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Students shopping for vintage clothing in a Hull shop

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Young people snub ‘fast fashion’ for second hand or rented clothing at Christmas, study shows

With fashion more and more affordable, and a new outfit just a click of a button and a day away, it has never been easier to order that new party dress – or two.

But young people said they were prepared to shun new clothes for the Christmas party season in favour of rented or second-hand items, such as vintage fashion or charity shop bargain.

A YouGov survey, commissioned by the University of Hull in December, revealed 58 per cent of 18-24-year-olds are likely to change their buying habits in the future.

A quarter of young people said they were already renting or buying second hand for Christmas.

The survey also shows younger people are far more likely to buy second-hand clothes or gifts for Christmas than the older generation, citing environmental reasons and sustainability as their main consideration.

Renting, reusing or sharing clothes has been thrust into the spotlight recently by famous faces keen to throw light on environmental and ethical considerations.

Carrie Johnson makes no secret of renting clothes for high profile occasions, famously renting her wedding dress when she married the Prime Minister in May 2021. The Prime Minister himself took a leaf out of his eco conscious wife’s book by stepping out in a £34-a-day rented suit to address world leaders on the first day of the COP 26 summit in Glasgow.

The Duchess of Cambridge also makes no secret of recycling her dresses for different occasions, whilst Angelina Jolie is proud to re-wear her gowns and share her outfits with her daughters for their red-carpet appearances.

The survey examined the attitudes of 2,094 adults across the United Kingdom on a National Representative sample.

It found:

  • A quarter (25%) of 18-24-year-olds have bought second hand, or rented clothes for the party season with 58 per cent saying they would be likely to in future years.
  • Just five per cent of those 55 and over said they were wearing rented or second-hand clothing this season, with less than a quarter (24%) saying they would consider buying second-hand or renting in the future.
  • More than half (51%) of women say they would consider wearing rented or second-hand clothes in future years, in comparison to men (21%)
  • 17 per cent of 18-24-year-olds celebrating Christmas said they were likely to buy second-hand clothes or gifts for Christmas, citing environmental reasons as their main consideration.
  • Older generations (over 55s) cited charitable giving as reasons for buying second-hand clothes or gifts for Christmas, and are much more likely to buy new, with just five per cent saying they would turn to second-hand gifts in the future.

It was recently reported that the fashion industry contributes to over 92 million tonnes of waste every year, with 1.5 trillion litres of water consumed alongside chemical pollution and high levels of CO2 emissions

Professor Dan Parsons, Director at the University’s Energy & Environment Institute, which houses more than 100 researchers, committed to tackling climate change, said: “This study clearly shows that – whether driven by an environmental or ethical motive – young people are increasingly turning their backs on fast fashion.

“We will have to live with the consequences of our throwaway culture for decades – if not centuries – to come, and discarded clothing created by the emergence of “fast fashion” has played a significant role in what is a tsunami of microplastic wastes around the world.

“It is encouraging to see that young people are now driving a move towards a new environmentally- conscious and aware society – renting and hiring clothing, and moving to saying a “no” to fast fashion, is an important step in the right direction.

“Many clothes are constructed of polymers and party clothes are used very infrequently then discarded. The volume of plastics now in circulation globally means we have effectively entered a new geological period – geoscientists call this the Anthropocene – but the prevalence and distribution of waste plastics in the environment means I think we will eventually call this the plasticene – ‘the plastic age.’

The impact of the fast fashion industry on modern-day slavery and exploitation has also been well documented. The University of Hull is home to the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation. Its work has helped inform major corporations and governments on the challenges posed by modern slavery, and how to remove exploitation from the supply chain.

Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull, said: “We need some cheerful news. It is great to read that ethically aware young people are making a conscious choice to buy second-hand/vintage clothes.

“It is extremely important for everyone – not just young people – to take a stand in the fight against modern slavery and coercive labour practices.

“Even at an individual level, by making ethical purchasing decisions we can start to bring about meaningful change that will make a difference to people working in fashion supply chains around the world.”

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