Millennials and Gen Z shaking up the cotton industry

Changing interests and preferences among younger consumers are placing new demands on the cotton industry. As Millennials and Gen Z become avid consumers, cotton manufacturers will need to heed the demands of this large and influential group of consumers in order to stay successful.


As one of the largest generations in history, Millennials are those born between the early 1980s and the turn of the millennium. They are expected to number 17m in the UK alone by the year 2019 and are the first truly digital generation. As such, their expectations are vastly different than those of their older Generation X and Baby Boomer counterparts. They are known to be global citizens, seeking to make the world better. They are also known as smart, technologically savvy, civic-oriented and acutely conscious of issues relating to health, society, the economy and the environment.

Gen Z, those 18 years and younger, currently represents more than 23% of the UK population and are poised to be an even larger group than the Millennials. Growing up completely immersed in the digital age, they too are digitally savvy and have tremendous influence on the buying patterns of their parents. Furthermore, these young consumers are pragmatic about money and care about authenticity.

Millennials and Gen Z are in, or are about to enter, their prime spending years –
which will undoubtedly have a meaningful impact on the future of the cotton industry

The two groups have many commonalities but several that will particularly impact the cotton industry. These young consumers are extremely well educated, include physical fitness in their everyday lives and are committed to the environment and sustainability. Furthermore, both groups are in, or are about to enter, their prime spending years – which will undoubtedly have a meaningful impact on the future of the cotton industry.

The smarter generations

According to research group the Brookings Institution; Millennials are trending to be the most educated generation in western history. And no doubt Gen Z will follow. These consumers place a great deal of value on truthfulness, trusting influencers, opinions on social media and word of mouth far more than television and print ads. They are not easily swayed by false claims and will readily switch to a competitor if a brand shows a lack of trustworthiness or doesn’t align with their core values.

Furthermore, they appreciate innovative technologies. As the first generation to grow up in a digital age, Millennials are 2.5 times more likely to be early adopters of technology than older consumers and they expect similar innovation in the products they purchase.

Focus on health and well-being

There is a general trend among Millennials and Gen Z towards health and well-being, with Millennials exercising more, eating smarter and smoking less than previous generations.

Young consumers today are more active than ever and require clothing that offers enhanced functionality and performance. Consumers have higher than normal expectations when it comes to the fit, comfort, look, feel and performance of their clothing.

Advancements in manufacturing technologies have evolved to address these demands, focusing on ways to converge the comfort of cotton with enhanced durability, evaporation and absorption features.

‘Real Cool Cotton’, an innovative cotton that can evaporate significantly faster than standard cotton, is a technology that increases the absorption capacity of the fabric, while also transferring moisture to the surface so it can evaporate more rapidly.

Enhancements to standard cotton allow manufacturers to now offer products with the comfort of cotton and the performance level typically associated with synthetics. This is a combination of form and function that Millennials and Gen Z have come to expect.

Commitment to sustainability and social responsibility

Millennials and Gen Z are certainly a new type of consumer. They try to be responsible in what they purchase and expect the same from the companies from whom they shop. They look for companies that commit to sustainability and other environmental factors, as well as diversity and inclusion and positive employment practices.

In fact, in the 2016 Millennial Study conducted by Deloitte, 56% of respondents said they would shun organizations whose values conflicted with their own. And 87% believe that a company’s measure of success is more than just its financial performance.

And money doesn’t seem to be an issue. A Nielsen global online study found that nearly three out of four Millennials and Gen Z are willing to pay extra for sustainable products and for products from companies who are committed to social values and being environmentally friendly. In fact, a senior vice president for sustainability at Nielsen said: “Brands that establish a reputation for environmental stewardship among today’s youngest consumers have an opportunity to not only grow market share but to build loyalty among the power-spending Millennials of tomorrow, too.”

It has been estimated that if the lifecycle of a cotton garment can be extended by nine months,
the water footprint can be reduced by 5-10%.

Yet despite the industry’s best efforts, cotton production still requires significant amounts of water. It has been estimated that if the lifecycle of a cotton garment can be extended by nine months, the water footprint can be reduced by 5-10%. It is imperative that going forward, cotton manufacturers focus on making cotton fabrics that are more durable and will stay new looking longer.

Innovations such as ‘Real Lasting Cotton’, for example, is a technology that preserves cotton fabrics and keeps clothing looking and feeling brand new after multiple washes. The technology creates a fabric that is more durable than traditional cotton fabrics, thus creating a longer lifespan for clothes.

With two billion shirts produced around the world each year, extending the lifespan of garments and reducing the natural resources required would alleviate significant environmental concerns for these Millennial and Gen Z consumers.

Cotton is a natural and sustainable fiber that will forever have a place in the world of apparel and fashion. Today’s young consumers are placing an overwhelming burden on cotton manufacturers to up their game. They are demanding products with the comfort of cotton combined with the enhanced functionality of synthetic fabrics and longer life cycles. At the same time, Millennials and Gen Z are placing pressure on manufacturers to reduce their environmental footprint.

There are several cotton manufacturers who are offering just that. These players focus on research and development that lead to the novelty and quality that consumers have come to expect. These companies will continue to drive the innovation that has positively impacted the cotton and apparel industry and resulted in the introduction of the groundbreaking new products that we are seeing today.

About the author : Esti Maoz is a senior vice president and chief marketing and innovation officer at Delta Galil, the manufacturer of Real Cool Cotton and Real Lasting Cotton.
The article was featuren in Just-Style magazine on November 6, 2017. 

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