previous practices. More specifically, Millennials are willing to take action and boycott companies whose mistakes they can expose on self-created media platforms, forcing the fashion industry to avoid horrific business repercussions and evolve.

A viral tweet showcased an image of a young African American boy wearing a H&M sweatshirt stating “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle” as a preview on their retail website. The single tweet was received with thousands of retweets resulting in H&M’s largest profit drop in six years with a 34% decline in sales, the closing of 170 stores, and losing a partnership with Grammy recording artist The Weeknd. An H&M in South Africa suffered a severe protest that resulted in the destruction of their store. The millennial generation destroyed and deconstructed H&M through one of their daily activities.

Millennials’ accessibility and constant usage of media makes these fashion brands’ mistakes long-lasting and damaging. In a 2013 interview, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch claimed the company did not make clothing for customers over size 10. With their advertisements and clothing limitations, the company wanted to create a brand that appeals to traditional fashion beauty standards of thin, straight, wealthy, and white young people. After the interview went viral, their stocks decreased by 25% and consumers made a trend to dismantle their exclusive image by donating A&F clothing to the homeless, with the hashtag #FitchTheHomeless. Today, 5 years later, Abercrombie and Fitch’s sales have plunged even further after the damage long ago. Trying to save their image, Abercrombie & Fitch announced their first Unisex line in vast range of sizes. This specific line, coined as the “Everybody Collection” tries to appeal to the same generation that stopped buying their clothes years ago. Although hashtags and social media usage may be devalued as a wasteful Millennial past time, A&F’s case demonstrates that social media can make brands timeless—their mistakes, not their designs.

Witnessing Millennials’ power over these brands, various high fashion designers have preemptively adapted to this generation’s desire for progress, as shown by 2018 New York Fashion Week breaking records for inclusivity. Collectively, the designers have cast the most LGBTQ models and models of color in fashion history. Fashion Spot’s diversity report claims that 37.3% of models were models of color compared to 20.9% in 2015. High fashion lines who did not follow suit received backlash despite their status. For example, former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham received great online criticism for not only racism but also for advocating unhealthy body standards.

In this past New York Fashion Week, Victoria Beckham cast only 5 non-white models—little progress from her 1 non-white model in London Fashion Week in 2013. The first incident resulted in supermodel Naomi Campbell’s public announcement of a phone call with Beckham about her choice of casting models based on skin color rather than talent. Despite Campbell’s effort to expose this problem, in five years, Beckham increased her diversity quotient by a mere 4 individuals. However, this lack of diversity resulted in an online uproar, citing her lack of diversity in casting and her promotion of unhealthy body standards, as demonstrated by a model with a waist size of a seven-year-old in her recent eyewear campaign. The incident with Victoria Beckham exemplifies how Millennial social media usage can change the traditions and inclusivity standards of high fashion.

Further, 2018 NYFW had the highest number of transgender models increase from 12 to 31. One significant factor was an online letter posted by the first transgender Britain’s Next Top Model model, Huffington Post writer, and transgender rights campaigner Talulah Eve, who called out London Fashion Week for having only one transgender model. The massive online support led NYFW to hire a variety of transgender models. Even included was social media activist, Maya Monès, who advocates the support for the transgender models and models of color to her 17.3k Instagram followers. The large online presence of Millenials is policing the fashion industry into greater inclusivity.

Despite these noteworthy effects of Millennial social media usage, there is still a lack of significant talk about plus size models from this past fashion week. A decrease from 34 to 26 plus size models along with a mere 0.4% increase in diversity from the previous year signals the likelihood that the fashion industry meets the bare minimum to appease Millennials rather than change for the good. However, the past circumstances of H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, and 2018 NYFW demonstrate the power that the Millennial stereotype has in pushing brands toward more holistic representation. The negative connotations around Millennials can be seen as a positive driving force in solidifying fashion equality for future generations.