MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
OK, after millennials came Generation Z, the oldest members of which are now going into college. And they have tons of buying power, in the billions, so it's no wonder marketers have made it their business to figure out how to sell to this generation. Youth Radio's Rhea Park reports on one of the things that moves Gen Z to buy clothes. It is not glossy magazines.
RHEA PARK, BYLINE: I used to be addicted to an Internet phenomenon called haul videos, as in treasure haul.
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ERICA LOUIE: This week we've got our Super Bowl shopping event, the Nordstrom anniversary sale.
PARK: It sounds kind of weird, but I'm literally watching someone in her room trying on clothes and talking about how they fit. She's a YouTuber named Erica Louie who goes by Miss Louie. And then I met her in real life at her apartment in Santa Clara. She showed me how she does it.
LOUIE: So I'll literally, like, turn on both cameras, stand in front of the white backdrop and then model the clothes and then change out, and then just do it over and over and over again for hours.
PARK: A corner of Louie's living room has been converted into a film set. She has a white floor-to-ceiling backdrop and a rack full of clothes, tags still on them. Louie's been working on YouTube videos for six years. She has a quarter million followers.
LOUIE: Whether it's young women entering college, trying to get internships, or women trying to enter their first job from college, or people who are already working right now, I was like, oh, my God. Like, I found my group. I found my niche.
PARK: Earlier this year Louie left her corporate job at Dell to grow her YouTube channel. Her decision is paying off. Now she says she is earning a six-figure income. But it's not easy money. Louie puts in 50 to 60 hours a week on her videos. So how exactly does she make money?
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LOUIE: The most important part - the coat. I've been looking for a navy longline tailored coat like this...
PARK: Well, let's say you like the jacket she's wearing in a video. You can click on a link in the video description which directs you to the retailer's site.
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LOUIE: Everything mentioned in today's video are going to be down below in that description bar. Now, obviously...
PARK: For every jacket that's sold, Louie gets a percentage from the cart total. And that link is accessible even years after the video is posted. So for instance, today Louie could be making money from a link she posted five years ago. Ilse Metchek, head of the California Fashion Association, calls people like Erica Louie influencers. She believes they are changing how the fashion industry works.
ILSE METCHEK: Influencers are the new Vogue. They get front row seats at the fashion shows. They get merchandise sent to them daily - here, free. Please wear this. This is a business now.
PARK: Erica Louie's business model is surprisingly personalized. She buys what she likes for her wardrobe with her own money and then approaches brands instead of the other way around, so she's not tied to any one label. And that freedom and customization is refreshing to Gen Zers like me. Plus, we are more interested in connecting with real people than with companies. My friend Trinity Balla's favorite haul videos are from YouTubers Sophia and Cinzia. We're watching their video of a haul from their shopping trip in London.
TRINITY BALLA: My top right now is from PrettyLittleThing, and they inspired me to buy it. I love them. They're my favorite YouTubers.
PARK: Part of the appeal of Sophia and Cinzia - we see ourselves in them. Here's Balla again.
BALLA: I guess what I like most about these specific YouTubers is the fact that they're close to my age. They're, like, maybe three years older than me, 19 and, like, 20. And like, they don't have a bunch of money. Like, they both have jobs. They're working.
PARK: Sophia and Cinzia feel genuine. They speak to us. Ilse Metchek the fashion expert says it's going to be hard for retailers to keep up since we're so individualized in our tastes.
METCHEK: And it will be even more diverse. And you will not all have the same hairdo. And you will not all be wearing torn jeans. And you will not all be wearing the same footwear. And you may not even use the same cosmetics.
PARK: Maybe she has a point. I know this sounds nuts, but over the course of reporting this story I started getting bored with those YouTube haul videos. What's next? I don't know, but maybe I'll even go to the mall. For NPR News, I'm Rhea Park.
KELLY: This story is part of a series, We Are Generation Z. It was produced by Youth Radio and NPR's Sonari Glinton.
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