On one hand, it’s often the only option that many lower-income individuals can afford—how can we shame people who have no other choice? At the same time, fast fashion sites like Shein bring with them many downsides. They are most likely only able to make their clothes so dirt-cheap because they ride on the backs of unethical child labor, producing clothing in factories that pollute the environment. On top of this, these stores often steal designs from hard-working artisans sharing their creations online. These designers find themselves competing with huge fashion companies offering their creations at much lower prices (albeit having far worse quality) without receiving any of the recognition they deserve.
TikTok, as a platform, has only enabled the growth of fast fashion companies worldwide: content creators find success (in views, likes, comments, and maybe even future partnerships) when they post huge $300 hauls from fast fashion brands. This success gravitates towards creators with more money to spend and those who recycle their wardrobes practically once every month—both of which highlight the app’s achievement gap and the unsustainable nature of fast fashion. And with the overflow of said videos also comes the concept of microtrends. Essentially, microtrends occur when an influx of videos promoting a similar trend cause young people to follow a popular aesthetic or seek a specific item of clothing. These trends are suddenly thrusted into popularity, and when the app-goers move onto the next big thing, they are just as quickly deemed worthless or “yesterday.”
This is how TikTok and Instagram retain their engagement despite the content staying largely the same: the never-ending cycle of making trends go viral, running them into the ground, and throwing another at their perpetually hungry audience.
Social media has provided both a platform that rewards unsustainable fashion and a space for climate change activists to start important conversations, such as the notion that it may be unfair to pile blame on consumers rather than the companies who engage in unethical practices in the first place. And how much of an impact does one person who shops sustainably really make?
In my view, all we can do is try our best given our unique situations. And hopefully, this knowledge that we’ve tried our best will make the clothing we wear all the more comfortable.