Gen Z contradiction: environmentalists addicted to fast fashion

The so-called ‘young consumers’, now a reference at any level of the fashion industry, have a problem. A big problem. They are avowed environmentalists and fast fashion junkies at the same time. So much so that the Fast Fashion Confessional Hotline was born in the USA. Aware that they are lost inside the labyrinth of this contradiction, how will they get out?


A few months ago, the Fast Fashion Confessional Hotline was established in the United States. It is a hotline to help the younger generation detoxify from fast fashion. The initiative is by ThredUp, a second-hand specialist in collaboration with one of the stars of the Stranger Things series, Priah Ferguson. It’s not a random choice, or even provocative. In fact, ThredUp, in collaboration with GlobalData, conducted a survey according to which 33% of Gen Z shoppers describe themselves as ‘fast fashion junkies’. This is the self-conscious contradiction of those who, despite claiming to care about the environment, cannot stop buying cheap fashion.

Environmentalists addicted to fast fashion

“Consumers are not, cannot, and should not be the driving force to change an industry completely. As long as it is easy, quick and cheap to buy fashion, the sustainability aspect of the supply will always be a secondary choice,Michael Schragger, founder of the Sustainable Fashion Academy in Stockholm, told the New York Times. Indeed, although conscious consumption is growing, clothing purchases have increased fivefold since 1980 and a garment is worn on average only seven times before being resold or thrown into landfills. In part, said Schragger, this is due to the fact that companies are not legally obliged to meet corporate and social responsibility goals.

133 billion in 2026

Today, the fast fashion market, according to estimates by the research and analysis company Statista, is worth just under USD 100 billion globally. It is expected to reach 133 billion by 2026. “Fast fashion sales have grown by more than 20 percent over the past three years, but new online players are also gaining ground. In the next 18-24 months, however, the entire fashion industry will face a complex scenario,” Gemma D’Auria of McKinsey tells Il Sole 24 Ore.

With galloping inflation and rising bills, consumers have two paths. The first: they decide to spend a little more on durable products. The second: is whether they turn to disposable fashion chains. The latter may, therefore, be favoured by the current economic situation, but they have to reckon with increased awareness of conscious consumption.

Will fast fashion and sustainability ever get along?

Fast fashion brands say they are making increasing efforts to become more sustainable. Zara, which by some estimates produces 450 million garments a year, is experimenting with carbon-neutral lab materials that mimic silk and cotton. It is perfecting artificial intelligence algorithms capable of identifying in advance what customers want, so that it can produce in a more targeted way, eliminating returns and waste. H&M, which for years has given customers the opportunity to bring garments and textiles to the shop to be recycled, launched a new tool (Circulator) at the end of 2021, which by 2025 should enable the ‘conversion’ of the group’s entire production to circularity.

Another face of contradiction

But the issue, if possible, is even more complicated. Claire Bergkamp, director of the non-profit organisation Textile Exchange, sums it up. “Currently,” she says, “fashion brands that are really trying to be better from a sustainability perspective often feel commercially punished for doing so. Moral: “They have a hard time competing financially with those who are not making the same decisions. Hence: they may consider green investments useless, generating an endless loop of contradictions and short-circuits. (mv)

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