In her pale-peach Oscar de la Renta ballgown and platinum hair, Billie Eilish looked like a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Cinderella at Met Gala, as tuxedos attendants lifted her dress’s 15-foot train. But the display of traditional femininity belied a bold power move: As a condition of dressing Eilish, Oscar de la Renta agreed to never work with fur again.

Honestly, that blew me away. At 19, Eilish is one of the most influential artists on the planet. I was amazed to see someone so young use her power for good and take on an such an iconic brand. 

Eilish, I’ve come to see, is representative of her generation. There’s a new contract between consumers and brands, and it’s a significant departure from what Gen Xers like me grew up with. From university students demanding climate-friendly dining options to young communications professionals calling on their industry to stop investing in fossil fuels, young people are asserting their values in powerful new ways.

They’re also voting with their wallets. WE Communication’s 2021 Brands in Motion report found that 70% of Gen Z and millennial respondents prefer to purchase products and services from brands that address societal issues that matter to them, compared with 64% of Gen Xers and 58% of baby boomers. Gen Z and millennials are also significantly more likely than their elders to recommend the brands that meet those standards. To stay viable in the decades ahead, brands must listen to these critical stakeholders and address the issues they care about.

The end of “cheap, fast and good”

When I was in business school, the demand on brands was to be cheap, fast and good. We were part of the stuff generation, living by the 1980s maxim, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” Today Gen Zs and millennials are increasingly valuing quality over quantity and sustainability over convenience.  

I see this shift in my own family. I recently offered to buy my son some athletic clothing for his birthday, planning to fill his closet with t-shirts and sweats from a mass-market retailer. He said he’d rather have one very high-quality piece of gear. That’s how all my sons are. They don’t want “cheap” or “fast”; they just want things that are “good.”

A recent report by First Insight found that 73% of Gen Z consumers are willing to pay more for a sustainable product, a higher percentage than any other generation. Gen Zs and millennials are also more interested in purchasing quality second-hand items than their elders. A report by the online consignment store ThredUp finds that 42% of Gen Z and millennial consumers purchased a piece of secondhand apparel in 2020, compared with 32% of Gen Xers and 16% of baby boomers. The report also found that a Gen Zer is 165% more likely than a boomer to consider the resale value of clothing before buying it.

That’s why brands like Patagonia and Lululemon now sell their gently used products online. They’re showing their customers that they share their concern for the environment—while also protecting the brands from encroachment by third-party resellers like ThredUp, Poshmark and Depop.

Redefining success

Several years ago, I was coaching a young member of my team, offering advice on how he could navigate his career to maximize his earning potential. “This is how you make money,” I said.

He gave me a funny look. “But that’s not the most important thing to me,” he said.

When I was young, my life goal was to be a boss-lady—big title, big paycheck, Nancy Reagan power suit. The goal was to make a lot of money—so that you could have the big house, the fancy car, the closet full of expensive clothes. 

But that’s not what motivated my young team member. Sure, he wanted to be paid well, but certain quality-of-life issues were a higher priority. He didn’t want to work weekends or put in late nights. He wanted time to pursue outside interests and hang out with friends and family, and he wanted to work for a company that shared those values.

A 2021 Adobe survey of enterprise workers found that 74% of Gen Z and 78% of millennial respondents would switch jobs for better work-life balance, compared to 66% of Gen Xers and 50% of baby boomers. The younger workers also reported having more difficulty finding that balance. Unlike older respondents, the majority of Gen Zs and millennials reported feeling pressured to be reachable at all times of day. 

If companies want to keep attracting talent, they must say goodbye to the 24/7 work culture. Young people care about their jobs, but they view their work as just one part of a full life, not their entire identity.

Future-proofing your brand

The world is changing fast, but not overnight. There are still lots of people, young and old, who want to buy cheap stuff with a tap of the phone; consumers who don’t really think about the consequences of their choices.

But take it from a Gen X boss-lady: The brands that want to be around in 10 or 20 years must follow the lead of the younger generations. They will show you how to stay relevant, how to create products and services consumers will buy, and how to stay on the right side of history.

The stakes are high, and meeting the future requires bold, brave action. Just ask anyone under 40.


  • Kristin Flor Perret

    Executive Vice President, Head of Global Marketing

    WE Communications

    As Executive Vice President and Head of Global Marketing, Kristin’s mission is to establish WE as one of the most admired and successful independent integrated communications agencies in the world.

     During her 30-year career in marketing, sales, advertising and PR, Kristin has helped create massive communities via social channels, influencers and live events, leading high-performing creative, account and strategy teams. She’s guided startups, mid-size enterprises, Fortune 100 companies and agencies through dramatic change and growth. She’s worked agency-side, brand-side, and as a consultant to deliver integrated communications across earned, paid and experiential for some of the biggest B2B and B2C brands on the planet, including Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco, Toyota, Nestlé, Nike, and many more.

     At WE, Kristin ensures Global Marketing is evolving the brand, managing WE's story across earned, owned and paid channels, supporting senior-level executives and shortening the sales runway for business development. Kristin produces WE’s Brands in Motion global study, which drives leads around the world, provides counsel to brands navigating their changing environment, and helps client and marketing teams predict trends before they happen. Brands in Motion has been nominated for several industry awards, and the Institute of Public Relations has twice included Brands in Motion in their international recognition of the best PR studies of the year. Kristin has been published in Fast Company, The Drum and PRWeek, and spoken at events for Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and Mumbrella 360, among others.

    A working mother for almost her entire career, Kristin deeply values balance. She lives in a bilingual household, is classically trained in ballet, and spends a lot of time traveling to her son’s college baseball games. Whether she’s traveling internationally, rummaging at a local flea market or attending a runway show, Kristin is always on the lookout for the creative, the unique and startlingly original.