According to research, consumers are following the lead of younger generations in moving towards sustainable fashion.

New research indicates that the coronavirus pandemic has brought down the fashion industry and the high street, and could lead to the end of fast fashion.

If the habits of generation Z are accepted by the entire population, there may be a shift towards consumers with a “divided closet” – which includes items rented from resale shops – as the new norm.

According to the Royal Society for Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA), polling revealed that 28% of people were recycling or reusing less clothes during the pandemic. 35% of women plan to purchase fewer clothes in future. Following the research, the RSA has called on the government and manufacturers to make more responsible investments in sustainable fashion.

woman holding green smartphone and smiling

The RSA is also calling for strict standards regarding how durable clothes should be, and a push to a more circular economy in fashion.

This focus on sustainability, non-macro-produced goods, and uniqueness mirrors consumer values of the younger generation, whose attitudes towards fashion have been influenced by the “Blue Planet Effect”.

Jeff Froom, coauthor of Marketing to Gen Z, says that “Generation Z is very discerning. They grew up with greater access to information from many sources than ever before. They’ve been hearing about inequality, climate change, and LGBTQ+ rights for many years.”

Kati Chitrakorn is Vogue Business’ retail and marketing editor. She stated that fashion today is more about expressing oneself than fitting in.

Two-thirds of clothing purchases were made in stores before the pandemic. However, the 18+ crowd had found other options to bricks and mortar. Their sophisticated consumption habits often outpaced that of the high street. They also used online resale and rental sites like Vestiaire Collective and Grailed which all saw a surge in sales during lockdown. Chitrakorn says that younger people can feel part of a movement by being able to “do something” – customising, upcycling or reusing instead of discarding. This mindset was popular even before the pandemic.

Ceanne FernandesWong, COCOON’s CEO, a luxury handbag rental company, says that “young, values-oriented shoppers” are seeking more responsible ways to shop. This has been amplified by the pandemic. Consumers will increasingly be comfortable with a variety of consumption options, from buying new to renting and resale. “Divided wardrobe” is inevitable.”

AlixPartners retail consultants Sonia Lapinsky said that rental will continue to grow, given consumers sustainability consciousness and a reset of consumerism. For many weeks, we have made do with less – enough to develop new habits.

Depop, a peer to-peer shopping app that allows users to purchase secondhand goods from one another, has seen a 90% rise in traffic since April 1. In contrast, retail sales fell by a record 18.1% in the same month. “Depop is able to help Generation Z to be individual and reduce waste,” said a spokesperson for the company.

She says, “We are certain that this moment will encourage people reconsider resale as a viable alternative to buying ‘new.’ Our community has access to a huge inventory of pre-loved streetwear and vintage designer pieces. This allows them to create their own identity and make sustainable choices. They are able to sell the garments they have rather than storing them in a closet or sending them to a dump.”

It’s not easy. With retailers still working out what a re-opened store would look like (socially distanced shoppers in store, sales assistants behind plexiglass, compulsory masks, the question of changing rooms), post-corona resale and rental outfits will have the same issues. Lapinsky asks, “Are they transparent and communicative regarding product handling and cleanliness?”

It is currently being debated about the future of retail and fashion. Similar calls were made by fashion bodies to demand social and environmental sustainability.

The British Fashion Council and Council of Fashion Designers of America issued a statement on Thursday asking for a reduction of seasonal collections, clothes made, and travel. This sentiment was expressed in an “open letter” from designers and retailers, led by Dries van Noten, that appeared last week.

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