For years, the media has touted millennials as being the most conscious generation to date. The people born between the early 80s and the mid-90s grew up far more aware of man-made climate change, and they were exposed from an early age to information about the environment and each individual’s impact on it. And while there has been a lot of progress, we see that fast fashion, particularly from e-Commerce platforms, continues to thrive, even in the millennial market. There seems to be something of a disconnect between millennial principles and their shopping habits. So, what is happening, exactly?

Multinational professional services company Deloitte and data and marketing measuring firm Nielsen have found that millennial shoppers are more willing to spend extra on socially responsible brands. That goes from choosing produce grown sustainably to buying from clothing brands that make an extra effort when it comes to materials and practices. Gen Y tends to gravitate towards more conscious brands, and when it comes to fashion, also alternatives like thrifting or clothing rental. But the current offer from sustainable fashion doesn’t seem to be enough for them.

millenials feel about sustainability

Aarhus University researchers noticed the disconnect between millennial sustainability principles and their fast fashion consumption and interviewed consumers between the ages of 22 and 26, right on the divide between Gen Y and Gen Z. Through anonymous interviews, study participants were able to be more frank about their reasoning behind purchasing fast fashion. In all, findings pointed to two major upsides to fast fashion from the consumers’ point of view: the offering was more varied, and it was simply easier to purchase than its slow counterpart. Fast fashion sites provide a myriad of options for every clothing item (from colour to more sizes and fits), plus easy return policies and fast or free shipping. For many, it doesn’t feel like much of a choice, as one side is clearly offering more advantages.

There’s also, of course, the lower prices of fast fashion, which are more accessible to low-income consumers. Alternatives like thrifting can often have inflated prices, and consumers don’t necessarily feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, even if it is a more durable piece than its fast fashion equivalent.

As a plus, buying six fast fashion items for the price of one or two conscious ones is more psychologically satisfying, as Style Psychology founder Kate Nightingale points out. Her suggestion is finding new ways to market sustainability so that purchasing slow fashion caters to consumer desires in more ways than merely being a better option for the environment.

Research in other aspects has shown that millennials tend to go for the most sustainable choice in their everyday lives. Studies in Japan and the US show that Gen Y and Gen Z workers will even take a pay cut to work at consciously-minded companies instead of higher-paid jobs in places lacking strong corporate social responsibility practices. Of course, the preferred state is a high-paying job in a company that does its part in improving the world in one level or another, but at the end of the day, priorities will often lie with the person’s principles. Making a difference is important in this age group.

millenial-sustainabilityEnvironmental and social practices are an important factor for millennials choosing where to work, how to spend their time and which companies to give money to. When given truly comparable options, this generation will choose the more conscious one, even if it means sacrificing some level of comfort or paying a little extra. Incentives are always essential when it comes to marketing “new” options, and it’s clear that sustainable fashion needs to be more approachable and enticing to the general public, offering a truly equivalent experience to the psychological boost of purchasing several fast fashion items.