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What do Generation Z’s shopping habits say about their supposed eco consciousness? We will dive into the ways of experiencing fashion that have been popularised by Gen Z, and question how far they are to blame for the damage the fashion industry causes. We contemplate whether this is a generational issue, or a consumer issue. Shouldn’t the big companies causing the most damage be held accountable? After all, marketing can lead generations towards places to shop – as can societal pressure, financial circumstances, accessibility, and even greenwashing. We explore the harm of fast fashion, and question the extent to which Gen Z’s care towards the environment, good intentions, and plans for personal growth extend to their shopping habits.
Members of Generation Z are not defined by specific dates of birth, but would be roughly aged between 9 and 24 in 2021.
Notoriously unethical fast fashion brands like Shein, Pretty Little Thing, BooHoo, Missguided, and Fashion Nova have greatly risen in popularity in recent years. Obviously, Gen Z are not the only consumers of fast fashion brands, nor are Gen Z to blame for the harmful practices these companies carry out. They are, however, creating a demand for a higher volume of clothing at a lower price.
There is also the issue of greenwashing. Brands take advantage of the growing eco consciousness of Gen Z, and thus advertise their clothes as being sustainable and green. Often, there is little to no evidence of the sustainable operations and practices that company has in place. This means consumers are buying garments under false pretences, and contributing to the wider fast fashion problem, against their intentions. This deception can be carried out through use of green colouring in advertising, suggestive eco-friendly labels, general claims, and a lack of real transparency.
Read more about why circular fashion is needed, and the effects of the fast fashion industry here.
Shein, which has been referred to as an ‘ultra’ fast fashion brand due to its disturbingly low prices, sells many garments that are priced under the $10 mark. It was also, in 2020, the most popular online clothes store in a survey of American teenagers with an average age of 15.8. They often use the social media platform TikTok to promote their products. Their marketing strategies ensure young people are targeted, as 41% of TikTok users are aged between 16 and 24.
The influence of Shein has grown on TikTok, as popular creators advertise their products. Creators showcase mass amounts of clothes in hauls. This, in turn, encourages their followers to buy a large collection of pieces from low cost fashion sites like Shein, rather than a few staples from ethical brands. In many cases, hundreds of dollars are spent on hauls. Financial circumstances are not always an issue – the money spent on these hauls could be spent elsewhere on fewer sustainable garments.
Saying this, remember that buying cheap clothing from these companies is sometimes all people can afford. There is also a societal pressure to keep up with the fast-changing trends. It is important to stay mindful of these facts when criticising young people for using these brands.
Although ‘ultra’ fast fashion brands are increasingly popular with Gen Z, so are resale and second-hand sites and shops. Depop, Vinted, and Vintage, Thrift, and Charity Shops are all known to be favourites of the younger generation. But can such places co-exist with fast fashion? They can’t exist in a vacuum, and can encourage shoppers to bulk buy cheap items, only to sell them on or donate them when they are out of style.
Depop is dominated by Gen Z, with a whopping 90% of its users being under 26 years old. These sites can be used ethically and responsibly, and they are a better solution in comparison to clothes ending up in landfill or being burned. However, they are far from being used perfectly. Clothes that cannot be sold in charity shops end up in landfill, and the fast turnover of trends encourages buyers to update their wardrobe regularly. Perhaps only changes at the top can truly make these ways of shopping circular. Despite this, the charity retail sector does divert more than 327,000 tonnes of textiles away from landfill each year.
Second-hand solutions may be imperfect, but there is evidence that Gen Z strives for environmental action. This is a generation that cares about making fashion sustainable. Not only is the second-hand market growing 11 times faster than the general retail sector, but Gen Z are responsible for this. In a study done by retail analytics firm GlobalData and the online thrift store ThredUp, it was proven that Gen Z are 33% more likely than Boomers to resell clothing. Also, in a 2019 survey by First Insight, it was shown that 73% of Gen Z consumers surveyed were willing to pay more for sustainable products, more than every other generation.
Gen Z are becoming increasingly eco conscious. This is not only proven by the statistics above, but is also marked by Gen Z climate activists like Greta Thunberg, who push for environmental change. Gen Z, in 2021, are also the most meat-free generation, according to a study of UK diet trends. This is further proof that this is a specific generation that cares about systemic change that will help the environment. Many young people are changing their diet, changing their shopping habits, and pushing for positive environmental change. This is all in hope of reversing the problems various industries have caused our planet. Gen Z have grown up exposed to the terrifying statistics surrounding climate change, and now they want things to change.
It is important to remember that without demand for fast fashion, these big companies would not be able to survive. Gen Z’s care towards the environment, good intentions, and plans for personal growth are undeniable. However, something that all generations need to partake in is investment in sustainable and ethical pieces when needed. This can replace the purchasing of mass hauls from fast fashion companies. We should all mindfully shop, even when second-hand shopping, and always demand transparency from companies.