Gen Zers say they're hooked on fast fashion, but regret their Shein hauls when the 'high' wears off (2024)

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."

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.

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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."

Gen Zers say they're hooked on fast fashion, but regret their Shein hauls when the 'high' wears off (1)

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."

Gen Zers say they're hooked on fast fashion, but regret their Shein hauls when the 'high' wears off (2024)


Why does Gen Z love fast fashion? ›

It's a model built to drive consumers toward impulse purchases and an endless cycle of disposable outfits, said Tahirah Hairston, fashion and beauty director at Teen Vogue. […] Sustainable Fashion for All? There is another reason many Gen-Zers prefer fast fashion over more eco-friendly alternatives: it's cheap.

Why is Shein so bad? ›

Shein's production process revolves around "small batches" and rapid turnover, with over 6,000 Chinese factories churning out clothing items at an unprecedented rate. This focus on volume over quality results in a flood of low-quality clothes that saturate the market.

Who consumes fast fashion the most? ›

Do Fast Fashion Statistics Vary by Country? 10 countries dominate the market for retail purchasing: China 40 billion, USA 17 billion, India 6 billion, Japan 3.3 billion, Germany 2.2 billion, UK 2.1 billion, Russia 2 billion, France 1.5 billion, Italy 1.3 billion and Brazil 2.3 billion.

Which generation is most interested in fashion? ›

Consumers who pay attention to their clothes disposal practices may have better knowledge of environmental issues and thus, a more positive attitude towards sustainable clothing purchases. The two most prominent generations of consumers in the clothing industry are Gen Y and Gen Z (Abrar et al., 2021).

Which generation buys the most fast fashion? ›

Gen-Z's seem to be the biggest advocates for sustainable fashion and simultaneously the biggest consumers of fast fashion.

Why is shein so addictive? ›

Shein's Secret Sauce: Variety, Trends, and Prices

With thousands of new arrivals every week, there's always something new to discover. This constant refresh of options satisfies our craving for novelty, a strong psychological driver. Moreover, Shein has its finger on the pulse of fashion trends.

Why do people not like Shein anymore? ›

Shein's production process is based on excessive “small batches”, and their 6000-plus Chinese factories churn clothing items at an unprecedented rate for pocket change prices. The endless pursuit of volume over craft results in a deluge of bad quality clothes that flood the market.

Is Shein unhealthy to wear? ›

For Diamond's study, commissioned by Marketplace, researchers tested 38 samples of children's and adult clothes and accessories. One in five had concerning levels of chemicals, like lead, PFAS, and phthalates. Unsurprisingly, one of the worst offenders was SHEIN.

What is the dark side of Shein's success? ›

For some time now, the firm has been accused of subjecting its employees to precarious labor conditions with low wages and lack of legal contracts, promoting the overconsumption, as well as infringingthe copyrights of the designs.

What gender buys the most fast fashion? ›

Studies have found that men are responsible for more overall climate emissions than females through lifestyle choices, spending habits and even their diets. However, when it comes to fashion, women have the greater appetite. With the availability of fast fashion, women are more likely to buy more clothes, more often.

What age group buys fast fashion? ›

Research Results

By age group, most fast fashion shoppers were between the ages of 18 and 24. Of that age group, 147 out of 157 female respondents stated that they shopped at a fast fashion company. Out of 135 men in this age group, 115 said they consistently shopped at a fast fashion location.

What country uses fast fashion the most? ›

China is the largest fast-fashion consumer, accounting for more spending on fast fashion than the next nine highest consumers. Besides China, the other top consumers of fast fashion include the United States, India, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Brazil.

What is Gen Z wearing in 2024? ›

Graphic tees, pleated skirts, platform shoes, bucket jeans, and faux fur coats are all making a comeback, thanks to Gen Z's bold move to give these Y2K classics a modern spin. It's not just fashion – Gen Z is diving into early 2000s tech too.

What is Gen Z's favorite fashion? ›

Gen Z prefers comfortable and expressive clothing like loose-fitting jeans, crop tops, and oversized pieces. Born between 1997 and the early 2010s, Gen Z accounts for 30% of the world's population. With the oldest members turning 26 this year, the group has a purchasing power of about $360 billion in the US alone.

Why does Gen Z buy luxury? ›

Online sales give young people access to brands: Gen Z is making luxury purchases at a younger age than previous generations largely because they have easy access to brands in the palm of their hands. Online luxury fashion brands and other luxury companies' websites and social media pages are big with Gen Z.

Why is Gen Z obsessed with brands? ›

Ad Age Gen Z Contributor Column

Others agree that the group craves a sense of belonging, evidenced by digital games such as Roblox, and brands that deliver that are well-positioned to earn Alpha dollars. Kendra Scott considered community and connections with younger customers when it created its marketing roadmap.

What does Gen Z care about in fashion? ›

Gen Z prefers comfortable and expressive clothing like loose-fitting jeans, crop tops, and oversized pieces. Born between 1997 and the early 2010s, Gen Z accounts for 30% of the world's population.

Why is Gen Z obsessed with the Y2K aesthetic? ›

While millennials witnessed the advancement of technology, Gen Z grew up with a smartphone in hand, so the desire to look back to technology manifests as a search for authenticity. For Gen Z, the early 2000s marked the beginning of modern technology, a time of collective excitement for what's to come.

Why does Gen Z like baggy clothes? ›

Baggier jeans and looser-fitting pants ultimately emerged as a happy medium between the athleisure worn throughout multiple lockdowns and the constricting skinny jeans of the previous decade. The silhouettes could be sleek and comfortable without compromising one for the other.

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