Millennials and gen Zers are craving an antidote to excess consumer culture amidst product fatigue and environmental concerns.
A more conscious attitude to consumption, rising awareness of sustainability issues, and a sense of fatigue at influencers constantly pushing products are all contributing to an emerging anti-excess movement in fashion and beauty.
A cohort of YouTubers are actively moving away from plugging endless launches and PR hauls on their channels, Dazed reported in October 2019. One who took a radical stance is Samantha Ravndahl, a make-up artist and YouTuber who announced last year that she’d asked beauty companies to stop sending her PR packages.
“Every time a new product was sent to me, I’d look at it and think, ‘Well, it’s here, it’s new, I might as well review it’,” Ravndahl told The Cut. “That was not the kind of content I would want to watch. More importantly, I wouldn’t want to be told to buy something new when just last week, I’d been told to buy something else that was really similar. That’s not realistic, and that’s not how people buy makeup…It was clogging my ability create.”
Ravndahl added that environmental concerns had come into play for her, too. “I live in a household of eight people, and the waste that I alone created was more than the others combined,” Ravndahl said. Updating her followers on her stance, Ravndahl said in February 2019 that “I actually find it easier to be more creative with my content now…now that I don’t have a ton of products to talk about every single week that are new, [I’m asking] what do I care about? I feel that’s led to my videos being a lot more educational…and a lot more creative with…trying to talk about the product in different ways.”
And among everyday avid make-up consumers, the sub-Reddit r/MakeupRehab supports those looking to reduce their make-up consumption and rate of new purchases. The thread’s founders describe it as “a place for those who are on a no-buy, low-buy [plan], or just want to talk make-up and beauty without being bombarded with sales, hauls, and other tempting posts.”
This anti-excess movement in beauty is also illustrated by the growing trend that sees Japanese millennials buying second-hand make-up. The Business of Fashion reported in August 2019 that Japanese millennials low on disposable income are buying used make-up products by brands from RMS to Chanel, primarily through the peer-to-peer marketplace Mercari. “We can’t afford expensive make-up products, but we still want them because we somehow think they will brighten up our routine lives,” said one of the Japanese consumers in the BOF story.
This turning away from excessive consumption also chimes with consumers becoming more skeptical of influencers’ product recommendations. The Drum reported in May 2019 that only 4% of global internet users believe what influencers say online. And according to analytics company InfuencerDB, engagement rates for Instagrammers’ sponsored posts fell to 2.4% in Q1 2019, from 4% three years earlier, while engagement with non-sponsored posts fell to 1.9% from 4.5% during the same period. Reporting on the data in July 2019, Mobile Marketer mused that “the sheer number of sponsored posts may be decreasing their overall engagement effectiveness.”
Anti-excess is infiltrating fashion too, as consumers are faced with the evidence of the waste created by the industry. A 2019 report by the European Parliamentary Research Service found that “the amount of clothes bought in the EU per person has increased by 40% in just a few decades, driven by a fall in prices and the increased speed with which fashion is delivered to consumers,” with the report adding that “clothing accounts for between 2% and 10% of the environmental impact of EU consumption.” The report pointed out that the average number of collections released by European apparel companies per year has gone from two in 2000 to five in 2011. “This has led to consumers to see cheap clothing items increasingly as perishable goods that are ‘nearly disposable’, and that are thrown away after wearing them only seven or eight times.”
Amid the growing awareness of the cost of this consumption to the environment, consumers are pushing back, and brands are responding, too.
Edited, a company that uses AI to map the retail market, reported last year that the second-hand clothing market is set to become bigger than the luxury market by 2022. And comparing Q3 2018 to Q3 2015, Edited found that there had been a 429% rise in brands describing products as “sustainable or sustainably sourced.”
Even high-end department stores, those temples of consumerism, are embracing pre-loved fashion. Selfridges in London opened a pop-up concession for Depop, the peer-to-peer second-hand marketplace, for three months from August until the end of October. And last week, Selfridges opened a permanent space for Vestiaire Collective, the luxury clothing resale platform.
Ahead of the launch, Vestiaire released a survey with Boston Consulting Group, which forecast that second-hand luxury sales are “predicted to grow at an average [rate of] 12% year-on-year, compared to a 3% average for the core luxury market,” the company said. “Millennials and Gen Z are disrupting the market and placing greater importance on the social and environmental impact of their purchases than previous generations,” Vestiare added. “Over 70% are trying to shop ethically and 13% [say] that sustainability is extremely important to them. Of those that shop ethically, 57% say that environmental impact is their primary concern.”
Orsola de Castro, the co-founder and creative director of Fashion Revolution, the British non-profit that campaigns for global supply chain transparency and responsibility, believes that the anti-excess mood in fashion is “a natural progression.” “Fashion is insanely cyclical. So it always goes against its own rules at some point in time. And inevitably we have had the most insane excess, so it makes sense that we’re questioning it. We have too much knowledge to go on as we were before,” de Castro tells JWT Intelligence. But the responsibility for meaningful change lies with “brands and governments,” she adds. “This is really not the responsibility of citizens and brands’ customers,” she says. “It’s up to the guys who are producing fast fashion to produce better quality, better-made [clothing that’s] non-exploitative of people and planet,” she says. “What we need to see is more of these guys putting their hands up and saying, ‘I’m going to slow down.’”
And de Castro notes that while second hand is set to become “massive” in the future, it’s important that there’s a “transparency” about where those garments ultimately come from. “We mustn’t think that just because a T-shirt that cost £1 [$1.30] has three further uses in life, that will detract from the fact that 150 billion garments of clothing are being produced every year,” says de Castro. “We can’t somehow find a solution at the end unless we’ve found a solution at the start as well.”
Against this backdrop of a heightened awareness of sustainability, millennials and gen Zers, who are no doubt still engaged by the aesthetic buzz of clothing and beauty, are responding by finding new ways to fulfill that craving that aren’t at such a cost to the environment – or their wallets.