Fast Fashion and the Media: The Rise of Microtrends and How to Avoid Them

Social media fuels fast fashion consumption and microtrends.

The Forest Scout

Social media fuels fast fashion consumption and microtrends.

It was my first day of in-person high school after the pandemic, and I was an entirely new version of myself. The clothes that once proudly adorned the hangers in my wardrobe felt foreign, so I turned to the fast fashion giant, Shein, that had been taking over social media. I threw my newly purchased clothing in the wash only to find that it had disintegrated in the warm suds. Left with ripped and faded fabric I couldn’t wear, I felt a sickening feeling that I’d supported a rising industry that sacrifices workers’ rights and the environment, for nothing.


It is no secret that the fashion industry is one of the main contributors to the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, producing about 2.31 billion tons annually. Conspicuously utilizing sweatshops and abusing workers to produce fast and cheap clothing, this industry is notorious for its unethical practices. Among other examples of barbarous exploitation, the typical Ethiopian garment worker makes $26 per month, well below any liveable wage. 


But the problems don’t stop here. 


Fast fashion has caused skyrocketing consumerism and microtrends, altering the state of fashion from a form of self-expression to a form of status: How trendy can you be?


A major propellant of fast fashion’s popularity is social media, where “influencers” are inclined to endorse products and brands through sponsorships. These platforms act as an interface through which fast fashion brands can organize paid partnerships with popular influencers. Addison Rae, who has 88.7 million followers on TikTok, is one such influencer that has partnered with Shein in the past— impressing upon her following the notion that this is an accessible brand with trendy and inexpensive clothes. 


Regardless of their intention, these influencers undeniably shape their followers’ purchases. 


Targeted ads also play into consumers’ desire to follow microtrends. 


According to a Harvard study, participants who received targeted ads for eco-friendly products were more likely to purchase both the advertised goods as well as support the cause.


Ending the increasingly-rapid trend cycle may seem like an impossible task, but fast fashion brands’ heavy reliance on consumers allows a collection of small decisions to make a massive impact. 


So, before hitting “add to cart” after seeing an advertisement for a cheap and trendy new shirt, ask yourself if you really need this style in your wardrobe. Will you still wear it in a month? What about a year? More times than not, these impulse purchases end up in the landfill or on a rack at Goodwill just weeks after being bought.


Before you venture online to find a new outfit, consider shopping local and investing in high-quality, timeless pieces that work to support a sustainably fashionable world.