The Nordic fashion paradox: We consume too much despite strong climate awareness

The Nordic countries often pride themselves on their climate actions, yet the reality paints a contrasting picture: Nordic consumers live like we have 4.2 Earths at our disposal. While adopting solar panels, vegan diets, and choosing train travel are commendable, did you know your wardrobe can be a major environmental villain?

 “Designed to become forever favourites” is an example of a slogan on Nordic clothing web shops, encouraging consumers to view their purchases as long-term additions to their wardrobes. However, these “cornerstones” are paradoxically expected to be updated quarterly, highlighting a disconnect between marketed sustainability and actual consumer practices.

From a global perspective, the Nordic countries stand out when looking at how we consume textiles. In the last 20 years, there has been a notable increase in textile consumption, surpassing the global average. The average person in the Nordic region buys and wears an astonishing amount of clothing each year: between 26 and 48 garments per person. The average Swede buys 40 % more clothes now than in 2000 and throws away around 11 kilograms of textiles every year, with less than 1% being recycled.

The lifespan of our clothes is getting shorter, and low-priced garments are discarded after being worn only a few times. Unsold and returned clothes are sometimes burnt or shipped to landfills in lower-income countries outside the EU.

Textile production is a major contributor to global pollution, accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions. This surpasses the combined emissions from international flights and maritime shipping.

It is clear that there is an urgent need for change, both within the industry and in our consumer behaviour.

Gen Z’s Fashion Paradox: Striking a Balance Between Style and Sustainability

However, there’s a glimmer of change among Generation Z, with a fondness for second-hand fashion and heightened environmental awareness. The challenge lies in balancing their fashion interests, budget constraints, and sustainability concerns.

A recent survey by Plick and Blocket highlights this paradox, with almost 20% of Gen Z’s wardrobe consisting of second-hand items, and 40% interested in expanding their engagement with the second-hand online market. Despite some guilt associated with fast fashion, its affordability remains a major draw.

The survey reveals a gender gap in sustainable fashion, with 20% of female Gen Z prioritizing eco-friendly clothing choices versus 14% of males, and shows females are more engaged in online second-hand shopping. Despite this, the broader Gen Z demographic is committed to climate change solutions, frequently reusing clothing. Over half use their items more than 40 times, showcasing a complex relationship with fashion. They are drawn to the affordability of fast fashion, influenced by friends, social media, and parents, yet there’s a noticeable trend towards ethical and environmental responsibility. Second-hand fashion’s popularity among Gen Z highlights their unique balance of style, budget, and sustainability.

The other good news is that Nordic consumers find it important to choose environmentally friendly clothes, shoes and home textiles. A survey by the Nordic Swan Ecolabel shows that almost 60 % of Nordic consumers find it important to choose environmentally friendly products in this product area.

Embracing the principles of reuse, refuse, and recycle in the context of clothing means that we can foster a sustainable wardrobe and transform the fashion industry. This involves maximizing the use of existing clothes, repairing and upcycling, participating in clothes swaps, refusing to support fast fashion, making conscious purchasing choices, avoiding overconsumption, recycling old garments, and supporting brands that truly follow sustainable practices.

Do you want to learn more about how to get a more sustainable wardrobe? Welcome to the event Escaping Fast Fashion: How you can act for change, on 23 November in Reykjavik and online. Under the guidance of Icelandic textile artist Ýrúrarí and with inspiration from the Nordic Council Environment Prize Winner 2023, we’ll breathe new life into our old clothes and uncover ways to break up with fast fashion.

Watch the recording from the event here:

Escaping Fast Fashion: How you can act for change from The Nordic House on Vimeo.

Read more about the event here!

Read more about Sustainable Living here.