TikTok is Making Sustainable Shopping Cool -- And Gen Z is Behind It

Curator's Note

For many members of Gen Z, thrift and vintage shopping is all about the hunt. The allure of shopping for clothing that no one else owns in an environmentally and economically sustainable way has significantly shifted the consumer attitude toward buying secondhand. Social media platforms have had a considerable impact on this shift as influencers drive the obsession, posting their hauls on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

On TikTok in particular, creators with a significant following have the potential to set new trends in motion. Over the past year, the app has become arguably the most influential social media platform, boasting hundreds of millions of users and acquiring the status of the most downloaded app of 2020. Gen Z users on TikTok have given rise to niche aesthetics, such as “cottagecore”, “dark academia”, “E-girl” and the return of “Y2K”, showcased in their purchases from both thrift stores and online resale sites. Viewers are inspired to scour for pieces that fit these micro trends on Depop, Poshmark, and eBay -- platforms that have also experienced significant growth in the past year. Such is the magnitude of emerging trends on TikTok that much of the fashion industry’s trend-setting power has diminished. People have started looking to social media content creators for the next move when it comes to what people are wearing.

However, for Gen Z, shopping secondhand isn’t just about finding unique pieces. It’s also about participating in fashion trends in a more eco-conscious way. Increased media coverage on environmental issues has influenced consumers to make more sustainable choices when it comes to purchasing clothes. The stigma toward secondhand clothing has significantly decreased in recent years, and shopping vintage or thrift is very much to do with reusing and recycling. Social media platforms have also shed light on unsustainable practices within the fashion industry, driving young consumers to be more aware of who and what they are supporting when shopping for clothes.

As with trend cycles, the popularity of shopping secondhand can come and go, so it’s impossible to know whether the appeal of thrifting will be here to stay; however, the impact that Gen Z has had on the turnover of trends and growth of thrifting has definitely begged the question of who truly sets trends.


Works Cited

BBC. (2021, August 10). TikTok named as the most downloaded app of 2020. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-58155103. 

Cassidy, T., & Bennett, H. (2012). The rise of vintage fashion and the vintage consumer. Journal of Fashion Practice, 4(2). 239–262. https://doi.org/10.2752/175693812X13403765252424

julie [julieselman]. (2020, November 20). cottagecore thrift haul! I am in LOVE  [Video]. TikTok. https://www.tiktok.com/@julieselman/video/6897352889602297093?sender_dev...

Sicurella, S. (2021). When second hand becomes vintage: Gen Z has made thrifting a big business. National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/2021/06/18/1006207991/when-second-hand-becomes-vinta...

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