It’s becoming increasingly well known that the fast fashion industry is a large source of pollution: every year over 80 billion pieces of clothing are produced worldwide and three out of four of these garments will end their lifespan in landfills or be incinerated. The remainder will be recycled. As well as generating high amounts of waste – criticism of fast fashion includes the use of toxic chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and the excessive water consumption needed to produce an item of clothing.

However, it appears that change is afoot, with many fast-fashion brands now making public moves to reduce their negative impact on the environment.

At their 2019 annual shareholders conference fashion giant Inditex (the holding group behind high street favourite Zara and other brands including Massimo Dutti, Pull & Bear and Bershka) announced their plans to transform the business into something more sustainable. Inditex pledged that by 2025, all of its eight brands will “…only use cotton, linen and polyester that’s organic, sustainable or recycled,” which make up 90% of the raw materials they use. They also detailed plans to transition to zero landfill waste and renewable power sources, aiming for them to make up 80% of the energy consumed at their offices, distribution centres and stores.

ASOS has also joined the sustainability conversation – having recently curated an ethical and sustainable collection called Responsible Edit. This new category available online features ethical products ranging from clothing to homewares, across a number of well-known brands. Pieces are made from recycled goods and sustainable fibres all produced with less water and waste.

This also comes as H&M group and Marks & Spencer have made information about their sustainability targets publicly available.

However, some premium brands like Stella McCartney have been flying the flag for more ethical practices for the best part of a decade. So what prompted the recent changes in fast fashion strategy?

The answer can be found in the next generation of shoppers. Gen Z’s passion for the environment is well documented, and it appears be influencing their approach to fashion. “A 2017 study from NDP Group found that Gen Z is willing to spend as much as 10 to 15 percent more on sustainably produced clothing. Meanwhile, a Nielsen study from 2015 found nearly three-quarters of 15- to 20-year-olds would pay more for a sustainable product, compared to just 51 percent of Baby Boomers.”

Gen Z also expect their brands to stand for something – for companies to create brand value by the functional, emotional and societal benefits they provide. 89% of Gen Z “would rather buy from a company supporting social and environmental issues over one that does not”. Although brands must be careful, when purpose is treated as a bolt-on, and this isn’t weaved fully into the business model it can easily sound inauthentic.

Brands would do well to remember that the spending power of Gen Z is in its infancy, and to build for long-term success. Considering Gen Z will be the world’s largest consumer group by 2020 it will become increasingly more important for brands to take a hard look on what they stand for, whether this is sustainability or otherwise. By connecting with this group, brands will see themselves in positive stead for the future.