The sustainable fashion dilemma: understanding the Gen Z’s attitudes to fast and slow fashion

The Generation Z is widely recognized for its and commitment to the environment and sustainability. At the same time, they are major consumers of fast fashion and are drawn to platforms such as Shein. What explains the difference between this generation’s commitment to sustainability and their buying behavior? And what are the relationships between their values, attitudes, and sustainable fashion consumption? These are just two of the questions that Julia VANLERBERGHE looked to answer in the framework of her Master’s thesis*, which recently won the ICOR Prize. We spoke to Julia VANLERBERGHE and her thesis director, María D. DE-JUAN-VIGARAY**, about the findings of this research.

Julia VANLERBERGHE, why and how you chose to study this topic? Why is it such an important topic for the Fashion Industry?

Julia VANLERBERGHE : Being part of the Generation Z, passionate about fashion and highly sensitive to environmental issues, I felt particularly concerned about these ethical consumption dilemmas. I understand how tempting it can be to succumb to the very attractive prices offered by fast fashion brands, yet we are now aware of the darker side of this industry.
I wanted to understand what explains the gap between young people’s ecological convictions and their consumption choices in fashion, often leaning towards fast fashion, even ultra-fast fashion such as the Chinese brand Shein.
This is a topic at the forefront of current affairs: fast fashion is more present than ever and promoted on social media. However, consciences seem to be awakening with the emergence of proposed laws aiming to limit “disposable fashion”. Choosing this topic was a way for me to connect my field of study with the meaning I want to give to my career: to have a positive impact on society and the environment.

María D. DE-JUAN-VIGARAY : In 2007, a Spanish student proposed the idea of selling Hot Wheels toy cars through a Spanish platform (Wallapop – an app for buying and selling secondhand goods) to me. I had to understand how his idea worked in order to supervise him. Since then, I have been an active member of Wallapop and Vinted and have directed several projects in Spain and France on this line of research.
The controversial topic raised by Julia VANLERGERGHE was as true as it was stimulating. Her motivation and persistence in trying to find the best model to explain what she felt were commendable.
That is why it was a pleasure to supervise Julia and progress with her on her learning journey, which was also mine. The paradox is present, and it is difficult for young people to decide whether they should be sustainable or access fun, fast, and very low-priced fashion. We worked on a project regarding fast fashion. It remains to be seen what will happen with ultra-fast fashion.

Can you summarize the main findings of your work?

Julia V. : For this Master Thesis, I conducted a quantitative study within the Generation Z aimed at measuring the positive or negative impact of values, attitudes, and four other factors on sustainable fashion consumption. The results of this study confirmed the importance of attitudes as predictors of behavior, but they do not entirely justify taking action.
This study identified three factors that could explain this “gap.” Firstly, the importance of style for an individual negatively impacts their sustainable fashion consumption. Secondly, an individual who is sensitive to subjective norms (social pressure from peers) tends to consume more sustainably. Thirdly, perceived self-efficacy also has a positive impact, meaning that the more individuals consider themselves capable of having a significant impact on the environment or society through their sustainable fashion consumption, the more they will act accordingly.
Surprisingly, the study reveals that hedonistic values positively influence sustainable consumption. It seems that Generation Z is able to envision a more sustainable lifestyle without sacrificing their “pleasure”.

How might this work have applications for managers working in this sector?

Julia V. : The results and the managerial recommendations derived from this thesis enable two things. Firstly, they provide insights into Generation Z through the quantitative data collection, allowing  the identification of trends and a better understanding of this new consumer population.
As a result, this knowledge allows the establishment of marketing recommendations for companies committed to sustainability, to effectively convey the right messages to the right people and advance industry transformation.
Additionally, recommendations are made for fast fashion companies that will need to adapt to this segment of the market. These results help identify which elements to stimulate and challenge to influence consumer behavior. It is known that individuals can be encouraged to act by convincing them that their actions will have an impact, for example, by communicating credibly and tangibly about the liters of water saved through their actions (as Vinted already does).
It is also known that hedonistic values, considered as “selfish” pleasure values, are compatible with sustainable consumption. Therefore, it is necessary not only to stimulate guilt or altruism, but also to associate sustainability with individual benefits: regarding health by limiting endocrine disruptors, or (consumers’) budgets, or in terms of feeling liberated from fashion dictates by being able to express one’s uniqueness. It is essential to address all profiles and sensitivities to continue advancing towards a more ethical fashion industry.

María D. : This work offers a deep understanding of Generation Z and provides marketing recommendations for both sustainability-committed companies and fast fashion ones. It emphasizes the importance of communicating the positive impacts of actions and associating sustainability with individual benefits such as health and the expression of uniqueness, in order to influence consumer behavior towards a more ethical fashion industry.
It is necessary to understand at first-hand what is happening in the minds of young people, as they are the future of the economy, and also of planet Earth, because we only have one!

* “Understanding Gen Z’s slow fashion consumption: A value-attitude-behavior approach”, supervized by Maria D. DE-JUAN VIGARAY

** María D. DE-JUAN VIGARAY is a Visiting Professor at IÉSEG and Professor at the Universidad de Alicante

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