Global Creative Director WGSN
As the VP, Global Creative Director at WGSN (A unit of Ascential plc), Francis sits at the intersection of product, technology, marketing, sales and content, and is responsible for the brand design and visual representation of the company's identity. Based in New York Head Office, he oversees the global design teams and the international localization team from New York, L.A., San Francisco, London, Tokyo, Seoul, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Hong Kong. He sets the creative direction, and contributes to the development of new products, user experience/user interface (UX/UI) design and services.
With his long exposure to world trends and his deep design background, Francis has a unique perspective on sustainability in the global fashion industry. In 2016, he was recognized and featured as one of the honorees in the Mandarin Leader magazine. He was also a guest speaker in many academic and design organizations events including Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons School of Design, Soho House, New York design week, the Paley Center and the WGSN Futures Summit.
In this riveting fourth installment of our Executive Education in Sustainable Fashion series, WeDesign CEO Simon Collins is in conversation with WGSN’s Global Creative Director, Francis Wong. In our talk,Francis discusses his analysis on sustainability’s lasting power, notable trends related to this new activism and excitingly-- what his predictions are for the future of retail.
To stay relevant and connected, retailers are increasingly shifting their attention to a new consumer group-- Gen Z. This generation has high expectations around sustainability from the companies they identify with and this factor will continue to deeply influence their purchases. But who is Gen Z? How are they interfacing with or reshaping retail? And what is Gen Z expecting from companies in terms of sustainability?
Generation Z or “Gen Z” is the age demographic of people born between 1995 and 2010. Gen Z is now a major consumer force. Qualities that define this generation is that individualism is paramount to their identity and their digital lives make up a major core of who they are. This generation has never known anything but the digital age. This generation is also seeing major consumer movement and potential in Africa, India and Southeast Asia and they are emerging with more confidence in their identities, values and purchases. And as WGSN Global Creative Director Francis Wong importantly states in his talk, this generation is currently coming into the workforce and shaping the tastes, environments and products they want from their positions within companies. In their retail choices, Gen Z values authenticity, consistency and the “personal” over the “personalized.” Wong also emphasizes the importance of experiences for the future of retail and this demographic is a key part of this prediction.
So what are Gen Z’s expectations around sustainability? Facing a world of dwindling resources, climate change and growing inequality, Gen Z sees sustainability as a very important factor in making purchases. Instead of a “more is more” and fostering a consumption mentality, Gen Z is oriented towards more sharing/communal practices-- where goods are increasingly reusable, recycled, or swapped. Wong sees sustainability pushed within the younger generation of worker/ consumer because they are insisting on building it into the company where they work and the products they buy. But also importantly, according to WGSN’s predictions on Gen Z and the future consumer, honesty and kindness are also important elements in their expectations of brands. So brands who focus on sustainability with this particular angle may see increased resonance from this group. Gen Z values companies who promote positivity in the world and interestingly, ones who are also taking a stand on timely social issues. One example of companies taking a stand on social issues as Simon Collins mentions, is Nike’s selection of activist and athlete Colin Kapernick as a representative of their brand but also a leading face in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I think… [sustainability] is led by the young generation of consumer. At the same time, this consumer is also going into the workforce.... they are the consumer who wants to buy something sustainable- but because they have also become the designer or chief product officer in the brand so they are also driving this into the company.”