Problems With Fast Fashion In The Digital Age
By: Nicole Damron
October 13th, 2023
Shopping haul videos have been extremely popular on TikTok for a while now, and have only exceeded in popularity in the last couple of post-pandemic years. Apps like Shein, Fashion Nova, Amazon and now Temu are booming with business — and they have the TikTok algorithm to thank.
TikTok users have been enthralled by influencers that buy massive amounts of clothing and other items from these fast fashion sites, allowing themselves to be “influenced” by their favorite creators into buying items they may not have otherwise come across or even thought about. Users are now opening their wallets and saying “I need that in my life” more than ever.
It operates somewhat like an internet-age QVC. Influencers with extremely disposable income buy excessive amounts of product from one of these websites, and consumers can quickly watch and decide which products they want to try as their favorite influencers try on and exhibit their purchases.
In addition to ease of access, many of these websites have extremely low price points for their products, which makes it seem more reasonable to purchase in bulk.
It’s way more effective than shopping networks like QVC because users follow their favorite influencers based on their interests and investment in their content — so the products being reviewed are most likely already tailored to what the user might want. It’s a new, fast-paced and very unique way to shop — one that relies heavily on psychological triggers that increase the urgency to buy and play into different cognitive biases that cloud our judgment.
One of the newest sources of cheap goods is Temu, a shopping app connected to the Chinese company Pinduoduo. The website sells all sorts of cheaply priced goods ranging from fashion to toys for children, and keeps their price points low by shipping products directly from warehouses in China.
That being said, there are many ethical concerns surrounding the working conditions and treatment of factory workers. Most employees of the textile and e-commerce industries do not make nearly as much as the items sell for, and endure long work days under poor and at times excruciating conditions.
In 2021, the deaths of two Pinduoduo employees prompted multiple investigations and boycotts over suspected inhumane working conditions for employees.
Employees from some of the poorest parts of the world spend hours sewing, beading, threading and weaving garments to still make a barely livable wage. This is, in essence, a form of modern day slavery, and leaves textile workers working themselves to death for articles of clothing that they themselves can’t afford and will ultimately be discarded.
It has been pointed out, however, that this kind of fast-paced and ever cycling of goods contributes to high levels of overconsumption — which is ultimately bad for the environment and is not sustainable. “Fast Fashion”, as it’s called, produces 92 million tons of textile waste every year.
According to Earth.org, clothing sales have doubled from 100 billion to 200 billion items a year since 2000, while the number of times worn has decreased by 36%. With current trends of TikTok overconsumption entered into the equation, this percentage will only continue to decrease.
This is largely due to the way that fashion cycles currently move — so quickly that before a person is even able to wear a garment more than a few times, the internet decides it’s out of style and a new trend begins its cycle.
Viral trends end up in thrift stores by the rack, most of which are priced higher than the rest of the items in the store and will remain unbought. After the clothes complete their consumer circulation, they all end up in the same place: the landfill.
Tennessee Goodwill donation director Danny Rhodes stated that she has observed a sharp increase in donations due to these trend cycles, explaining that a large amount of these donations come from millennials in urban areas who are looking to empty and revamp their closets more frequently than ever before.
With millennials being the first generation to grow up with easy access to the internet, it makes sense that they would be more inclined to shop online in excess. This inclination has since skyrocketed with Gen Z, with influencer culture only fueling the desire.
Thrift stores have long been a place to find affordable clothing, but have since become overrun with cheaply made, trendy clothes from fast fashion websites. Thrifts and secondhand stores that were once a way to find quality lightly used items are now turning into secondary fast fashion warehouses.
Prices at these stores have also increased as true vintage pieces become higher in demand in response to the fast fashion and reselling takeover. “Hauls” from thrift stores also drive up prices as rich influencers buy out the stores to resell items for a higher price online and make their videos, leaving the average thrift consumer at the mercy of new high prices and less wearable products.
The rise of fast fashion, TikTok shopping and overconsumption create all sorts of environmental, ethical and monetary concerns and is now moving at an extremely fast rate, so much so that many can’t keep up.
The cyclical nature of trends and demand does not seem to benefit anyone but the wealthy, and as the cycle repeats itself more and more low income individuals will turn to fast fashion — oftentimes at the expense of their own personal ethics. Fashion should be for and affordable for everyone, and the industry will continue to fail the average consumer and employee so long as the cycle is allowed to thrive.
Want to learn more? The Current has published several articles on the fast fashion phenomenon, including an article by Kathryn De Vries on the harsh reality of the trend, and an article by Lacie Kunselman on shopping ethics.
Nicole Damron is a senior majoring in Arts and Humanities and Professional and Public Writing with a minor in Spanish. She aspires to work as a culture and entertainment writer, potentially freelance. In her leisure time Nicole enjoys playing guitar and trumpet, true crime, listening to music, and sleeping in concerningly late.