YPulse data shows that being perceived as “cool” by Gen Z can mean a lot for a brand—but how exactly can a brand know how to be cool in their eyes? Our Decoding Brand Affinity report, which digs into the meaning of measures used in the YPulse Brand Tracker, shows that the top reason Gen Z say a brand is cool is that they are “unique and stand out from others.” We also found that the top ways they think a brand can show that they’re cool is by keeping up with trends and always trying new things.
While being cool tends to be a focus of any brand trying to reach younger consumers (and we have data on Gen Z’s coolest brands across all industries) it’s especially a concern for trend-driven industries—like fashion and apparel. With fashion trends changing constantly though, it could seem impossible for an apparel brand to keep up and stay cool. But when done right, our brand data shows that brands can become a “cool” mainstay—keeping up with the trends while holding onto a brand identity that Gen Z can buy into long-term. Gen Z’s top 20 coolest clothing brands shows exactly which brands are doing it best:
The Coolest Fashion & Apparel Brands
- Hot Topic
- Sport Chek
- Under Armour
- Fashion Nova
- Calvin Klein
- The North Face
Nike is a Gen Z super-favorite
While the top five and even top three shift rankings year to year, Nike remains the coolest clothing brand to young consumers. Again and again, YPulse data shows all the ways Gen Z loves Nike—which our Decoding Brand Affinity report shows they also rate highly for the diagnostics “expressing who they” are and “popular.” And aside from considering it the coolest fashion brand, Nike is Gen Z’s second highest rated brand overall according to our YScore+ ratings, just behind YouTube. It’s even number six in the ranking of the top brands that they want to work for, based on our Employment Index brand data.
So how does Nike keep achieving a top cool ranking year after year? Continuing to innovate and create unique products and experiences is a major reason. Beyond being a fashion trend mainstay, Nike has been earning cool points from this gen in more experiential, and experimental, ways through the Metaverse, where Nikeland was one of the first full-time brand spaces in Roblox (one of Gen Z’s favorite video games). Now, they’ve leaned even further into virtual worlds with their very own upcoming metaverse .Swoosh (read “dot Swoosh”), which is available to their most loyal customers in its testing phase—a testament to the value of brand loyalty (and, of course, Nike is the top brand Gen Z says they’re loyal to).
Though their designs obviously do play a huge role, and they balance their classic styles with new collaborations frequently to stay a part of changing trends—and help create them. Nike often collaborates with luxury and high end streetwear brands, making a piece of luxe clothing or footwear that much cooler to the young gen—who our data shows are interested in owning luxury, and even consider Nike luxury. By teaming up with major labels like Louis Vuitton, luxury-streetwear brand Stüssy, and just this week, Tiffany, for collectible sneakers, Nike adds to their uniqueness cool factor by trying unexpected, exclusive, and ahead-of-the-trend styles.
Streetwear and athletic-blend brands remain their fav style
In addition to Nike, brands who make streetwear clothing (and shoes) dominate the cool clothing brands ranking: Jordan, Vans, Adidas, Converse, and Supreme fill out the top six. YPulse’s Fits For the Feed trend report data shows streetwear is the number one fashion trend Gen Z is into—making it easy to see why brands who fit this aesthetic are winning with them. These brands also play into the shoe obsession for some of this gen—especially the sneakerheads, who go after the limited-edition pairs constantly being released.
But these brands don’t just make fashionable streetwear, they also make the athletic loungewear, or “athleisure,” that this gen favors to wear on the daily. Other brands like Champion and Under Armour make their top 15, paired with their top six giving them endless options for at-home clothes—or as our data shows, dressed-up going out sweats.
Fast fashion brands make cool clothes, even if Gen Z feels conflicted about shopping them
YPulse’s Cause Conundrum research shows Gen Z has a complicated relationship with fast fashion: they know it’s bad for the environment, but they simply can’t afford much else to keep their closet up to date. Brands like SHEIN, Fashion Nova, and even Amazon and Target, offer them a slew of rotating, trending styles at a budget-friendly price—which makes them cool to Gen Z. Their social media accounts show just how popular these options are: TikTok hashtags like #SHEINHaul, #FoundItonAmazon, and #TargetFinds all have billions of views, making them the prime spaces for young content creators to share the coolest items from the brands with endless options.
But it’s worth noting that resale platform Depop also makes the ranking at 15th, showing that secondhand shopping is cool to Gen Z, too. The platform has even been making an effort to be part of haul-culture while promoting sustainable shopping; even though viewers can’t buy the exact same items creators find on Depop, they can see the variety secondhand has to offer. And because being popular with other members of their generation keeps a brand cool to Gen Z, being in with influencers on their favorite platform, who they trust especially for fashion recommendations, certainly can’t hurt.
* The YPulse Brand Tracker measures young consumers’ relationships with a brand based on a weighted 6-point scale, ranging from “Never heard of this brand” to “This brand is one of my favorites.” As part of the “Brand Personality” metric, we also ask respondents “Which of the following are cool?” These are the top clothing/apparel brands that Gen Z rates as “cool,” among those who are aware of the brand. The brands on this list are among the fashion and apparel brands included in the brand tracker as of 1/2023. Rankings are subject to change as brands are added and removed.