My alarm sounds from my nightstand. I pick up my phone, struggling to turn off the alarm. My eyes are squinting at the screen, trying to catch leftover sleep before the day begins. With my phone in my hand, the alarm is now silenced; I scroll.
I’m well aware that the overconsumption of social media leads to increased anxiety, negative self-views and feelings of inadequacy. Yet, I’m hooked on trying to consume every ounce of content posted. My guilty pleasure: fashion hauls and try-on sessions.
As a young environmentalist, I try my best to stay clear of fast-fashion merchandise. However, with an endless feed of Influencers spanning Instagram, YouTube and TikTok sharing fast-fashion and promoting – in my opinion – adorable outfits; I’ve fallen prey to their marketing tactics by purchasing a few pieces online. And like most people with their credit card in hand (or saved to their computer keychain), they hit submit payment with the self-assured message of “well, I can always return it…”.
So what is fast fashion?
Fast fashion provides a non-committal buying experience for the consumer by delivering trendy items without the financial investment. The business model, which is based on ‘copying’ high-fashion designs and mass-producing them, has been adopted by many fashion merchants, such as H&M, Shein, and Zara, to name a few. By rapidly producing items at their peak popularity, stores can maximize profits. Moreover, these capitalist corporations bank on the ever-changing fashion trends; as the consumer is likely to toss their garments after only a few wears and will be back to purchase the next trending item in a matter of weeks.
To keep up with in-style items, fast-fashion brands rely on outsourcing their production overseas. Outsourcing not only provides cheap labour costs but also distances them from their unethical practices. The collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh resulted in the death of over 1,100 people, however, major brands denied their involvement with the factory, leading campaigners to dig through debris in an attempt to hold brands accountable. More recently, in April 2021, while under a country-wide lockdown to curb the spread of the delta-variant, Bangladesh factory workers were required to work 15 hour days with no safety measures in place.
And like most things, low cost trumps quality. Fast-fashion items are made from synthetic materials, mostly derived from fossil fuels. Materials, like polyester, are known to deteriorate but not break down and are laced with harmful chemicals. From garment production to washing, these materials and their chemical components enter our waterways, making the textile industry the second largest water polluter in the world.
But the environmental impact isn’t only from the materials used.
Think twice before swiping up
Influencer content has quickly become the mainstream advertising tool. With 92% of people trusting referrals from influencers, it’s no wonder brands have embraced social media as the new marketing engine. Compared to a standard advertising campaign, lower costs and higher returns have enticed major corporations to create sponsored and commission-based content on social media, making it the number one way we consume ads.
Since influencer marketing became heavily popularized, the cycle of fast-fashion has ramped up. With thousands of 60-second videos across Tik-Tok and Instagram showcasing new items daily, fashion consumption has increased and trending item lead-time has significantly shortened. Instead of purchasing a few new pieces each season, consumers are buying entirely new wardrobes every three months. Moreover, with social media apps displaying direct-to-consumer purchasing opportunities – using a quick ‘swipe up’ or ‘tap here’ – buyers are easily persuaded to purchase while scrolling. And as influencers are looking for more opportunities to monetize their brand, sponsored and commission-based content has become a catalyst of their platform, leading us to purchase 60 percent more clothing than 15 years ago.
While the influence of social media may be good for business, the business is not. The frenzy of content creation and online shopping includes influencers routinely buying new items for try-on hauls, consumers over-purchasing items to find the right size or shoppers simply making a purchase on a whim, leading to over 3.5 billion product returns each year. And while consumers may naively assume their returns will end-up back on the shelf, they do not. With rapidly changing trends and large costs associated with preparing items for resale, returned items account for 5 billion pounds of waste annually.
The fast-fashion industry is reliant on consumer habits, and slowing the industry can be as simple as changing the amount of items purchased, the frequency in-which we buy items and choosing ethically, environmentally conscious brands whenever possible. Getting involved with The Clean Clothes Campaign, improves working conditions for the garment industry globally. Whereas, supporting local thrift stores and creative solutions such as Optoro, a software that helps retailers sell returned merchandise, eliminates landfill accumulation.
Think twice before swiping up, together we can influence the trend for more ethical clothing.