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Sustainability, but make it Fashion

This past semester, I was given the opportunity to be a student designer at McKinsey & Company. Challenged with solving for the overarching idea of sustainability, my team decided to tackle the widespread problem that is the fast fashion industry.

THE TEAM: ya girl, Madeline Goulet, Michelle Ma, Natalia Elizondo
THE FOCUS: Making sustainable fashion top-of-mind and accessible to younger audiences and reframing people’s mindsets and sentiments about their clothing
MY ROLE: Design Research, Strategy, Art Direction

Click here to get to the point. Keep scrolling if you want to see how we got there.

The Problem

The fast fashion industry is the one of the most polluting industries in the world, contributing to 10% of the world’s carbon footprint. Farmers in China even joke that they know what color is “in” just by looking at what color the water is due to overproduction of items and use of synthetic fibers and dyes.

Young people are especially susceptible to fast fashion due to limited income and affinity for ever-changing trends. As a group of college students, my team knew all too well what it was like to pop into our local F*rever 21 to buy a cheap going-out outfit.

How do we incentivize and hold young people accountable for making more ethical clothing choices?

The Research

Was it a lack of awareness about the negative impact of fast fashion? The convenience margin between fast fashion and more quality items? Disconnect between personal impact on the environment? The pure cost difference?

To figure out what really was keeping young people from shopping more sustainably, my team employed a variety of research methods. 


We conducted interviews with ten young adults of various backgrounds and asked them about they go about buying clothes for themselves, their sentiments towards fashion in general, and what matters the most to them when it comes to the clothes they wear. Afterwards, my team regrouped and stuck the most insightful bits of each interview on the wall so we could get the big picture. 


Additionally, we surveyed 53 young adults about their specific shopping behaviors. We found that 77.4% prefer online shopping. Their motivations for shopping are, in order:

1. For necessity
2. Found a bargain
3. For enjoyment

The things they found most important in buying clothes were:

1. Price
2. Shipping Cost
3. Style
4. Brand

From our research, we condensed our findings into three major themes.


Many young people resort to fast fashion because they do not have a large disposable income, and higher quality clothing is perceived as unattainable.

The act of shopping is often an emotional process. Style is highly personal and is integral to how a person perceives themselves and others. 

Many young people do not understand the benefit of long-lasting clothes, and are unaware of what alternatives are available to them.

Our findings can be wrapped up in one sentence:

Young people, with their limited disposable income, resort to fast fashion because it seems more cost efficient despite the fact that more quality, sustainably made clothing is more cost-effective in the long run.

The Personas


Based on our research, it as clear that there existed two extremely different mindsets about fashion. There are our Drews, the trend-setter who takes fashion very seriously, and our Maggies, the average college student just trying to look bougie on a budget. 

We as a team decided to focus on Maggie as our main persona, as she is more susceptible to fast fashion.

The Journey

We then set off on a journey to understand Maggie’s journey: what type of emotions and thoughts go through her mind as she makes a purchase? Based on our previous research which stated that shopping is extremely emotional, and that most people prefer shopping online, here’s what we came up with.