Birkenstock
Credit: Justin Groep/Unsplash

Millennials are presented as unicorns in the enchanted forest that need special care and feeding, or brutes and ruffians who are ruining entire industries. Insert eye-roll here

Recently, a friend sent me yet another article about the millennials single-handedly making something unhappy happen.

In this case, they’re apparently running en masse to outdoor gear stores and buying up fleece, Birkenstocks and even denim coveralls. Why? Because apparently they’re all broke, and they see these clothing items as practical.

And broke millennials, well, you know, the first thing they need is new practical clothes from MEC and REI to wear on a hiking trip while they think about how broke they are.

Members of this one generation are abandoning Forever 21, says the writer, who also mentions fashion-for-less retailer H&M as another victim of this wave of millennial practicality. The story’s tagline: “Millennials’ practical clothing habits threaten Forever 21, H&M.”

Judging from a scan of both retailers’ websites, the story I’m analyzing could just as easily have been called “Shoppers inexplicably stop buying leopard-print sweatpants and khaki short-sleeve Victorian shoulder jackets, and we’re pretty sure some of them must have been millennials.” Putting aside my jabs at the questionable esthetics of these articles of clothing, I think there’s another, more logical explanation.

Could it be that millennials actually have their own minds, and that like the rest of us, some of them may have stopped buying stuff from Forever 21 and H&M? Some others, I’d be willing to bet, will have carried on as patrons with no change in their buying behaviour.

Also, other millennials, or maybe even some of the same ones, may have caused a corresponding uptick in sales for the rough and rugged “more practical” brands like MEC and REI. There’s no rule preventing anyone, regardless of when their birthday is, from shopping at more than one store.

I believe this article on Forever 21 and H&M failing to correctly predict the fickle whims of the fashion industry is another attempt to blame the millennials for something.

Here’s a test I use when I read stories like these. Imagine if you had 1,000 millennials in a room, and you offered to sell them a pair of Birkenstocks and some denim coveralls. Do you think they’d all start elbowing and shoving to get up to the front and claim their pair? Of course not. Some percentage would like them, and some would wrinkle their noses and abstain. Just like people of any other age category would do.

What’s more likely happening is that some stores are seeing a dip in sales and blaming the millennials because they’re very blameable right now. We love blaming them for everything. Other stores are seeing an increase in sales, and so that’s clearly where the millennials must be going. And another myth is born.

Let’s leave the poor millennials alone. They do not have a hive mind. They do not have a pack mentality. They are not ruining anything. All sorts of things are changing all around us. And with all that change comes, well, more change.

But change is good. Another word for change is progress. And no single age cohort is responsible for that.

David Allison is a Vancouver author, researcher and consumer behaviour expert. He speaks internationally about his pioneering research with Valuegraphics, the first database that profiles shared audience values. His best-selling book, We Are All the Same Age Now, was chosen by Inc. magazine as one of the top leadership books of the year. Find out more at Valuegraphics.com