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Young Consumers’ (Complicated) Love For Fast Fashion In 3 Stats

Fast fashion is one of young consumers favorite ways to shop for price and more…


TL;DR

  • Roughly one third of Gen Z and Millennials shop at fast fashion stores
  • Affordability a driving factor behind their continued love of fast fashion
  • Though it may not be as environmentally friendly as they prefer, they don’t feel guilty about their fast fashion habit

Where shopping may once have been a seasonal habit, Gen Z and Millennials’ have grown up with trends being replicated quickly and made available to them by fast fashion brands. And despite increasing criticism of the industry, they continue to fuel the success of fast fashion retailers. In fact, social media seems to have amplified their fast fashion habits, with new fashion trends moving faster than ever, and new, even faster retailers making incredibly cheap items to help them keep up. By participating in trends like showing off their #Sheinhaul (a hashtag which has 6.5 billion views on TikTok), they inspire each other to buy continually, if not to keep their closet up to date then for the rush of a good, cheap find. 

You might think that these eco-conscious gens would be fully against shopping in excess, and supporting brands that have become synonymous with clothing waste. But YPulse data shows that young consumers have their reasons. In both our recent Shopping and Retail report, and Fashion Preference and Style report, we asked Gen Z and Millennials about their relationship to fast fashion, and these three stats tell the complicated story:

46% of 13-39-year-olds shop at fast fashion stores

When we asked 13-39-year-olds which stores they shop at in our Shopping and Retail report, almost half of young consumers overall chose fast fashion stores. But young females are even more likely to be fast fashion shoppers, with roughly 60% saying they shop at one or more fast fashion retailer.  Fast fashion stores include long-standing retailers like Forever 21, H&M, and Zara, but also newer, online retailers like SHEIN and Fashion Nova, which have dramatically changed the fast fashion game. While the brick and mortar stores had been mall staples for rotating trends, these massive online catalogs list items at break-neck speed, making it so they can get young consumers a trending item as soon as they see it on social media. 

And because they’re inherently online shoppers, even now that stores are open IRL, young consumers find it easy to browse the endless options and have them arrive just days later. While fast fashion isn’t the top category of retailer (these stores fall far behind their preference for mass merchandise retailers, which YPulse has told you is young consumers’ favorite way to shop in general in our Mass Merch Mentality report) it’s clear that fast fashion is still a regular part of young consumers’ retail behavior. To be clear, our data shows that when asked to choose, most young consumers would prefer to buy fewer more expensive, higher quality clothes (56%) than a lot of less expensive, lower quality clothes (44%). But fast fashion is still drawing them in, in large part because…

63% of young fast fashion shoppers agree they buy from fast fashion stores because that's all they can afford

Nearly two thirds of young consumers who say they shop fast fashion agree they do so because it’s all they can afford. Our Mass Merch Mentality report shows that Gen Z and Millennials prioritize their budgets above all else when shopping for clothing, and the reality is that fast fashion offers them the styles they want, and can’t afford to get elsewhere. 

And, sure, thrifting and second hand shopping is a popular option for these young gens to save money, too, while meeting their sustainable standards. Fast fashion, however, guarantees they’ll always find trendy items in their size, and they won’t have to spend hours searching for it. But, it’s not that these shoppers don’t understand the impacts of fast fashion, because they do; 64% of fast fashion shoppers tell YPulse they agree that it’s bad for the environment. YPulse will be exploring young consumers’ conflicting desires for cheap goods and eco-friendly efforts in an upcoming trend report, but we do already know…

63% of young fast fashion shoppers say they don't feel guilty about shopping fast fashion

Despite the fact that they are aware of fast fashion’s impact on the environment, YPulse data shows that 63% of young consumers who shop fast fashion agree that they don’t feel guilty about buying from these brands. After all, they’re doing what fits in their budget, and they’re being encouraged constantly on social media. They also might be justifying their actions, with 52% of fast fashion shoppers agreeing “Shopping fast fashion doesn’t impact the environment enough to make me feel bad about it.” 

Their budgets reign supreme, and many appear to feel that it should be brand’s responsibility to manage the eco-impacts of their products. In other words, many young consumers are feeling they shouldn’t be responsible for the evils of an empire. It’s on the companies to handle that impact more than it is on them to buy clothing outside their budget. Retail Dive reports that fashion’s biggest sustainability issue doesn’t derive from young consumers’ need for Instagrammability or “haul-level consumption and throwaway culture” but “comes down to a deeply unregulated industry that isn’t held accountable globally for the amount of waste and exploitation of people and resources it commits every day.” 

YPulse paid users can access the full Fashion Preferences and Style report and data here

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