Influencer Culture and Fast Fashion

Social media has become indispensable, and with it, so has keeping up with the latest trends.

Fast fashion takes inspiration from celebrities and the catwalk, making styles inexpensive and accessible for many. Prices are low and options are wide. Companies turn to influencers to promote their brand and products, and in return, they can earn a lot.

Influencers are the product of social media, particularly Instagram and YouTube. They hold an enormous amount of influence over their followers. Social media provides a free platform for creative freedom and inspiration, allowing anyone to become an influencer. This builds an organic relationship between influencer and follower, naturally developing trust. 

With 17% of people finding the latest trends from online bloggers, many people feel overwhelmed with where to start and feel they lack inspiration. Followers want to be like the person they are watching, they want to wear what they wear and look how they look. So, when an affiliate link takes you straight to the page where you can make your purchase along with a gift-wrapped promotion code that pops up on your screen, it is hard to avoid.

Authentic influencer partnerships

Many influencers’ narrative is that they only work with brands they use and love, therefore, this comes across as a recommendation rather than feeling pressured to make a purchase. It can however be misleading to impressionable audiences that despite what seems honourable intentions when a product is ‘recommended’ and an affiliate link is attached. 

Controversy is often one of the first words that comes to mind when thinking of influencers. Consider Molly-Mae when she became creative director of Pretty Little Thing. Perhaps the job would’ve been better suited to a more qualified candidate, and many also demanded that she should do something about the poor conditions of the garment workers and increase their wages.

The issue of overconsumption 

Fashion influencers have a lot of clothes, that’s a fact. It’s their job. But their regular content of hauls and outfit posts promotes overconsumption makes it seem as though this is an appropriate and sustainable way to buy clothes. The exhaustive list of videos influencing you ‘run’ to your local Primark or head to Shein, PLT or Boohoo to purchase an extensive list of items can suggest this is normal to do so and if you don’t you will be missing out. 

The appeal of consumerism allowing items to be snapped up for a great bargain entices many to turn to larger brands for discounted items, turning their back on smaller and often more sustainable companies. But what starts as style ideas for followers can quickly turn into envy, and make people feel as though they are missing out. 

Whether you open Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok you are bombarded with adverts and promotions from influencers and brands drawing you into buying items. 54% of people believe influencers are part of the reason for the rise of fast fashion, this number increases to 71% when asking the younger generation (16-24).

Fast fashion does provide accessible and trendy alternatives to high-end fashion. Whereas low-income households would previously turn to second-hand or charity shop clothes, online shops allow an expression of individuality and the opportunity to experiment with styles. The issue does not fall here, nor does it fall with people who make purchases as and when they need clothes. 

Should the onus fall onto the larger companies or influencers?

Is it the case that influencers are a cog in a larger machine here? Despite second-hand and vintage shopping being on the rise since the beginning of lockdown and 39% of consumers started buying fewer ‘new’ items, brands continue to lure people in with cheap, new products.

A company’s goal is to make a profit, growing its market share. Many businesses are flexible and in order to grow, they may change their values and goals in response to demand and their customers. With the fashion industry being responsible for 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2 every year, it is showing little effort to reduce its impact on the planet., and influencers could be adding fuel to the ever-growing, ever damaging fast fashion phenomenon. But with 75% of Gen-Z’s consciously making more sustainable choices, it is clear things need to change.

Previously, brands would plan months if not years for future lines. Yet with fast fashion, new items can be available very quickly. The demand for clothes is only increasing, with 60% of people buying more clothes now than they did two decades ago. Demand is met with speed, the keyword in fast fashion is fast. Fast sales, fast delivery, fast returns, and fast use. According to the UN, 1.5 trillion litres of water are used every year, this is only expected to double in the next eight years.

Out of the 150 billion items produced each year, three in five items (per person) will be discarded within the same year of purchase. Despite other alternatives such as charity shops, second-hand options, and sustainable disposing methods, most dispose of their unwanted items in a landfill, which is 92 million tonnes every year. 

Companies and consumers both contribute to this, the Environmental Audit Committee has found that 15% of disposed of items are from the cutting stage. Disposed clothing comes from all parts of the cycle, unfortunately. 

Discount codes upon discount codes…landfills upon landfills

As more is bought, more cheaply manufactured garments are made and the enticing practices of brands and influencers cause an influx in sales, 100 to 200 billion units a year, which later only get thrown away. Many argue for a change to come about it must come from the consumer.

Millions of followers don’t necessarily mean an understanding of fashion or the product lifecycle. With sustainability being a ‘trend’, for whatever reason we have to take this at face value, consumers are demanding sustainable products, and businesses are more than willing to comply. 

Whilst on one hand this is great to see, whatever the intentions are; there are still issues with this. The rise of influencers sees people from all different backgrounds and interests and sustainable influencers are amongst them, they are great for information on ethical practices. 

However, an influx of greenwashing has become more prominent. Greenwashing is defined as portraying misleading information about the practices of a company, persuading the public items are sourced and manufactured ethically. This PR approach is used to gain public trust and confidence in the brand, with 67% of consumers considering where an item is made before purchasing.

It is harsh to put the blame completely on influencers but more needs to be done to challenge and change the influencer culture of fast fashion.