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Embracing Gen Z Fans with Unique Merch Concepts

  • 5 min read

Embracing Gen Z Fans with Unique Merch Concepts


Contributed by Amanda Long


Selling merchandise is not just a revenue stream for artists but also a way for fans to connect with their favorite music. Beyond the physical keepsake, merch provides an emotional attachment as well, cementing a memory that the fan can associate with specific tours, albums, and "if you know, you know" moments.

Gen Z fans have quickly become the strongest voice in the merch marketplace, with Luminate reporting in 2023 that they are 33% more likely to purchase artist apparel compared to other generations in the U.S. Furthermore, nearly half of U.S. Gen Z fans shared that they "wished artists provided more merchandise options" so that they can "show support for them and their work."

Creating immersive and intimate fan experiences is key to driving both sales and overall engagement — and artist teams with their ear to the ground are well aware of this. In response to evolving market trends, we've noticed artists increasingly branch out their merchandise offerings, delivering thoughtful, creative memorabilia that reflect the products & experiences superfans are looking for.

Below we’ve highlighted some rising trends in artist merch and those who are executing on it brilliantly. 

 

1. The Baby Tee

The resurgence of Y2K styles in fashion has made its way into the mainstream, and many artists have been jumping on the trend. One of the most iconic pieces from this era is the baby tee.

A little more form fitting than a regular crop top, baby tees have been popping up on artist merch shops across various genres. Standout artists doing this well include Amaarae, Blackpink, and The Marías.

The baby tee reminds us that artist merchandise does not need to be the same old t-shirt. Rather, there is room to experiment. Artist merch can be fashion-forward, playful, and discreet in design, bringing versatility to the fan's casual everyday wear or going out 'fit.


The Marías - baby tee. All rights reserved.

 

2. Stationery

While the word “stationery” used to be associated with school/office work and letter writing, we've noticed it expanding into items used for art, journaling, and self-expression.

One specific item that has become popular amongst Gen Z fans is postcards, often collected to decorate a bedroom wall to represent fond memories or simply to add to the aesthetic of a space. Stationery sets and postcards work particularly well for artists who are known for their songwriting, such as Lucy Dacus, Laufey, Olivia Rodrigo,and Karol G.

Karol G - "Contigo" stationery setAll rights reserved.

 

Last summer, Noah Kahan launched a Greetings from Stick Season postcard campaign where fans could link their Spotify to receive a free vintage-themed postcard centered around one of the songs from the artist's deluxe album that correlated with their listening history. This campaign quickly went viral amongst Kahan's fan community, with 50k cards sent out within the first 12 hours of the website going up.

A straightforward yet heartfelt keepsake that sparks curiosity and conversation (especially amongst fellow data nerds intrigued by the Spotify integration!) Genius and simple.


Noah Kahan postcard campaign. Designed by Mikey Lavi & Dylan Fant. All rights reserved.

 

3. Immersive Scents

Another trend in artist merchandise has been the addition of candles.

Artists such as Kacey Musgraves, Arlo Parks, and Grace Jones have collaborated with candle companies to create scents that correlate with popular songs off their albums. This is a fantastic approach to giving fans a multi-sensory experience of their favorite music, even when they're not actively listening to the album (did ya know most candles have a burn life of 50+ hours?! That's 50+ hours of associative feels!)

For example, Anaïs Cardot released a "Pink Magnolia" candle with Rock and Roll Candle Co. with the below description:

"...a sensory journey inspired by the enchanting musical world of Anaïs Cardot. Immerse yourself in a blend of Sweet Magnolia and notes of alluring Vanilla that mirrors the depth found in Cardot's debut EP, much like the blooming Pink Magnolia flower."

Kacey Musgraves' "Deeper Well" candle, released with Boy Smells, was especially popular with fans who wanted to completely dive into the new world Musgraves had created with her new album. On the candle announcement post on Instagram, one fan commented, “Can’t wait to teleport to a whimsical wonderland when I light this candle and listen to the album at the same time."


Kacey Musgraves "Deeper Well" Candle via Boy Smells. All rights reserved.


Musgraves has incorporated this scent into all aspects of the physical album, adding on her Instagram that the vinyl sleeves for the record would also be infused with the earthy Deeper Well scent.

4. Stickers

We've noticed that stickers are on the rise as an affordable and cute option that can easily be incorporated into web stores and merch tables while on tour.

The beauty of stickers is that their retail price typically ranges around $1-5. As merch prices continue to climb — with some t-shirts reaching a staggering $60+ in retail price  stickers give more people the accessibility to buy into their favorite artist without breaking the bank. Plus, they give fans the opportunity to customize accessories they already own to show off their fandom, such as their reusable water bottles or cell phone cases.

Stickers inspired by music artists and songs have long been a popular buy on third party sites like Redbubble and Etsy, so we love seeing artists increasingly monetize on this popularity directly. A few artists who are capturing this interest well include Mitski, Marshmello, and Angèle.



Marshmello x Jujutsu Kaisen squad sticker pack. All rights reserved.


5. Unique Items Based on Album Aesthetics

The last trend that we’ve been loving is seeing artists who create unique merch pieces that directly correlate with the imagery and themes of their music and brand.

Dua Lipa and Sabrina Carpenter are both artists with recent music releases who have dropped quirky merchandise items themed around their music.

Dua Lipa’s new album, Radical Optimism, features the artist swimming with sharks on the cover. Released on May 3 giving fans plenty of time to familiarize with each track leading up to summer the artist released a shark pool floatie branded with a "Radical Optimism" design across the body.

Similarly, Sabrina Carpenter released special merch in support of her massive hit single, “Espresso”, including an espresso cup and saucer with the song title laser engraved across the amber glass.

The idea here is that fans can embrace products that are not wearable, but instead, something they'll use around the home/backyard while still reminding them of their favorite album or song. These artists understand that they may have fans who do not want to add to their closet, but rather, are more interested in unique purchases with other purposes. This creates a more intentional buying experience for the fan.

 

Sabrina Carpenter "Espresso" glass cup & saucer. All rights reserved.
 

 

While most of these styles of items have already been widely created and purchased by passionate fans themselves on sites like Etsy and Tiktok, it is promising to see artists with younger listeners pay attention to what they like and incorporate these concepts into their official merch.

With smaller merch items like stationary and stickers, it is becoming more accessible for fans of all income levels to rep their favorite artists and collect memorabilia from concerts they go to. Ultimately, we see merch trending away from apparel with basic logos or album covers to designs and items that more accurately represent individual artist aesthetics and their fan communities' specific interests. 



The Fan Focus blog is a corner of the Softside website dedicated to fan club deep dives, Q&As, community album reviews, artwork, and more.

All content reflected is drawn from fan inspiration and is not in official partnership with the respective musician unless stated otherwise.

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