Polluting but popular: Boohoo, Shein… how ultra-fast fashion seduced young people

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, with a target audience of 25 years and younger.

The English Boohoo, the Hong Kong brand Emmiol or even the very fashionable Chinese brand SheIn present themselves on the same model: 100% online clothing sales companies with unbeatable prices, often accompanied by promotions.

It is “ultra fast fashion”: every day a huge number of items and new references, new collections in record time, even faster than the giants of fast fashion such as H&M or Zara.

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 thrown into the sea”, in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, the NGO Greenpeace denounced 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 increase by 60% in 2021 and, according to Bloomberg, its turnover rose to $ 16 billion, following H&M, which recorded a turnover of 199 billion SEK (19 billion SEK) in the same year. .

Micro-influence

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 very popular brand in its entourage makes it possible to follow the trend “without spending an astronomical amount”.

Low prices are at the heart of the success of these companies among young people, whose limited purchasing power leads them to “seek quantity rather than quality,” emphasizes Valérie Guillard, university professor at Paris-Dauphine.

There’s also the appeal of an unworn product, which is “made for you”, while second-hand, also cheap, is more aimed at an “engaged” audience, the expert said. Generally “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 it at least once,” she admits.

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

Environmental costs

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 found in a study published in November 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 denounced on Instagram last year a sector that is “a huge contributor to the climate and ecological emergency”.

Charlotte, 14, has chosen to stop taking orders from SheIn and Emmiol. “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 nice things on SheIn, I look for them on Vinted,” a site that sells second-hand clothing, she says.

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