In this report, we explore the key ideas and themes set to impact youth culture in 2021 as young consumers evolve in the era of coronavirus.
A year after the coronavirus shook society to its core, it has become abundantly clear that the lockdown has psychologically and materially shifted the behaviour of young consumers worldwide. In 2020 youth across the globe lost economic opportunities, missed traditional milestones and forfeited relationships at a pivotal time for forming identity.
A report by the Center for Generational Kinetics found that since the start of Covid-19, 36% of Gen Z are feeling stressed about saving money while 35% are stressed about supporting their basic needs.
While this unprecedented time has brought on endless setbacks, it has also given rise to new movements, communities and brands. As we look ahead to a post-pandemic era, many are predicting the next few years could see young people compensating for the experiences they missed out on. As a result of the pandemic, youth have a renewed appreciation for friends and family and will carry this deep need for connection through as a defining characteristic.
Youth culture in 2021 will be marked by 'micropreneurship', (the process of building small-scale entrepreneurial endeavours enabled by a new generation of technology platforms and tools), authentic community engagement, creative experimentation and alternative means of instruction.
From a growing interest in snail mail to the rise of a new creator economy, this report identifies the six key themes:
Cryptocurrency-powered NFTs (non-fungible tokens) have quickly become one of the most discussed topics in 2021, fuelling a new creator economy and pushing society closer into the metaverse.
NFTs are one-of-a-kind digital collectibles that represent a unique good or asset typically minted on the Ethereum blockchain. The bounds of these collectibles are limitless and include everything from decentralised domain names and virtual gaming items to tweets and memes. Similarly to trading cards, today’s NFTs can be bought and sold by collectors. The most prevalent NFTs today are digital works often referred to as crypto art.
Explosive adoption: a recent report by DappRadar found that NFTs had their best sales month ever in February. Digital art sales grew by 2,800% in 2020, with the total value of the NFT market reaching $250m. Nifty Gateway, a popular NFT marketplace, publicly launched in March 2020, helping creators sell more than $12m of digital art and collectibles.
Digital ownership revolution: NFTs are bringing more young creators and consumers into the digital asset world than Bitcoin has so far. NFTs are giving rise to digital drop culture, which combines multiple kinds of cutting-edge business models and technologies including digital scarcity, drop culture, blockchain and cryptocurrency – into direct-to-fan transactions that makes real money for artists involved. NFTs also make it possible for super-fans to make money by owning content that can appreciate in value, evolving the passion economy.
Community care: NFTs can be used for community campaigns as well. In November 2020 Calvin Liu, investor at Divergence Ventures, bought an NFT from CGI influencer Lil Miquela to raise more than $82k for the Black Girls Code charity. In January, cryptocurrency evangelist Mai Fujimoto, known commonly as Miss Bitcoin, partnered with blockchain gaming ecosystem Enjin to launch Japan’s first NFT charity project.
Digital drop culture: an emerging app called Aglet has been likened to "the Pokémon Go for sneakerheads". The platform allows players to collect virtual sneakers by walking around outside, and plans to eventually allow its users and brand partners to launch their own virtual retail stores in the app. This new model could have serious implications for the growing metaverse.
Eco-NFTs: Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency in the world by market value, operates via a proof-of-work consensus model, which incentivises burning huge amounts of energy in order to “mine” new tokens. In March Zora, a popular NFT marketplace for musicians, announced it was starting to combat Ethereum’s emissions cost through a dedicated carbon offset. This will be a crucial addition for artists interested in fighting the climate crisis.
In February, Logan Paul partnered with peer-to-peer exchange Bondly to sell 1,772 NFTs for approximately $3.5m in sales
Actor and entertainer Lindsay Lohan minted and sold her first NFT, dubbed Lightning, for more than $50k via the Rarible platform
An NFT in the guise of a plot of virtual land on blockchain marketplace and gaming platform Axie Infinity sold for a record-breaking $1.5m (888.25 Ethereum) in February
In 2019 the NBA partnered with Vancouver-based blockchain company Dapper Labs to launch NBA Top Shot – collectible NFT highlights that have garnered $230m as of March
Kings of Leon became the first band to release a new album in the form of an NFT. The album, titled When You See Yourself, was unveiled via three types of tokens as part of a series called NFT Yourself
In February, British auction house Christie's hosted a sale from the artists' collection, marking the first time NFT art was sold at an auction house
The images on the left are some of the most relevant NFT use cases in recent months.
