Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Struggle of Generation Z


Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Struggle of Generation Z

Fast fashion has become a growing issue that is prevalent among young shoppers. The fast fashion industry was established by Zara in the 1990s. The company designed and produced clothing at an incredibly fast pace that disregarded many prior fashion quotas, such as the traditional fashion calendar or seasonal trends. Before the era of fast fashion, clothing was meant to last- consumers spent more money on durable and staple pieces. The new goal of fast fashion is fast output. Other brands such as Gap, Forever 21, and H&M have followed Zara’s suit. These companies moved their manufacturing processes overseas for cheaper production, sparking the creation of the fast fashion industry. Today, however, social media, influencers, and rapidly-changing fashion trends have brought fast fashion to a new extreme: “ultra-fast” fashion.

The “ultra-fast” fashion that we recognize today first appeared around the end of the 2010s. Brands such as Shein, Fashion Nova, and Princess Polly produce their clothing abroad and sell it for extremely cheap prices. The goal of this type of fashion is not endurance, but rather disposability. “Ultra-fast” fashion clothing is made and bought cheaply, then discarded after a few uses to keep up with the newer trends in the industry. 

The rapid production of clothing depends on unsustainable and unethical practices. Fast and “ultra-fast” fashion has brought about a general change in the cycle of fashion trends. Because fast fashion has increased the rate at which clothing is produced, it also means that trends come and go faster. This creates an incredible amount of waste—especially when today’s fashion thrives on quickly changing social media trends and disposability. Fast fashion chains also underpay workers who manufacture their clothes. Workers are forced to produce clothing rapidly and often in unsafe working conditions. 

The breakneck fashion industry is now driven by social media and influencers who promote fast fashion brands. These brands reach shoppers through social media advertising. Apps like Instagram and TikTok have become outlets for shopping, not just sharing posts with friends and family. Plus, social media influencers have become especially crucial in fast fashion marketing. The clothes that influencers wear in their posts on social media immediately become “trendy.” Consumers quickly buy these trending styles and contribute to the cycle of fast fashion.

Generation Z, or Gen Z, is the most susceptible to the world of fast fashion. Gen Z applies to anyone born between 1997 and 2012 during the rise of the fast fashion industry. Thus, this group only knows this rapid cycle of buying, wearing, and disposing of “trendy” clothing. This makes Gen Z more conducive to the lifestyle inhibited by fast fashion, but also more aware of its issues. 

A New York Times article interviewing three teenage girls exemplifies the relationship between social media and fast fashion within Gen Z. Gen Z’s fashion decisions are particularly influenced by celebrities and influencers on social media. The speedy nature of fast fashion and the impact of social media has resulted in the idea that outfits cannot be re-worn more than once or twice. The teenagers interviewed in the New York Times stated that if they wear an outfit more than once, they run the risk that a photo of that outfit might be posted more than once on social media. The three teens also agreed that they wanted to buy the cheapest clothing option if they were only going to wear an outfit a few times. However, many teens do resell the clothes that they are not going to wear again. This is not a solution to the issue of fast fashion but does show some of Gen Z’s commitment to sustainability and secondhand shopping.

Paradoxically, Gen Z is a huge consumer of fast fashion brands while caring a great deal about sustainability. Thrift and secondhand shopping are popular among this generation, who also pressure companies into more ethical and sustainable clothing production. Additionally, resale sites like Depop and Poshmark have gained popularity among this group. 

While demands from Gen Z have slowed fast fashion’s globalization, they have not made a major impact. Many brands “greenwash” their production using lingo such as “conscious” and “ethical” without making the major changes necessary to become more sustainable. Some brands, in an attempt to become more environmentally conscious, instituted more sustainable production but have not actually produced fewer products. 

Fast fashion has grown tremendously over the last decade. Members of Gen Z are likely to purchase fast fashion products despite their advocacy against it. This is also known as “The Fast Fashion Paradox.” While consumers know that fast fashion is inherently wasteful, they place the blame on the companies. This is justified, though, as policymakers, brands, consumers, and marketers must work together in order to combat the issue of fast fashion that has taken over the industry.

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