The Gen Z Ethnic Wear Phenomenon: Lessons for Brands Across Industries

Shah Mohammed
8 min readJun 19, 2024

In a world where fast fashion and global trends often dominate, a fascinating shift is taking place among Gen Z consumers. Increasingly, this influential demographic is embracing traditional ethnic wear, not just for special occasions, but as a part of their everyday style choices. However, the implications of this trend extend far beyond the fashion industry. Gen Z’s penchant for ethnic wear offers valuable insights and lessons for brands across a wide range of sectors — from marketing and product design to workplace culture and sustainability initiatives.

The Gen Z Ethnic Wear Trend in India

In India, the Gen Z ethnic wear trend is particularly pronounced and multifaceted. According to a recent survey by a leading fashion retailer, over 65% of Gen Z consumers in India prefer ethnic wear or fusion styles for office wear and special occasions. This preference is evident in the rising popularity of brands like Fab India, Okhai, Suta, Libas, Fashor, and Jaypore among younger consumers, as well as the proliferation of online platforms like Tjori that cater to this demographic.

Several factors are driving this trend. For one, Gen Z consumers are increasingly seeking out authentic, meaningful connections to their cultural heritage. In a world of global homogeneity, ethnic wear provides a way to express one’s roots and individuality. Moreover, many traditional Indian crafts and textiles — from Banarasi silk to Ikat weaves — are produced using sustainable, eco-friendly methods that appeal to Gen Z’s environmental consciousness.

The trend is also fueled by the influence of celebrity style icons and social media. From Deepika Padukone’s stunning Sabyasachi lehengas to Alia Bhatt’s breezy Anarkali kurtas, Bollywood celebrities are often seen championing ethnic wear, inspiring their young fans to follow suit. Instagram and Pinterest are flooded with images of Gen Z influencers in chic ethnic ensembles, from classic salwar kameezes with a modern twist to fusion wear that blends Indian and Western elements.

As we’ll see, this trend has major implications that extend beyond the fashion world. By understanding what drives Gen Z’s love for ethnic wear, brands across industries can gain valuable insights into this generation’s values, preferences, and expectations.

Lessons for Marketing and Advertising

Gen Z’s affinity for ethnic wear provides a rich opportunity for brands to connect with this demographic through their marketing and advertising efforts. By incorporating ethnic elements into their visual language and storytelling, brands can tap into Gen Z’s desire for authenticity, cultural connection, and self-expression.

We’ve seen several brands across industries successfully leverage this insight. One notable example of a brand successfully incorporating ethnic elements into its marketing is the “Titan Raga” campaign by Titan Watches. This campaign celebrated the beauty and elegance of Indian women, featuring them in traditional Indian attire like sarees and lehengas. The visuals were vibrant, showcasing intricate embroidery, rich colours, and ethnic jewellery, all of which resonated with the brand’s target audience.

Another relevant example is the “Har Tyohaar Mein Big Bazaar” (Big Bazaar in every festival) campaign by Big Bazaar, a popular retail chain in India. This campaign showcased how Big Bazaar helps customers celebrate various Indian festivals, featuring traditional clothing, decorations, and food items associated with each festival.

The key is to incorporate these elements in a way that feels authentic and respectful, rather than appropriative or superficial. By collaborating with traditional artisans, featuring genuine cultural stories, and celebrating the rich diversity of ethnic traditions, brands can create marketing narratives that truly resonate with Gen Z.

Lessons for Product Design and Development

The ethnic wear trend offers a wealth of inspiration for product design and development across industries. By incorporating traditional motifs, patterns, colours, and craftsmanship into their products, brands can create offerings that appeal to Gen Z’s desire for cultural connection and authenticity.

In the home decor space, brands like Fabindia and Good Earth have been pioneers in this regard, offering a range of products — from furniture and textiles to tableware and lighting — that celebrate Indian craftsmanship and design traditions. Their success with younger consumers highlights the potential for other home decor brands to draw inspiration from ethnic wear and traditional aesthetics.

But the opportunities extend beyond home decor. Imagine a tech accessory brand that creates phone cases and laptop sleeves featuring traditional Indian embroidery patterns, or a stationery brand that incorporates Madhubani or Gond art into its notebook designs. By infusing products with ethnic elements in creative and contemporary ways, brands across sectors can resonate with Gen Z’s sensibilities.

Lessons for Brand Collaborations and Partnerships

Collaborations and partnerships provide another exciting avenue for brands to tap into the Gen Z ethnic wear trend. By joining forces with ethnic wear brands, traditional artisans, or influencers popular with this demographic, brands can create unique offerings and experiences that resonate with Gen Z.

One powerful example of a brand collaborating with designers to incorporate traditional craftsmanship is IKEA’s ÖVERALLT collection. This collection was a collaboration between IKEA and ten African designers, architects, and creatives, including Issa Diabaté, Selly Raby Kane, and Bibi Seck. The collection featured a range of furniture, textiles, and home decor items that blended contemporary design with traditional African craftsmanship, patterns, and materials. The result was a unique and authentic collection that celebrated African design heritage while appealing to modern, globally-minded consumers, including Gen Z.

