How social media is stoking the already raging flames of environmental issues in the fashion industry and what we are doing about it
Fast fashion has been a mainstay of popular culture for decades. From the fabulously wealthy to the wannabe millionaire with expensive taste, people rely on trendy clothing that’s accessible to all. But a recent increase in the rate at which we cycle through trends has sparked concern: particularly among the TikTok-loving, newly minted environmental advocates of the younger generation.
Looking back, rising levels of globalization and offshore manufacturing in the ‘90s led to the development of unsustainable fast fashion as we know it today—a chic, flashy beast, fashioned from inhumane conditions and gargantuan contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. That being said, overconsumption is not an entirely modern issue. In fact, calls for sustainable fashion have been around since the flower power movement of the ‘60s, but the term “slow fashion” was coined as recently as 2013, following the disastrous Rana Plaza collapse.
What sets this past year apart in fashion history, however, is the tremendous upswing in the speed at which we are cycling through trends.
Social media’s rise in popularity over the past decade has produced a world divided into the influencers and the influenced. Visual sites like Instagram, Pinterest and, most recently, TikTok, feature a plethora of visual imagery that users can emulate.
“I usually look to Pinterest when I want wardrobe inspiration,” said Isabela Garcia, a first-year undeclared major.
Other students are in the same boat as Garcia.
“I look on Instagram mostly or TikTok for cute outfits,” said first-year economics major Elizabeth Mendoza.
Nareh Derhartounian, a second-year history and American studies double major, takes inspiration from influencers.
“[I look to] Pinterest and models like Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner [for style inspiration],” Derhartounian said. “I am a fan of their street style and how they’re able to incorporate comfort pieces with pieces of luxury.”
This is an effective business model for both influencers and brands. Consumers are left feeling out of fashion if they can’t keep up with the immense amount of products being pushed into their faces on a daily basis. Fast fashion companies capitalize on this, making goods more accessible to the general public by producing vast amounts of poorly made products for shoppers to pick from at a cheap price.
This insanely rapid pace is becoming near-impossible to keep up with for those of us who haven’t figured out how to make money grow on trees, not to mention the damaging effects it has on the planet.
This pattern has raised alarm for many environmentally-conscious shoppers. For Zoe Slipper, a third-year international relations major and director of the Aggie Trading Post at UC Davis, sustainable fashion is something near to her heart.
“Not only do I care about what I’m wearing aesthetically, but I also really care about how and where clothing is made. The most important thing is buying something that lasts,” Slipper said.
And it seems she is not alone in her sentiments.
“I like to stay away from trends because I feel like it allows me to create a personal style and a closet I can wear in the long term,” Derhartounian said.
The younger generation is prominently represented on TikTok and sustainability is promising to be the next big trend. Short videos promoting a more sustainable attitude toward shopping are constantly trending and reaching a large audience composed of mostly younger viewers. Viewers are becoming less enthralled with massive hauls that glorify purchasing hundreds of dollars of clothing every season just to have most of the pieces eventually collect dust at the bottom of a closet.
Thrifting has also gotten a lot of attention in recent years, most notably among those who have historically gravitated toward big retailers such as H&M or Zara. Among these new thrift store frequenters are those who can theoretically afford to buy new, but prefer to shop second hand out of environmental concerns.
“I love thrift stores, consignment stores and buying second-hand vintage,” Slipper said. “I don’t really like to online shop after learning more about the harmful things these stores do.”
Second-hand stores also step in at the intersection where both pricey sustainable stores and cheaper fast fashion retailers fail, offering a diverse selection of styles that shoppers can choose from without compromising their conscience or their wallet.
“It is important to me that a brand values sustainability,” Derhartounian said. “I have just had trouble finding sustainable stores for prices I can regularly shop from and that cater to my varying style.”
Today’s fashionistas still have an undeniable infatuation with buying a gross amount of cute clothes for cheap prices. It’s easy to see why—the promise of a cheap investment that will do well on the explore page is very enticing.
More and more people are recognizing the urgent need to protect our Earth so that future generations can enjoy the same planet we do, and it seems that this flame is lighting a fire under the sustainable fashion movement.
Written by: Clara Fischer — [email protected]