Lifestyle / Opinion

Fashion microtrends: Why they are dangerous for our economy, environment, and psychology

Although there are positive aspects of social media, I believe that its rise in popularity has increased fashion microtrends that are largely harmful to human life. Microtrends increase consumerism and materialism, convincing people in the younger generation that they need to buy a certain product to fit in. 

A lot of microtrends are related to fast fashion practices, which were not always destructive as they are today. But, as customers gained access to new online shopping platforms that saved them time and money, shopping became a hobby. Fast fashion is defined by Good On You as “cheap, trendy clothing that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand” and is a direct result of trend culture. The microtrend-based fashion industry is dangerous in three main ways: for the stability of our economy, the sustainability of our environment, and the security of our mental health. 

Economy

The rise of rapid fashion cycles in today’s media has especially affected the longevity of businesses. After a trendy item emerges and reaches its highest popularity, inevitably, consumers will lose interest in it and its sales will decrease. This affects local businesses because they struggle to keep up with the short trend cycles. Hence, the media has seen an increase in fast fashion brands because they can quickly mass-produce clothes (often using unethical methods like child labor), harming sustainable clothing brands. According to Think Twice, fast fashion brands’ low clothing prices “draw consumers away from local boutiques and traditional fashion retailers,” harming the local economies. 

Additionally, several microtrends have been associated with experience economies, as stated by Ian Seymour Yeoman and Una McMahon-Beattie. Experience economies, while not inherently bad, emphasize a customer’s experience with a business rather than the actual good/service. For example, many individuals buy coffee from Starbucks or other local cafes for the social experience, even though it is more expensive. A shift towards these experience economies causes clothing brands to focus more on making their clothes memorable instead of ethical or sustainable. Once again, this hurts small businesses that do not have the resources necessary to make their clothes fit into trends. Thus, fast fashion corporations can monopolize certain products, decreasing economic competitiveness. 

Environment

Additionally, the spread of microtrends through social media has increased consumerism and excessive spending on unnecessary items that end up in landfills. According to SustainabilityChic, people now consume 400% more clothing than they did 20 years ago, yet waste around 82 pounds of clothing every year. The Drum claims that “39% of gen Zers are directly influenced to purchase an item after seeing it on TikTok” from companies such as Shein, Forever 21, Zara, and other notorious fast fashion brands, contributing to increasingly dangerous microplastic levels. Many of the clothes made from these fast fashion companies are made from polyester, which is derived from plastic. In just the UK, 800,000 tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean each year, says Greenpeace. Cheap synthetic material is difficult to break down, harming ocean life by choking them to death. Moreover, plastic does not disintegrate, so it turns into little particles called microplastics that may end up in the water that we drink. 

In addition, fast fashion uses a lot of fossil fuels because clothes are being made so rapidly. In fact, 4 billion tons of CO2 emissions are attributed to this fast fashion industry. Since fast fashion items are so easy to buy and of poor quality, people throw away 92 million tons of clothes globally and then they just buy more. As these numbers continue to rise with social media’s microtrends, the fast fashion cycle will increasingly impact climate change. 

Psychology

Furthermore, young people face extreme beauty standards which may lead individuals to compare themselves to influencers online, and lack their own sense of creativity and confidence. Rather than finding their own sense of fashion and personality, young people tend to just go along with what is trending because of the media pressures. This can promote unhealthy and unrealistic beauty standards as individuals feel the need to conform to such expectations. According to FashionMingle, “Teenage girls are the main target market for fashion retailers. Many retailers use extremely thin models in their advertising, and their clothes are designed to compliment only one body type.” 

Not only are the consumers of fast fashion psychologically affected, but also the workers. Fast fashion factories are often associated with poor working conditions and low living standards, as they are usually in developing countries where pay is low. The physical and mental health of these individuals is at risk. As showcased in the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, the fast fashion industry can cost workers their lives. Over 1,100 workers, mostly women, died when the garment factory fell due to its “long catalog of failures, oversights and…corruption at practically every stage of the seven-year-old building’s life,” says CNN. Unethical practices harm clothing quality and the livelihoods of workers. 

Next Steps

Most microtrends are corporate practices, but we as individuals still have some power to make change. While it is difficult to stray from cheap and popular clothes, individuals must do so to protect local economies, the environment, and psyche. How do you do this? Firstly, you can try to build a capsule wardrobe, a collection of minimalistic and good-quality clothing pieces. Capsule wardrobe clothing, often neutral in color, holds up against the test of time and is easily personalizable. Having a closet with these clothing essentials is sustainable, as it does not depend on trends, and versatile as you can customize specific clothing pieces to fit your personal style. By buying new clothes less often, you can save money and time. 

Also, you should try to not buy clothes just because they are trendy. Make sure that your fashion purchases fit your style. If social media exposure to microtrends is affecting your fashion choices, then personalize your feed to match your style by unfollowing accounts that push for unrealistic beauty standards or limit your screen-time altogether. Try to diversify the things that you see online and be mindful of the persuasive nature of social media. 

Lastly, you can try to buy clothes from local small businesses. While the clothes might be more expensive than clothes from fast fashion companies, it is important to prioritize ethical and good quality clothing. Research brands that are sustainable and ethical, and educate yourself on the harmful nature of fast fashion. 

If you are further interested in learning more about microtrends, check out Ginna Allen’s article on the impact of the internet on trends. 

Image Source: The Uproar

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