Shoppers not only buy more clothing than they need, but many items in closets remain unworn

Shoppers not only buy more clothing than they need, but many items in closets remain unworn

A new survey into fashion shopping habits has found that consumers no longer shop because they need something – and up to half of them buy more clothes than they need and use.

The research, commissioned by environmental activist group Greenpeace, suggests people in Europe and Asia regularly buy too many clothes, shoes, bags and accessories. While this is especially striking in China and Hong Kong – it is also widespread in Europe too.

In particular, younger people shop despite already having too much, longing for fulfilment and encouraged by social media and the ease of online shopping. However, shopping doesn't make people happy as the excitement only provides a temporary fix.

Based on consumer surveys in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Italy, and Germany between December 2016 and March 2017, the research taps into Greenpeace's 'Detox my Fashion Campaign', which was launched in 2011 to fight for a cleaner textile industry.

So far 79 global textile brands and suppliers have committed to eliminating the discharge of hazardous chemicals from their supply chain by 2020.

But Greenpeace also argues that by far the biggest factor for the environmental footprint of the textile industry is the impact of current fast fashion business models and the rising volume of clothes produced and consumed.

"Overconsumption of fashion is now deeply entrenched in our everyday culture, both in old European economies and in emerging ones such as China," it says in the new report 'After the Binge, the Hangover: Insights into the Minds of Clothing Consumers.'

Almost half of Chinese consumers buy more than they can afford – and more than makes them happy, and around 40% qualify as excessive shoppers, shopping compulsively more than once a week. Young, high-income women are the most vulnerable. The spread of online shopping and social media makes people even more susceptible to overconsumption.

These people are not shopping because they need something new, the survey found: their motivation is the longing for excitement, satisfaction and confidence in front of others. Shoppers also seek to release stress, kill time and relieve boredom.

But shopping does not make them happy: people already own too much and they know it. Around 50% report that their shopping excitement wears off within a day. A third of the East Asians feel even more empty and unfulfilled afterwards. And around half of consumers are hiding their purchases from others, fearing accusations of wasting money or other negative reactions.

The research also notes shopping behaviour is widely influenced by people's social environment and media consumption. Social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook or WeChat in China are driving shopping mania, especially among young digitally connected East Asians.

Browsing fashion blogs or following friends and celebrities triggers even more buying. After excessive shopping people experience regular tiredness and boredom – the binge is followed by a hangover.

Greenpeace wants fashion firms to engage customers in meaningful relationships without encouraging unsustainable shopping habits which contribute to environmental damage. And it believes the simplest solution is not producing, selling and buying so much. "There is an urgent need for a radical system change towards slowing down fast fashion and lowering high volume approaches," it says. "Companies need to implement slowness and durability into their future business models.

"While we welcome industry efforts to cut the waste of resources, promote recycling and attempt to 'close the loop', they do not go far enough and ignore the core problem, of the high volumes of clothing that continue to be produced."

Suggestions for change in the fashion industry include:

  • Product design strategies need to be in line with environmental efficiency, preferring toxic-free, recyclable, renewable, high quality durable garments over solutions that depend on end-of-pipe technology;
  • Businesses need to increase their offer of services such as repairing, recycling, lending and sharing and put making a valuable contribution to a sustainable future into the core of their business model.