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Millennials, Gen Z unaware of price paid for cheap ‘fast fashion’: B.C. prof

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KPU Surrey researcher says education needed about the waste and pollution tied to industry practices

A B.C. psychology instructor says younger consumers don’t understand the negative effects of “fast fashion” and need more education in order to better shape their shopping choices.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University Surrey’s Dr. Yunzhijun Yu found that Millennial and Gen Z shoppers lack awareness of the environmental and social harm of “replicating recent catwalk trends and high-fashion designs, mass-producing them at a low cost, and bringing them to retail quickly while demand is at its highest.”

A published research article, co-authored by Yu and colleagues Claudia L. Gomez-Borquez and Judith Lynne Zaichkowsky, says the “fast fashion” produces more than it can sell and emits as much greenhouse gases as France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.

“Fast fashion is so cheap, sometimes a new T-shirt is cheaper than the price of a cup of coffee,” noted Yu, who holds a doctorate in marketing and studies consumer behaviour.

“It’s so easy to say I’m going to buy it, without realizing the cumulative effect of buying all of these things.

“There’s no simple solution,” Yu added, “but from the evidence we have collected we can see there is indeed a shift in intention, even though it’s not enough to change their behaviour. We think that educating consumers about fast fashion is definitely on the right track.”

The research is published in the Journal of Sustainable Marketing, as “Mitigating Trendy Cheap Fast Fashion’s Negative Impact,” found on luminousinsights.net.

Young adults are a magnet for fast-fashion retailers, given tight budgets and susceptibility to compulsive buying behaviour. But that comes at a cost, according to Yu, who says the textile-dyeing industry is the second largest polluter of the world’s clean water and creates millions of tons of waste each year.

Researchers asked 104 undergraduate students questions to assess attitude, behaviour and knowledge of fast fashion, and later repeated the study with a different set of students. Investigating if consumption habits might be changed through education, researchers also engaged with a class of 30 students enrolled in a consumer behaviour course.

They found Gen Z and Millennial students care about sustainability, but lack awareness of the environmental and social impacts of fast fashion. They also found some indication that education might shift young consumers’ purchases from quantity to quality, but concluded that may be “a slow, difficult task.”

The research evidence suggests there is a tendency for young consumers to put limited thought into what they’re buying when it comes to fast fashion. Lured not only by budget-friendly prices, young consumers are also drawn to fast fashion’s ability to help establish their identity and sense of self, the researchers suggest.

For a third study, they collected data from the second-hand clothing market, finding little demand for reselling used fast fashion due to its initial low price. Thrift stores do offer consumers a chance to buy low-cost unique items and save them from the landfill, but some buyers simply use these outlets to find garments to resell at a higher price elsewhere.

“Disappointingly we found that fast fashion is just so cheap, it’s not even attractive for people to think about bringing fast fashion clothing to second-hand markets,” Yu said in a KPU news release. “It’s very concerning that the fast fashion industry is so different from traditional clothing.”

Instead of getting a new life in thrift stores, fast fashion often ends up in the garbage or sent to developing countries where they have a detrimental effect on local clothing industries.

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