Renting clothes? Gen Z consumers more willing to wear recycled clothing than own it

PULLMAN, Wash. — The biggest question most people have when they go shopping for new clothes is if something fits them or not. However, a new study finds that may soon change to how many people have worn this before me? Researchers from Washington State University find that young adults in Generation Z are more willing to rent clothes instead of owning their own wardrobe.

For Gen Z, it’s all about cutting down on waste and reducing overconsumption, according to the study authors. Advocates for apparel rental, or collaborative apparel consumption, argue that renting outfits extends the life of clothing because consumers usually throw out items after a few wears.

“The idea is growing more popular, especially among Gen Z consumers,” says corresponding author Ting Chi, chair of WSU’s Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles, in a university release. “They are very interested in sustainable consumerism, care about the environment, and are willing to make changes to help the planet.”

The team surveyed 362 young adults born between 1997 and 2002 during this study. Chi and his co-authors discovered that this generation still wants to be fashionable, but don’t feel the need to actually own the products they use.

“They’re more focused on usage,” Chi adds. “That increases a product’s lifecycle if it is worn by different people. It also reduces waste while still meeting consumer needs for variety.”

Why does Gen Z prefer renting?

When it comes to what makes recycling outfits so appealing to Gen Z, study authors find young adults feel their actions are making a difference in the world. The survey also finds Gen Z adults are more likely to accept change than their older peers. Chi adds another big factor is that young adults seem more focused on usage than ownership.

“They would get newer products more frequently than if they own an item,” the study author explains. “The desire to get more new articles of clothing made it more likely that they would try rental services.”

What’s old is new again

While renting all your outfits may be a fairly new concept, the idea of recycling certain items of clothing is not a new thing. The concept of renting clothes, especially formal wear like tuxedos and wedding gowns, has actually been a common practice for decades.

“That’s why we started by talking with Gen Z,” Chi says. “They’re more willing to adapt to changes, and doing so to help the environment makes it even more appealing.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. consumers sent over 17 million tons of old textiles to landfills in 2018 — nearly double the amount discarded in 2000.

“We’re wasting too many textiles,” Chi concludes. “Americans are buying an average of 67 clothing items every year, but how many do we really need? They’re inexpensive but cause real environmental damage. We need to make an individual effort to help the environment and one way to help is bringing in a sharing economy.”

The team is now planning to repeat this survey with older generations, such as millennials and Generation X.

The findings appear in the journal Sustainability.

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