Paths to Earning Business of Millenials

Like forest paths intersecting in a clearing, three seemingly disparate articles on our reading list today led to the same place.

The subjects: 3D technology spurring mass customization, Patagonia’s new apparel line made from recycled garments and salvaged fabric swatches, and an expansive study of the age 25-to-34 crowd (aka millennials).

Far into the first article, posted on the blog of French software company Dassault Systèmes, noted mass customization expert B. Joseph Pine is quoted. He cites apparel as an example of an industry coming around to the benefits of mass customization, which enables consumers to personalize products before they’re made.

“Retailers discount, dump or recycle tons of unsold clothes. They produced what people didn’t want,” says Pine. “Mass customization allows you to produce on demand, so there’s less waste. It’s more environmentally sustainable. You eliminate shipping around the world stuff that you’re not selling.”

Then came the story about Patagonia’s Truth to Materials collection, the latest example of the company’s broad and longstanding commitment to sustainability. Many other retailers, brands, and manufacturers have embraced the goal, notably through the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, but none as pervasively–or culturally–as Patagonia. (See the list of members here.)

The third article reported the findings of a survey conducted in 19 countries of nearly 10,000 millennials, sometimes described as the first generation that expects to be able to customize everything they buy.

While the study didn’t address customization, it did examine millennials’ attitudes about brands. Many are skeptical of how brands market to them, 30% overall and 40% in the United States and United Kingdom.

However, their attitudes about corporate citizenship reveal how they might view apparel companies that offer customization and tout its sustainability benefits, and companies like Patagonia committed to help-the-environment initiatives:

  • 59% said brands should actively participate to improve causes.
  • 58% said brands have the potential to be a force for good.
  • 54% said they are more loyal to brands that help improve societal or ecological issues.

In the U.S., millennials have an estimated $170 billion in annual buying power. A formula for apparel brands and retailers and other industries to earn a larger chunk seems clear from today’s readings: empower millennials to customize what they want to buy and demonstrate a commitment to doing good in the world.