Oct 17, 2021 - Technology

TikTok drives new nostalgia economy

Illustration of a gramophone playing music with Tik Tok’s logo.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Older brands, trends and technologies are making a comeback as younger consumers desperately chase slower, less chaotic times.

The big picture: TikTok's algorithm makes it easy for flashback items to resurface and quickly go viral both on its platform and eventually on other social networks.

Plenty of Gen Z TikTok users have gone viral making fun of Millennials, but Gen Z TikTok users are also fueling nostalgia for Millennials' heyday: Trends from the early 2000s are driving the new throwback economy.

  • After years of high-rise jeans taking over women's fashion, low-rise jeans and mini-skirts — reminiscent of the early 2000s — have made a comeback on runways this year.
  • Legacy brands like The Gap and Abercrombie and Fitch are seeing sales soar, thanks to flagship items like classic brand hoodies and 90's straight jeans, which have been heralded as hot fashion items on TikTok.
  • Even wired headphones are hot again. TikTok vloggers use the small microphone feature on Apple's wired headphones as a symbol for speaking directly to their audiences.

Between the lines: The pandemic dramatically sped the shift to digital media, remote work and virtual social activities.

  • But most Americans — including a majority of Gen Z — say life was better before social media, according to new polling from John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.

What's next: Other generations will get their turn in the nostalgia rotation, too.

  • Vintage stores are seeing a surge in young consumers looking for vintage clothing from the 1980's and 1990's. And pop music that's going viral through TikTok today, from newer artists like Doja Cat and Dua Lipa, is reminiscent of the 1980's signature dance-pop sound.
  • U.S. vinyl sales last year topped CD sales for the first time since 1986, in part thanks to record collectors using the app to find community and inadvertently going viral. Vinyl sales are up more than 100% for the first half of the year.

The bottom line: Whether it's reviving old trends or starting new ones, TikTok is where Gen Z sets the tone for what's cool.

  • Mass market stores looking to attract young users are setting up TikTok sections in their stores, reminiscent of “As Seen On TV” productions from informercials, the AP reports.

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