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. They now join other brands, such as H&M group and Marks & Spencer, in having information about their sustainability targets publicly available.

While premium brands like Stella McCartney have been flying the flag for more ethical practices for the best part of a decade, the transition of these attitudes onto the high street has been much slower. The industry accounts for a staggering 10% of global carbon emissions and remains the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil. So why the rush for fashion brands to join the conversation around sustainability?

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.”

There has been speculation recently about whether this claimed behaviour translates to where they’re actually spending their cash, neatly summed up by Missguided’s now infamous £1 bikini. Despite there being an almost immediate backlash on social media questioning the ethical and environmental implications of creating such a low-cost item, the Guardian reports that Missguided’s biggest concern was actually that “…the bikini was selling out in every size – from 4 to 24 – within 45 minutes after each restock.” This begs the question, is Gen Z’s approach to fast fashion all talk?

Brands would do well to remember that the spending power of Gen Z is just in its infancy, and to build for long-term success, they shouldn’t ignore the increased noise around the topic of fast fashion and its environmental consequence. Whilst it may not be an obligatory requirement for the industry currently, it will undoubtedly become the norm as more brands establish greater sustainability agendas.

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