Understanding Generation Z’s (un)sustainable fashion consumption: Insights from an Empathy Workshop for the VISU project

Teksti | Eleonora Prits , Olga Gurova

This article delves into the issues of (un)sustainable consumer behavior among Generation Z and the service design methods and tools that can be used to explore it in an applied project. The article sheds light on both the content of the young people’s consumption, drawing on the data from interviews with high school and vocational school students in the capital area of Finland. The article also discusses the Empathy Workshop as well as Persona Cards and Behavioral Archetype Card, the instruments, that were used during the workshop with the goal of not only understanding consumers but also enhancing the project’s team dynamic and common understanding of the collected data.

photo from the workshop.
Picture from the workshop 20.06.2023 at Laurea UAS Tikkurila. Source: Eleonora Prits.

VISU stands for the “Village for sustainable clothing—bringing together educators, young consumers, and companies”, a project financed by the Regional Council Uudenmaan Liitto and implemented by Laurea together with the Finnish Textile and Fashion (Suomen Tekstiili ja Muoti). Generation Z, whose interaction with educators and companies we explore in the VISU project comprises individuals born between the mid-1990s and 2010 (Chaturvedi et al., 2020). They are a significant demographic group with unique fashion consumption that will shape the future of the society. To gain deeper insights into the fashion consumption of Generation Z, we decided to use one of the Service Design methods – an Empathy Workshop. It was conducted in June 2023 and utilized data from interviews on the young adults’ consumption, collected for VISU earlier this year. This essay will delve into the workshop process, its goals and results, and analyze the products of the workshop – Persona Cards and a co-created Behavioral Archetype Card – shedding light on the mindset and (un)sustainable consumer behavior of Generation Z in the capital area of Finland.

The Empathy Workshop: When the Project Team Exchanges Experiences

In general, the Empathy Workshop is a structured collaborative method of service design utilized to foster a deeper understanding of user (consumer, customer) needs, motivations, and behaviors by project teams or stakeholders (Brown, 2008; Cooper et al., 2007). The main goal of the workshop is to build empathy for users, enabling the development of truly user-centered solutions. Empathy Workshops play an important role in the various stages of a project, especially in the early stages, ensuring user-centeredness and informed decision-making.

The main purpose of the Empathy Workshop is to help project teams and stakeholders:

  • Identify and understand relevant users for a given project.
  • Achieve clarity and consensus on users’ needs, motivations, and behaviors.
  • Develop and express empathy towards users, allowing for a deeper connection and understanding of their experiences.

In our case, the Empathy Workshop served as a collaborative platform where the VISU team came together to gain a collective understanding of the young consumers’ fashion consumption – their needs, motivations, and behaviors. The team also wanted to develop a common vision of the collected data and achieve clarity and consensus about interpretations of the data. Through that, the team would be able to develop empathy for and a deeper understanding of Gen Z consumers.

On a practical level, through a series of interactive activities and discussions, the workshop aimed to uncover insights, challenge assumptions, and co-create Persona Cards and a Behavioral Archetype Card that allows us better understanding of the Generation Z’s (un)sustainable consumer behavior. The workshop was facilitated by Eleonora Prits, the MBA student at the program on Service Innovation and Design at Laurea.

Personas and Archetypes in Service Design

Personas and Archetypes in service design are two different ways of visualizing the same data. Both summarize the results of users’ research. The users are split into groups differentiated by their behaviors, attitudes, motivations, pain points, and goals (Nielsen et al. 2015). Cards, representing these groups, highlight the key traits of the users. In this respect, Personas and Archetypes are functionally identical.

The difference between them is in the details of their representations: Personas contain names, biographies, photos, and personal data, while Archetypes are abstract labels reflecting behavioral characteristics.

Both Personas and Archetypes represent the same types of users, providing insight into their needs, behaviors, goals, pain points, and motivations. They help compare user groups’ priorities, but Personas humanize while Archetypes remain abstract.

Persona Cards’ Analysis

Four Persona Cards were created during the workshop, based on the interviews with young people. Each Persona Card represents a unique individual from the Generation Z. The Persona Card consists of the following elements: name, portrait image, demographics, a quote or motto to describe the person, attitude, interest, backstory or scenario, personality description, statistics, behaviors, goals, or motivations related to the solution being developed (Nielsen et al. 2015).

Overall, VISU’s data base contained 21 interviews for the time of workshop. Since four team members of VISU participated in it and the time limit (2 hours), it was decided to proceed with the creation of four different Persona Cards, which became an individual task for each of the workshop’s participant. This approach was motivated by the need to facilitate participants’ self-reflection, to recall their impressions from the data collection, and, at the same time, to gain practical experience in constructing Persona Cards. After completing the Persona Cards, each participant presented their work and talked about the character they had portrayed.

