Millennials have been a large driving force for changes in the fashion sphere, with youthful trends such as designer loungewear and large printed logos becoming more prolific. Additionally, the largest growth in eco-friendly investments and consumption has stemmed from millennials. An article from the Environmental Leader states that millennials are twice as likely than the average person to invest in companies with an environmental focus. A Neilson study has found that almost 75 per cent of American millennials have changed their food consumption habits to support more sustainable practices. In Australia, such changes have helped to reduce the amount of plastic packing in stores and have led to the growth of farmers markets and smaller fresh produce stores.
Interestingly in terms of fashion, almost 60 per cent of millennials have stated that they are interested in certified sustainable clothing, with up to 69 per cent stating that they will check whether a clothing brand is sustainable before purchasing according to the Oeko-Tex Association. However, shopping centres and online shopping platforms are still rapidly selling extremely harmful, low-cost fast-fashion. So, are millennials putting their money where their mouth is?
A recent study by the Business of Fashion has found that only 37 per cent of millennials who say they purchase sustainable fashion actually do, whilst only 34 per cent of millennial consumers intentionally purchase fashion products because of their sustainability. The evidence shows that consumers do care about the sustainability of their purchases. However, the purchasing records indicate a clear gap.
There seem to be two major reasons for this: firstly, misleading and unclear advertising and secondly, the availability of sustainable clothes for purchase. Most young consumers are looking for affordability when making purchases due to a lower disposable income than the rest of the population. In the current market, the cheapest clothing comes in the form of mass-produced fast-fashion that allows you to purchase most items for less than a $10 note.
Online platforms such as Amazon and Wish have allowed poor quality and highly polluting companies to sell items that rapidly undercut any form of sustainable fashion. To produce something that is environmentally sustainable, it costs significantly more than regular clothing. On The Iconic the cheapest pair of jeans that are defined as environmentally friendly and made from sustainable materials cost approximately $120, compared to approximately $12 for a regular pair. The price difference is astronomical, which makes it extremely difficult for young people to afford sustainable clothing items.
On the contrary, another key reason for the gap between words and actions is misleading advertising. Many companies promote products as ‘conscious’ and ‘sustainable’. However, there are currently no universal standards that verify the use of these words in advertising. This means that many products promoted to consumers as environmentally friendly are just as damaging as their mass-produced, fast-fashion counterparts. This means that many consumers think they are doing the right thing, however, due to a lack of accurate information fall flat on purchasing sustainably.
Overall, whilst millennials could be dubbed one of the most eco-conscious generations, we are still falling flat in the realm of fashion. Potentially a solution to avoid that gap between words and actions is to create a universal standard for marketing eco-products, like health stars but for clothing products. Additionally, new technologies and resources that can help reduce the price of eco-fashion to make it more affordable would drastically improve the realm of eco-fashion and individuals ability to purchase ‘greener’ products. Despite millennials driving the sustainable consumption movement forward, there is still a long way to go for both fashion companies and individuals if eco-fashion is going to become a part of mainstream society.