Opinion: Why Gen Z actually consumes fast fashion

Until we address the motivation behind Gen-Z’s impact on fast fashion, we cannot successfully change their shopping habits.

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Susan Behrends Valenzuela

Fast fashion has become popular in recent years, but it comes with a heavy burden on the environment. (Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Ayisat Bisiriyu, Contributing Writer

Fast fashion and its contribution to environmental waste have been a popular topic in the news for years now. Companies such as Zara and H&M were called out for harmful global effects and unethical labor practices. As fast fashion rises in popularity, Gen Z has been accused of buying into a trend attributed to social media.

For many that are part of Gen Z, the quickest and easiest way to boost their confidence and feel comfortable in new social environments is to dress according to what’s trending. With social media moving trend cycles at a much faster pace than they did decades ago, young people have a harder time keeping up with outfits that their peers deem acceptable, even more so with the virtual panopticon social media creates. The pressure to always look put-together seems to loom over Gen Z more than it has in past generations. 

It’s no surprise that many fast fashion companies exploit this anxiety. Slogans such as “weird girl” or “y2k” encourage people to achieve a certain look. For those looking to replicate styles that they see on social media or around school campuses, fast fashion seems like a simple solution to find cheap versions of these desired styles.

This isn’t to say everyone who over-consumes clothing is doing so because they feel left out. Without a doubt, there are those who often buy and dispose of clothes simply because they can. Additionally, exploring style is a normal part of growing older, and it makes sense that Gen Z  would gravitate towards styles that reflect the people they like and admire. Many young people have to be trendsetters or look exactly like popular creators. Even more so, the social rejection that may come with not fitting into trends hangs over the heads of lots of young people, especially women.

In order for us to understand how to successfully combat excessive purchasing of fast fashion, we need to address the social pressures Gen Z feels to look a certain way. While this doesn’t necessarily forgive the behavior of feeding into fast fashion, we can’t deny that there is something to be said about buying into social acceptance — we must address the significance of “in” and “out” groups created around fitting or not fitting into trends.

Ultimately, this problem boils down to the volume and speed at which young people are purchasing, then disposing of, fast fashion items. For any long-lasting change to happen we need to shift the discussion around over-consumption and its origins among Gen Z. If we can prioritize individuality and bring awareness to the overbearing nature of abiding to aesthetic standards we can encourage Gen Z to think about the pursuit of fashion in a way that is less about a need to fit into trends and more as a means of self-expression. With these combined efforts, slower, more sustainable methods of clothing consumption and a more positive self-perception for young people is possible.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Ayisat Bisiriyu at [email protected]