Harmless hypertrend hopping? Ellie Hammonds dives into how social media is contributing to overconsumption and short-lived fashion trends. 

You open up Instagram and are met by a foghorn of posts: mini dresses, boho-chic, maxi skirts, biker shorts, white tees, UGG boots, and blazers. I could continue, but you are probably already feeling overwhelmed. Imagine how the planet feels. 

Fast fashion refers to the rapid production of cheap, low-quality clothing and often imitates popular, independent designs. Fast fashion companies encourage trends in styles and items to come and go faster than a formula- 1 car. But is social media the enabler? 

A clothing trend will be promoted by a brand on social media, exposing vast users to new and unnecessary clothing styles. These clothes are then further promoted by Influencers through tags and try-on hauls.

This will then encourage other users to discover and purchase new styles. The more popularity this trend gains, the more clothing is produced. The trend will skyrocket and then crash; leaving behind excess production and consumption of unneeded clothes. 

Fast Fashion brands and social media partner up to devise targeted ads to users they know are most likely to take the bait. In collecting and analysing data, social platforms are able to inform fast fashion brands on who their most profitable and susceptible audiences are. 

With 52.4% of global fashion shoppers now using Instagram to find their latest garms, it is evident that the social media and fast fashion Jeklle and Hyde duo has got us hooked on artificial and short-lived washes of dopamine, as we hit checkout.

The ugly truth 

As fun the fantastical idea may be that we can reasonably keep up with fashion trends sported across our social channels, there are very real consequences for the planet and the people involved in the manufacturing of these clothes. 

Once a trend finishes its five minutes of fame, excess clothing is then sold for incineration or placed in landfill. According to the Round Up, this is the destiny of 87% of materials used to make clothing. 

Not to mention that up to 40% of items of clothing made per year are not being sold. With 15 million used garments flooding Accra, Ghana, every week from the UK, Europe, North America and Australia, it is clear that the overproduction encouraged from social media endorsed fashion trends has to stop. 

The impulse devised nature of the marketing of these trends arguably leads to decisions that do not align with our values. 

I am certain that we can agree the conditions garment workers for Fast Fashion brands are forced to work under are entirely unacceptable. 

For instance, it was revealed that a Boohoo clothing factory in Leicester was paying their workers £3.50 and £4.00 per hour, with national minimum wage for people over 25 years-old at the time being £8.72. The workers were forced to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, even if they showed symptoms

Yet, Fast Fashion brands and social media continue their plight of producing as much clothing as possible, with no sleep lost over what it is doing to our humanity and home. 

 “Without the insta-outfit shot we would not have created such a ‘wear once and dispose’ fashion culture. Being seen in different clothing every post is supposed to be cool. It is not” said Jo-Anne Godden, founder of RubyMoon, a circular and NGO swim and activewear brand.  

It raises the question, has the constant bombardment of trending items and ‘must-haves’ clouded our ability to see the apocalyptic consequences of these redundant spending highs? 

“It is killing our planetary resources and us. ‘Shop till you drop’ is literal” Godden states. 

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The ball is in our court: consumer power 

Brands are becoming aware of the consumer shift towards a demand in accountability and sustainable action. 

With nine in ten Generation Z consumers believing that companies have a duty to address environmental and social issues, the power dynamic is starting to level out. 

In 2020, the term “slow fashion” generated more than 90 million social impressions. Along with 70% of consumers wanting to know how the brands they shop from are contributing to both social and environmental issues. It is clear that consumers are becoming wiser and demanding better. 

Consumers still need to remain vigilant to greenwashing, with brands like Asos and Prettylittlething promoting their ‘marketplaces’ and ‘vintage’ options, this is a clear and blatant way to continue to hound our feeds with even more clothes. 

According to the British Fashion Council “there are enough clothes on the planet to dress the next 6 generations.” So whilst second hand options are better, consumers need to be aware of the message they are receiving from social media of more, more and more! 

Whilst changes in legislation should start holding brands more accountable and enforce them to take the required action to start tackling their impacts on the environment, concurrent changes in consumers’ needs to continue. 

The alarm has been ringing, and it’s about time we turned it off and got out of bed. 

It appears that the sustainability ‘trend’ is on the rise, but this trend needs to stick. 

As consumers we need to use our power, make sustainable choices and support brands that are ethical and transparent. 

Whilst I am not going to pretend there are not challenges in adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, appreciating what we already have is a good place to start.