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Why health and wellness brands need to appeal to Gen Zers holistically

by John Wheeler
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    Walk down the street today, and you’re bound to find young people dressed in athletic streetwear. Yes folks, the athleisure trend is a full-on, five-alarm fire emoji. In fact, according to some, athleisure is the defining fashion trend of the 21st century so far.

    But why is it so hot?  A recent joint study by UNiDAYS and Ad Age, Z: A Generation Redefining Health and Wellness, may have partly revealed the answer.

    Overwhelmingly, Gen Z students view fitness, eating right and even mental health as integral pieces of a holistic wellness puzzle. One might even say they view wellness as a lifestyle.

    At its heart, athleisure is a symptom of this shift. Daily exercise is not just for athletes anymore, it’s for the masses. And this evolution towards a more active lifestyle deserves its own fashion trend.

    As with earlier sportswear trends (the “running shoe,” anyone?), athleisure is as much about signaling that you’re active (read: wellness and fitness are important to you), as it is about actually being active. That’s why these days, you’re just as likely to see students in performance leggings whether they’re headed to math class or yoga class.

    If you’re a brand in the wellness space, whether apparel, fitness or tech, you’ve got to be thinking about wellness as a lifestyle — especially if you want to appeal to Gen Z. No matter how “quality” your athletic shoes (or yoga pants) happen to be, you need to remember they’re only one component of Gen Z’s holistic approach to health, wellness and fitness that also includes other things like meditation, health-conscious eating or Fitbit-enabled sleep tracking.

    If you’re an apparel brand, what else are you bringing to the table for Gen Z besides, well, clothes? If you’re cooking up healthy food, what can you offer Gen Z to nourish the soul? It’s a challenge that remains (at least for some retailers) unmet.

    Lululemon and Athleta — the two examples below — are some of the few who are doing this well. Both retailers provide active, in-store social experiences that showcase the fun (albeit sweaty) side of their brands and position them squarely as part of the wellness lifestyle movement.

    Lululemon and SoulCycle: a perfect “exercise” in co-branding

    Lululemon is, by all accounts, one of the founding fathers of athleisure. Their ongoing partnership with SoulCycle is a prime example of how they are catering to the wellness lifestyle. Lululemon gets the need to provide experiences that complement the quality of its fitness products in order to deliver on the lifestyle.

    SoulCycle is widely known for the quality and professionalism of its instructors, much as Lululemon is known for the quality of its products. Put them together under the same roof, and you’ve created the perfect brand association, an environment where Lululemon shoppers and SoulCycle exercisers join in a union of wellness. 

    Athleta: an athleisure store that lets you shop-n-yoga

    There are other ways of going about catching Gen Z’s attention, too. After all, why partner with another company when you have all the in-house fixings you need to create your own Z-friendly shopping environment, where quality shopping and quality experientials blend seamlessly with each other?

    Take a look at what Athleta's managed to pull off at its flagship store in New York’s Flatiron District. Not only does the Gap-owned athleisure company offer shoppers room-after-room of its signature, yoga-friendly apparel, but it also features its own, downstairs fitness studio. What better and more fun way for Gen Z shoppers to “try on” their new purchases than take part in yoga classes hosted by Athleta-sponsored instructors?

    The fact these classes are offered completely free of charge isn’t by mistake; it’s also a significant draw for Gen Z, whose members place great emphasis on getting extra value at no additional cost when it comes to retail.

    Talk about getting your money’s worth.

    To add it all up at the cashier’s counter

    This holistic approach is the future of wellness — and Gen Z, an up and coming economic powerhouse — is in the soul-cycler's seat. In the same way Gen Zers don’t see a major difference between “digital” and “physical” spaces — since each of these plays a vital part in their day-to-day lives —  they don’t distinguish much between health “verticals” that previous generations took for granted as being separate.

    What you probably saw as two different categories while growing up — namely, athletic apparel and exercise classes — are things Gen Z doesn’t see as being very dissimilar at all. To their way of thinking, shopping for athletic clothes belongs under the same roof with cycling sessions and yoga classes, because… why not? They’re all part of a healthy lifestyle and besides that they’re fun, so again... why not?

    If you’re offering a health and fitness product, you might look into partnering with a fitness service that brings additional value to your product; and the same goes vice-versa. The point is this: It’s at these product-and-service junctions where you can demonstrate the extra value — and the experiential appeal — that your brand can bring to Gen Zers’ lives.

    For athletic and athleisure brands still studying up on how to appeal to Gen Z in-store, Lululemon and Athleta offer strong examples to emulate.

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