Menu Menu

Buy now, pay later providers are propping up fast fashion

Making shopping easier than ever, these addictive services are designed to encourage overspending. This poses a significant issue in the face of our current climate crisis.

Since the start of the pandemic, 23% of 18- to 24-year-olds have turned to buy now, pay later services (BNPL) when shopping online.

Designed to encourage overspending, these schemes have emerged as the ‘new normal’ for young, cash-strapped consumers, who are enticed by the option to get what they want, when they want – even if it isn’t financially viable.

Launched in 2005 but only really taking off in the last decade, the premise is simple: they enable us to buy items and pay in full up to 30 days later or split the cost into monthly instalments.

Predictably, with the shift from physical to online retail due to forced store closures during lockdown, a significant influx of shoppers using such schemes has arisen.

A scroll through #Klarna (the most successful of these services which, at present, sees two million transactions made daily) on TikTok proves this, showing some 100m videos uploaded by people flaunting their latest BNPL-financed purchases.

@may_goodman ig: may_goodman #klarna#klarnaaddiction#klarna2021#2021#spending#2021spending#whatispentin2021#money#shoppingaddiction ♬ months of the year – jess

However, while being able to return items without losing a dime is useful because it ups accessibility, this poses a significant issue in the face of our current climate crisis.

Fanning the flames of fast fashion, BNPL has made shopping easier than ever.

In doing so, it’s teaching consumers to lean into the temptation of buying into the flurry of new aesthetics, cores, and microtrends that flood our feeds every day. As well as to ignore the catastrophic impact this is having on our already suffering Earth.

Now, it certainly doesn’t help that we’re exposed to fast fashion’s affordability, convenience, and accessibility whenever we open social media and are bombarded with targeted ads.

But having even the most deterrable of obstacles – spending money – reduced to something we can push to the back of our minds in an instant is precisely the opposite of what we ought to be doing.

Chile's desert dumping ground for fast fashion leftovers

Frankly, it shouldn’t be this easy for us to splash the cash without consideration when you recall that the world is, quite literally, drowning in clothes.

‘Most of the time when I order clothes online, I end up returning the whole order,’ says Gen Zer Elicka, who uses Klarna almost exclusively for buying from ASOS.

‘I didn’t always want money to go out of my account and have to wait weeks for the refund to come in.’

What this increase in demand has amounted in, of course, is fast fashion brands churning out more and more cheap garments, most of which get returned anyway.

And although being able to ‘try before you buy’ sounds positive, shipping and returning items comes with a high carbon cost, namely because most of it winds up in landfills (according to several recent reports).

MPs warn buy now, pay later firms 'could be the next Wonga' | National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association of Canada

It’s certainly a contradiction to Gen Z’s burgeoning reputation as a cohort set to bring about the industry’s demise once and for all.

But can we blame them when at the click of a button you can get an entire wardrobe of outfits sent to your front door without needing to dip into your savings or substitute some of your rent?

Plus, we are in the age of Instagram, which is renowned for compelling us to keep consuming, to buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have.

‘We live in a world where we buy five times more clothing than we did in 1980,’ says fashion writer Aja Barber.

She argues that with young people simultaneously struggling financially and exposed to attention-grabbing marketing ploys, it’s easy to see why many use BNPL services to buy fast fashion even while agreeing that fit’s unsustainable and unethical.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Venetia La Manna (@venetialamanna)

‘There’s also little financial literacy available for younger generations,’ she continues.

‘With all the pressure to ‘keep up’ on social media, access to BNPL to purchase non-essential items will only exacerbate the problems that already exist with over consumption.’

Despite how we would all do well to be more mindful about our shopping habits, ultimately, the real onus is on governments to regulate the industry and on the corporations who are actively striving to have us buy from them.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Gen Z consumers, 90% of which believe that businesses have a responsibility to address environmental issues.

Here’s hoping they do, perhaps by cutting ties with the services doing nothing to actively ensure the protection of our planet.


Thred Newsletter!

Sign up to our planet-positive newsletter