If the headlines are to be believed, Generation Z (Gen Z) are progressive environmental activists who place sustainability above consumerism.
This can be seen in surveys: according to CNBC, more than half of Gen Z – or ‘Zoomers’ – were said to be looking for environmentally sustainable products. Meanwhile new Drapers research revealed more than three-quarters of Gen Z (and millennial) shoppers say that sustainability is important to them.
Given these are the customers of the future, businesses are taking steps to show that their brands closely align with these green values.
Given Oxfam research found that the carbon footprint of new clothes bought each month in the UK was greater than flying around the world 900 times, carbon-cutting initiatives like these should be welcomed with open arms.
The fast fashion industry – which goes out of its way to target younger shoppers – is estimated to produce 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2, a figure exceeding that of international flights and shipping combined.
But are Zoomers quite as progressive as they make out? The same CNBC survey that showed more than half of Gen Z customers were said to be looking for environmentally sustainable products, only 38% were willing to pay more for them.
There seems to be a disconnect between what consumers say they want, and what they are actually willing to buy. This isn’t just limited to demand for sustainable products either.
Following the Boohoo factory scandal in July last year – where warehouses were revealed to have poor health and safety records and workers were being paid below minimum wage – the company’s share price deservedly fell by over a third in the two days following the news.
Yet the backlash seemed short lived. Just a few months later, Boohoo reported a sales surge, with half-year revenue growth of almost 50% at the end of August. Clearly customers had no long-term hesitations about continuing to shop there. A Vogue Business report found that of 105 Gen Z participants surveyed, over half were said to buy ”most of their clothes” from Boohoo and other fast-fashion retailers.
While there may be an argument that younger consumers are out-priced by expensive sustainable fashion brands, this is not a strong one as the resources and technology are out there to help Gen Z in making informed decisions over choosing to shop at ethical brands over unethical ones.
The continued success of brands like Boohoo and Primark, which are known not to prioritise ethics or sustainability standards, shows that in reality many consumers are relatively apathetic when it comes to choosing to shop at more conscience-driven brands, and remain attracted to cheap and convenient fast fashion.
Primark has long remained a brand shrouded in controversy, claims in 2013 revealed they had Bangladeshi factory workers paid less than £24 a month – this came to light around the time a Primark factory was in such bad condition it collapsed, taking the lives of 1000 people.
Consumers are quick to call out corporations for their ethical and climate change policies (or lack of), claiming that they are not doing enough to help. Yet major businesses from Unilever to BlackRock are at least beginning to take strong stances on sustainability and ethics.
While this is undoubtedly motivated in part by what they believe will be best received by their customers, meaningful change is made harder by ‘woke’ consumers who demand one thing and do another. Time for Gen Z to put its money where its mouth is.