How Social Media is Fueling Ultra Fast Fashion

by Kirsten Runyan

Social media has opened up a whole new world of marketing, including influencers and personalities with worldwide audiences. These influencers are becoming increasingly powerful in the retail world. With their large, loyal followings, they can promote products to millions of people with just a few clicks.

In recent years, this has allowed fast fashion and micro trends to become an even bigger problem for the planet than they already were. The combination of low prices, availability, and quick shipping means more clothes are being bought than ever. But unfortunately, most of these clothes will end up in landfills.

Let's take a closer look at how social media influencers are driving fast fashion and making fast fashion even faster.

What is fast fashion, and why is it bad?

Fast fashion is a term used to describe low-cost clothing collections that mimic current trends. Unfortunately, these collections are produced quickly and cheaply, often at the expense of workers' safety and the environment. Brands like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21 are some of the biggest producers of fast fashion. 

Fast fashion is clothing that quickly moves from the catwalk to stores at a low cost. This allows consumers to access "trendy" clothing at an affordable price. Unfortunately, while this may seem like a great deal for shoppers, it comes at a considerable cost for the planet.  

The Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion

Because fast fashion clothes are made cheaply and quickly with little concern for quality or durability, the clothing will usually only last a couple of wears before falling apart or going out of style. The combination of low prices, availability, and quick shipping means more clothes are being bought than ever before. The result is that more textile waste ends up in landfills. It's estimated that by 2030 the number of garments produced will double from 62 million tons per year to 102 million tons per year! The fabric used in fast-fashion clothing is also often made from plastic-based fibers like polyester and nylon, which take hundreds of years to decompose in landfills. 60% of clothes are thrown away the same year they're bought.

Fast fashion also uses more water and chemicals than traditional clothing production processes, creating an immense strain on the environment. Not only that, but the water used in the typical fashion production process is already incredibly wasteful – the most common statistic estimates it takes 2,700 liters (or ~700 gallons) to make one T-shirt! Of course, the exact number varies by the type of material and manufacturing process to make the shirt. But it's well-known that the fashion industry is one of the most water-intensive industries. The fashion industry has been draining our planet for years: a whopping 79 trillion liters of water in 2020 alone! 

But it doesn't stop there - toxic chemicals are released through textile production, and microfibers shed off synthetic fabrics, leading to devastating pollution. 

Overconsumption of cheap clothing puts pressure on resources and creates a huge waste problem for our planet. It also supports unethical labor practices, such as unsafe working conditions and unfair wages for garment workers worldwide. Moreover, toxic dyes used on these garments can leak into our waterways resulting in devastating environmental impacts, including the death of aquatic life and water contamination. All these factors contribute to some of our most significant environmental challenges today.  

How social media has fueled ultra fast fashion.

Social media influencers play an important role in promoting fast fashion brands by showcasing their products and encouraging their followers to buy them as soon as possible because "they won't last!" Unfortunately, their posts often glamorize these items as being "must-haves" for any wardrobe - even if the same style will be seen on sale again shortly after it has been purchased. As a result, social media encourages overconsumption and makes it difficult for people to resist buying something new every time they see it promoted online. 

Social media has made it easier to keep up with the latest trends; by promoting fast fashion, there are unintended environmental and ethical consequences. So if you haven't considered how your shopping habits impact the environment, think twice about what you're buying this season (and beyond)! 

Overconsumption of clothes has become rampant due partly to influencers participating in "haul videos" challenges online, which promote buying items in bulk, often at meager prices. Studies show us just how devastating this can be: if all the clothes bought in one year were thrown away, it would take less than five hours to fill an Empire State Building-sized landfill!

Social media has also revolutionized the fashion industry, creating a fast-paced cycle of trends and styles. The ever-present trendsetters on social media, known as influencers, have been instrumental in promoting fast fashion and giving rise to a more devastating and faster form of fast fashion; ultra fast fashion. 

Ultra Fast Fashion versus Fast Fashion, what's the difference? 

Fast fashion and ultra fast fashion are both forms of mass-produced clothing, but they differ in terms of their speed. In simplest terms, ultra fast fashion is fast fashion at an alarmingly more rapid rate. It's like turbocharging the already troubling momentum of regular fast fashion. Everything from production, trend churn, and eventual journey to a landfill is accelerated. 

Fast fashion (from brands like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21) reflects the most up-to-date trends on social media or the runway; it usually results in two to four collections per season. On the contrary, ultra fast fashion (from brands like Asos, Shein, and Fashion Nova) accelerates this process by offering new designs every week (or even daily), which increases demand and creates an unsustainable system. As a result, companies are pumping out styles at an astonishing rate that impacts workers and their conditions and increasingly pollute our environment. For example, in 2021 alone, Shein added 315,000 new pieces to their site compared to H&M's 4,000 new styles!

This pressure on manufacturers eventually leads to lower product quality, and sustainable production practices are often compromised due to lack of time. Moreover, the time pressure can have further consequences, from improper disposal of waste fabrics and chemicals affecting natural habitats to the exploitation of garment workers through low wages for long hours. Therefore, buying sustainable clothes is not only good for our planet but also many people around the world.

TikTok has become the powerhouse behind ultra fast fashion trends. Not only did it explode in popularity during the lockdown, but its bitesize videos are ideal for promoting fashionable micro-trends that can go viral one day and be replaced a few days later. Influencers have been taking advantage of this to work with ultra fast fashion sponsors at breakneck speed – giving them more opportunities than ever before.

Shein is the ultimate ultra fast fashion brand.

