Gen Z is amongst the most environmentally and ethically conscious generation when it comes to spending on fashion. Pegged as the generation to slow the ravenous cycle of fast fashion, a report by FirstInsight in 2019 revealed that over 50% of Gen Z shoppers were willing to spend more on sustainable products. As a generation that is largely educated on the issues of climate change and the true cost of fast fashion, Gen Z shoppers both care about the environmental impacts of their spending habits, and follow through with their convictions, with over 62% of Gen Z shoppers preferring to buy from sustainable brands.
But in the wake of Bama Rush Tok and the accompanying barrage of Shein hauls, what are we to make of the common complaint that for young people, sustainable fashion is just too expensive? From the widespread popularity and trend-driven appeal of fast fashion retailers like Princess Polly and Nasty Gal, as Terry Nguyen writes for Vox, Gen Z has also grown up in the boom of brands like Zara and H&M— companies founded on delivering runway trends at a high street price. In Terry’s words, “Gen Z doesn’t know a world without fast fashion”, and our expectations for affordable clothing have been influenced by this reality.
When we also consider that Gen Z is made up of students and young workers, we can understand the predicament that we are facing. Sure, we know that brands like Reformation are market leaders in fashionable and sustainable clothing, but they sell jeans for $300.
Thus our moral dilemma is distilled as such: I want to shop sustainably but I can’t afford it.
Fortunately, Reformation got one thing right. Their brand philosophy reads, “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. #2 is Reformation”. This statement can shift how we think about sustainable fashion; it doesn’t have to be expensive because it doesn’t have to involve buying more. In fact, understanding that all forms of production inevitably have environmental impacts, and moving towards reducing our levels of consumption can be one of the best ways to enjoy fashion sustainably.
Here are some affordable steps to take towards practicing sustainable fashion that doesn’t involve shopping.
Unsubscribe to fast fashion advertising
If thoughtful, conscious purchases are the key to curating a sustainable wardrobe, think of the lunchtime impulse purchase as the enemy. We spend an average of 5 hours a day on our phones, where we are exposed to advertising at every swipe. Tempted with discount codes, pay-by-installment plans, and free shipping, making impulsive online purchases has never been easier. But buying into every trend and amassing huge wardrobes full of clothes we never wear the next year only feeds into the lifestyle we’re trying to move away from. One way of breaking this habit is by curating what we see on our screens. Whether it’s unsubscribing from mailing lists, unfollowing an influencer or two, or even adjusting your advertising settings on Instagram, limiting our exposure to fast fashion advertising can remove the temptation to be constantly buying new things.
Know where to donate your old clothes
Most of us have grown up doing the annual wardrobe purge where we sort out clothes that we’ve outgrown, don’t like, or just never wear anymore, and drop them off at our local clothing donation bin. We drive away feeling accomplished because we’ve decluttered our wardrobes, and given our old clothes to a good cause. But the reality is that the majority of clothing donations don’t find the second home we expect, because clothes are often donated with tears, stains, and missing buttons, which means they aren’t of resellable quality. This often means that they will end up in landfill, where clothing fibers can take up to 100 years to break down, contaminating water, soil, and ecosystems as they do so.
Each company that owns clothing donation bins sorts their donations differently, but a good option are the donation bins operated by SCRGroup. This Australian organisation is committed to diverting 100% of clothing donations from landfill by rehoming donations to charities, and what can’t be reused is recycled into rags or converted into biofuels. A representative from SCRGroup recommends washing your clothes before dropping them off, and separating clothing from shoes. Their donation bin locations can be found using their hub finder, and you can also book a free home pick-up service if there isn’t a bin near you.
Upcycle your clothes
Learning to mend your own clothes not only makes your clothing last longer, but also ensures that they can be re-sold and re-worn when you decide to donate them. While most of us might not be skilled with a needle and thread, taking better care of the clothes we do have can maximise the energy and resources that went into creating them, serving us better for longer. This might look like taking the time to replace a lost button, actually washing your jeans inside-out, or taking more notice of the care instructions label in your clothes.
For those of you who enjoy a good project, upcycling your clothes is another creative option to give old clothing a new life. Upcycling is also known as creative reuse, and refers to altering an original item to give it a new value and purpose. From tie-dyeing an old T-shirt to completely transforming an old piece, YouTube and TikTok are brimming with ideas and creators to get you inspired.
As Gen Z, we may be the most tempted to give in to the affordability and convenience of fast fashion, but we are also the most willing to change our habits for the sake of social, environmental, and ethical responsibility. While there are definitely exciting ways to spend our money on sustainable fashion, there are also simple changes we can make, and things that we can do with the clothes we already own to make closer towards sustainability.
Check out these resources if you’re still not convinced!
A thorough and educational guide to sustainable fashion via SloActive
How some other Gen Zers are thinking about sustainable fashion via Refinery29
Some guidelines for your next closet clean-out via Vogue UK
How to take care of your clothes via NY Times
Understanding the pricing of sustainable fashion via Vogue India