In a fast-paced world, fast fashion keeps up, constantly refreshing styles in stores almost every week, turning shopping into a frequent activity for many. Particularly in challenging economic times, we’re all enticed by deals and reduced prices.

 Initially adopting global styles with a local twist, the country’s fast fashion scene took a hit due to ethical and environmental concerns but is now experiencing a revival. Brands like Shein and Temu are leading the charge, proving that fast fashion is reclaiming its spot in the market.

However, while we gravitate towards deals, it is critical to remember that the price of affordability is often paid elsewhere whether it’s the strain on the environment or compromises in labour conditions.

In this blog, we’ll delve into South Africa’s fast fashion landscape, analysing changing consumer behaviour and its implications. 

The State of Fast Fashion in South Africa

South African consumers are increasingly embracing the fast fashion model, reflective of a global appetite for timely, affordable style. Being style-conscious and budget-aware, the market has responded eagerly to the introduction and growth of various international fast fashion brands. 

Online vs In-Store Shopping: Consumer Preferences

The modern South African shopper is faced with a choice: the instant gratification of in-store purchases versus the convenience and broad selection of online shopping. Insights from YouGov highlight shopping preferences when buying clothes and shoes:

  • Evenly Split (both online and offline): 36.23%
  • Mostly Online: 18.94%
  • All Online: 14.65%

This data suggests a balanced split in preferences, with a considerable segment still valuing the tactile in-store experience. However, with over 33% leaning towards or exclusively shopping online, e-commerce is clearly a growing force in the fashion retail sector.

The Rise of International Fast Fashion Brands

As the fast fashion industry expands, international brands such as Shein and Temu have emerged as significant players in the South African market. Their strategy rests on offering a wide selection of low-priced, yet trendy items, updated frequently to keep up with fashion cycles.

An article from IOL throws light on the competitive pricing strategies adopted by these international brands. Temu, in particular, has been highlighted for offering the lowest prices on many products, compared to Shein and Takealot. This aggressive pricing not only positions Temu as a strong competitor against larger online platforms like Takealot but also threatens smaller local South African businesses.

Strategic Market Implications

The influx of international brands exerts pressure on local businesses that may struggle to compete on price, range, and speed of delivery. This scenario underlines the need for local businesses to differentiate themselves through value-added services, unique products, or ethical and sustainable practices, which could resonate with a growing subset of consumers concerned about the broader impact of fast fashion.

Consumer Attitudes and Behaviours

South Africans have demonstrated a complex perspective towards fast fashion, blending their love for affordable style with an increasing awareness of sustainability. This mixed sentiment is brought to light by research findings from YouGov:

  • Influence of Sustainability: A significant proportion of South Africans declared their willingness to pay more for sustainably produced clothing. This suggests that environmental concerns do influence consumer choices, despite the allure of inexpensive fast fashion items. According to the YouGov survey:
    • “I don’t mind paying more for products that are good for the environment” – 73.39% agree
    • “I only buy clothes from sustainable brands” – 52.78% agree
  • Perception of Fast Fashion: At the same time, consumers show a recognition of the controversial environmental impact of fast fashion, observing:
    • “People who buy fast fashion don’t care about the environment” – 45.89% agree
  • Impact of Online Shopping: The convenience and accessibility of online shopping have made it popular among South African consumers:
    • “Online shopping makes my life easier” – 82.70% agree
    • “I will switch shops for speed and convenience” – 74.15% agree
  • Price Sensitivity: Despite a professed willingness to support sustainable brands, cost considerations are integral to South African shopping behaviours:
    • “I’m usually looking for the lowest prices when I go shopping” – 73.41% agree
    • “I’m always on the lookout for special offers” – 80.93% agree
  • Support for Local Businesses: There’s a sympathy for small businesses perceived as being driven out by multinational corporations, and a preference for shopping locally:
    • “I feel bad for small businesses being driven out by online worldwide companies/multinational companies” – 70.65% agree
    • “I prefer to shop at local businesses” – 70.07% agree

However, there’s an acknowledgement of the difficulty in avoiding large, potentially unethical corporations:

  • “It costs too much to avoid large companies that act unethically” – 53.96% agree

The Economic and Environmental Impact

This section presents an analysis of the economic and environmental repercussions of fast fashion in South Africa, with a specific focus on the considerable pollution and waste management challenges. It also discusses the potentially alleviating roles of recycling and upcycling initiatives within this context.

