Young adults targets for cheap fast fashion: KPU study

But researchers at KPU in Metro Vancouver say this demographic may not understand how detrimental cheap clothes are to the environment.

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Many younger Millennial and generation-Z consumers may not understand the extent of the environmental damage caused by cheap fast fashion, says a Kwantlen Polytechnic University researcher.

Yunzhijun Yu, a psychology instructor at the university, and her team studied the clothing consumption of young consumers and their understanding of fast fashion.

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Fast fashion is defined in their report as an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.

For the study, the researchers asked 104 undergraduate students under the age of 30 questions to assess attitudes, behavior, and knowledge of fast fashion, and then repeated the study with a different set of students. It also included research into how much donated clothing to thrift stores is actually sold.

They concluded that gen-Z students (born between 1996 and the early-to-mid 2000s) and Millennial consumers (born between 1980 and 1995) care about sustainability but lack a full understanding of the environmental and social impacts of fast fashion. The study notes that young adults and students are targeted by fast fashion retailers because of their typically tight budgets and susceptibility to compulsive buying behavior.

Yu said what they learned from their surveys is that many young people buy more clothing items than they need because they are so inexpensive — some as cheap as a cup of coffee — but then don’t wear them. It becomes part of their identity to own lots of clothes and even pose in them on social media.

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“They end up with a lot of unwanted clothing, stuff they don’t need. They will have lots of things that in their closet and they are not getting rid of these things. And they’re not returning them,” she said Thursday.

This behavior could also lead to hoarding which can create many other problems, Yu added.

Most students surveyed were aware that fast fashion is bad for the environment, Yu said. But when asked more specific questions about the extent of environmental damage that the industry causes, most come up blank. For example, Yu said nearly all respondents did not know that less than 25 per cent of cheap clothing donated to second-hand stores is ever sold. Most of it ends up being shipped to poor countries as donations.

However, Yu noted that many workers in some of these countries don’t want these donations because it harms the local clothing industry.

The study, which is published in the Journal of Sustainable Marketing, is co-written by Claudia L. Gomez-Borquez and Judith Lynne Zaichkowsky.

The students involved in the study were also shown a BBC documentary called “Fashion’s Dirty Secrets” by Stacey Dolley. They surveyed the students before and after the film.

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“Our students expressed concerns about the fast fashion industry as a whole after they watched the video and many said ‘I didn’t realize how bad this is.’ Then when we asked them again about their intentions there was a slight shift, which suggests that education is working,” said Yu.

Researchers say the fast fashion industry produces more than it can sell and emits as many greenhouse gases as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined. Moreover, the textile dyeing industry is the second worst polluter of the world’s clean water and creates millions of tons of waste each year, according to the study.

The researchers also collected data from the second-hand clothing market and found that there is a lack of fast fashion in thrift stores. They say it’s so cheap and typically poor quality that it ends up more in landfills than in second-hand stores.

Yu said with the growing comfort level of shopping online, many young consumers have come to accept the trend of buying clothes without trying them on and then discarding them when they don’t fit.

She said consumers who want to change their behavior can start with simple things like trying the clothes on at the store, and asking themselves whether they really need it.

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