Social impact

Sustainability, reselling, and second-hand shopping: Gen Z's biggest obsession

A person holding a sign saying 'Climate Justice Now!'
Written by
Izzy Hall
Published on
June 17, 2024
Last updated
June 17, 2024

What this article covers

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In 60 seconds…

  • 76% of Gen Z say they're willing to pay more for sustainable products, and 77% would be more inclined to buy from a brand that made more sustainable choices
  • Social media is the place Gen Z goes to to learn from other creators about how to be more sustainable
  • Gen Z is moving away from the fast fashion industry as a way to combat the climate crisis and rising cost-of-living crisis

What Gen Z says goes, and Gen Z sustainability is on the rise. Whether it be straying away from online shopping and visiting  brick-and-mortar stores or choosing to spend more money for better quality, there's one trend that’s been steadily gaining momentum amongst Gen Z: the importance of sustainability.

With the rising cost-of-living crisis combined with an increased awareness regarding the climate crisis, it seems as if Gen Z has moved away from the fast fashion industry, and has started to buy second hand fashion. Second-hand online shops such as Depop and Poshmark are on the rise, while brands like Shein and Pretty Little Thing just aren’t as popular amongst Gen Zers as they used to be. 

But why and how did this happen? Why does Gen Z move in such a hivemind? Where do they get their information? This blog will cover all the answers you’ll need to know about Gen Z and their attitude towards sustainability and secondhand fashion, plus lots of lovely actionable takeaways. 

Why is sustainability important for Gen Z?

Gen Zers were born during an uncertain time. The climate crisis, along with the cost-of-living crisis, created unstable attitudes towards their future. How can one afford to buy a house when the world may become unlivable in their lifetime, or if they can never afford it?! 

Unlike previous generations, Gen Z isn’t just concerned with eco-friendly practices but sees them as essential to their identity and values. They’re first-hand witnesses to environmental degradation and grew up in an age where everything is accessible online. The two paired together created a necessary need to care more about the planet - some may argue they’re even cleaning up after previous generations.

Being 'chronically online', Gen Z are well informed about the environmental impact of their choices. This connectivity empowers them to hold brands more accountable, with 83% of Gen Z saying they want brands to have a stance on social issues. On top of that, 77% said they would be more inclined to buy from a brand that made sustainable choices (Pion 2023 Youth Trends Report)

The facts are there: Gen Z cares about the environment because they have to. And with the emergence of TikTok, they can’t not care when every other post on their For You Page is about the dangers of the climate crisis.

Sustainability is not a mere trend, but a fundamental aspect of their worldview.*

How is Gen Z engaging with sustainability?

One of the most notable aspects of Gen Z's engagement with sustainability is their use of social media platforms, most notably TikTok. Other platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram are also powerful tools for raising awareness surrounding sustainability and the fast fashion discourse.

Nowadays, you can look up ‘sustainability tips’ on TikTok and get hundreds of videos on the topic.

This shift is evident in the booming popularity of resale platforms and thrift stores among young consumers. As discussed in Pion’s 2023 Youth Trends Report, Gen Z’s attitude towards thrifting has changed significantly.

In the past, thrifting has been a point of controversy. Now, Gen Z has embraced all that is second-hand. Second-hand fashion websites like Depop and Poshmark thrive because they align with Gen Z's preference for second-hand and vintage clothing​, while still being trendy and cute. 

Social media platforms serve as powerful venues for calling out greenwashing and demanding real, measurable change. Through online campaigns and influencer collaborations, Gen Z amplifies their expectations for sustainability, pushing brands to be more transparent and responsible​. Brands like Patagonia and North Face have amassed a cult Gen Z following due to their sustainability practices and motives without greenwashing - another important aspect of environmental awareness. 

What marketers can learn from Gen Z’s relationship with sustainability

Understanding and engaging withGen Z’s values can help brands build stronger connections and foster long-term loyalty. Here are three takeaways we can learn from Gen Z and their relationship with sustainability:

1. Authenticity and transparency are crucial

Gen Z consumers have a keen eye for authenticity and are highly skeptical of superficial greenwashing, especially in terms of marketing. Brands that transparently communicate their sustainability efforts and challenges are more likely to earn their trust. For example, Patagonia's open discussion about its environmental impact and continuous efforts to improve resonate well with Gen Z’s demand for honesty.

2. Leverage digital and social media engagement

As digital natives, Gen Z spends significant time on social media platforms, which they use both to consume and share information about sustainability. Brands can engage this audience by creating shareable content highlighting their sustainability initiatives and partnering with eco-conscious influencers. 

For example, the success of campaigns like #zerowasteliving on TikTok shows how brands can use social media to amplify their sustainability messaging and engage Gen Z in meaningful ways​.

3. Focus on value over price

While cost is a significant factor, Gen Z is willing to invest in products that align with their values of sustainability and quality. They prefer durable, multi-purpose items over cheap, disposable ones. Brands like Allbirds and Everlane have capitalized on this by offering high-quality, sustainable products at a reasonable price point, promoting them as long-term investments rather than quick buys​.

In essence, Gen Z’s passion for sustainability is more than a trend—it's a defining characteristic of their identity and a driver of their consumer behavior. By aligning with their values, brands can not only meet the demands of this generation but also contribute positively to the broader global challenge of achieving a sustainable future.

* But, it's worth noting that this is easier said than done - after all, a sustainable choice is often a more expensive choice, and at the moment, not everyone has that luxury.

Like what you’ve read? Subscribe to our weekly briefing for Gen Z news and trends, delivered directly to your inbox every week. 

Written by Scout Weeks

Scout is a born and raised Texan studying communications and media along with digital studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Post graduation, she hopes to work in content and communication strategy for a travel company abroad, a la Emily in Paris. In her free time, she enjoys hanging with her best friends (which happen to be 4 cats), going on walks, and dissecting her Spotify Daylist.

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