Has Gen Z Cancelled Fast Fashion?

The question on every fashion marketer’s mind: is fast fashion officially on its way out? The recent news of eBay’s new sponsorship of every Gen Zers favourite show, Love Island, has hit the headlines, and is causing everyone to question what the future is for this kind of fashion. Today we’ll be looking at the impact this partnership will have, hearing from Depop and eBay, and asking what impact influencers are having on the industry.

The Love Island effect

eBay’s sponsorship of Love Island was undoubtedly a milestone moment for both the show and the fashion industry as a whole, with the pre-loved clothing brand finally getting the attention of the show’s millions of viewers. It’s also undoubtedly a great sales deal for eBay, with Love Island’s previous sponsors ISAWITFIRST seeing a 67% increase in sales and a 254% increase in Instagram followers following the partnership. However, due to seasons’ worth of backlash from sustainability advocates across the country and new research from eBay, ITV’s Love Island has finally decided to listen to its viewers and take a step toward the future. We spoke to eBay’s Laura McGuinness about the impact this move could have: “The programme and its stars’ impact are undeniable. Last year’s winner Millie proved to be a trendsetter, as her one shoulder marble dress influenced 127% more searches for ‘marble dress’ on eBay. So in our capacity as partners to one of the most-watched programmes with this age group, it allows us to engage and work with a highly attuned and open audience.” 

Pretty Little Thing vs sustainability

Recently, ex-Islander Brett Staniland took a stand against Love Island and its policies, advocating against fast fashion and demanding that the show make a change. In February 2022, Brett co-led a protest outside of fashion brand Pretty Little Thing’s fashion show (a show synonymous with Love Island thanks to their Creative Director Molly Mae Hague and its partnerships with ex-Islanders), and demanded that the brand pay their workers equally and stop the cycle of fast fashion. Speaking to Grazia after the protest, Brett said: “I think people believe that you can only go on Love Island if you support these fast fashion brands – you don’t have to. I brought all of my own clothes into the villa and made a point about that.” In previous years, contestants on the show have been gifted hundreds of pounds worth of free PLT clothes and new wardrobes, inspiring millions of young viewers to do the same. Now, thanks to the show’s new commitment to encourage Islanders to rewear clothes and only wear second-hand, the idea of ‘wearing a dress once and once only around the firepit’ has been ditched, and young consumers will instead be shown the power of sustainable fashion.

PLT’s fashion show was attended by other famous ex-Islanders, including Tommy Fury (partner of Molly-Mae and runner of Love Island 2019), Maura Higgins and Ellie Brown – many of whom have had brand deals with Missguided and Boohoo. PLT already has a controversial history, with their 2020 Black Friday sale leading to severe backlash online (some items were being sold for as little as 10p). However, despite this, many young people were still desperate to make the most of these sales, driving the cycle on. Student news site The Tab attended the protest outside of PLT’s fashion show and spoke to fair fashion campaigner Venetia La Manna, who told them: “PLT is a highly exploitative brand that doesn’t pay its workers support unions and doesn’t care about the planet.” Whilst there’s always been smaller communities standing up against these brands, in recent years the fight back against fast fashion seems to have escalated. 

The power of Depop

One of the platforms that promotes sustainable fashion is Depop. At the end of 2021, it was reported that 6.2 million shoppers use the fashion marketplace, and an estimated 1 in 3 25-year-olds are registered to the site. Depop acts as a space for people to sell used or unwanted clothes, inspires fashion movements, provides a community for up and coming fashionistas and encourages entrepreneurship amongst young people. Kelliesha White, Brand Manager at Depop, spoke to us about why the past few years have had a significant impact on people’s approach to fashion, saying: “I think the last two years made people realise how much stuff they have and how much they consume. It also made people realise how dependent they are on the conventional working system. This encouraged people to want to change their habits and seek alternative ways to generate income. Depop is the perfect place for both of these realisations.” 