Let’s explore the Personas and their characteristics in detail:

  • Linnea (all names are pseudonyms), a 20-year-old girl from southern Finland, exemplifies the pursuit of individuality within societal trends. Linnea would like to afford eco-friendly clothing but feels limited by her lack of knowledge and financial resources. Linnea is attracted to popular brands such as Gina Tricot, Cubus, New Yorker, and H&M. The archetype of the girl who strives to stay fashionable but prioritizes comfort and a familiar lifestyle can be called the ”Everyday Trendsetter”.
  • Siiri, a 17-year-old girl from Espoo, represents the archetype of the “Upcycling Creative”. Siiri is eager to express herself and wants to stand out but is limited financially. She often borrows clothes from friends or relatives and then re-stitches or redesigns them to suit her individual style. She loves DIY fashion projects and is known for her ability to turn used clothes into stylish outfits. Siiri doesn’t stick to any particular brand. She likes to look for different clothing options, be it in second-hand stores, online marketplaces, or swapping clothes with friends.
  • Viivi, a 21-year-old university student from Helsinki, embodies the archetype of a “Creative Eco-conscious” person. She aspires to a career focused on sustainability and human rights, which brings her into conflict with her family’s values. Viivi finds it difficult to find affordable ethical fashion and struggles to match her creative ideals with financial constraints. She is attracted to brands such as Marimekko, Kaiko, 2nd Hand, and H&M.
  • Aslak, a 17-year-old teenage boy from the metropolis, embodies the archetype of the “Eco-conscious Upcycler”. He faces the challenges of relationship conflicts and clashing with other generations’ values. Aslak strives for authenticity and tries to insist on his own views. Loyalty to brands does not drive him, he is more interested in the ethical and ecological aspects of their consumption choices rather than status symbols associated with brand names.

It should be noted that the transition from the analytical work of creating Persona Cards to empathy mode is not an easy task. But the four Persona Cards developed during the workshop humanize the images behind the collected data. Also, the workshop allowed the VISU team to co-create. All that combined enhances incorporating empathy into the analytical aspects of the project. In terms of limitations, creating a Persona Card individually, without team collaboration, tends to exhibit traits of subjectivism, which can be seen in the descriptions and can be corrected after group discussion. In our situation, the Persona Card functioned as a tool for personal ideation, providing a reference point for subsequent collaborative development of the Archetype card.

Behavioral Archetype Card’s Analysis

After the individual presentation, the workshop participants moved on to co-create a Behavioral Archetype Card. In this phase of the workshop, participants combined their knowledge and experience to generate patterns and characteristics inherent in the Archetype in question.

The team, while acting collaboratively, chose to create one Behavioral Archetype Card, which was called “Casual Conveniencer”. It had the following characteristics:

  • The Generation Z members of this Archetype demonstrate a desire to express their uniqueness through fashion while conforming to societal norms.
  • Members of this archetype tend not to be very conscious of how their fashion choices may affect the environment. Their primary considerations are often related to factors such as cost sensitivity, convenience, and the ability to physically try on clothes in a store.
  • The main aspiration of representatives of this Archetype is to have enough financial resources to allow them to express their values through fashion. They seek to be heard without standing out, striving for a special form of individuality. In addition, their closet includes clothing suitable for a variety of situations, with an emphasis on attracting attention from peers.

Even though Personas built on the data from interviews shared to some extent the idea of sustainable fashion behavior, the Archetype, developed by the collaborative effort of the VISU team members, rather combined all the problems with unsustainable consumption and resulted in an image called ”Casual Conveniencer”. In essence, the Casual Conveniencer Archetype represents a group that strives for a balance between personal expression and societal norms. For these fashion-oriented individuals, a key area of development is to become more aware of the environmental consequences of their choices. This Archetype comprises people who are confident but aware of their limitations, with a set of subtle needs and desires that form the basis of their fashion identity.


The Empathy Workshop, conducted with the VISU team, was based on interviews with Generation Z in the capital region of Finland. It provided valuable insights into their fashion consumption. The collaboration at the workshop resulted in the development of four Persona Cards and a Behavioral Archetype Card, which gave insight into Gen Z’s fashion consumption. While overall different, Gen Z consumers, for instance, have eco-consciousness, seek individualism, and experience financial constraints. There are also consumers who do not care much about environmental consequences of their behavior. Nevertheless, the workshop didn’t have the goal of encompassing all interviews; therefore, it has only limited value in this sense. At the same time, in terms of VISU teamwork, the workshop allowed for the development of common understanding of data and strengthened the consensus about interpretations.


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URN http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi-fe20231107143434

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