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Can Gen Zs Find a Middle Ground Between Fashion and Sustainability?
It's one-thirty in the afternoon. I open my zoom class and begin to learn about the detrimental impacts of human activities on the environment, including the increase in consumption patterns and the routine exploitation practices of my favorite brands. After class, I indulge in the Black Friday sales. A lot of people in my generation are in the same boat. As digital natives, our intuition to leverage social media apps like Instagram and TikTok has encouraged individuality and creativity through fashion. Trends are also so easily accessible and affordable. This has allowed a part-time student income to cover the costs to look like our favorite fashion icons. A hot take, but Gen Zs are definitely best dressed. This generation is also known as the age of realism. Constant exposure to grim realities has created a unified strive toward political and social movements. A growing concern among this cohort is environmental degradation. Accordingly, the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey found that 90 percent of Gen Zs are making an effort to reduce their impact on the environment. Specifically, a push toward sustainable fashion has been a topic of non-debate.
Despite having an adequate mindset for change, we are still regularly endorsing $2 Shein tops sewed together by exploitation and, instead, becoming the top consumer of fast fashion. This demonstrates a gap between the ideal and our practices. Being stylish and environmentally friendly should not have to be an oxymoron. Both values can be achieved by making environmentally friendly fashion not only the easiest choice but the only choice. Fast fashion is a business model that encourages inexpensive, poor-quality clothes to be made widely available. These are "of-the-moment" garments, worn on average seven times before being discarded or donated. Accordingly, the emission, waste, and pollution from fast fashion significantly contribute to the triple planetary crisis. The fashion industry has now accounted for 10% of global carbon emissions. Despite this, the 2022 Global Fashion Report estimates the industry to grow at a CAGR of 7.7% by 2026. On top of this damage, retailers are seeing a decline in profit margins. For instance, from 2016 to 2019, there was a 40% decline among leading apparel retailers. This has been due to the low price of clothing and the loss of revenues from overstock, stockouts, and returns. Effects were further exacerbated due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to a 90% profit decline in 2020 compared to 2019. All of this highlights the fragility of the current fashion industry.
Environmentally friendly decisions are not the easiest. Although we care about the environment, we would rather prioritize our fashion needs. This is because issues related to climate change are perceived as psychologically distant. Making a cultural shift on an individual, societal, and governmental level will create ease for change.
How Can We Find the Middle Ground?
STEP 1: Support Environmentally Conscious Brands
The suggestions made by hardcore environmentalists who say we should limit our clothing purchases or shop used items only sound promising but unrealistic to the general population. bon emissions. Despite this, the 2022 Global Fashion Report estimates the industry to grow at a CAGR of 7.7% by 2026. On top of this damage, retailers are seeing a decline in profit margins. For instance, from 2016 to 2019, there was a 40% decline among leading apparel retailers. This has been due to the low price of clothing and the loss of revenues from overstock, stockouts, and returns. Effects were further exacerbated due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to a 90% profit decline in 2020 compared to 2019. All of this highlights the fragility of the current fashion industry.
Instead, we can invest in alternative brands such as Patagonia. Patagonia is a leading fashion brand for its commitment to the environment. This brand is so effective in making an impact because social and environmental initiatives are embedded in the business model. For instance, the brand not only sources ethically by using organic materials but has a self-imposed Earth tax. This is one percent of the company’s profits used to support nonprofits working to defend our air, land, and water. Although sustainable clothing often has an initial investment, these purchases are not only more ethical but last way longer. This is because the quality of fast fashion items is compromised to maintain cheaper prices. An individual change in consumption can go a long way in preserving the environment while allowing people to have autonomy over their fashion choices.
STEP 2: Drop the Fads, Buy Timeless Pieces
There needs to be a cultural shift towards sustainable fashion. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has noted that “In this century, the world’s consumers are buying more clothes and wearing them for less time than ever before, discarding garments as fast as trends shift.” The quick movement of information from social media has translated into emerging fads every other week. These trends pressure consumers to buy the newest pants and throw the one they got last week at the back of their closet. Instead, to increase product life span, we should invest in higher quality, timeless pieces which can be styled for multiple outfits and occasions. This may include a simple white tank that can be worn casually or styled with accessories. A perfect example of timeless clothing can be seen in the brand Djerf Avenue. This brand has committed to pieces that can be styled for generations through its focus on quality and simple yet classy designs. Although this cultural shift will take time, habits must be established on an individual level. This will allow the build-up of momentum and thus, pressure for corporations to make the same change.
STEP 3: Cohesive Change
In response to scandals, some large-scale corporations have already attempted to implement pro-socio-environment initiatives. However, scientific proof has indicated that the impact of the fashion industry is worsening yearly, suggesting an illusion of the rise of sustainability. Instead, during the Global Fashion Summit, it has been recognized that a sector-level initiative must be adopted. This is because even though brands have committed to a sustainable operation, 90 percent of environmental impacts happen within the supply chain. Instead, initiatives like Net Zero Pakistan offer a more cohesive level of change. Net Zero Pakistan is a national collaboration between companies, public institutions, and sectoral experts to reach net zero emissions by 2050. This will allow a transition within the textile and garment industry of Pakistan and ensure that brands that source from Pakistan are environmentally friendly. Additionally, it should be standard for firms to be transparent with their consumers. This can be achieved by implementing governmental policies for environmental impact reporting, such as the extended producer responsibility (EPR) report. This will make sure brands calculate, commit and communicate their impact annually. A transparent system will allow consumers to be aware of what they are supporting and help corporations to identify flaws in their current supply chain and implement change. A system that has the environment at the forefront of all activities will allow individuals to easily find a common ground between fashion and the environment. All in all, it is possible for Gen Zs to be the most stylish while making huge strides towards sustainable fashion.
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Patagonia. (n.d.). Start small, go big, give back. Patagonia. Retrieved from
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