Has social media affected the way we consume fashion?
I’ve used social media to promote my work as a crocheter since 2018. Gone are the days of posting the perfect selfie boasting a high-key cringey and low-key seductive pout. Or posting pics of groups of friends with ciggies in mouth and cactus jacks in hand. Instagram is now my portfolio of creativity and a diary of crochet.
As collateral repair, I also use Instagram to encourage people to make their own clothes, promote responsible consumerism (if there is such a thing) and slow fashion. Terms which basically mean shop less and shop smart. I became familiar with these concepts during my geography undergrad, which no wasn’t about rocks and colouring-in before you ask, but included a focus on sustainability within the fashion industry.
However, I’ve noticed an appropriation of the term sustainability which contradicts what I’ve learnt about the term:
Sustainability is the “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.”
The fashion industry in almost all of its current forms, including my own, does not avoid this impact but can definitely try and strive towards sustainability as a goal. However, both fast fashion and social media platforms have misused this term to the point where it’s taken on a different meaning.
Fast fashion companies in particular have cottoned on to the fact that majority of consumers want to shop more consciously. Marketing a pair of polyester trousers as ‘vegan leather’ to avoid calling it ‘toxic plastic leg saunas’ is a prime example of brands coercing consumers to fall for their 4th ‘we-care-about-sustainability’ collection of the month.
Somebody tell Alanis Morissette that this is what actual irony looks like.
It is important that the information spread on social media is accurate. A recent study found that a third of consumers get their information about sustainability from social media and are making more effort to shop at places which stand for positive environmental or socio-political practices . Which makes sense because we’re all trying to outdo each other for woke points, right?
By using different terminology like sustainability focused, slow fashion, zero-waste, plastic-free etc, we show how we are conscious of some of the impacts of the industry and are specific in the ways we are trying to demote them whilst also allowing space for improvement. This begins to move away from ‘sustainable’ as generic term which has become meaningless through a process of overused marketing appropriation.
Social media hearts fast fashion
Social media without a doubt has helped put ‘sustainable fashion’ and its offspring terminology on the map, being used as a hashtag 10.5 million times. But social media platforms have also been the perfect playground for fast fashion to evolve into a greedy capitalist troll, dressed in a Boohoo blazer, so big no one wants to share the see-saw with it. It’s enabled a culture of overconsumption and keeping up with the trends, making people feel like they need to buy buy buy.
When did we forget reduce, reuse recycle?
Giving people a constant barrage of new collections to post on the gram, these are some of the ways fast fashion brands have been able to keep prices low and production high:
Cheap labour using factory workers (often women of colour in the Global South) who are paid extortionately low wages, which stinks of neo-colonialism. 
Poor-quality material, often polyester, which is one of the most commonly used fabrics in the fast fashion industry. This material has numerous effects on the environment, most recently discovered is micro-plastics . Yes, you could have tiny bits of plastic in your lungs.
Adheres to trends which often go out of style very quickly and so it reinforces overconsumption and waste, 75% of supply chain material ends up in landfill . Overconsumption has led to excessive waste which contributes to our overflowing landfills. “10,000 items of clothing being sent to landfill every five minutes, equivalent to £140 million in value every year” .
These fast fashion companies are often owned and/or managed by very wealthy white men who profit off the exploitation of its factory workers and sometimes even from the appropriation of Black culture. Your money is being invested into people who already have more money than they know what to do with .
Just to name a few.
Then there’s the social media trends that occasionally pop up that we really need to a long hard look at.
If slow fashion is the process of slowing down consumption of clothes, then the social media trend called ‘hauls’, are the antithesis.
Hauls have been hashtagged over 2.3 million times and encourage audiences to drop everything sprint to your nearest laptop to fill your infinite virtual basket up (plus a few extras for the free delivery) on a weekly basis.
If some eco-fashion warrior hasn’t told you by now, that’s not good please stop doing it.
And then there’s the upcycling trends. This one is trickier, I’m actually a massive fan of upcycling in its traditional sense. What’s more exciting than finding a musty old curtain in your loft and upcycling it into a crochet plant pot. Either lockdown has aged me or I am genuinely getting old because I just called that exciting.
But there are some cases where upcycling has morphed into the process of buying plus size clothing and flipping it into that must-have summer co-ord or asymmetrical bralette.
This trend misses the whole point of upcycling, encouraging more consumption rather than using the resources around you that would otherwise go to waste. It also creates more waste, unless by some miracle you’ve used every last scrap, and it takes away from an already small pool of plus size clothing.
What can we do better?
Consumers cannot be blamed for buzzing to the honey trap of these companies or social media trends but we can start to think critically about what we are buying by considering that every penny spent is an investment to that person or organisation. Change may not be as effective this way as it is top-down, but gathering enough attention to force the hand of decision makers can start with just one person. At the end of the day, we all have a responsibility to do better from individual to organisation.
However, no one’s perfect and no one can challenge everything. Especially when there are so many pitfalls at every corner dug by green-washed or woke-washed companies that appeal to the well-wishing consumer.
So the all-time best advice I try to live by is: pick your battles, fix your clothes, don’t throw them away and if you really want to buy, buy from people who are sustainability focused (I heard of this really good crocheter called Sarabi or something like that maybe check her out). There’s also an app you can use to check company’s ethics rating https://goodonyou.eco/.
We should also be aware that the Reel and TikTok trends that pop-up that reduce sustainability (whatever that has come to mean) to simply a performance for recognition by peers may actually encourage more unethical consumption. I personally take this a sneaky widespread propaganda tactic for capitalism which reinforces forms of neocolonialism, but in the words of the people’s princess, Tayce, that’s a story for another time or read Kalkigan Legesse’s article for the guardian.