How TikTok Is Turning Gen Z Toward Sustainable Fashion

Sure dancing is fun, but do you even upcycle your old tees?

What’s your favorite trend on TikTok? If you’re like a lot Gen-Zers recently, you may be tuning in for tips and tutorials on how to make over your wardrobe with sustainable fashion trends.

“Young people on TikTok see through the whole aspirational aesthetic of sustainability, and have spand out the real contributors to climate change, which are governments and large corporations,” Megan McSherry, founder of Acteevism told Refinery29 last September.

It’s no small audience, either. There are more than 800 million users on TikTok worldwide, with Gen Z making up more than 60 percent.

The app has become a haven for all manner of hobby-making during lockdown — from recipes, dances, or, overhauling wardrobes with an eco slant. The hashtag #sustainablefashion has more than 760 million video views. There are others, too, like #zerowaste, with 38 million views, or the overarching sustainability tag, #savetheplanet, with more than 115 million views.

But it may just be a less overtly sustainable tag that’s leading the TikTok trend: #handmade has more than 2 billion views and counting. Credit its success in part to lockdown and the inability to shop as normal. It’s also been a past-time for users, too, giving shoes an upgrade with paint, or turning tees into tote bags. But at the heart of the handmade movement is a nod to the sustainability ethos or reducing, reusing, and recycling.

This interest in DIY closets dovetails into the wispy cottagecore trend personified by Taylor Swift. The look is less complicated than the glam touted by many influencers a la Kardashian-esque contouring. It’s a movement sparked by the sweatpants-and-Zoom “slobcore” wardrobes of the last year—a trend experts say is likely here to stay, even after we’re vaxxed and unmasked.

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Reebok’s new sustainable trainers | courtesy

Sustainable Fashion

“I think it’s cool taking textiles and giving them new life, because there are so many unused textiles out there already,” Andrew Burgess, a 20-year-old TikTok user with more than 200,000 followers (@wandythemaker) known for his “thrift flips” told the Financial Times. He’s turned quilts into hoodies, a Nascar blanket into a pair of pants.

“I love fashion first and foremost. The fact that I’m also being environmentally conscious by selling these secondhand pieces and reducing emissions — that’s totally an added benefit,” Emma Rogue, 25, (@emma.rogue), told FT. “And I’m way more aware of the sustainability aspect now than when I first started.”

TikTok’s sustainability trend is a craftsy alternative to baking more banana bread. But it has, in some ways, served as a crash course to a changing market. Once covid restrictions lift fully and we’re back to visiting malls and department stores, the sustainability trend will be visible in every category. It’s no longer a niche for brands like Patagonia or luxury labels like Stella McCartney. Sustainability has gone mainstream; Nike just launched its first eco swimwear collection; Cara Delevingne and Puma recently partnered on an eco yoga line. The eco shoe wars, too, have heated up: Adidas has been leading the way there for years with bold sustainability initiatives. But Nike, Reebok, and New Balance aren’t far behind. They’re all taking steps toward greening their footwear.

But it’s not just the new that’s going eco. Shopping secondhand plays a significant role in changing perceptions about fashion and builds on the TikTok upcycling and reusing trends. Platforms like Depop, Vestiaire Collective, The RealReal, thredUp, and Tradesy are all giving thrifting an eco makeover with help from celebrities like Megan Thee Stallion and Jameela Jamil.

This, it seems, is the new wave of fashion, where personal creativity, not waste (or debt, for that matter) is the new black. Where having a story to tell about your wardrobe matters more than the label. Where ingenuity looks good on everyone. Fashion, at least on TikTok, is finally synonymous with sustainable.

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