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Gen Zers say they're hooked on fast fashion, but regret their Shein hauls when the 'high' wears off

Lindsay Dodgson   

Gen Zers say they're hooked on fast fashion, but regret their Shein hauls when the 'high' wears off
  • Gen Zers are sharing the regretful aftermath of their shopping sprees on fast-fashion sites.
  • Shein, TikTok's store, and other sites all offer clothes at very low prices.

When the "10-minute Shein high" is over, reality comes crashing down.

Maddy Lane, a Gen Z TikToker, shared what it's like in a recent video, showing the detritus of her latest haul all over her bed.

Her room was covered in packaging, skirts, and tops, all from the budget fast-fashion site Shein.

Lane turned the camera to her face — one of slight embarrassment and regret.

Commenters sympathized and said — us too.

They were responding to a familiar dynamic, stocking up on cheap clothes they've seen trending even though it grates against their principles.

On Lane's Shein haul, she realized half didn't fit right and the other half she didn't even like that much.

"Post-Shein clarity," one commenter termed it. Another characterized the feeling after the rush of opening new stuff: "Then life is boring again."

@madelynlanee

yay new clothes #shein #haul #fyp

♬ оригинальный звук - ••

Buying weighty hauls for so little reward may seem irrational, but many Gen Zers can't stop. As a result, Zoomers are racking up credit card debt and falling behind on payments faster than any other generation.

Some on TikTok say it's less about what they buy, and more about the frenzy of "blackout shopping" — the rush of spending and the feeling of anticipation before the stuff arrives.

A 2022 report by ThredUp, an online thrift store, surveyed some 2,000 college students and found that 72% reported shopping at a fast-fashion retailer in the previous year. A third described themselves as "addicted."

Things may be speeding up. A survey of 1,000 people from January by the digital analytics platform Quantum Metric found that 64% of Gen Z respondents were buying more than they did last year.

The advent of the in-app TikTok Shop plugging cheap clothes makes the drumbeat near-constant.

(Neither Shein nor TikTok responded to requests for comment from Business Insider.)

Some popular items all over TikTok right now include a $5 carry-on bag, a flower-adorned cardigan for around $10, a swimsuit for less than $1, alongside a flood of summer dresses, skirts, and pants.

Sharmin Attaran, a marketing professor at Bryant University, described the Shein-haul paradigm in an interview with BI.

"After the packages are opened and the novelty wears off, many young shoppers start feeling a pang of buyer's remorse," he said.

"While the initial purchase can feel like a win, the aftermath might not feel as sweet."

Contradictory to Gen Z beliefs

Cheap clothing hauls do not sit well with the much-discussed Gen Z passion for environmentalism.

Fast fashion comes at a huge environmental cost, consuming vast amounts of water and creating huge carbon emissions.

The clothes are often polyester, nylon, and acrylic, which can take decades to break down. And they can feel easy to just throw out, unlike higher-quality, more expensive pieces.

Melanie Parncutt, a Zoomer who works as a publicist at Otter Public Relations, told BI Gen Zers probably realize that their hauls are not helping.

But, she said, ads on social media make it hard to resist the "traps of compulsive buying."

"As a result of the constant bombardment of targeted advertising and the offering of online deals, young consumers like myself tend to buy on impulse more than ever before," Parncutt said. "It can be hard to break out of the cycle."

Gaby Mendes, a Zoomer and founder of Talk Twenties, a media and events company for Gen Z, told BI she tries to avoid fast fashion but has her lapses.

"I get sucked in easily and have to remind myself that something is often cheap because it's either poor quality or someone has been exploited in the process of it being made," she said.

"When the products don't last, fit properly, or break, I'm reminded why I shouldn't give in to the high."

Breaking the cycle

Siena Barry-Taylor, a Zoomer and senior marketing executive at the secondhand clothes marketplace Thrift+, told BI that disposable clothes aren't the whole story of Gen Z fashion.

They are also propelling the secondhand market, she said. There's been a Gen Z surge in buying and selling on digital thrift shops.

Teens have been turning their side hustles on social shopping apps like Depop or Vinted into full time jobs over the past few years. Gen Z was dubbed the "Depop generation" by Vogue Business, and makes up 90% of the app's user base.

Barry-Taylor said she now asks herself if she would wear something at least 40 times before buying a new item — or at least be able to sell it on.

"It's becoming harder to justify shopping new," she said. "Both for the planet or our wallets."



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