Break the Cycle – Gen Z Reject Greenwashing


Gen Z says NO to Greenwashing and GO to transparent, authentic, and meaningful brand communications. BA (Hons) Fashion Communication student, Alice Morey unpicks generation Z’s rejection of greenwashing in place of sustainable fashion practices. 


Greenwashing was a trend and strategy which has run its course and Gen Z is here to make sure of it. As a student and a member of Generation Z, a constant stream of imagery and information about the degradation of the planet and the vast contribution to this made by the fashion industry is undeniable. A shift in my consumer attitude is one I feel needs to be mimicked by the actions of the brands.  


What is Greenwashing? 


Greenwashing is defined in The Sustainable Fashion Glossary as “a corporate marketing strategy that takes advantage of the increased public interest in environmental issues to make false or misleading claims about a company’s environmental practices and products. To create a favourable company image, positive messages are communicated selectively, without the full disclosure of related issue”. Think natural images and literal ‘green’ coloured washing of a website, acting as veil and deceiving mist; covering up empty pledges and promises of a brands seemingly meaningful efforts of being sustainable.    

“a corporate marketing strategy that takes advantage of the increased public interest in environmental issues to make false or misleading claims about a company’s environmental practices and products.” 


When conducting primary research into the consumer behaviour and attitudes towards sustainability of 60, 18-21 year-olds, results reveal that 52% say sustainability is a conscious factor in deciding what garment to buy and a further 35% said ‘sometimes’ depending on the product being shopped. This extends to brand affiliation where 83% noted they would not shop with a brand where they disagreed with their ethos. Demonstrating the idea that Gen Z consumers view their shopping choices as an extension of their own value set. Results echoed by a Green Match survey (a company specialising in transitioning to sustainable sources of energy) revealed that 72% of Generation Z are more likely to spend money if the product is sustainable in a move away from millennial counterparts whose shopping patterns have a higher focus on brand loyalty.


But why Gen Z?


Generation Z are the first truly digital native generation, living through an epochal time period, a transition generation not aware of life pre-technological enhancement. This generation are positively or negatively ‘woke’ to the world around them. As a generation they are aware that their choices have consequences and if you buy a top for £2.00 then there has to be a reason and someone in the supply chain is losing out.  

Dion Chang, trend analyst and founder of Flux Trends, speaking to the Guardian, notes that “generation Z are hyper aware of social injustices. They are the post-9/11, post-Great Recession generation and they don’t want to make the same mistakes as their parents. I call them the self-correcting generation.”


Generation Z are defining themselves as the generation with a cause – spearheading campaigns with revolutionary ideals and decisive actions against climate change, seeking a circular fashion system to do the same. Just one year ago banners and signs covered the streets of major cities around the world plastered with buzz phrases such as ‘The climate can change, why can’t you?’ directing the government to take direct and affirmative legal action. 10,000 strong across 60 different UK cities a protest against climate change occurred. The campaign was ordered, structured with a message articulated through their words, with an intrinsic passion and a desire to cause a radical shift. This, however, was not a well-rehearsed mobilised mob from Extinction Rebellion, this was a gaggle of schoolchildren taking a stance against climate change and the world they are set to inherit from their parents.


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With a purchasing power predicted to reach £35.3 billion and being the biggest consumers of fashion by the end of 2020 (estimation made pre COVID-19 pandemic), brands are being called to action and need to respond. In order to satisfy the needs of a hyper-cognitive generation linking the physical and digital retail experience in phygital form, with clear motivation, with an inner-directed self-image with a desire to help the community as a whole.


With Gen Z icon and muse Billie Ellish providing fashion inspiration with her unisex gender oversized wear this is highlighting the importance of dressing for you, individuality and representing the style of a generation. 


Nike tops the bill as the most popular brand to be shopped by Gen Z in 2020, aiding the sports athleisure craze nod to street style. The athleisure market was valued at $155.2 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $257.1 billion by 2026 (shown by an allied marketing report). Nike tapped into the need for a style with a conscience. One example of this is the collection with the “Space Hippie” trainer, which utilised scraps found on the floors of Nike factories in order to fit the needs of their new primary consumer.


Resale & Vintage


A surge of sales come from second hand and vintage shopping, seen by market dominator Depop. Where 90% of Depop’s active users are under the age of 26, and in the UK alone one-third of all 16 to 24-year-olds are registered on Depop. A company structure that challenges the throw-away fashion model and allows for good modification and re-purposing to create a circular fashion economy. Whilst encouraging the entrepreneurial and independent savvy mind of the Gen Z seller and shopper.


Clarity in brand messaging and communications is important. With an honest frank discussion about what the brand is doing and how they can make improvements. It is unrealistic for a fashion brand to be 100% sustainable but recognising the challenges, presents the brands as human and helps the consumer to identify with them. American sustainable brand, Reformation achieved this well through their quarterly sustainable report, which promotes the positive and negatives of brand activity. The advantage of this being that they are ahead of negativity and promote total brand transparency.


The end of greenwashing? 


With the value of clothing altered during the coronavirus pandemic, functionality has been prioritised over the aesthetic form. Retailers are scrambling to remain relevant and not oblivious to the new climate they are now operating in. Generation Z are in a position to apply pressure and encourage positive brand communications and demand an end to greenwashing. Rather the proactive promotion of brand actions to change the way the fast fashion cycle operates.


By Alice Morey, BA (Hons) Fashion Communication

The Sustainable Fashion Glossary workshop