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What does Gen Z think about the sustainable fashion movement?

How can an entire generation be *obsessed* with thrifted finds while still searching for dupes on Amazon?

We asked The Receipt, JUV’s in-house research network of over 5,000 young people around the world*. What we found is that Gen Z’s biggest concerns surrounding the fashion industry are sustainability and labor exploitation. However, these complex issues are relatively new for Gen Z social consciousness. 

Gen Z sees sustainability & fair labor practices as one-in-the-same. 

Climate change is one of the top global issues that Gen Z cares about, so it makes sense that young people feel uneasy about the impact of fast fashion. Whether it be due to ethics or environmentalism, Gen Z does not silo sustainability. Young people think of sustainability in fashion in tandem with fair labor practices.

Generation Z does not buy products — they buy values. And oftentimes, those values can come to odds: almost 75% of our Gen Z respondents said that price and style are equally important factors they consider when shopping for clothes. While fast fashion may cater to price consciousness and trends, over half of our respondents paid attention to the quality of the clothing material, a notorious value lacking in today’s fast fashion.  

With price prevailing, where does Gen Z go to shop?

Gen Z sees fast fashion or second-hand options as affordable options.

Gen Z has a spending power of over $140 billion, and yet, young people are money conscious. Growing up during the 2009 recession and graduating into a global pandemic has set up Gen Z to be hesitant with their wallets. When it comes to fashion, the need for lower prices leaves two options: fast fashion or second-hand options. However, each brings different concerns to light for Gen Zers trying to be mindful of their spending habits. 

“I try to avoid Goodwill while thrifting because many people really rely on it for most of their clothes, but ‘trendier’ thrift stores often jack the prices up. New, sustainable clothes also cost a lot more.”

– a 20-year-old respondent from Los Angeles, California

Thrift shoppers appreciate second-hand options for unique finds and vintage styles at low prices. However, many young people recognize their privilege in shopping for style’s sake while others have no other option due to their socioeconomic status. Recreational thrift shoppers are cautious of taking away clothing options from low-income shoppers who rely on second-hand items as a low-budget clothing source.

On the other hand, those who shop fast fashion appreciated the size inclusivity fast fashion stores often present for larger sizes, but had strong qualms about the environmental impact of manufacturing “trendy” clothes. 

Gen Z shops more frequently at fast fashion than second-hand stores.

Generation Z is slowing down their total fashion consumption overall. Despite the plethora of clothing hauls on YouTube and TikTok, our respondents aren’t shopping too often. However, even though sustainability is one of Gen Z’s strongest values, we still shop fast fashion more often than second-hand. 36% of our respondents said that they shop at fast fashion stores “once every few months” while 26% of respondents said the same about shopping second-hand. Fast fashion might be seen as a quick fix for a last-minute birthday invite or act as an impulse purchase

Many new brands, designers, and influencers are already doing it right.

Sustainable fashion is taking social media by storm. Favorite sustainable Gen Z-centered femme brands include Oddli, Goodfair, Cool is a Construct, and Ameyalliswim

Jensen and Ellie, the Gen Z founders of Oddli, have taken matters into their own hands. Oddli’s value statement encompasses solutions for everything that Gen Z is frustrated about when it comes to the fashion industry and more. (It’s no wonder they blew up on TikTok and already sold out their items).

Simultaneously, young fashion designers like Rua Carlota, Zero Waste Daniel, and URMA ONG are not just using sustainable practices, but proving that slow fashion is trendsetting. With sustainable styles dominating trend-watch lists, the irony behind fast fashion dupes is all too clear. 

The sustainable movement is just starting. 

Sustainability doesn’t cover the entirety of Gen Z’s relationship to the fashion industry. Instead, environmental consciousness is an entry point and precursor to Gen Z’s disruption of the space as a whole. 

Gen Z recognizes the power brands hold. That’s why we align our values with our purchases. As young people, we vote with our wallet. Fashion is a major intersection for problems related to sustainability, inclusivity, and exploitation – all of which are intersectional issues themselves. We are increasingly wary of supporting brands who continue to perpetuate these harmful ideas. While Gen Z continues to grow its final stance on the fashion industry, brands should be nimble and adaptable. 

Need a quick breakdown?

JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at info@juvconsulting.com if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z, or sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Screenshot, to get Gen Z insights straight to your inbox.

*Based on JUV Receipt survey of 707 respondents, aged 14 to 24, conducted online in February 2021. Average respondent was 18 years old.

Olivia Frary is a Marketing Strategist at JUV based in Los Angeles, CA.