And it’s unsurprising that this platform (and this way of shopping) is so popular with Gen Z, with 97% of the generation admitting to changing their behaviour to protect the planet and 58% choosing to donate old clothes instead of throwing them away (Youth Trends Report 2020). Depop is all about embracing individuality and celebrating gender fluidity – 85% of Gen Z think being themselves is more important than fitting in – and this is arguably the opposite to sites such as PLT, Missguided and Boohoo, who are regularly criticised for their lack of diversity. 

Shein, influencers and Harry Styles

So this may all imply that fast fashion is on its way out, but that isn’t 100% the case. This style of shopping doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon, and thanks to micro-influencers filming clothing hauls on TikTok and sites like Shein still increasing in popularity, the demand is clearly still there. According to one source, China-based fashion site Shein adds 2,000 new items to the store every day, and thanks to their partnership with influencers across the world, there’s still massive interest in the brand, their products and their dupes (think bargain versions of Kim Kardashian’s Skims dresses). 

The financials back up Shein’s ever-increasing success rate – in 2021 the site generated $15.7 billion, which was a 60% increase on its 2020 figures. The app was also downloaded 157 million times in 2021, making it the second most downloaded shopping app of that year. And with a massive portion of Gen Zers valuing price over anything else, it’s no surprise that this is a popular choice. Depop’s Kellisha commented on this, saying: “Gen Z have been recorded to be the most sustainably savvy generation but their current income does not enable them to execute the desire to shop more sustainably.” Events appear to be a popular time for the brand, with many young consumers making purchases for one event and one event only (think back to PLT’s firepit appearances in Love Island), with recent examples being Harry Styles concerts and Parklife festival, both of which have strict ‘themes’ amongst fans and attendees.  Shein’s incredibly low prices are a huge pull – dresses can go for as little as £2.99. 

@elodie_frnds

Big big big summer haul Shein 🛍☀️ @SHEIN #haul #shein

♬ BORN FOR THIS – Foxxi

And micro-influencers certainly encourage engagement with the brands, with public figures such as @vickaboox and @elodie_frnds sharing their hauls for thousands of likes. We’ve spoken a lot on Voxburner about the power of influencers, and report in our upcoming UK Youth Trends 2022 report that 28% of Gen Z are likely buy something if it’s been promoted by an influencer with 10,000 followers. However, ‘sustainable influencers’ (such as @lopshopuk and @twinbrett) do appear to be stepping into the limelight more and more, showing their charity shop hauls and encouraging their viewers to shop in the same manner. Here’s hoping that the influencers produced by Love Island 2022 will be doing the same once they leave the show and use their enormous influence to encourage thousands of young people to reassess their relationship with fast fashion forever, and not just for the summer. 

What’s the future looking like for fast fashion?

So what do our experts think the future of fast fashion looks like and how can we make a difference? Depop’s Kelliesha says: “I think the interest and adoption of pre-loved fashion will continue to grow. As more companies enter this space it will become more and more relatable and accessible. Being realistic, fast fashion will always have a place in their world because it’s fuelled by the ever changing trends landscape but hopefully legislation will help to slow it down and force big brands to consumer people and the plant in their process.” Meanwhile, eBay’s Laura: “By joining forces with a cultural phenomenon, in our case Love Island, it allows you to have a direct say and lead the industry conversation while also inspiring consumers to think differently.   Whether that’s a wider behavioural switch of everyday habits or a one-off change, being able to influence change no matter how big or small can make a real difference.”

Ultimately, no one can predict what the next five years will hold and what the future will look like for fast fashion, and there’s clearly still a long way to go. However, the emerging sustainable influencers, the pushback against certain fashion brands and the brave moves of Love Island and eBay give us a glimmer of promise, and we certainly hope that we’re going in the right direction

You can hear more from Kelliesha and Laura at this year’s YMS22 LDN festival. Save your space at this iconic youth marketing event now.

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[Cover image 📸: @brettstanilad on Twitter]

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