The Planet Can't Keep Up With The Kardashians

by: Rosie Dalton | 6 months ago | Features

Image: Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner. Image source.

In today’s globalised fashion landscape, ultra-popular celebrities like the Kardashians have become integral to the continuation of fast fashion. And I’m not just talking about endorsement here. Of course, fast fashion brands paying celebrities to wear their clothes is a huge part of the problem. According to the Instagram marketers Hopper HQ, it costs $1 million to sponsor a single post on Kylie Jenner’s Instagram and, for brands with the bucks, this is actually worth the investment.

Brands supported by the Kardashians – like digital fast fashion giants Boohoo and Fashion Nova – are growing. According to The Guardian, “Fashion Nova was the most-searched-for fashion brand on Google in the US in 2018. Boohoo’s UK sales rose by a third to £180m in the last four months of 2018, with its strong performance credited in part to a successful collaboration with the eldest Kardashian daughter, Kourtney, who has long championed the brand.”

Across the ditch in the UK, other brands like Asos and Topshop are reporting a decline in sales – which just goes to show the power of celebrity endorsement. None of this would be possible without Instagram and the influencers it has created. “Fashion Nova’s network of more than 3,000 influencers, including Kylie Jenner and Cardi B, are critical to its success,” Sirin Kale writes for The Guardian. “They post pictures of themselves wearing outfits that are immediately available to purchase online. If the item sells, great; if not, the brand moves on to the next thing”.

When you think about the power of celebrities to influence our consumption, then, it would be great (in theory) to see some of the big-name celebrities getting behind sustainable brands instead. But even when that is the case – as with actress Emma Watson – the underlying phenomenon of shopping to dress like a celebrity is inherently flawed. With global trends now being driven by a small number of celebs with large followings, style is becoming increasingly homogenised and we are seeing a dangerous cycle of overconsumption take hold.

Just because celebrities can afford to buy (or borrow) a new outfit each time they step outside the house, this doesn’t mean that we should all be doing the same. In fact, when we try to follow the Kardashian example of wearing a brand new look each day, what we see is an explosion of our closets and a depletion of our natural resources.

This cycle works in favour of the fast fashion giants, of course, because they deal directly in the business of overproduction – and they are often global in scale. Boohoo can turn over the latest Kim K inspired look in less time than their competitors and can then sell these garments to women all over the world. That is, until the next Kardashian Instagram post goes viral and a whole new look gets fast-tracked into production.

This also plays into a dangerous copycat culture – whereby brands that can’t afford Kardashian endorsement can instead produce knock-offs of their looks in-house. It is this copycat culture that's perhaps scariest of all – because even when big celebrities are making conscious choices and supporting responsible designers, the fast fashion retailers are still bound to produce poor quality knock-offs.

So how can we put an end to this vicious cycle, then? By changing our consumption habits and shifting away from celebrity copies and towards personal style, we can finally start to see positive change. But to help this process along, it would be great to see celebrities like Kim Kardashian speaking out in favour of more responsible shopping habits. “They can sell anything,” says Pamela Church-Gibson, the author of Fashion and Celebrity Culture. So perhaps they could even help sell ethical fashion someday.

At the moment, though, Church-Gibson describes the Kardashians as being at the centre of an “alternate fashion system”, which “is not people looking at pictures of fashion shows and interpreting the trends themselves, it’s women wanting to look a certain way, social media providing those images, and new retailers, particularly retailers that use social media a lot, like Boohoo, picking up on these trends and bucking it to their advantage”.

This irresponsible cycle is ultimately sapping creativity in fashion design and depleting our environmental resources. Which means that, if things keep going the way that they are going, our planet won’t be able to keep up with the Kardashians much longer.

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