The Rise of Environmentally Conscious Consumerism

Millennials and Generation Z are fighting fast fashion.

A look through the windows of Beacon's Closet, a used-clothing store with several locations in the city. (Staff Photo by Julia McNeill)

There has always been a trade-off between buying clothes for instant gratification or to keep up with trends and shopping with quality and long-term use in mind. In the age of fast fashion, the former is winning out.

The result is a notable increase in levels of waste. Textiles made up about 7.6 percent of the 137.7 million tons of municipal solid waste landfilled by the U.S. in 2015. Six percent of the residential waste generated in New York City in 2013 was textile waste.

At the same time, there has been a rise of environmentally conscious consumerism, specifically among younger generations. In 2018, 74 percent of Generation Z respondents and 71 percent of Millennial respondents worldwide were willing to pay more for environmentally friendly and socially conscious brands, compared to 59 percent of Generation X respondents and 50 percent of even older generations.

NYU Abu Dhabi senior Anita Duskova avoided clothes shopping for over a year to be environmentally and socially conscious. She maintained those values when she began shopping again.

“When I shop, I look into brands and try to figure out what’s environmentally friendly and supporting human rights,” Duskova said. “I find many companies don’t promote that sufficiently. Ideally, I want environmentally friendly clothing that’s also made to last — but that’s been hard to find.”

Gallatin first-year Devin Gilmartin is dealing with the issues of sustainability and social responsibility in fashion on a larger scale. Gilmartin is co-president of the Future Fashion Group at NYU, which aims to raise awareness and increase transparency of environmental and social consequences within the fashion industry. He also co-founded his own sustainable fashion brand, Querencia Studio.

“I believe that sustainable fashion and sustainable retail are the future,” Gilmartin said. “There isn’t enough focus on sustainability in the fashion industry, and there needs to be. We can’t say ‘stop making clothing’ or ‘stop treating clothing,’ but we can do the best we can going forward. If we can keep clothing already made in use and make new fashion more sustainable, I think that’s a good start.”

For cash-strapped students looking to begin shopping sustainably, thrift and consignment stores are the move. Luckily for NYU students, New York City has an abundance of secondhand clothing.

Nick Guy, manager at the Cure Thrift Shop just south of Union Square, said that college students comprise a huge amount of their store’s customer base.

And for those who would rather stay home, there are websites for secondhand goods, such as ThredUp and Poshmark.

“As secondhand stores are becoming more popular, I think — or at least hope — that cheap fashion is getting less popular,” Duskova said. “If clothes don’t fit you anymore, why not sell them back for someone else to wear, then take a look around yourself?”

Email Kylie Kirschner at [email protected]

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