From models to marketing, fashion has always been dominated by the young—but are times changing in this multi-billion dollar industry?
They’re calling it a ‘greynaissance’.
Daphne Selfe, Iris Apfel, Maye Musk (mother of Elon Musk)—what do they all have in common? They're not just super models. They're old super models (90, 97, 70, respectively). And it's not just the runways. Fashion campaigns, department stores, employers—across the industry, the fashion world is realising it can no longer exclusively market clothes to the under-40s.
So in an effort to appeal to a massive, untapped market of consumers over the age of 60—which, as societies around the world age, is only getting larger—the fashion industry is embracing the older market. As Barron's calls it: "the mother of all markets."
According to Oxford Economics, spending Americans over the age of 50 accounted for nearly US$8 trillion worth of economic activity in 2015. By 2030, the US. 55-plus population will account for half of all domestic consumer spending growth since the Great Recession, the Boston Consulting Group projects. In Japan and Germany, that number that rises to 67 and 86 percent, respectively.
Whether it's fewer mortgages, parents no longer needing care or just fewer financial worries, septogenurians have spending power—a lot of it. Per capita, 70-somethings are spending around US$880 per month, which is comparable to younger generations, according to government data.
With a falling birth rate and a life span longer than ever before, Japan is becoming a nation of senior citizens. Currently, 34 percent of Japan's population is over 60; in 20 years’ time, that figure will rise to 41 percent. More than half of all Japanese companies are raising the age of retirement, and the government is taking steps to gradually raise the pensionable retirement age from 62 to 65 by 2025.
China’s ageing society problem also appears to be worsening, with the latest official statistics revealing that both its birth and marriage rates have dropped significantly. The country is facing huge challenges with its new births in decline and a quarter of the population expected to be aged over 60 by 2030.
Last year, Alibaba – China’s biggest ecommerce site—harnessed this global movement towards later retirement by releasing a recruitment advertisement for a “senior research fellow.” Taobao, the company’s hugely successful in-house retail arm, was looking to hire two people aged 60 or older to assess new products and test an app that was aimed at senior consumers. It received more than 1,000 applications in 24 hours.
“We are crafting a new version of Taobao that is customised for senior consumers, catering to their unique habits and needs," a spokesperson for Alibaba told Business Insider. "Besides satisfying their online shopping demands, we want to create something that helps them strengthen relationships with the younger generation, and bring them closer together.”
That the company is investing in the older market is no surprise—30 million Taobao and Tmall users are over 50, and last year Chinese people in that age group each spent an average of RMB5,000 (US$730) shopping online. That Alibaba has taken the logical next step and is looking to employ people over 60 to help appeal to this affluent market remains groundbreaking in the world of retail.
Japan is ahead of the curve, too. One cosemetics company called Pola has a team of 50,000. Of these representatives, an estimated 5,500 are in their seventies, 2,500 are in their eighties and 250 in their nineties.
“For a number of structural factors, I certainly see an increase in older workers coming soon in Japan,” says Nobuko Kobayashi, a partner at A.T. Kearney, a consulting firm in Tokyo, the Business of Fashion reports. “There are overall labour shortages happening across industries, a glut of baby boomers reaching retirement age who still have the will to work, and a fashion industry that is seriously targeting more seniors. That being said, I think it is a fairly new phenomenon in Japan. The fashion industry has always been notoriously young, specifying at times in the past that they would only employ twentysomethings on the shop floor. Although that’s now illegal.”
There are certainly still obstacles for the "greynaissance" to become more widespread—namely that the fashion industry largely appeals to youth, both as consumers and employees. To win the interest of older employees, companies will need to adopt more flexible hours and introduce brands that target seniors.
But the momentum has begun, and China and Japan are on the right path towards appealing to an increasingly affluent and powerful demographic. Their efforts will help alleviate the toll of mass retirement on the workforce by transferring skills and opportunities to the new generation. It's also challenging the notion that only the young care about their appearance. Ultimately, if fashion is all about breaking the rules, then the greynaissance is fashion.