Scrolling through TikTok and Instagram lately, I’ve encountered post after post of influencers promoting fast fashion brands. Like countless other social media users, as soon as I open my phone, I’m greeted by an overwhelming wave of promo codes, sponsored content, and ‘hauls’, where influencers share the results of huge purchases or PR packages, often including enough clothing to put together years of different looks. These marketing tactics manipulate viewers to contribute to the vast environmental and social issues created by the fast fashion industry.
The slew of likes that sponsored fast fashion content often receives reveals just how many people are lured into accepting fast fashion as a reasonable part of modern life. In all honesty, there are times when I’ve found the promo codes urging me to buy a bucket load of cute clothes at a cheap price compelling, but I now recognize that giving in to these promo codes creates economic incentives for brands to shift to environmentally harmful rates of production. At the current level of clothing production, fast fashion contributes to 20% of the world’s water pollution because of the intensive textile dyeing and manufacturing process. The culture many fashion influencers endorse and participate in on social media today thus creates a dangerously unsustainable culture surrounding clothing.
Over the summer, one of my favorite pastimes was binge watching clothing hauls of my favorite Youtubers. Looking back, I realize that many of the hauls displayed clothes from fast fashion brands, including Shein, Zara and Princess Polly. These influencers manipulated my purchasing choices, and their prominent platform allows them to continue shaping other people’s purchases and perspectives on the fashion industry. The constantly evolving trends these influencers establish make it no surprise that consumers frequently buy from unsustainable clothing companies. This influencer inspired communal acceptance of fast fashion without considering its implications has allowed companies to care more about sales than addressing their part in a whopping 10% of all global carbon emissions.
There is a difference between individuals who buy inexpensive clothes from fast fashion companies out of necessity and those who buy for the luxury of abundance. When clothes are bought for necessity, they are worn multiple times and not purchased in the massive quantities that make fast fashion so unsustainable. But when clothes are bought in vast sums for influencer hauls or to keep up with evolving trends, much of the clothing is likely not used more than once or twice in everyday life.
The culture surrounding clothing has changed dramatically in recent years and has evolved to the point that if an individual finds no more satisfaction in wearing a pair of jeans, they throw them out or donate them, even if they are still in good condition. The amount of discarded clothing is significantly greater than the amount recycled, with an average consumer throwing away 70 pounds worth of fabric annually.
Clothing may simply seem like nothing more than a form of self expression, yet it plays a pivotal role in climate change and the economy. Buying a surplus of clothing is often idealized, but people must recognize that adhering to this ideal has significant consequences beyond the luxury of having a dizzying array of choices in their closet each morning.