Eco-Conscious Young Consumer’s Shaking Fashion Retail

October 4, 2019


Washington Post:

Annmarie Eovaldi used to hit Forever 21 just about every week. It was the perfect place, she said, to pick up an $18 romper or orange high heels — the fashion equivalent of a cheap thrill.

But a couple of years ago, around the time she turned 21, Eovaldi says she started to consider the environmental implications of cycling through low-quality pieces in the name of fashion.


“When I bought something, it would only last two or three wears before the color faded or the seams fell apart or the zipper broke,” said Eovaldi, a college student in Rochester, Mich. “That’s the trade-off you make when you shop at Forever 21: cheap prices but a huge amount of waste.”

Now she shops elsewhere, dropping away from the fast-fashion frenzy that has dominated much of retail for the past 20 years and given rise to such teen and young adult favorites as Forever 21, H&M and Zara.

But when Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy this week and announced it would close 350 stores worldwide, it became latest retail casualty of changing consumer habits. There were a number of reasons for its decline — including an overreliance on mall stores and its failure to invest online — but analysts say its troubles also signal a shift in consumers’ thinking about what essentially is disposable clothing.

“We’re approaching a tipping point in fast fashion,” said Alexandra Sargent Capps, who teaches a course on fashion sustainability at Vanderbilt University. “Forever 21 was one of the original sinners of fast fashion — it helped invent the model and pushed it onto young people. Now its bankruptcy is part of a bigger movement to turn that around.”

The environmental effects of fast fashion are well-documented: The apparel industry is a major source of water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. In 2015, Americans threw out nearly 12 million tons of clothing and shoes, three times as much as they did in 1990, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The vast majority of those items — 69 percent — ended up in landfills.

There is also a human toll: Such retailers tend to rely on low-wage workers in countries like China and Bangladesh, where they have few protections.

Today’s consumers are looking for ways to reduce the cycle of waste, Capps said. As a result they are more open to buying used and vintage clothing, fueling the growth of resale sites like ThredUp, Poshmark and the RealReal. A number of major chains, including American Eagle Outfitters and Ann Taylor, have introduced rental plans that allow shoppers to borrow what they need for a flat monthly rate. And newer retailers like Reformation, Allbirds, Everlane and Rothy’s have built their brands around promises of transparent sourcing and responsible labor practices.

“Young people are becoming much more environmentally conscious,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a New York-based market research firm. “They’ve shifted their mentality and are saying, ‘We don’t have to be gluttonous about fashion anymore.’ “

8 Responses to “Eco-Conscious Young Consumer’s Shaking Fashion Retail”

  1. jimbills Says:

    Fashion, virtually by definition, lasts only a few years, to be replaced by the next fashion. Most to all clothing is currently made cheaply in developing countries so that corporations can increase their profits, plus the shoddiness of that craftsmanship bolsters a system of planned obsolescence. Shoppers impulse buy to satisfy primal urges.

    Unless all the of the above are magically fixed, then we’re not at a tipping point regarding consumer frugality towards clothing.

    There are many millennials that are looking to different ways to get their clothes, like second hand shops, but millennials are cutting back in every category due to economic pressures:

    Environmentally, that’s good in its way, as it means less overall waste, but if millennials had tons of disposable income, would we see these trends?

    Is it a tipping point due to environmental awareness or a temporary market reality due to financial stress?

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I don’t follow fashion, but when I see a number of people in public wearing non-flattering (e.g. long knit skirts), uncomfortable (pointy-toed shoes) or pre-damaged clothes (holey jeans), I figure it must be fashionable. They’re signally their vulnerability to the fashion industry.

      An emotionally healthy person can wear anything and still impress society at large with their tribal status.

  2. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    I am not guilty of fashion pollution, just ask my darling wife.
    In the past, rags had a value and could be collected. Apparently not anymore, hence the massive waste and extra landfill. A reduction in fashion purchases will help but am skeptical. Maybe pay all those exploited women and girls in Bangladesh not to make clothes, wouldn’t cost much. wtf!

    • grindupbaker Says:

      OK, now it’s my chance to ear-fuck you holier than thoughs with my true anecdote of the Dover shirt that young guys at work are thoroughly sick of. 1984 during elevator contract completion acceptances at Bankers Hall, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, I started to lean over a sheave with greasy ropes on it to tach speed and the adjuster said “wait, your white shirt, grab a rag from the bin” and the rag was an old shirt. I just switched shirts instead. About to switch back I noticed it fit me tailored/tapered and found it was slightly better condition than my shirt so I tossed my shirt in the rag bin as trade. I’ve worn it to client meetings sometimes and it’s in my closet after 35 years. My grocery bike Specialized plimsoles here were a Birthday present from the missus and I’ve been divorced 25 years.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        This comment rates a “thumbuppy”. I can’t top it but can join in by saying that I haven’t bought a golf-shirt, t-shirt, or sweat shirt in many years (those are my favored items of clothing depending on the season). My wardrobe is replenished by gifts from family—-college stuff, shirts from companies they work for, shirts from Yellowstone, Grand Tetons,and other places they visit.

        I keep them until they start to look like swill cheese—-frayed collars and cuffs just make them more comfortable. My oldest is a golf shirt from the last school I worked at—-it’s 30 years old, purple, and emblazoned with the school’s name—expect it to last a few more years. The oldest thing in my wardrobe is a coaches jacket from the mid-70’s—-wind and waterproof, great for shoveling snow, and ugly as sin (purple and gold in color a la LA Lakers).

        “Fashion” and its associated “waste”is just more evidence of mankind’s unsuitability for survival on the planet—-will we ever learn?

        PS Had to go out yesterday and buy a new set of hair clippers, my third set since deciding ~1970 that barbers were charging too much for my crew cuts. Glad to report that Wahl is still making good ones at a reasonable price.

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        Have checked my wardrobe, didn’t take long. Clothes with labels in both French and English. Purchase date unknown, left Canada in 1982. Nah de Nah.

  3. grindupbaker Says:

    I’ve made a conscious decision over the last 55 years to reduce my former fashionable garbage to somethings less formal, and the ONLY reasons are that I want to save the planet and get that oh-so-elusive thumbuppy from the dumboldguy.

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