Why Gen Z still turn to nature and the great outdoors for fashion inspo years after gorpcore’s rise

By J'Nae Phillips

Published Apr 25, 2024 at 11:25 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

Raised in the era of social media and 24/7 digital connectivity, Gen Z often wrestles with both constant comparison and self-imposed digital expectations set by themselves and their peers. This pressure has led to an overly stressed and burnt-out generation of individuals who are desperately seeking release by any means necessary.

Their current chosen method of relaxation? Outdoor activities where one can truly unplug and find solace in nature. This newfound interest focuses on the experience of being in the great outdoors as a whole, with fashion playing a pivotal role in Gen Z championing new outdoor narratives.

Anastasia Pelot, Senior Content Marketing Manager at YPulse, a Gen Z and millennial market research agency, shared with SCREENSHOT: “Gen Z’s preference for outdoor activities to unplug from digital expectations is driven by a combination of the need for a break from screens, the rejuvenating nature of spending time outdoors, environmental concerns, and a general trend towards valuing outdoor and screen-free hobbies more highly.”

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The enduring impact of the COVID-19 pandemic fueled a heightened interest in healthier lifestyles and nature-centric activities, with the well-documented mental health benefits of being outdoors and the collective exhaustion experienced leading Gen Z to embed nature into their fashion choices.

Moreover, Gen Z’s affinity for the outdoors has been steadily increasing, with 67 per cent of young people considering themselves an “outdoorsy” type of person. This shift has resulted in a surge of outdoor sportswear and technical gear filling their closets.

“When you add the fact that outdoor activities push you back into your body—feeling the chilly air, hearing bird song, smelling the trees, feeling the uneven ground, the sensation of muscles working and burning—it’s a delicious escape from the pixelated digital corridors that Gen Z often finds itself trapped in,” Katie Dreke, Founder & CSO at DRKE, a strategic consultancy for brand and product innovation, explained.

While many Gen Zers are heading to the actual outside, some among this cohort view simply donning a new jacket or a pair of hiking boots as a way of reigniting their passion for the planet.

This trend is more than just a passing fad; it signifies a broader shift towards reconnecting with natural environments. “Our [YPulse] data notes that outdoor activities are ranking higher as hobbies for these generations compared to previous years, indicating a desire to engage in more screen-free pursuits,” Pelot explains.

“A significant majority (94 per cent) agree it’s important to spend time outside, and 77 per cent express concern about the impact of their actions on the environment,” the expert continued.

TikTok videos showcasing gorpcore, also known as camping chic, have amassed over 2 billion views, while lesser-known quiet outdoor brands are the names on everyone’s lips at the moment. Gorp, short for “good ol’ raisins and peanuts,” a favoured snack among hikers, serves as the inspiration and backbone behind this trend. That being said, gorpcore’s fashionable intent has got a little lost along the way.

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“The look and feel of the outdoors has stepped away from its crunchy granola sensibilities in the last 5 years or so, thanks to several emergent brands steering the most directional consumers,” explains Sam Millen-Cramer, Strategist and Researcher at Millo Studio. “There’s a certain long tail of GORP-style dressing that resonates with Gen Z in general. Be that co-opting neo-futurist Y2K gear from a thrift shop with a gore-tex jacket or simply wearing things rich in utility by design, this is crossing over into perhaps newfound outdoor hobbies,” he continued.

High-profile collaborations like The North Face x Gucci and Salomon x MM6 have also garnered widespread attention in the gorpcore space, celebrated for elevating the look and feel of this particular aesthetic. Meanwhile brands like Arc’teryx, once known primarily for climbing gear, have emerged as unexpected yet sought-after collaborators, partnering with brands like Jil Sander and luxury retailer Beams.

This fashionable focus is reshaping the landscape of outdoor-inspired gear, making it a “more mature, self-expressive interpretation of wearing clothing that simply works really well,” adds Millen-Cramer.

Rihanna made headlines when she wore colourful Salomons at the Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2023, with Google searches for the “Cross Low” sneakers rising by 4,000 per cent. Hiking boots and functional sneakers have become a firm favourite among A-listers such as Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, something which has been noted and popularised by Gen Z.

This fusion of fashion and performance epitomises the current style zeitgeist, and subcultures such as self-proclaimed gorp girlies are shifting outdoors fashion into its next phase.

Being outdoors now means different things to different people. “Outdoor used to mean bagging the highest peaks, skiing the steepest inclines, pushing your body to extremes, risking your life on a climbing face, epic endurance and discomfort, and pushing limits of mind, body, and engineering,” says Dreke. 

“But more recently, the outdoor space has shown its flexibility too, with major brands like The North Face, Arc’teryx, Mountain Hardware, and others creating gear for the softer side of the outdoors, for hiking and camping, boating and biking, for the experience of being away from the city and not just the experience of being on the edge,” she adds. 

In a bid to attract fashion-conscious consumers, outdoor fashion is carving out its own niche. Groups like Gorp Girls, Athene Club, and Gutsy Girls reflect the evolving interest in outdoor lifestyles among young people. Millen-Cramer suggests that the rise in social crews and communities that focus on being outdoors, like Gorp girls, is a huge reason for Gen Zers getting outside again. And they’re looking fashionable while doing so.

“While these crews are generally limited by location, their output online and generally positive messaging around being outdoors, meeting new people and spending time in nature is easy to translate and compute wherever you are,” he shared.

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The outdoor scene now feels more liberating, inclusive, and creative, catering to a diverse audience beyond the traditional sports enthusiasts. “Outdoor activities are not just hobbies for Gen Z but also influence their lifestyle and fashion choices,” notes Pelot, when thinking about the lasting impact outdoor fashion has on Gen Zers.

“Their engagement with immersive and thematic subcultures further suggests that their outdoor activities likely influence their fashion choices in a way that reflects their personal identities and interests,” the marketing manager continued.

And as the outdoors begins to fuel a welcome, Gen Z-led fashion revival, it’s creating space for new narratives that break down barriers and work for the many, not just the few.

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