Generation Z & Fast Fashion: Selling to the Environmentally Woke

20 November 2019 - by Jenna Thompson

If we’ve learned anything lately about Generation Z – the generation born immediately after the Millennials – it’s that they’re environmentally woke. As the first generation born post-internet, growing up with social media and more pervasive green values, market research suggests that Gen Z has a very different relationship with companies than their predecessors – one that digs deeper into brand philosophy and what they truly stand for. 

The problem with fast fashion

Fast fashion is all about high speeds and low costs, producing new designs inspired by catwalk looks or celebrity styles that move quickly from runway to store – and before long, to landfill. It is particularly bad for the environment, contributing to water pollution, rampant use of toxic chemicals and unbridled levels of textile waste. Brands like H&M, New Look, Topshop and River Island all fall under the fast fashion umbrella.

Global textile production now exceeds 100 billion garments a year. With our waste and environmental impact under growing scrutiny, environmental groups warn of potentially catastrophic environmental damage if this trend continues. The slow/conscious fashion movement has arisen in opposition to the fast fashion fix, emphasising quality, ethics and sustainability over brief trends, cheap labour and wasteful manufacturing.

The paradox of Generation Z

While Millennials were the first generation to grow up with an awareness of climate change, it’s their Gen Z successors who are collectively taking action, with 16-year-old Greta Thunberg at the helm. But when it comes to fashion – one of the most polluting industries – Gen Z presents something of a contradiction. They are environmentally engaged, yet seduced by ultra-fast fashion brands that target young people online.

Generation Z strives for individuality. They don’t look at models in magazines, instead they listen to more relatable influencers. They expect to be given a credible view of how real people wear clothes, which makes them more likely to opt for emerging brands with wholesome values. An awareness of fast fashion’s environmental impact is certainly there – but they need brands to support them to make sustainable purchases without compromising on look, feel and functionality.

Ultimately, the brands that will thrive in the Gen Z era are those that can provide both value for money and a values-oriented ethos, embracing diversity and also supporting responsible manufacturing processes.

Emerging YouTubers whose niche is sustainable fashion, such as Kristen Leo or Chloé Kian, offer a welcome antidote to the endless carousel of fast fashion advertising. 

Living by example

Campaign groups like Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace are calling for the fashion industry to develop a circular, closed-loop structure that will see clothes made from durable, recyclable materials that will last longer and be more easily repaired. At home, we can help to mitigate the unhelpful messages that young people are exposed to, educating them about consumerism and living by example. For instance, we can: 

  • Repair or reuse clothes wherever possible 
  • Replace items only when necessary 
  • Shop second-hand wherever possible
  • Swap clothes with friends
  • Give outgrown children’s clothes away 
  • Give clothes that no longer fit to charity 

Swapping clothes is a great way to breathe new life into your closet while being economical and eco-friendly. Why not host a swap party with your friends or attend one in your local area, like Bristol's Little Green Wardrobe?

If you need to buy new clothes, buy from ethical retailers who are committed to fair and sustainable production, such as Thought Clothing, People Tree and Boden. Use the hashtag #whomademyclothes on social media to force brands to be transparent about their supply chains.

Source: Extinction Rebellion

For those advocating a slower approach to shopping, this is a unique opportunity to tap into Gen Z’s interest in sustainability. We’d love to hear about the changes you’ve made. Have you attended or organised a clothes-swapping event? Have you recently started shopping second-hand or repairing your old clothes? Share your comments, experiences and ideas below.

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Jenna Thompson

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