Rising convenience and micro-trends in fashion
The evolution of fashion was slow and seasonal in the past. Prior to the presence of social media, trends would last five to ten years on average, carefully curated through fashion shows, magazines, and exposure by celebrities. The rise of social media and online presence is followed by micro-trends, an accelerated process of fashion cycles. As more people have access to the internet and media, content creators have a wider audience and consumers are easily influenced by what is considered desirable in society.
Those on social media, whether it is a celebrity or influencer, can effortlessly popularize fashion clothing, establishing a certain reputation that comes with the style. Although this may not be done intentionally in every instance, this makes new aesthetics attractive for consumers -- They feel compelled to own these pieces of clothing in order to fit in. However, the lifespan of these trends is cut short as styles become outdated as fast as they were introduced. On average, micro-trend cycles last as short as three to five months.
Moreover, globalization and ubiquitous internet access allow fast production, online purchase options, and next-day delivery. Convenience and accessibility encourage consumers to purchase more. In order to keep up with the ever-changing trends, people buy new clothes every week as overconsumption becomes increasingly evident.
Fast fashion and clothing hauls
From the exploitation of workers in developing countries, increased efficiency in production, and low prices offered to consumers, the term 'fast fashion' is exactly what it sounds like. Unsurprisingly, the most unethical and unsustainable brands are the well-known, multinational clothing companies we have all heard of. Fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M, Primark, and Shein, capitalize off cheap sweatshop labors and micro-trends to drive up profits. Many of these corporations set low prices and deals that are difficult to ignore in order to attract more customers. Even worse, companies utilize 'greenwashing', tricking consumers into thinking the materials are sustainably sourced and would minimize environmental impact, which is not entirely true. On social media, massive Shein clothing hauls are normalized, completely disregarding the negative effects overconsumption has on the planet.
It is understandable to those unable to afford high price, quality brands, and resort to more affordable and available options. However, that is not the case for everyone. Online fashion influencers feel the need to constantly promote and wear new clothes. Many purchase huge hauls from cheap brands to avoid repeating outfits and to sustain the type of content they put out. Fashion brands also offer huge amounts of money for collaborations that some influencers simply cannot turn down. This leads to more promotion and exposure for these unethical brands, driving up their profits.
Effects of overconsumption
The fashion industry is a significant contributor for climate change, producing 10% of total carbon emissions and creating micro-plastics that end up in landfills. With the increase in production, accessibility, and the accelerated consumer habits, the average person buys 60% more clothing pieces. It is reported that 85% of textiles are discarded in landfills annually. The Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) revealed that 300,000 tons of clothing were sent to landfills by UK households in 2016, which has increased even more in recent years.
In 2019, the waste from single-use outfits created approximately ninety-five million kilograms of waste.
The impact of fashion on the environment is extremely worrying and we need to act now to save the planet. Although much of the responsibility of such pollution lies in the hands of fast fashion corporations, as a consumer, there are small steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint and counter overconsumption.
1. Shop sustainable brands
By investing in sustainable, high-quality clothing, product life is increased thus making the purchase worth it in the long run. This reduces the amount of clothing discarded as waste and your personal carbon footprint. Not only would you subsidize environmental impact, but workers would also not be exploited. However, buying from high quality, sustainable businesses is recognized as a privilege since materials and ethical practices costs more to maintain. If shopping from local and sustainable brands is out of your means, you can resort to...
2. Second-hand, charity, or vintage shops
With the rise of vintage 90s aesthetics nowadays, it is very common to find trendy clothes at your local charity shops. Although thrifting is very time consuming and has limited styles and sizes, it is a more sustainable alternative for shopping fast fashion. In other perspective, you can also start donating your clothes to charity shops, instead of simply throwing them away. Reusing second-hand clothing that is in perfectly good condition reduces the waste in landfills.
3. Build a capsule wardrobe
It is nice to own simple and basic clothing pieces that can be easily styled into different outfits. This minimizes the feeling of needing more clothes because "you have nothing to wear." Limit yourself to a few statement pieces and buy clothes you know you will wear for a long time.
4. De-influence others
Inspired by the recent TikTok trend of influencers rating popular products viewers do not need in their life and should save their money on. This trend could be applied to fashion, discouraging overconsumption as well as the need for a collection of the same or similar clothing pieces. It is important to notice micro-trends and not easily give in to capitalist consumerism.
Fashion plays a big role in many of our lives, but also on the planet. The industry has altered and accelerated in recent years through globalization and micro-trends, focused on driving profits. It is important as a consumer to be mindful of your spending habits and the detrimental effects of fast fashion. You can start small by switching to sustainable brands or charity shops, purchase simple but long-lasting pieces, and de-influence yourself and others. The world is already suffocating from the impact of overconsumption, we do not need to worsen it just to keep up with short-term trends.