TikTok: the global sensation dominating the social platforms over the last few years, showcasing short videos regarding everything from dancing to makeup tutorials to fashion. With its ever growing popularity, it is inevitable that TikTok will have an influence on what we buy, such as fashion. But how are these addicting, short videos changing and damaging the way we consume products, especially clothing?
Scrolling through TikTok, it is hard to miss the extreme choke hold the popular influencers have on fashion trends. Especially during the COVID-19 lock-downs in 2020 and 2021, people were using TikTok as a way to kill the time, and consequently killing the responsible consumption of fashion. The early 2000's aesthetic and fashion were at an all time hype during 2020, as tennis skirts, cow print and sweater vests became more visible on the app. A high demand for these items, during a time of economic hardship, meant unethically sourced brands such as Ali Express and Shein were securing millions of sales. Inevitably, popular creators on the app such as Addison Rae would promote the use of these websites, which promoted the unethical source of clothing and fast fashion. Her impressionable fans will want to buy the items she promoted from websites such as Shein, over and over again. And once that trend has fizzled out...on to the next! This is the case for a lot of young creators on the app, who promote these unethical forms of consumption to their millions of followers. It becomes a viscous cycle of promoting, buying and throwing away, contributing to the issue of throw-away culture.
Recent micro-trends include the effortless, off-duty model, 'clean' style is oozing its way back in, with #cleangirlaesthetic currently having over 30 million views on TikTok. In less than a year, the shift in trends and aesthetic have changed dramatically. Yet, we may not realise the external effects the frequent over-consumption and inconsistency of trending clothes has. TikTok is putting trendy clothes at the front line of the global crisis war.
The drastic change in consumer habits contributes to damaging the environment in different ways. Transporting the clothing to your doorstep emits fossil fuels into the environment, but also sourcing materials uses vehicles, which also emit fossil fuels. Cheap labour in sweatshops are used, especially with brands such as Shein and Ali Express, which is extremely unethical and why their items are so cheap. Plastic packaging, which a lot of these clothes are packaged in, are derived from natural gases and oil, which emit fossil fuels into the environment. So, it is always essential to be aware about where your clothes are coming from and the materials that are being sourced to produce them.
In less than a year, the shift in trends and aesthetic have changed dramatically.
Impact of Influencers
TikTok has birthed many influencers and many of whom are advocates for sustainable consumption of fashion, such as Matilda Djerf, who currently has 629.5k followers on the app, and is the owner of Djerf Avenue; a brand which prides itself on being ethically produced, manufactured and consisting of non-seasonal pieces. Essential to progressing towards a more sustainable and healthy consumption lifestyle, influencers like Matilda Djerf are pioneers for the change that is much needed for our environment. However, other highly followed influencers on the app succumb to the micro-trends such as the chunky, resin rings, tie-dye and fluffy bags, which their millions of followers will copy, enabling throw-away culture.
These micro-trends have a secure place on websites such as Shein, with their insanely low prices, appealing to younger and impressionable audiences. So much so, in 2020, Shein's sales had risen to £7.5 billion, which is a 250% jump from the year before. Clearly, the promotion of micro-trends on TikTok by influencers had an extreme influence on their impressionable audience. Additionally, influencer Molly-Mae (now the Creative Director of Pretty Little Thing), constantly promotes the brand. However, PLT have been under investigation for the unethical labour of their workers, as an journalist of the Sunday Times went undercover as a worker in one of the factories of the Boohoo group and was paid under half the hourly minimum wage in the UK. Known for the £5 dresses, PLT have claimed they are developing a more eco-friendly workspace, however, these cheap dresses were still being made in the sweatshops in 2021. Molly Mae currently has 2.1 million followers on TikTok, where she promotes her line with PLT. Her young, impressionable audience are persuaded into buying these unethically sourced pieces, which inevitably contribute to the crippling effect of fast fashion.
Okay, so what now?
It is very easy to be sucked in to the trends that are being promoted to you by your favourite creators - that is natural! But, it is important to maintain the awareness of the external effects the irresponsible consumption of micro-trends can do. Using second-hand websites such as Vinted and Depop is always a sustainable and safe way to put your unwanted clothes to good use (whilst also earning a bit of cash too!). However, buying clothes frequently from the unethical sites is the problem, and having people of a huge following on TikTok promoting them is where it stems from. Furthermore, according to an article from The Guardian, in June 2020, Shein was responsible for 28% of all fast fashion sales in the US - that is more than Zara and H&M combined! With micro-trends constantly coming and going, it is inevitable to understand how much waste will pile up in the environment.
Corporations that are enabling the mass consumption of micro-trends must take some responsibility, but I suggest there are two key actions that we can take to be more sustainable when consuming fashion. Consuming media in ways that promotes a more healthy and sustainable consumer lifestyle is key. Secondly, shopping for clothes that you actually want, not micro-trends that will be dismissed in months down the line. Everyone has their own taste - embrace your own!