Shein is proof that tapping into TikTok as a platform can lead to serious success - their low-cost fashions have become a hit due to being publicized by influencers and through sponsored ads. As a result, Shein has skyrocketed to the top of the fast fashion market in America, producing a staggering 700-1000 new items daily! They seemingly came out of nowhere fast, but as of Summer 2021, they hold 28% of the fast fashion market in the United States.

Their clothes are made quickly and cheaply. This lightning-fast speed means that trends can be reworked quickly without long delays or high production costs. They can place lots of small bets until something big works out. On top of this, by shipping directly from their warehouse instead of through retailers or import/export companies, Shein bypasses extra fees for small packages - adding another layer of efficiency to their model.

Aside from reports of horrible working conditions and environmental impacts, Shein has also been accused of stealing designs from large brands, small businesses, and independent artists. While there may be concern about copied designs and labor standards, Shein's customers are drawn to fashionable items at prices hard not to resist.

Popular influencers have the power to influence millions with their fashion choices. But it's not all good news - with fast-fashion and disposable trends dominating, these posts can be detrimental to our environment. So it's time we talked about how social media affects how we shop!

Social media influencers have inadvertently become enablers for fast fashion and ultra fast fashion companies by promoting their products without considering their environmental consequences. We need to be aware that overconsumption comes with real costs - not just financial ones - and take steps towards reducing our impact on the planet by choosing sustainable options when shopping for clothing. By doing this, we can help preserve our resources while still looking stylish!

What Can We Do About Fast Fashion?

Purchasing fast fashion may seem like the best financial solution and even the only option if specific sizes or pieces are unavailable otherwise. However, it's essential to think long-term when shopping for clothing - both in terms of sustainability and your wallet! 

Avoid making new purchases, or buy higher quality when you can.

Buying new clothes year after year is expensive over time—not to mention the environmental impact. When you buy low-quality fast fashion clothing, you'll likely need to replace it sooner. Consider skipping new purchases whenever possible. Thrift stores often have awesome deals on high-quality apparel (although that is changing as thrift stores become more overwhelmed with second-hand fast fashion clothing). Select sustainable online brands that stock a wide range of sizes & styles, or you can always learn to sew something yourself! Taking steps towards responsible consumption can save money while being kinder on our planet – a win/win situation.

Being a conscious consumer starts with awareness.

For many people, the first step is awareness – educating ourselves and others on fast fashion's impact on our planet. 

From there, we can make conscious decisions when shopping by avoiding disposable fashion items or supporting eco-friendly brands that use sustainable materials such as bamboo or hemp instead of plastic-based fabrics. We can also do our part by recycling old clothes or donating them to charity so they don't end up in landfills or incinerators where they would release harmful emissions into the atmosphere. Which also helps reduce textile waste by giving pre-worn clothes a second life! Lastly, we should all be mindful about who we follow online - if an influencer promotes cheap, disposable clothing. Their followers will likely follow suit, so support creators who promote sustainable fashion! 

Be kind to yourself and realize you can't solve everything.

Don't feel guilty if you cannot afford more sustainable clothing with a high price tag or can't find your size. Instead, focus on what you can control and influence. Buy what you can afford, and make the best decision about where you spend your money. Even shopping at a fast fashion brand is better than an ultra fast fashion brand. It's about gradual changes that shift your mindset from overconsumption towards mindfulness. And every item you buy, buy to use frequently and to repurpose it. 

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the environmental challenges we are faced with today. Remember that small incremental changes can make a big impact. 

Don't worry. You don't have to sacrifice your style for environmentalism!

Being mindful of the environment doesn't mean you have to sacrifice fashion. Influencers can still enjoy glamourous trends while promoting sustainable practices. For example, they can partner with ethical brands that report their sustainability efforts instead of fast-fashion ones. Influencers can also leverage thrift stores or rental services for on-trend looks without contributing to wasteful shopping habits. There's more than one way to be stylish AND considerate about our planet - let your wardrobe show it off!

Support Eco-friendly Fashion

Eco-friendly fashion is slowly but steadily growing in popularity - and high-profile people are leading the charge. Unfortunately, sustainable fashion still hasn't seen its fair share of love from influencers or viewers – #Sheinhaul videos get views by billions every day compared to only millions for #thrifthaul posts! Similarly, influential figures have typically chosen fast over slow fashion when broadcasting on social media platforms, having followers in the thousands versus potentially millions depending on which side they choose.

The combination of fast fashion and micro trends driven by social media influencers have devastated our planet. As ultra fast fashion gains momentum, people are encouraged to buy lower-quality items more frequently, resulting in more products ending up in landfills. While fast fashion already poses grave environmental dangers, ultra fast fashion exacerbates this problem. It should be replaced by sustainable practices if we hope to protect our planet from further damage.

Low prices mean consumers can easily buy new items every few weeks without considering the environmental costs associated with production processes or disposal methods for unwanted clothing items. So when shopping online or supporting your favorite influencer, remember to think twice about how your purchase affects our planet! Sustainable fashion is a great way to feel good about your wardrobe without compromising style. You don't need to follow the latest trends – embrace practicality by not buying too much and be creative with what you already have or make some of your clothes! Seek out eco-friendly fabrics like bamboo, hemp fiber, and cotton; avoid plastic-based materials such as polyester. Your closet can still look amazing even if you shop second-hand - this also helps reduce overconsumption, so it's a win-win for everyone involved!

Why Melomys?

Here at Melomys, we're on a mission to leave our mark in the most positive way possible. We know that starts with education and activism within our communities - but also through sustainable business practices! Each item you purchase will plant five trees when you shop with us, thanks to our partnership One Tree Planted. That's why we ask YOU to join us: lower those carbon footprints and fight for environmental legislation. Together — it's a better future 🌱