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10 Boutiques Winning with Gen-Z

A handful of boutiques have pioneered the luxury market of tomorrow, forging strong connections with young fashion consumers.
Illustration by Jan-Nico Meyer for BoF
By
  • Christopher Morency

LONDON, United Kingdom — Futurist and science fiction writer William Gibson is famous for saying: "The future is already here — it's just not evenly distributed." From New York to Tokyo, Moscow to Lagos, a handful of fashion boutiques are already pioneering the luxury market of tomorrow, forging strong connections with Millennials and Gen-Z. Some have embraced youth culture in the buys, while others have mastered digital sales and marketing. The best have done both, while providing a tightly curated stream of constant newness. Here, some of the world's leading independent boutiques tell BoF about connecting with a generation of young fashion consumers whose attention spans are growing shorter as their hyper-informed eyes become sharper.

1. Kith, New York, United States

"I believe Kith bridges the gap between younger and older generations and brings them to a place where they can understand one another," says Ronnie Fieg, who founded the upmarket streetwear store and label in November 2011. "I'm speaking to them in a manner that I would have wanted to be spoken to at their age. It is critical today to cultivate brand loyalty." Fieg identifies the luxury tracksuits Kith developed with venerable department store Bergdorf Goodman as his company's best sellers.

2. Ssense, Montreal, Canada

The Montreal-based e-commerce player is one of the 50 fastest-growing companies in Canada and says 80 percent of its customers are either Millennials or Gen-Z. The retailer is something like Net-a-Porter for the next generation. "[Ssense] is a platform for Millennials founded by Millennials. It is a generational project. We celebrate the creation, not just the consumption," says Joerg Koch, editor-in-chief of Ssense and founder of 032c, who notes that Balenciaga's oversized "Kering" T-shirt and Gucci's belt bag are selling particularly well.

3. Machine-A, London, United Kingdom

"The way that we handle our different types of customers is to always offer a good mixture of both [high- and low-end] categories that have one common denominator, which is youth culture," explains Stavros Karelis, founder and buying director of Soho concept store Machine-A. Tabi boots from Maison Margiela, Vans x Alyx sneakers and oversized shirts from Raf Simons x Robert Mapplethorpe are among the boutique's most popular items. "Millennials love to shop the investment statement pieces, while Gen-Z love affordable limited drops and collaborations," says Karelis.

4. The Broken Arm, Paris, France

"We like to be a bridge between brands that this generation likes, such as Gosha Rubchinskiy and Nike, and have them sit alongside [established] brands like Raf Simons and Comme des Garçons," explains Guillaume Steinmetz, co-founder of Parisian multi-brand boutique The Broken Arm, which has been described as Colette for the next generation. For three seasons now, Kiko Kostadinov has been selling well. "He represents the future and the new generation loves him. The T-shirt sold out in one day, because it's more affordable but also becausehe participates in proposing something different in terms of proportion and detailing," says Steinmetz.

5. Smets, Luxembourg

"We have a specific team dedicated to customers on social media, who can directly engage with our fashion advisors. Sending them preview pictures from showrooms is a good example of securing a long-term relationship with them," says Smets fashion and buying director Pascaline Smets. Balenciaga's scarf jumpers and sweatshirts by Vetements sell particularly well she adds. "They're unique and their innovative shape and exciting cut resonate with consumers' desire for self-expression. Beyond the
product, people are buying into a cultural aesthetic."

6. Antonioli, Milan, Italy

In 1987, Claudio Antonioli opened his namesake multi-brand boutique, now a reference point for a highly selective, in-the-know clientele. "Young people really care about what they wear and really give importance to what celebrities are wearing," observes Antonioli, adding that Millennials and Gen-Z now account for the biggest share of his store's clientele. Antonioli stocks labels like Balenciaga and Sacai. Raf Simons' Ozweego sneaker is one of the store's fastest selling items.

7. Alara, Lagos, Nigeria

"The future and success of Alara lies with Millennials," says Reni Folawiyo, founder of Alara, a Lagos-based multi-brand store targeting Nigeria's wealthy with a creative mix of established international designers like Saint Laurent and local brands. Folawiyo notes the popularity of Self-Portrait's accessibly priced dresses as well as home-grown designer Maki Oh. "Maki Oh, being an emerging African brand, presents an opportunity for consumers to identify with and to participate in its growth and direction."

8. Asthik, Kiev, Ukraine

“Consumers nowadays are both hugely influenced by and susceptible to trend dictatorship. Fashion now is fast, furious and sometime outrageous. I enjoy it this way,” says Dmitriy Ievenko, who co-founded Asthik with business partner Asya Mkhytaryan three years ago. “At Asthik, sales of Yeezy, Off-White and Ienki Ienki puffer coats are hitting all-time record [highs]. Notably, customers go for both total looks and separate mix-and-match pieces,” adds Ievenko. “[Consumers] are longing for eccentric and unconventional products. We’re dealing with utter brand-mania.”

9. KM20, Moscow, Russia

Since its inception in 2009, Olga Karput's Kuznetsky Most 20 (KM20) has been a pioneer in bringing international luxury fashion labels like Maison Margiela, Vetements and J.W. Anderson to Russia. The store also sells young Russian designers like Gosha Rubchinskiy and Tigran Avetisyan and has partnered with the likes of Heron Preston and Rubchinskiy model Vsevolod "Sever" Cherepanov. "At KM20 we're in an exchange mode with 'kids' every day. We listen to them and their needs," says Karput. "Gosha Rubchinskiy's football jersey in collaboration with Adidas is a must have for this fall," she adds.

10. GR8, Tokyo, Japan

"One of the main characteristics of this generation is that they have strong fellowship and many of them don't mind wearing the same products as their friends," says Mitsuhiro Kubo, founder of cutting-edge concept store GR8, located in Tokyo's youthful Harajuku district. He says Off-White's utility belts have been particularly popular with young shoppers. "Many fashionistas around the world started to use the belt for styling and eventually it became one of the hardest products to purchase," he says.

This article appears in BoF's latest special print edition: “Generation Next”. The issue is available for purchase at shop.businessoffashion.com and at select retailers around the world.

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