how ultra-fast fashion seduced young people under 25

T-shirts for 5 euros, dresses for 8 euros, bathing suits for less than 10 euros: ultra-fast fashion brands are pushing the boundaries of low prices by always producing more, targeting the 25-year-old and younger.

The English Boohoo, the Hong Kong brand Emmiol or the very fashionable Chinese brand Shein present themselves on the same model: 100% online clothing sales companies with unbeatable prices, often accompanied by promotions. To be’“ultra-fast fashion” : a huge number of articles and new references every day, new collections in record time, even faster than the giants of fast fashion such as H&M or Zara.

Boohoo's Online Sales Site (ANTHONY HARVEY/SHUTTERSTOCK/SIPA/SHUTTERSTOCK)

At the risk of multiplying not very ecological practices that have already been noticed by opponents of fast fashion. “Much of this cheap clothing ends up (…) in huge landfills, burned on open fires, along riverbeds and washes into the sea”in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, the NGO denounced Greenpeace in April.

Despite the opacity of a sector that remains extremely discreet about its results, its success is undeniable. For example, SheIn saw its turnover grow by 60% in 2021 and its turnover rose to 16 billion dollars, according to Bloomberg, on the heels of H&M, which recorded sales of 199 billion Swedish kronor (19 billion Swedish kronor) in the same year. ).

Lola (18) orders two to three times a month on Shein, for an average basket of about 70 euros and about ten articles. For the young Nancy, this brand that is very popular in her entourage makes it possible to follow the trend “without spending an astronomical amount”. Low prices are at the heart of the success of these businesses among young people, whose limited purchasing power leads to “seek quantity instead of quality”, emphasizes Valérie Guillard, university professor at Paris-Dauphine. There is also the appeal of a product that has never been worn, which: “is made for you”, while the second-hand, also cheap, is aimed more at a public “involved”, according to the expert. Usual “at the same price, we prefer new”.

In order to remain indispensable among young people, the brand is ubiquitous on social networks. The format of the swipe — videos in which consumers unpack packages and try on clothes facing the camera — has mainly contributed to its popularity on TikTok, a network popular with teens and young adults. Margot, 25, says she chooses not to watch these types of videos, but they appear in abundance in the content offered to her. “It necessarily made me want to at least once”, she admits.

It is one of the ingredients of success. To take advantage of expanded exposure at a lower price, retailers rely on the “micro-influence”: partnerships with people who are followed on social networks by a small number of subscribers, but who benefit from greater proximity and trust from their community.

But the flip side of low prices are those social or environmental scandals that brands could have done without, and that dampen the enthusiasm of some customers. For example, the Swiss NGO Public Eye noted in a study published in November 2021 that workers at factories in China outsourced by SheIn worked up to 75 hours a week, an illegal rate in the country.

Fast fashion, the third most water-consuming sector, is also responsible for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions each year, as much as international air and maritime traffic combined, according to the Transition Agency.ecco (Ademe). The face of the youth climate movement, Greta Thunberg, was alarmed and last year on Instagram denounced a sector that “contributes enormously to the climate and environmental emergency”.

Charlotte (14) chose to stop Shein and Emmiol’s orders. “At the time I was happy to have new clothes, but then I felt guilty”, she explains. The teen admits to being tempted again. But now, “When I see beautiful things on SheIn, I look for them on Vinted”, a site that sells second-hand clothes, she says.

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