Why Can’t Gen Z—the World’s Most Eco-Conscious Generation—Quit Fast Fashion?

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"In the U.S., 75% say a brand's sustainability is important when making a purchase, and 62% prefer to buy from sustainable brands, according to research from consumer analytics firm First Insight and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School."

 

Happy Wednesday, Green Inc. readers. This is Fortune reporter Yvonne Lau, filling in for Eamon.

Gen Z, or people born between 1997 and 2009, are often referred to as the eco-conscious generation. Climate change and protecting the environment rank at the top of their concerns, according to a recent survey by Deloitte, and those matters—supposedly—shape what how they shop. In the U.S., 75% say a brand's sustainability is important when making a purchase, and 62% prefer to buy from sustainable brands, according to research from consumer analytics firm First Insight and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

Yet Gen Z customers represent the core demographic buying clothing from Shein, the China-based ultra-fast fashion retailer known for pumping out inexpensive, trendy items at a faster clip—roughly 6,000 new designs per day—than even fast fashion stalwarts like H&M and Zara. Shein's popularity among young consumers, particularly Gen Z women, helped lift its valuation to an estimated $100 billion in April, making it the world's third-most valuable private company and worth more than Zara and H&M combined.

Shein is notorious for its opaque business practices. It has been criticized for having an outsized environmental footprint and stealing looks from independent designers, global fashion labels, and rivals like Zara. As a private company, little is known about Shein's actual carbon footprint and supply chain. A Shein spokesperson told Fortune that the company "respects... the intellectual property rights of others." Shein is "committed to lowering emissions and reducing waste at every stage" of its supply chain, it said in its 2021 sustainability report. But the fashion industry is one of the world's biggest industrial polluters, accounting for 8-10% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, according to various estimates. Shein's brand of ultra-fast fashion is particularly egregious, critics say. It runs on a business model of manufacturing cheap clothes made of polluting, synthetic fabrics that are easily discarded when the next trend hits.

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