At the age of 16 my fave way to spend my time was clothes shopping. I know, ironic right?
I was a full-on fashion blogger at that time in my life, popping out OOTDs and H&M hauls like my wannabe-Zoella life depended on it. 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, needless to say, I wasn’t exactly traipsing my way down Bond Street and snapping Instagram shots as I went. I stuck to the knock-off Lita boots and the sale rails of my local Primark instead. And OOTDs were usually shot in my back garden – because who has the money for the train fare to London every weekend at 16?
It’s safe to say that my eyes weren’t set on quality (or, ya know, actually liking an item that much), but on getting as many items as physically possible for as little money as physically possible. 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 something actually wearable.
Surprise, surprise, that didn’t happen. Of course, they just sat in my drawers, never to be worn.
So basically my shopping habits consisted of everything I have now come to loathe about the clothing industry. I didn’t shop ethically, I didn’t shop for quality and God knows I didn’t shop consciously! Which is one of the main reasons that I try not to get too far up my own arse now that I’m some way into my journey to more ethical consuming.
Who am I to shout at someone online when I was literally fast fashion’s ideal customer only a couple of years ago, right?
Recently though, I have been thinking more and more about where I started out on this slow fashion journey of mine. I’ve been contemplating how and why I got to the point that I did, where I was spending most of my money of cheap, crappy clothes that I didn’t even really like that much.
When thinking about my previous online life, it’s impossible not to consider social media and blogging in the equation. I mean, not only was I consuming blog posts, hauls and Instagram OOTDs, but I was creating them (albeit badly) too. That’s why I like to think that my life at 16 is a pretty good case study of how social media influences and is influenced by fast fashion.
Instagram made me do it
Come on, you knew a chat about Instagram was coming.
At 16, as influencer culture was getting bigger and bigger, I was the perfect candidate to be influenced. The likes of Vogue seemed way too unattainable for me, whereas beautiful people sitting on their beds and talking about what they bought that day didn’t.
Times were changing and social media stars were becoming the idols of young people. Being a fan of someone didn’t simply mean buying their perfume (Britney, I’m looking at you girl), but following their entire day. And the same stands now.
Social media gives us access to someone’s whole life (or what we think is their whole life). 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. Honestly, back before I found out about the horrors of fast fashion, seeing people I admired wearing clothes was a huge part of why I bought so consistently.
I wanted to be them, whether I was thinking consciously about it or not.
On top of just generally wanting to be a cool insta model, I was also being sold to online. We all know that affiliate schemes are a lucrative business: The sector is worth $12 billion! So, the reality is that a big proportion of the online content that we consume is telling us to buy stuff. At that point, the foundations of sustainable fashion are bypassed.
We don’t consider using what we actually need and have, nor do we think about where we buy it from, because the affiliate link is right there waiting for us in the swipe up.
Obviously, we’re all accountable for what we choose to consume and buy at the end of the day, but when you see an Instagram baddie looking beyond incredible in Fashion Nova, it can be hard to resist!
The need for fresh content
On top of that, the pressure to buy definitely ain’t one-sided.
Content creators are constantly aware that their material needs to be “fresh”. You can trust me, because I am one. It 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 on both sides: People want to see new makeup and clothing on bodies like theirs, not just in the glossy pages of a magazine. Styling videos are all social media right now. And even if you’re not a fashion blogger, full body shots, in my experience, just do a lot better on the ‘gram.
Online creators feel the pressure to be stylish like none other. I know I did when I was a fashion blogger and still do now! Even these days, where I actively talk online about how awful fast fashion is and why we should all try to support it less, I still occasionally get sucked into thinking “ugh, I Instagram storied in this the other day…I can’t wear that again!” mindset.
So, yes, audiences do feel the pressure to buy from creators, but I would argue that creators feel the same pressure to buy for the sake of pleasing their audience, too.
Where does this leave us?
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-based lifestyle. As they feel the desire to buy more and more they then inevitably return to creators for inspiration.
The cycle starts again.
The Silver Linings
The good news is (although some bloggers may crucify me for saying this!), selling online is become more transparent. Thanks to those updated ASA guidelines that every creator and their pug is talking about, it’s now a lot more necessary to disclose when an item or experience has been gifted, when you’ve been paid to say something or even when you have a previous relationship with a brand that might make you favour their products.
Will this reduce the number of ads? Time will tell, I guess. And, to be honest, I don’t think it’s necessary that fewer ads are floating about online, but more so that we don’t just mindlessly consume and/or post them like ordinary pieces of content. By having that simple #AD at the beginning of a caption, I hope that it will do two things:
1. Make content creators stop and think about what they promote a bit more (even though most already do). Let’s be honest, having almost every post contain the word “AD” doesn’t reflect too well on your “genuine” and “relatable” brand, so maybe it’ll cause a step back towards content that isn’t so consistently about selling in some cases.
2. Stop the scroll and spend cycle by forcing consumers to confront the fact that they are in fact being sold to. Whilst supporting your favourite creators is incredible and important, I hope that these new guidelines will go part of the way to helping people ask, “Am I just being influenced mindlessly, or is this something I need and a way that I can support someone simultaneously?”
I think it’s also important to note that social media is playing a huge part in spreading the word about the ethics of fast fashion brands. There are so many incredible bloggers and content creators who actively discourage their followers from buying fast fashion. In fact, it was blog posts and Youtube videos that initially taught me about how to show more sustainably.
Collectively, we’re all becoming more aware of what we buy and who from, even if it’s a slow process.