The Overconsumption Mindset

type - big idea
Big Idea
category - society
sector - media & technology
Dr Daniel Benkendorf, professor of psychology at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, considers why a growing number of eco-anxious consumers isn’t synonymous with a boom in the sustainable fashion market.

Nearly three in four adult Britons (74%) reported feeling very or somewhat worried about climate change in 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics. This means consumers are more aware of their impact on the environment and the challenges they will face shortly. To reduce their carbon footprint, some are turning to veganism, and plant-based food sales are expected to increase fivefold by 2030, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. They are also purchasing sustainable beauty and wellness products or turning to electric cars, sales of which  increased by 40% in 2022, according to Heycar. But some of these eco-anxious consumers aren’t investing in sustainable clothing, while other consumers don’t make all their purchases with climate change in mind.

‘There’s a bimodal effect happening,’ Dr Daniel Benkendorf tells LS:N Global. ‘The shift is in the right direction, and consumers are more aware than ever. But for the larger share of the worldwide population, even if they were interested in sustainability at some level, it isn’t at the top of the list. Fashion companies and individuals concerned about these issues struggle to break through the noise and make it a priority.’

A recent study by Pew Research Center confirms the professor’s claims, as the Americans surveyed ranked climate change 17th out of 21 national issues in January 2023. While most Americans view climate change as a significant threat and support the US becoming carbon-neutral by 2050, it is a lower priority than issues such as strengthening the economy and reducing healthcare costs.

To catch up with players in the sustainable food and beauty industry, conscious fashion brands must rethink their approach to branding to attract younger consumers with good storytelling while meeting a growing demand for resale and rental fashion.

Published by:

6 June 2023

Author: Dan Hastings-Narayanin, Emily Rhodes and Jasmin Krammer

Image: Not Wieden+Kennedy, UK


Dry Goods by Savanna Premium Cider and Wanda Lephoto, South Africa

A limited resale renaissance

Professor Benkendorf credits Millennials and Gen Z for growing awareness of sustainable fashion. ‘Exciting changes are happening, and I see it with my students,’ he says. ‘So many of them are no longer buying in traditional stores. They are going to second-hand shops or remaking and mending things.’ But sewing is less convenient and more time-consuming than visiting a fast fashion online store or a high street shop. Prices have also increased in some second-hand shops amid rising demand and inflation. In New York, Benkendorf has seen t-shirts from Madonna’s 1990s Blond Ambition World Tour retailing in a vintage shop for over £56 ($70, €64). In the US, where the average young adult is now overweight according to research by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, a lack of plus-size clothing also makes thrifting impossible for an entire generation.

The popularity of preloved fashion on social media and resale platforms like Depop and Vinted has also turned what was supposed to be a more sustainable way of shopping into an ersatz of fast fashion overconsumption. On TikTok, vintage 'haul' or 'unboxing' videos are some of the most popular formats for content-creators who buy large quantities of items to record enough content. ‘If we had to compare, would we prefer to have the haul from the second-hand store or the fashion retailer?’ wonders Dr Daniel Benkendorf. ‘I think it’s arguably better to do it at the thrift store.’

‘Gen Z are a generation of consumers who, more than any before, are concerned about authenticity and transparency and are not easily fooled. The greenwashing isn’t going to work.’

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