Why Millennials and Gen Z Are Wearing Their Hearts on Their Sleeves

Next-gen fashion shows how much they care about the planet.

Stylish Millennial poses outdoors.

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Next-gen consumers increasingly buy from sustainability-conscious brands, and are willing to pay more for “ethical” clothing, reports fibre2fashion

These Millennials and the Gen Zers that follow them are turning their backs on the disposable fashion trend, which, according to the Boston University’s School of Global Health, sees over 100 pounds (45 kilos) of textile waste per person in the US each year.  This is hardly surprising. Fast fashion has a well-documented short and unhealthy lifecycle. Typically, cheap, synthetic clothing follows a brief timeline from its environmentally damaging production process, through to its short life cycle seeing it worn on just a handful of occasions and its plastic microfibers harm the ocean wildlife ecosystems due to clothes washing, to when it is discarded and headed to polluting landfills.

Sustainability matters to next-gen consumers
Green-conscious next-gen consumers are especially passionate about climate change and sustainability and are therefore on the lookout for sustainable fashion products and brands that demonstrate genuine concern for the environment. Being green and fashion-conscious, of course, involves broader lifestyle changes. As a creative learning hub, the USC Iovine and Young Academy, explains in its examination of how sustainability is trending among next-gen fashionistas, an inclination towards, thrifting, upcycling, and reworked fashion is also prevalent in this demographic.

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Interestingly, sustainable living, including the adoption of sustainable fashion choices, is seen as a coping strategy for young people. Many of them experience a sense of helplessness or so-called “eco-anxiety” in the face of gloomy headlines on extreme weather, the accelerating loss of biodiversity, and an uncertain ecological future, the Painted Brain mental health blog observes. However, sustainable lifestyle choices can restore a sense of agency and hope to next-geners who feel empowered to take back personal control over their environment through them.

Next-gen fabrics worth paying for
One greener fashion solution is innovative, more sustainable fabrics made from organic and regenerated materials produced in more sustainable ways. 

Lyocell fibers branded as Tencel, for instance, are made using sustainably-sourced wood like bamboo, the fastest-growing grass-like tree, that needs very little space and water to thrive. Fibre2fashion reports that the production of Lyocell does not use carbon disulphide, which is highly toxic to humans and the environment. Meanwhile, the water and chemicals used during this process are reused in manufacturing later on, making this a circular system.

As the USC Iovine and Young Academy explains, more youth-oriented brands are using eco-friendly and repurposed materials, as well as producing clothing with less water and energy waste. Bust, in an article on how interest in sustainable fashion is revolutionizing the industry, details that according to recent findings of a thinktank advancing “environmentally preferable materials” the Material Innovation Initiative, even leading luxury brands, such as Gucci are actively embracing these sustainable alternatives. The report highlights a move away from traditional animal-based materials such as leather and silk, towards innovative materials that show a commitment to both environmental preservation and ethical production practices.

A 2019  report from McKinsey & Company entitled “The influence of ‘woke’ consumers on fashion,” explains that “Nine in ten generation z consumers believe companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues.” As this report explains, a new global ethos is emerging seeing billions of young people using consumption to express their deeply held views. 

Significantly, these next-gen consumers can afford to buy more expensive greener items, leading brands to take a clear stance on social and environmental issues. 

Surveys of Gen Z members, fibre2fashion reports, have shown that 73 percent of them are willing to pay more for sustainability, with a majority willing to pay up to a 10 percent premium.

Brainstorming sustainable fashion
Global Fashion Agenda is a nonprofit working to promote collaboration on sustainability in fashion in line with its vision of a net-positive fashion industry. It understands that while the fashion industry creates beautiful and interesting material and cultural products, it leaves a trail of environmental destruction in its wake. It doesn’t shy away from recognizing that fashion isn’t where it should be, citing damning figures, for instance, including that 35 percent of microplastic in the oceans comes from microfibers shed by synthetic material.

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To create positive change, this nonprofit influences and educates various professional and lay audiences, particularly at its annual Global Fashion Summits focusing on critical environmental, ethical, and social issues in the fashion industry.

In 2023, its summits in Copenhagen and Boston attracted over 1400 fashion industry participants to explore the relationship between fashion and climate change. A related report,  Interwoven: Fashion Storytelling in the time of a Climate Crisis, the nonprofit’s website explains, “is for students curious to learn more about sustainable fashion; creatives looking to co-create solutions for an industry in crisis; and commercial leaders eager to work with the next generation.”

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