Influencer partnerships are another key opportunity. By working with fashion bloggers, Instagram stars, and YouTube creators who are known for their ethnic wear style and have a large Gen Z following, brands can create authentic, engaging content that showcases their products in a culturally relevant context.

The potential for such collaborations is vast and varied, limited only by the creativity and authenticity with which brands approach them.

Lessons for Workplace Culture and HR

As Gen Z enters the workforce in larger numbers, their preference for ethnic wear is likely to shape expectations around workplace culture and dress codes. By creating an environment that celebrates cultural diversity and allows for authentic self-expression, companies can make their workplaces more appealing and inclusive for Gen Z talent.

This could take many forms. For example, companies could relax dress codes to allow for ethnic wear even on normal days. They could incorporate ethnic design elements into office decor, or host cultural events and celebrations that allow employees to showcase their heritage.

But it’s not just about aesthetics. By fostering a workplace culture that genuinely values diversity, inclusivity, and authenticity, companies can create an environment where Gen Z employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. This could involve diversity and inclusion training, employee resource groups for various cultural communities, and leadership that celebrates and elevates diverse voices and perspectives.

The key is to approach this not as a superficial trend, but as a genuine commitment to creating a workplace that resonates with Gen Z’s values and allows them to thrive.

Lessons for Packaging and Store Design

Gen Z’s love for ethnic wear can also inspire brands to experiment with traditional motifs, patterns, and colours in their packaging and store design. For special collections or festive seasons, incorporating ethnic-inspired elements into product packaging and gift wrapping can make the offering feel more unique, thoughtful, and resonant with Gen Z’s aesthetic preferences.

This approach can extend to retail store design and visual merchandising as well. By subtly incorporating ethnic touches into store interiors, window displays, and product presentations, brands can create an ambience that appeals to Gen Z’s sensibilities without being overly thematic or clichéd. This could be as simple as using traditional colour palettes, showcasing artisanal decor pieces, or incorporating ethnic patterns into signage and graphics.

The key, as with all these strategies, is to do so in a way that feels authentic and respectful to the cultural heritage being referenced rather than as superficial ornamentation.

Lessons for Brand Storytelling and Event Marketing

For brands that have a genuine connection to traditional craftsmanship, local heritage, or ethnic roots, the Gen Z ethnic wear trend presents a powerful opportunity for storytelling and differentiation. By highlighting these aspects in their brand narratives and marketing communications, companies can tap into Gen Z’s desire for authenticity and cultural connection.

This could take the form of sharing artisan stories, showcasing traditional production techniques, or celebrating the cultural significance behind certain designs or motifs. By helping Gen Z consumers understand and appreciate the heritage behind the products they buy, brands can foster a deeper sense of meaning and connection.

Similarly, when organizing events or experiences targeted at Gen Z (such as music festivals, product launches, or pop-ups), incorporating ethnic elements into the event theme, decor, styling, or dress code can create a more immersive and memorable experience. This could involve anything from featuring traditional art installations to collaborating with ethnic wear brands on exclusive merchandise for the event.

By weaving cultural elements into the fabric of the event, brands can create experiences that resonate with Gen Z’s love for ethnic expression and their desire for authentic, culturally-rich interactions with brands.

Lessons for CSR and Sustainability Initiatives

Finally, the Gen Z ethnic wear trend offers valuable lessons for brands’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability initiatives. By aligning with and supporting the traditional craftsmanship, artisanal communities, and sustainable practices associated with ethnic wear, brands can resonate with Gen Z’s values and make a meaningful social impact.

Fabindia is a great example of a brand that has built its entire ethos around this. By working directly with artisans across India, supporting traditional crafts, and promoting sustainable production methods, Fabindia has not only appealed to Gen Z consumers but also made a significant positive impact on artisanal livelihoods and cultural preservation.

Other brands can follow suit in ways that are authentic to their own industries and missions. A beauty brand could partner with traditional herbalists to create products based on ancient ayurvedic wisdom. A tech company could support digital literacy programs for artisanal communities, empowering them to reach new markets online. A fashion brand could incorporate traditional textiles and support fair wage initiatives for weavers and embroiderers.

The possibilities are endless, but the key is to approach these initiatives with authenticity, respect, and a genuine commitment to making a positive difference. By doing so, brands can not only appeal to Gen Z’s values but also contribute to a more sustainable and equitable world.

In conclusion, the Gen Z ethnic wear trend is a fascinating and multifaceted phenomenon that offers valuable lessons for brands across industries. By understanding and embracing the cultural currents that drive this trend — from the desire for authenticity and individuality to the appreciation for heritage and sustainability — brands can create products, experiences, and marketing initiatives that truly resonate with this influential demographic.