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The Problem Of Social Media Influencers And Fast Fashion

There’s a problem with social media influencers and fast fashion. And not enough people are talking about it.

Social media influencers, creators, and personalities have instantaneous, ever-growing worldwide audiences. Since their invention, visual photo and video sharing apps like YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, and TikTok have allowed people unprecedented connections and reach. 

So when popular social media users discuss fashion, the message carries.

For better or for worse. 

Image by cloudlynx from Pixabay 

Social media influencers and fast fashion

The influence of social media is exceptional in the fashion industry, often promoting what is known as “Fast Fashion.” Fast fashion refers to clothing that is quickly and cheaply made for mass consumption. It relies on labor in countries where workers are given low wages and no overtime pay. Fast fashion companies churn out new items quickly so that buyers get hooked on constant novelty. And it’s not difficult to find a popular influencer sponsored by fast fashion.

Influencers promote fast fashion. Social media encourages us to buy more and wear once for a photo or video. This buying cycle has enabled “micro-trends.”

What are “micro-trends”?

The term “micro-trend” was popularized on TikTok by Mandy Lee (@oldloserinbrooklyn), but it’s not a new term. The Worldwide Response Accredited Production (WRAP) explains the differences between trends, micro-trends, and macro-trends in fashion:

A “trend” is defined as a general direction in which something is developing or changing, and when we apply that to the fashion industry, this describes the popularity of a specific type of style or piece of clothing. So, a micro-trend is one that quickly rises in popularity and falls even faster. The fashion cycle of a micro-trend is usually 3-5 years, while macro-trends typically last 5-10 years. Macro-trends are the styles we tend to associate with the different decades, for instance, shoulder pads of the eighties, drop-waist dresses in the twenties, and bell-bottom jeans in the seventies. 

Worldwide Response Accredited Production (WRAP)

TikTok is making fast fashion even faster

You probably know that TikTok has grown exponentially, partly due to the pandemic.

The time between micro-trends is getting shorter and shorter and TikTok has played a major role. Tiktok’s bite-sized videos correlate perfectly to micro-trends in fashion

Because TikToks tend to have lifespans of a couple of days, influencers can wear sponsored micro-trends in one viral video and the trend will replaced by the end of the week.

Photo 166094118 © Michele Ursi | Dreamstime.com

The rise of TikTok and the changes seen in buyer behavior illustrates the profound influence social media has on the fashion industry.

In fact, Shein’s monumental popularity is mainly due to its early and strategic use of TikTok. Unlike other fast fashion brands, Shein is exclusively online; there are no brick-and-mortar stores. Through sponsored influencers like Addison Rae, ads across social media, and fashion haul videos (sponsored and unsponsored) their target audience of young women is highly aware that Shein offers stylish dresses under $10. This affordability makes their items hard to pass up. This is despite small designers alleging stolen designs and Shein’s lack of transparency regarding labor and environmental standards.

Micro-trends create overconsumption

When clothing is readily available, at astoundingly low prices, and with almost instantaneous shipping another problem arises…overconsumption.

Some influencers do fashion haul videos to participate in these micro-trends. A fashion haul is a video showcasing new clothing purchases, often acquired in bulk. While often intended as innocent fun, it does have an influential effect. It gives fast fashion brands free publicity and encourages overconsumption.

In fact, 60% of clothes are thrown away the same year they’re bought. A landfill the size of the Empire State Building would fill up with discarded clothes in less than five hours.

Pile of old clothes and shoes dumped as trash. Photo 116339453 / Clothes Trash © Srdjan Randjelovic | Dreamstime.com

Fast fashion brands like Shein cater to overconsumption by providing clothes made of cheap, low-quality material not made to last. Their clothes are manufactured at lightning speeds. Shein has seemingly come out of nowhere fast, but as of Summer 2021, holds 28% of the fast fashion market in the United States.

Shein releases 700 and 1000 new items per day. As explained by Matthew Brennan (a technology expert, and writer) Shein can place a lot of low-risk bets by producing so many new items in small quantities until one of them takes off. Because Shein ships directly from their warehouses to individual customers, they avoid import and export fees by shipping in small packages.

If you didn’t already know the consequences of fast fashion, you’re probably rethinking your spending habits. Which is great!

You’re probably thinking it’s obvious that fast fashion should be eliminated, and you’re right. But the issue is a bit more complex.

When buying fast fashion makes sense

You might feel trapped into buying fast fashion for financial reasons (fast fashion is cheaper, after all) or size exclusion (particularly of plus-size individuals who might not find their size at a sustainable brand). This article is not here to shame you. On the contrary, these are legitimate reasons to buy fast fashion. However, avoid buying it whenever you can. Not buying new clothes at all, shopping second-hand, or making your own clothes is a better option than fast fashion. It’s important to do what you can towards sustainable consumption.

However…

If you frequently buy hundreds of dollars of low-priced new clothes that you throw away in a year, this message is for you. Stop buying fast fashion.

Using social media to fight fast fashion

While social media often promotes fast fashion, there are ways to enjoy the fun of fashion, social media, and influencer culture while being environmentally responsible.

Influencers can partner with ethical brands that track and report their sustainability practices – instead of partnering with fast fashion brands or companies that greenwash their subpar manufacturing and distribution practices. Influencers can play up the glamour of timeless, vintage pieces made to last instead of cheaply made outfits that will be culturally obsolete within the week. Some TikTok creators are doing thrift store hauls instead of #Sheinhaul videos: this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

It’s becoming increasingly popular to use eco-friendly practices in fashion, but it’s still not mainstream. High fashion brands like Stella McCartney have been designing pieces for the circular economy for years before it was in vogue. And some celebrities like Emma Watson and Billie Eilish have publicly stated their commitment to wearing and supporting sustainable fashion brands. 

Still, #Sheinhaul videos get views in the billions, while #thrifthaul videos get views in the millions. Fashion influencers have followers in the millions, while sustainable fashion influencers typically have followers in the thousands. 

The 2021 Met Gala featured sustainable looks from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Dan Levy. The prominence of social media stars at the 2021 Met Gala is a clear indicator that they are influencing not only everyday fashion but also high fashion. There is certainly hope that even influencers are catching on to the value of sustainable fashion over micro-trends.

Fight fashion by buying second hand. Clothes at a flea market. Image by salutfromparis from Pixabay

What You Can Do

But to be sustainably fashionable, you don’t need to listen to influencers and fast fashion. It’s okay to ignore micro-trends. Instead, you can embrace practicality by not overconsuming and embrace creativity by making your own clothes. Consider items made ethically and sustainably by businesses that can prove their sustainability initiatives (plastic-free, carbon neutrality, circularity, etc.). Seek out sustainable fabrics like bamboo, hemp fiber, and organic cotton, and avoid plastic-based materials like polyester. You can always buy second hand clothes.

Don’t let influencers and fast fashion dictate your style. Whatever you buy, make sure you intend to wear it for a long time.

Here at Melomys, we are proud to be a part of the slow fashion movement by making all items to order. We’re on a mission to make a difference, one garment at a time, by planting five trees for every purchase! Shop Now

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