Gen Z, Fashion, and Sustainability: Co-Creating the Future of Sustainable Fashion, Catrina Reingold

It is largely understood that the fashion industry is environmentally, economically, and socially toxic. Social justice and environmental sustainability are evolving concerns for the American Gen Z cohort today and for the future. Gen Z is increasingly using their technology enabled relationship with fashion brands to influence corporate behavior, especially for the issues they feel passionate about. The Gen Z cohort is re-shaping the fashion landscape and the greater culture through activism, vocalization, and purchasing power. Previous research focused on the Gen Z cohort has examined their purchasing power, their consumption habits, and their connection to video-based platforms like TikTok and Instagram Stories, among other topics. Research, however, has not asked how the unique characteristics and interests of the Gen Z cohort might be leveraged to push sustainability and social impact efforts forward within the fashion industry. Through investigation of fashion brand communication about sustainability and social impact issues and an exploratory Gen Z consumer survey, this paper explores Gen Z’s relationship to fashion brands, their understanding of fashion sustainability topics, and their preferred channels of interaction in order to explore how brands and Gen Z consumers might work together to drive more sustainable outcomes for the fashion industry. This research shows that Gen Z is trusting, engaged, and interested in communicating with fashion brands independent of the depth of their understanding of sustainability and social impact issues. These findings illustrate a difficult balance for fashion brands to strike: while Gen Z are willing to engage and largely trust fashion brands’ sustainability and impact claims without verification, they also use their digital savviness to take down those they feel have breached their trust.

Keywords: Gen Z, Sustainable Fashion, Co-creation, Marketing, Consumer Engagement

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