Economic Impact of Fast Fashion on the South African Economy

The fast fashion industry has a profound economic impact on South African local markets and trade. According to data, provided by Greenpeace Africa, the influx of fast fashion has increased the volume of clothing consumption. 

Consumers purchase more readily due to low prices and constant availability, which contributes significantly to retail and trade revenues. 

However, this also undermines local garment industries, as consumers often prefer imported second-hand clothing to locally-made garments, perceived as overpriced. The dominance of imported used clothing in markets may shrink opportunities for local producers and designers and may also lead to a reduction in local jobs related to the fashion industry.

Environmental Costs of Fast Fashion in South Africa

The environmental costs of fast fashion in South Africa are staggering. Production and consumption patterns have contributed to increased carbon footprints and water pollution. 

As noted by Greenpeace, textile production consumes large amounts of water, with a single pair of jeans requiring up to 8,000 litres—the equivalent of one person’s drinking water for about seven years. 

Additionally, the discarded fashion items contribute to mounting waste problems.

Pollution and Waste Management Issues

The fashion waste crisis is propelled by fast fashion’s push for cheap, trend-driven clothing. 

The Greenpeace article highlights that an enormous quantity of garment waste is sent to Africa from developed countries under the guise of charity. Unfortunately, much of this ‘donated’ clothing is too damaged or outdated to be used and ends up in landfills, exacerbating existing waste management issues. 

The discarded textiles contribute to water pollution through chemicals and dyes entering water systems and microplastics shedding from synthetic textiles into rivers and oceans, negatively impacting aquatic ecosystems and human health.

The Sustainability Movement

Local South African fashion entrepreneurs are stepping up to challenge the current standards of the industry with sustainable practices. 

According to News24, innovators like Wihan Joubert have launched the Drip Markets app, mirroring the popular UK app, Depop, to encourage thrifting and second-hand clothing sales—a testament to a growing consumer demand for eco-friendly options. 

Meanwhile, Cape Town’s Megan Art of Artfit is redefining fashion with upcycling, transforming old curtains and fabric off-cuts into unique garments.

Consumer Response to Sustainability

Consumers are increasingly scrutinising the carbon footprint of brands, signalling a shift in priorities—sustainable brands are no longer a niche but an expectation, especially among the youth. There’s a momentum within consumer behaviour to support brands that contribute positively to the environment rather than add to pollution and waste.

Looking Forward

The future of fast fashion in South Africa hinges on the balance between consumer demand and sustainable practices. 

Retailers are under pressure to adapt to the ‘want-it-now’ culture without neglecting environmental concerns. Strategies are shifting towards data analytics for trend prediction and personalised experiences. 

The rise of e-commerce giants like Shein and Temu compels local retailers to enhance online shopping experiences and leverage influencer marketing. The key to thriving may lie in sustainability, with a focus on eco-friendly products, transparency, ethical practices, and collaborations with local artisans, ensuring business models that are as conscious of the environment as they are of consumer wallets.


Our exploration underscores the critical juncture at which the South African fashion industry and consumers stand. 

The surge of fast fashion has challenged local production and intensified environmental concerns from wasteful practices to mounting pollution. 

However, the pivot towards recycling, upcycling, and sustainable local brands reflects a promising shift in consumer consciousness. 

The future of fashion in South Africa doesn’t solely depend on the online sphere or traditional retail but rather on curbing hyper-consumerism and fostering a culture that values sustainability. The real change will emerge from consumers and industry players who choose environmental responsibility over fleeting trends.


YouGov Profiles:  segmentation and media planning YouGov tool. Data is collected daily, and YouGov Profiles makes it simple to find and understand the audience that matters most to you. It gives you the power to build and customise a portrait of your consumers’ entire world with unrivalled granularity. More than 9,000 variables are available in South Africa.

Population:  South African adults with access to the internet aged 18+.

Dataset:  2024-03-31

n ~ 6310