At the age of 16 my favourite way to spend my time was clothes shopping. I was a full-on fashion blogger at that time in my life, popping out OOTDs and H&M hauls like there was no tomorrow. However, unlike all of the ‘successful’ influencers that I saw getting invited to fashion shows and being gifted Mulberry bags, I was on a waitressing wage of less than £4 an hour. So, I stuck to the knock-off Lita boots and the sale rails of my local Primark. I focused less on quality (and, ya know, whether I actually liked an item) and more on getting as much as humanly possible for my money. I would leave shops with bags full of items that were ill fitting, telling myself that I would “DIY it” or “cover it with a cardi” to turn into into something actually wearable. But more often than not they would just sit in my draws, never worn.
Basically, my shopping habits consisted of everything I have now come to loathe about the clothing industry. Which is one of the main reasons I try not to get too far up on my high horse now that I’m on a journey to becoming a more ethical consumer. Who am I to police people’s spending when I was fast fashion’s ideal customer a matter of months ago?
When thinking about my previous shopping habits it’s impossible to avoid the influence of the online world. Not only was I consuming blog posts, hauls and Instagram OOTDs, but I was creating them too. So, I like to think that my life at 16 is a pretty good case study of how social media and blogging influences and is influenced by fast fashion. Almost my whole world was governed by what I saw online because the likes of Vogue seemed that little bit too unattainable. The truth is that social media stars are the idols of this generation. It’s no longer as simple as buying that Britney Spears’ perfume and being done with it. Social media gives us access to someone’s whole life (or what we think is their whole life). As such, we get insight into what they use, eat and, of course, wear, on a daily basis. We have a thousand more ways in which we can emulate them by simply clicking a LIKEtoKNOW.it link or entering a discount code at check out.
Now of course online creators whose livelihoods rely on the internet need to profit off this fact. We all know that affiliate schemes are lucrative business: In the UK brands spend £1.3 billion on it every year. In reality then, a proportion of our time consuming online content is actually spent being encouraged to buy things that we don’t need and didn’t know we wanted. As such the foundations of sustainable fashion are bypassed. People don’t consider using what they have, borrowing, swapping, thrifting or making what they need, but instead skip straight towards buying instead. And when the next trend piece comes along, the pattern starts all over again.
Talk to your grandparents and they will tell you that this isn’t a mentality that existed 50 years ago.
On top of that, the pressure to buy isn’t one-sided. Content creators are constantly aware that their material needs to be “fresh”. That means not wearing the same coat in every Instagram shot and generally trying to make each day of your life look as different as possible from the one before (but still in the same colour pallet, obvs). The truth is that there is a demand: People want to see new makeup and clothing on people like themselves, not just on the glossy pages of a magazine. That means that hauls remain on top. For the most part, if you want to climb those fashion blogging ranks you need to be fully in-tune with the 52 micro-seasons that fast fashion outlets have created ever year. So, yes, audiences do feel the pressure to buy from creators, but I would argue that creators feel the same pressure from their audience.
Here’s how I see it: Online content creators buy into fast fashion in order to remain relevant and for the sake of having fresh content to put out there. At the same time the people consuming the content start to internalise and normalise this haul lifestyle. As they feel the desire to buy more and more they then inevitably return to creators for inspiration. The cycle starts again.
Because of this dynamic, it’s easy to see that blogging is a part of the fast fashion world, but not so easy to understand exactly what role it plays. Looking back at my time as a fashion blogger I don’t know if I was a product of the huge influence that fast fashion retailers have or was an individual that was part of a drive towards making fast fashion even more powerful. I guess ultimately I feel like the two have become so entangled that it’s extremely difficult to completely separate them.
I think it’s important to note that social media is also playing a huge part in spreading the word about the ethics of fast fashion brands. It’s bloggers that shed light on the lack of transparency in the industry and made me change the way that I shop. However, the fact remains that the majority of style based content is founded in the principles of fast fashion. Almost everyone online is showcasing a product or having that product showcased to them. We are all being influenced and it is fast fashion brands that profit from it, whilst the people they exploit continue to suffer.