The Values Generation: Apparel Professor Dr. Divita on Generation Z and Dry Cleaning

March 14, 2023
dry cleaning

Over Christmas Break, Baylor Apparel Design and Merchandising professor Dr. Lorynn Divita travelled to the Dominican Republic to deliver a keynote address at the Brainstorming and the Five Star Conference hosted by the National Cleaners Association (NCA) and the Dry Cleaning Laundry Institute International (DLI). Dr. Divita’s presentation, titled “Connecting with Gen-Z: The Values Generation,” focused on Generation Z as potential dry cleaning clients and connected her academic insights on trends with the business needs of industry professionals.

Of Generation Z, Dr. Divita says, “They’re more values-driven, they’re extremely diverse, and they’re also very good consumers.” Some of the generation’s most important values include utility and authenticity. Dry cleaners can appeal to these values because of the utility and convenience of laundering, pressing, and folding all in one facility. Also, most dry cleaners are locally owned small businesses, so they may also benefit from a perception of authenticity.

Dr. Divita spoke specifically to the rising popularity of thrifting and pre-owned fashion in Generation Z, using statistical research and data from popular resale sites such as TheRealReal and Depop. She also used examples from popular Youtubers and influencers who advocate for resale. The increase in resale means young people are now able to afford higher quality clothing with natural fibers like silk and wool, creating a unique opportunity for dry cleaners to provide the special care those items need.

Partly because of Generation Z’s emphasis on authenticity, athleisure and fast fashion are facing increasing competition from more unique thrifted items that provide younger consumers with a sense of individuality. According to Dr. Divita, “It is more appealing to find something that not everyone has in a thrift store for a good price than it is to buy one of dozens of an item that won’t even have the quality to back it up.”

Another important value to Generation Z is environmental health, an area where the dry cleaning industry has made strides through a subset known as green dry cleaning, which reuses solvents and conserves water. Services are available to help people locate green dry cleaners in their area.

Despite the fact that Generation Z’s values align well with dry cleaning, many young people are uninformed about its process.  “One of my students asked me,” Dr. Divita says, “‘Am I allowed to go into a dry cleaner’s?’ She thought that it was only for people in the trade, like the restaurant trade or the housekeeping trade. When I was able to explain to them that everyone can go in and they’ll do your laundry for you, they were really surprised and pleased.”  To help dry cleaners spread the word, Dr. Divita’s students put together resources including a sample TikTok for promotion.

Dr. Divita’s presentation also connects with her Baylor research on fashion forecasting. She has written one textbook on the topic and will release a consumer behavior textbook in March. “Trends are really just changes,” she says, “changes in consumption patterns and behavior, so I’m always monitoring the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. What are the dominant attitudes of the times, and how are they changing? What about the dominating technology? How are dominating events shaping us?”

Through teaching, Dr. Divita sees her students engage firsthand with changing trends. In her Apparel Quality Analysis course, students learn to judge quality for themselves by bringing in garments and analyzing stitching, fabric, and fiber content. In recent years, Dr. Divita has seen an increase in people who bring in thrifted garments. “It allows them to purchase higher quality garments at an affordable price, to have something that is unique to them, and to change their concept of ownership,” she says.

One of the main reasons the concept of ownership has changed is the rise of reselling. “They buy it, they wear it, and if they get bored of it, instead of putting it in a landfill,” students sell garments on sites like Poshmark or Depop and retain some of their money while ensuring the garments go on to someone who appreciates them.

Finally, Dr. Divita emphasizes the importance of collaboration with people in apparel trades. While academic research provides helpful insights to trade professionals, trade professionals can help academic faculty “keep their finger on the pulse of the industry.” For example, because of her association with the NCA, Dr. Divita has incorporated a segment on dry cleaning into her Apparel Quality Analysis course. She says, “Any time we can build a bridge between academia and industry, that’s a good thing.”