If the last year or so has taught us anything about Generation Z – the age group born post-1996 – it’s that they’re environmentally woke. While millennials’ memories of adolescence might consist of MySpace and MSN, for today’s teens and early twentysomethings, school strikes and climate marches to protest the state of the Earth they’re set to inherit are just another Friday. Then there’s 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, an emblem of Gen Z climate-consciousness, who in the past month has dominated headlines for her carbon-neutral yacht expedition across the Atlantic to speak at the UN’s climate conference. Millennials may have been the first group to grow up with an awareness of the climate crisis but it’s their successors who are collectively taking action.
And yet when it comes to fashion – one of the most polluting industries on the planet – Gen Z presents something of a paradox. As the first cohort of digital natives, their coming-of-age has coincided with the height of social media and, subsequently, the advent of ultra-fast fashion brands that target young people online with enticing discounts and influencer partnerships. If sales are anything to go by, the strategy works: Boohoo PLC (which owns Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing and Nasty Gal among others) is expected to hit £1.9 billion in revenue by the end of this year. Environmentally engaged yet seduced by what’s new and ‘now’, it’s tricky to tell whether fashion in the hands of the youngest generation is moving towards a more sustainable model – or bound to be faster than ever.