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Social Media and Fast Fashion - How Influencers Influence Others

Ainsley Johnson, Blog Director and member of the LOG OFF Writers Group, covers the hidden realities of fast fashion, and reminds consumers to educate themselves before making an Instagram-worthy purchase.

Social media is, in many ways, a consumer’s paradise. With limitless niches and pockets within a vast expanse of content, and an algorithm designed to know you better than you know yourself, there’s truly something for everyone. Whether you enjoy origami, or planting fruit-bearing trees, or learning a new language, there’s a community for you.

Unfortunately, with every active user’s content available to you at the click of a button, there exists a slight naivety in mindset among those of us who chose to frequent such platforms. How easy is it to believe that every person we come across, especially those who are especially popular, has the best of intentions? Thus, the internet influencer gains instant credibility, because it is far easier for us to believe that the people we choose to idolize are truly good at heart.

With quarantine, self-improvement has become a mainstream trend on popular platforms, with most of the content centered around fitness, mental health, skincare, and fashion. Hopping on the latest trends feels like the only way to stay relevant, especially if you maintain a following yourself. For this reason, fashion has taken on a whole new meaning recently.

Influencers, primarily operating on Instagram and TikTok, post photos of themselves in trendy clothes, and set off a chain reaction. As I said, there’s something for everyone, and whether your style falls somewhere along the lines of preppy, tomboyish, grunge, or anything else, there are influencers out there sporting the newest styles.

Not only is Instagram profiting off of this--their recent shopping features make it easier than ever for consumers to purchase items that interest them, right from the photo--brands are capitalizing on it. Here’s where fast fashion comes in.

Think of the most iconic viral challenges, from oldies like the cinnamon challenge to the latest trends on TikTok. What’s one thing they have in common? Although they may remain alive in our memories, they fade away practically as quickly as they were introduced. Fast fashion operates similarly--a trend comes, graces our explore pages for a spell, then goes. And again, and again.

Now, you may think, no harm, no foul. Things go in and out of style all the time. That is how things go. However, in this case, shopping is not always harmless.

Before anything else, to keep up with the trends, one has to accumulate many clothes. Currently, over 60% of fibers used in fabrics are synthetic, crafted from petroleum-based plastics that will remain intact for two hundred years or more, depending on the type of material. With the vast majority of these clothes eventually making their way to landfills, the incinerator, or the ocean, it’s safe to say that the impact of a single Instagram post is more complicated than you think.

In a consumerist society, plastic pollution has been and will continue to be a problem if we do not regain control over the waste we as humans are creating. Though one can argue that a single polyester sweater from a sought-after brand will have a negligible contribution to the state of our environment, the digital world is perpetuating a culture of monkey-see, monkey-do, only this time, with fashion. With each post, influencers are, well, influencing. Thousands of posts appear before a vast global audience, and with each post, clothing fads become more mainstream. As a result, followers flock to purchase these items.

Here’s where another factor comes in: cost. The average Instagram follower may not be able to readily afford to buy the newest fashions from the typical brands. Online stores like Shein prove to be more attractive options to the teenage and young adult consumer by offering the new clothing crazes for very cheap.

However, popularity isn’t enough--for a company with that large of a reach to be successful, they have to have profit margins that allow them to benefit, despite their bargain prices. For this reason, there has been much speculation that some popular online retailers, selling knock-off varieties of popular styles, are mistreating their employees, resorting to inhumane methods of labor and production, and sacrificing ethics for the sake of profits. Most of these brands are also guilty of disregarding environmentally conscious choices, meaning that each item of clothing comes with a long-term cost.

Though these platforms may be the cost-conscious choice, consumers need to remain educated on the values of the brands they support. Instagram, TikTok, and other popular social media platforms have created a culture similar to high school. The thinking is that if you’re traditionally pretty, with cute clothes, you will be popular, and many users, responding to social pressure or a desire to share in this popularity, hop on trends like these. While an affinity for fashion or even a desire to be popular is not a bad thing in and of itself, social media has taken this to the extreme and created a mindset that places heavy emphasis on popularity and fashion sense to achieve recognition.

Instead, thrift stores are excellent sources for cheap, on-trend clothing. Shopping second-hand is often the environmentally-friendly choice. Not giving your dollar to companies that mistreat their employees is the act of an educated and compassionate consumer. So, shop away, in safe and conscious ways, and do not forget--social media is not everything!

References -

Schlossberg, Tatiana. “How Fast Fashion Is Destroying the Planet.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Sept. 2019,

Meagher, Syama. “The Not-So-Hidden Ethical Cost Of Fast Fashion: Sneaky Sweatshops In Our Own Backyard.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 6 Apr. 2020,

“How Ethical Is SHEIN?” Good On You, 12 Apr. 2021,

Cover photo by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash

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