Why Gen Z are switching from fast-fashion to sustainable goods

Brands need to make sustainability a top priority to connect with a Gen Z audience

Alex Gallagher

Chief Strategy Officer UNiDAYS


For some time now ultra-fast fashion has been dominating the clothing industry. Affordable and convenient, and reflecting the latest season’s styles and trends, shoppers are finding it hard to resist. 

Indeed, brands like Shein are accelerating their clothes output to get ahead of the competition, adding almost 315,000 styles to its website this year alone. In doing so, they have become one of the biggest retailers in the world, now valued at over $100 billion

However, while fast fashion has its fans, there is one key demographic that is challenging the trend. Environmentally conscious Gen Z - those born between 1996 and 2012 - are spearheading the move away from fast fashion, instead opting for sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives. 

In fact, a study informed by insight from UNiDAYS’ panel of 20m+ verified student members shows that sustainable fashion is important to 79% of Gen Z, and two thirds (68%) want clothes manufactured to the highest ethical standards. But why should brands care? 

Gen Z are regarded as the “apex” consumer, informing and shaping the fashion trends of tomorrow.  Studies have found that62% of Gen Zs would prefer to buy from sustainable brands.

Gen Z are the most hyper-informed, hyper-connected and demanding consumers in history

Alex Gallagher, Chief Strategy Officer at UNiDAYS

With an estimated direct annual global spending power of $2 billion, brands must ensure they are listening to these influential consumers or risk being left behind. 

Understanding Gen Z’s preference for sustainability

Gen Z are the most hyper-informed, hyper-connected and demanding consumers in history. 

With discourse around the impact of climate change on their futures growing louder, they are extremely conscious of environmental issues and how their purchasing decisions can impact this.

A study by World Economic Forum found that Gen Z cares about sustainability more than any other generation, and they expect brands to show responsibility and accountability by cleaning up their emissions and exploitation records.

While fast fashion does serve their obsession for the latest, trendy items, platforms like Depop allow Gen Z to access stylish resale bargains that do not cost the world. Nearly 40% of Gen Z surveyed by UNiDAYS said they would buy more used or "pre-loved” items because it’s more sustainable.

Half-hearted, shallow attempts at “green-washing” will be spotted by Gen Z who are switched on when it comes to the authenticity of the brands they interact with and are loyal to

Alex Gallagher, Chief Strategy Officer at UNiDAYS

As the first digital-native generation who live and breathe social media, their opinion matters. Half-hearted, shallow attempts at “green-washing” will be spotted by Gen Z who are switched on when it comes to the authenticity of the brands they interact with and are loyal to.

Gen Z’s digital and physical life are one in the same, which means their social media posts will continue to elevate those brands that champion change and shame those that don’t.

Focusing investment on efforts to be more sustainable will be crucial to attracting Gen Z consumers in the future. But while this is an important consideration, eco-friendly appeal must be combined with other important factors to garner Gen Z buy-in, including affordability. 

What’s the price they are willing to pay?

Fast fashion is affordable, which is part of its main appeal for consumers. However, whilst Gen Z care about the price of fast fashion on the environment, they also care, crucially, about the cost to them. 

With fast internet access, Gen Z are price-savvy and always on the look-out for deals and offers from brands. Almost all respondents (95%) polled by UNiDAYS in its 2021 Fashion Report said they always keep an eye out for a bargain, whilst 92% said they regularly use discount codes. A survey of Gen Z consumers found that 80% believe price is the most critical factor when making a purchase.  

For brands, it’s all about striking the balance and combining sustainability efforts with the right price point. As such, brands must factor discounts into their marketing and business strategies when heading into key retail periods such as summer sales and the lead-up to Freshers Week. 

Offering seasonal deals and added-value options such as a repair services for worn clothes, lifetime guarantees, and an unlimited returns policy, will also prove popular with this audience.

We’ve seen first-hand from working with hundreds of global fashion brands how Gen Z respond positively to exclusive student offers, personalised to their tastes. Brands must factor ongoing discounts tailored to students into long-term strategies if they wish to connect all year-round.

Building long term consumer loyalty 

The power of Gen Z consumers cannot be underestimated. Their unwavering style, ethics and thrift make them the ultimate Apex Consumer. Brands must take their preferences into account. 

Even if they are not your core consumer now, they soon will be. Making small changes that demonstrate integrity and understanding will go a long way in connecting with these consumers and delivering sales and performance. 

By taking these steps now, brands can build toward future success. 

Guest Author

Alex Gallagher

Chief Strategy Officer UNiDAYS


Alex Gallagher, Chief Strategy Officer of UNiDAYS, is a pioneering marketing leader whose creativity and insight puts the world’s biggest beauty, fashion, tech and wellness brands onto the radar of the elusive Gen Z population. A marketing and fintech specialist, he now leads the UNiDAYS Strategy, Product, Data & Insights teams, as well as being accountable for global company performance. Alex delivers tangible business value by delivering sales growth for partner brands leveraging bespoke creative data-driven campaigns, personalised UX and ecommerce strategies. UNiDAYS is the leading Student Affinity Network with a verified global audience of 22M in 115 markets. Alex joined UNiDAYS in 2016 and since 2018 their members have spent more than $5BN through the network. Alex is passionate about creating a people-first culture, he is a seasoned business leader with outstanding digital, brand-building, analytical marketing skills, who brings a proven track record of success within disruptive international B2B & B2C businesses. He nurtures and mentors talent wherever possible to create a best-in-class working environment internally and externally.

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Sustainability Gen Z