By Mukesh Bector
Each era has its defining moment. The Silent Generation faced WWII. Baby Boomers witnessed the moon landing. Millennials endured the global financial crisis. Meanwhile, Generation Z’s indelible moment centers around a different kind of heat – the scorching issue of climate change.
Recognized as the “disruptive generation,” those born between 1997 and 2012 came of age in an internet-driven world, where content and knowledge flow freely, primarily through social media channels. Yet, what truly distinguishes them is their profound dedication to sustainability.
In their pursuit to engage this emerging generation, few endeavors are as fervent as that of the fast fashion industry. An industry heavily reliant on social media, trends, and the allure of limited-time collections designed to spur rapid sales. Unfortunately, this obsession has fueled a destructive cycle of overproduction and rampant consumption. This sector now stands as one of the planet’s most polluting, generating daily clothing waste surpassing the capacity of the Empire State Building.
This dilemma is substantial. The monetary savings from buying inexpensive garments impose an ecological toll. The fashion world’s inability to connect with the Earth’s largest generation stems from this rift. Gen Z practices what they preach; over 50% prefer brands that align with their values of sustainability, readily “cancelling” those that fall short.
Putting the Change Into Gear
As Generation Z attains both age and financial independence, their environmentally-conscious principles extend to their closets, making the allure of cheap fashion less appealing. Quick and affordable as fast fashion may be, just 34% of Gen Zers view these brands positively. This cohort comprehends the multifaceted costs at stake. Harnessing the digital platforms they grew up on, they voice their convictions and sway others toward similar sustainability views.
Taking a stand against social and environmental inequalities, Generation Z employs social media to propel a more sustainable fashion industry. Through these channels, they unmask “greenwashing,” understanding that roughly 40% of environmental claims by brands could be misleading. They stand ready to expose inauthenticity. The ensuing confrontation has dented fast fashion’s profits since late 2022, with brands misusing eco-friendly language now under scrutiny. Some have even shunned the sustainability tag altogether to sidestep backlash.
Today, brands grapple with escalating pressure to abandon hollow “sustainable” labels and earnestly embrace the transformation needed. While Generation Z serves as a potent catalyst, technology ignites the blaze of change.
Driving It Forward with Technology
Technology, particularly social media, has sparked the resurgence of vintage fashion and second-hand shopping, seen through hashtags like “#thrifttok” racking up millions of daily views. Resale apps like ThredUp, Vinted, and Depop are embraced by the younger generation, offering eco-friendly alternatives to fast fashion. Some labels are venturing into the resale realm. Depop, with over 30 million users, 90% under 26, empowers Gen Z to reshape fashion’s landscape, spotlighting style and sustainability’s profitable coexistence.
But This Change Doesn’t Stop at Resale Apps.
This shift isn’t limited to resale apps. Brands like Zara leverage carbon recycling technology to craft garments from recycled CO2 and captured carbon emissions. Across the industry, technology pioneers innovative avenues, like water-conserving printing alternatives. Epson’s inventive dry fiber technology, for instance, doesn’t merely recycle waste; it engineers new materials. Adapting it to create new fabrics from discarded clothing, this fusion addresses the environmental toll of overproduction.
Brands are also auditing supply chains, particularly packaging’s role. Packaging constitutes 40% of plastic waste, with a mere 9% recycled. Noting Gen Z’s sway, Nike introduced the “Nike One Box,” omitting an outer box in shoe shipments and reducing packaging waste by 51% in single online orders.
From repurposing plastic bottles to weaving post-consumer textiles into new attire, these technologies present promising solutions to textile waste. By embracing innovation, these brands stand to make a positive impact, bolstering both the planet and their reputation. This is significant, considering about 62% of Gen Zers are willing to pay more for ethically produced goods.
In the midst of their pivotal moment, Generation Z thrusts the fast fashion industry into the limelight. Holding brands accountable, they drive change, aspiring to a fashion future that seamlessly merges style and sustainability.
However, to win over Gen Z, the fast fashion sector must pause and listen. The journey ahead is long, requiring brands to adopt new technologies and transition from a linear, wasteful, profit-driven model to a circular economy. A sustainable and transparent approach is essential, wherein resources are repurposed and reused. Brands must realize that this generation’s stance against environmental injustices is unwavering. What began as a passing trend has transformed into a formidable global movement, focused on reducing industries’ environmental footprint to craft a sustainable future.
The author is Epson Regional Head,East and West Africa