A new creator-friendly economy: NFTs are accelerating the trend of creators monetising directly with their fans. These blockchain collectibles create a decentralised marketplace for creators without platform intermediaries taking a sizeable cut of earnings, ownership or even controlling how the digital work is distributed. Marketplaces powered by NFTs open up new revenue streams for creators; anytime digital work is resold the original creator automatically gets a percentage of those secondary sales.
Authenticity awareness: importantly, all NFT transactions are public, transparent and governed by code on the blockchain – a big shift from the creator economy we know today. Several platforms are emerging to assist artists on their NFT journey. Verisart for instance is a blockchain verification platform for artists. Other web platforms like OpenSea and Rarible allow the budding crypto community to connect, transact and authenticate their assets.
A new set of tactile and craft-focused youth are emerging, as quarantine hobbies evolve into new lifestyles and rituals.
The global crafts market is expected to value $48bn by 2025, as DIY design continues to seed itself deep into the lives of curious and creative youth.
Rise of sew bros and crochet queens: the creative renaissance birthed by the pandemic has given rise to a growing cohort of tactile, craft-focused youth. Many young consumers took this opportunity to make masks while stuck indoors, and got submerged into the art of sewing. As lockdown measures loomed, Google searches for "sewing machines" jumped 400% in the US, with department store John Lewis reporting that sales of them had risen by 127% in April 2020.
The r/sewing community on Reddit is steadily growing and becoming increasingly diverse. One reddit user u/SanneChan shared “Good to see more attention for the wastefulness of fast fashion and how sewing can be more sustainable. I hope more male sewists will lead to more high quality masculine sewing patterns.”
The recent movement has broken free of historical stereotypes that sewing, embroidery, and needlepoint are exclusively done by women. The future of sewing will move beyond gender roles in favour of appreciation for the craft and understanding of its alignment with slow consumption.
The tufting boom: artist Tim Eads, who operates Tufting Gun, shared with Vice in August 2020 that his business has grown three times since lockdown began in March 2020. This stems from established and emerging fibre artists, furniture designers, entrepreneurs, and influencers who are all fuelling a tufting boom.
Creative brand builders like Sean Brown and Bailey Goldberg kicked off the rug rush prior to the implementation of lockdown measures. A thriving rug marketplace has quickly developed on Instagram, where budding textile designers and DIY enthusiasts share and sell their custom wares to thousands of followers interested in adding flair to their floors.
Today #rugtiktok has more than 202m views, while #tufttheworld has passed 33m views. 22-year-old Claire Molenda has become a #rugtiktok sensation for her surrealist rug designs. Her rug-making videos have received more than a million views to date, and in December 2020 she produced a tufted coat and an oversized bucket hat. 2021 will see the tufting movement flourish as artists and DIY enthusiasts evolve the medium beyond custom rugs in pursuit of more individualised garments.
Quiltcore: the quilted patchwork movement in fashion has been championed in recent seasons by brands like Greg Lauren and Emily Bode. Newly established brand Stan, launched in 2020 by 23-year-old artist and surfer Tristan Detwiler, is also building on fashion’s move toward upcycled clothing and has already drawn comparisons to Bode with its one-of-a-kind quilted garments.
The power of quiltcore lies in its ability to marry sustainability and storytelling. The repurposed textiles are often storied, giving the style a deeper meaning beyond its aesthetic. Those participating in the quiltcore movement may be doing so for therapeutic purposes. 20-year-old Ishmael Jasmin, who launched his own label dubbed @anguish.LA in March 2020, crafts streetwear-esque pieces with woven blanket materials.
He shared with Esquire: “Sewing has been very beneficial to my mental health. Don’t get me wrong, some projects can be draining and annoying. But when I’m creating something, I don’t have to really worry about any outside noise. Just me and my machine is a perfect combo.”
Quiltcore is also informing artistic pursuits. 27-year-old Massachusetts-based textile artist Michael Thorpe produces large-scale portraits using quilting techniques he learned from his mum. Pictures of Thorpe's quilts regularly rack up hundreds of likes on his Instagram feed and he has been profiled by The Boston Globe for his quiltwork.
In 2021, quiltcore will encourage young consumers to think of their clothing as objects to maintain rather than mere grails to cop.