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The Gen Z edition: Stanley cups, TikTok hauls, and making blogs great again

Housekeeping 🧹 

Oren just dropped a new video on eyewear factories, whether you want to add to your existing brand or launch a new one.

How does making a sunglass work? You typically have two choices:

  1. Modify an off-the-shelf existing style for your frames, which all of these factories have, and work with colors, coatings, etching, and materials to make it unique. This is a good option because you only pay for the cost of the product without any upfront fees.

  2. You can create a completely new look. This requires opening a mold (typically two with sunglasses) that factories use to create your style with injection molding. This is typically a few thousand dollars per mold, but then you can create your own completely unique style.

A list of factories to consider for eyewear:

Today, we’re stoked to introduce you to our friend, Casey Lewis, a brilliant writer and thinker, and someone who’s well-studied in the ways of Gen Z.

We’ll let Casey introduce herself and the incredibly insightful work she does.

PS — make sure you subscribe to Casey’s newsletter, After School, for more bangin’ insights, and follow her on Twitter.

WTF is Casey Lewis?

I’m Casey! And yeah, I write about youth trends, consumer behaviors, and TikTok memes. And SOMETIMES, I translate these meandering insights into actionable strategies for brands. I also run content and comms for a VC.

Between the two, I spend nearly all of my waking hours online, which is good for my newsletter (so much crucial context comes from scrolling!) but is not great for my sleep or skin.

You are the voice of the youth, the Gen Z whisperer…

Ha, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself the voice of the youth — as a millennial, I’m not so youthful anymore, no matter how many anti-aging serums I try — but I’ve always been obsessed with youth consumer behavior and generational trends.

When I was a kid, I was fanatical about teen magazines (and still am), had a blog, and wrote trend columns for the local newspaper. After college, I was an editor at Teen Vogue and MTV, and I also took a break from media to work in youth insights for a bit.

A few years ago, I left my job at New York Magazine to freelance full-time and started a Substack on a lark, really just because I wanted a place to keep track of all of the trends I was reading about and thinking about.

TikTok had accelerated the trend cycle in such an exciting albeit terrifying way, and I felt like there were significant consumer shifts and trends and memes popping up every day, and I wanted to keep them all in the forefront of my brain.

But a brain has only so much space!  

You’ve… seen a lot. What are some fundamental shifts you've witnessed while consuming products / content?

Where to begin?

Just by looking at my own habits, the way I consume products and content now versus 10, 15, or 20 years ago is fundamentally different.

When I was growing up and even in my earlier years of working at Teen Vogue, magazine editors were about as influential as you could get (aside from maybe celebrities — but even then, editors decided which celebrities to feature), and print publications were the most important format for consuming content.

As a kid, if a teen magazine said I needed a specific shoe for fall or if they called a particular skincare product life-changing, I would beg my parents for it.

What can I say? I’m a marketing executive’s dream!

I saw firsthand while working there that a feature inside Teen Vogue could make or break you, and brands invested heavily in their relationships with these types of publications.

I went on a number of press trips when I was a young editor — barely making a living wage, btw! — with brands hoping to woo us for coverage in the magazine.

One memorable occasion was a trip to Sundance for a hair brand’s dry shampoo launch (the product was a white powder, which resembled snow, hence the theme of the trip). There were spa treatments and snowmobiling and, I think, a dinner party in a yurt? It must have cost a quarter of a million dollars.

This was before social media was as powerful as it is now, and it was also before brands began to understand the power of individuals.

I think the moment, or at least a moment, things started to shift was when 13-year-old Tavi Gevinson sat in the front row of fashion week, ahead of high-powered editors in 2009, and the power of individuals (or influencers, as we call them now!) has only skyrocketed since.

The way we consume content is obviously very different, too. Whereas print used to be the only format that had a meaningful impact on culture (and spending!), now we’re all consuming content across digital, seamlessly absorbing information on a dozen platforms at once.

Many of us rarely look at print, even though we still dutifully pay for print subs to the New Yorker and/or New York Magazine.

You recently watched 5,000 TikToks of "Xmas hauls." What did you learn? What did that do to your brain?

“5,000” was admittedly hyperbolic — it’s extremely hard to keep track of how many TikToks you’re watching, though I did try! I ultimately spent about 7 hours scrolling, so it’s safe to say I watched many hundreds if not thousands of Christmas hauls.

The biggest thing I learned is that everyone, no matter where they live, wanted and received pretty much the same stuff: Uggs, Stanleys, Drunk Elephant. 

I grew up in a small town in the Midwest; we always got the trends a year or two after the regional cities and two to four after big cities.

Social media has democratized the trend cycle. I’m sure Brooklyn teens are still ahead of the kids from my hometown, but that rate of adoption has seemingly condensed to a few months rather than a few years.

I also learned that kids these days get a lot of stuff! I’m not a financial analyst, but the whole exercise made the U.S. economy look quite strong.

Of course, there’s a lot of overlap behind the kinds of kids who film Christmas hauls and the kinds of kids who get a lot of stuff — not every kid in America is opening up $10,000 Christmas hauls.

Walk us through your 2024 In vs. Out lists and defend your answers!

Similar to my Christmas haul deep dive, I spent many, many hours watching in-and-out lists and tallied up the most frequently mentioned things to determine patterns and trends.

“Situationships” were among the most frequently mentioned “outs,” which surprised me! I thought Gen Z liked situationships (which, as best as my millennial brain can comprehend, translates to friends with benefits, though with perhaps slightly less transparency).

But apparently, Gen Z wants to lock it down in 2024 because they’re uniformly over situations. 

I was also surprised to see dinner parties on many “in” lists. Obviously, dining out is really expensive these days, what with inflation and everything, but I really think it has more to do with the desire to romanticize adulthood than a need to save money.

Where do you think the market is underserved for Gen Z? What categories or products haven’t found their footing with the next generation?

I don’t think there are enough no-code platforms that empower young people to make cool stuff online. Gen Z is obsessed with visual mood board-type platforms like Pinterest and Landing; I think there’s a real opportunity for enabling young people to make interactive, aesthetically pleasing consumer-facing web experiences.

I, relatedly, think there’s a huge opportunity for someone to make a 2024 version of Blogger.

All of the blog templates available right now are stuck in 2012, and I feel a big blog comeback is in the works (it was on my in-and-out list!).

But we need better tools for that to happen.

A more obvious market that’s underserved for Gen Z is dating.

We’ve heard again and again and again that dating apps are not serving Gen Z. When I was young and single, Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble were all…not great, but they were pretty good!

At that point, the novelty of swiping was still new (this was freshly post-OKCupid’s heyday), people were pretty genuine, and the algorithms were good! 

Why is no one jumping in here?