Influencers Should Stop Glamourising Fast Fashion

by: Maggie Zhou | 1 month ago | Features

Image: through her writing (like this article!) and her social media platforms, Maggie Zhou @yemagz promotes ethical fashion.

In the glittering world of 2021, influencing is well and truly a full-time occupation. Posting TikTok videos, styling outfits for Instagram, and chatting to the camera make up some internet personalities’ day-to-day to-do lists.

The term ‘influencer’ might draw giddy youngsters excited about this career opportunity or it might stir up eye rolls and tuts from people exasperated at the state of our social media landscape. Regardless of how you feel about influencers, you can’t deny the impact they have on people. Influencers have the power to affect purchasing decisions and values of their followers. It’s a power we should take seriously. So why are so many influencers promoting fast fashion?

Especially on visual-led platforms like Instagram, fashion is a main driving force for conversation and content. Trend cycles are continuing to ramp up at unthinkable speeds, largely due to social media’s obsession with newness.

The FOMO is real – we’re intimate with the doings and wearings of our IRL and online peers. We know what gifted clothes they’ve just received and what they wore for brunch. You might see 10 of your favourite influencers wear the same pair of trendy pants and think to yourself whether you should own said pair of trendy pants. Influencers are imperative to driving and dictating the trends we see; they take styles off ranks and allow customers to envision what lifestyle could be attained if only they just wore that too.

Global fast fashion retailers have amassed millions of followers on the purely aesthetic value of clothes. Influencers have had a monumental part to play in this. Anyone who has bought a piece from a Pretty Little Thing/Boohoo/Zaful adjacent brand knows that the quality is less than subpar, that threads will be hanging loose or perhaps, the item received looks nothing like the photos.

Why do influencers then dress up these cheap threads as stylish and enviable pieces? Influencers are creators of images; they know how to produce a scene. That flimsy bodycon skirt? Against a luxurious backdrop, it looks a million bucks. That perfectly fitted dress? It’s been pinned with bulldog clips. Influencers are promoting fast fashion via aesthetics, while disregarding quality and ethics.

This is different to those who shop fast fashion out of necessity. Lower-income earners from lower socio-economic classes may need to purchase from fast fashion stores because sustainable fashion might be financially unavailable to them. Influencers who earn a full income from content creation and have followers in the six figures or more, do not fall into this category. It’s not out of necessity that they promote fast fashion, it is a choice.

As digital creator Heidi Kaluza says, “Influencers are not consumers. Influencers are businesses.” Amanda Hess writes for the New York Times, “Anything that can be consumed is now understood as a brand.”

We hold fast fashion companies to account – rightfully so, as they’re the ones unsustainably mass-producing garments. Should we be holding influencers that operate as businesses to that same level of scrutiny? Perhaps not, considering the imbalanced level of environmental and human impact created by fashion brands. But we can’t ignore the level of influence digital creators have.

Love Island star Molly-Mae reportedly racks up over a million dollars a year through her fashion collaborations. One consistent brand sponsor is Pretty Little Thing. “I’m so blessed to work so closely with a brand that believes in me whole heartedly [sic]. Thank you PLT for making my dreams come true everyday [sic],” Molly-Mae gushed in an Instagram post.

At the same time, Pretty Little Thing (owned by Boohoo) was under fire for paying workers in their Leicester factory as little as £3.50 an hour, the equivalent of $6.38 AUD.

We must ask ourselves, why are some women worth more than others? Before fast fashion corporations pay out large influencers, they need to be paying their garment workers fairly. Prioritising the livelihoods of an elite few above garment workers, 80% of which are women, is simply unfeminist. Brands shouldn’t pick and choose who deserves to be paid correctly, especially when those actually producing the garments are the ones left behind.

As consumers, know that your voice on social media matters. Not just your voice, but your follows and your likes. Vote with each double tap who you choose to give a platform to. Find and support influencers who align with you. Let fashion know that we expect more.

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