Fast Fashion is making us want more, spend more and waste more. Accessibility through low costs and an abundance of styles has boosted our need for newness and we’re topping up our wardrobes at an expedient rate. It taps into our need for conformity and our desire for self-expression, but at what cost to our mental health?
I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t been a victim of the fast fashion trap. I’d also be lying if I said that it is easy to get out of – it isn’t. And to an extent my mind is still entangled in it all.
It’s not fast fashion itself that causes us problems, it’s the way it’s promoted, the way it’s sold to us. It’s not just pretty clothing – it’s a need.
When I was around 12 years old, I started watching YouTube videos. My favourite videos to watch were hauls. I would watch in awe as these girls showed off all their new clothing from popular fast fashion brands; H&M, Zara, Primark, Topshop, the list goes on.
It made me so desperate to go shopping. I would dream of wearing the clothes that they did and when my mum told me we were going shopping, I would get excited. I’d try and snag as many things as she’d allow. I didn’t really put much thought into what I was getting, if it looked good at that moment, I’d take it.
Haul videos were coming into my YouTube subscription box daily, but I only got to go on shopping trips maybe once a season. Safe to say I could not keep up with the girls I was watching. This led to me feeling pretty miserable and inadequate.
These girls were my role models, I wanted to be just like them, but I didn’t have the means to. The reality was that as far as 12 year old girls’ lives go, mine was pretty good; I lived in a safe home, never had to worry about food and did well in school.
But I didn’t feel good enough because I didn’t have the latest releases from the popular fast fashion brands. Trivial – yes, but the world of most young teenagers often is.
Honestly, I’m lucky in that I learned how horrifying fast fashion is for people and the planet right around the time I was able to go out shopping and buy clothes for myself. This stopped me from going out on the shopping binges that I so desperately wanted to go on as a young teenager.
So maybe it seems like I’ve escaped fast fashions hold, and that I am a perfectly happy, sustainable shopper. Well not exactly.
As a young woman it’s not easy. I’ll be honest, I go on social media platforms like Instagram and see beautiful girls showing off their new fast fashion purchases and my mind will instantly light up. ‘You need that’. I do resist it, but it’s not an effortless resistance, it’s difficult.
I sit here today wearing leggings and a t-shirt that are probably both 5 or 6 years old and a fleece that I bought last year in a charity shop that is god knows how old. I know I’ll only be at home today so I didn’t put my best efforts into this outfit.
A 2-minute scroll down the discovery page on Instagram leaves me feeling dissatisfied. I can see a girl who appears to be lounging at home like me but is wearing her latest fast fashion purchases. She looks better than me, and I immediately feel inadequate, just as I did some 8 years ago when I started watching YouTube haul videos.
So it’s all starting to sound a bit like my problem is with social media platforms. Namely, YouTube and Instagram rather than fast fashion itself. But it’s a combination of both. Fast fashion brands do use traditional marketing in the form of TV ads and billboards, but marketing through social media platforms is becoming increasingly pervasive.
Several reports have come out stating that young people spend more time online than they do watching TV. Social media is fast fashion’s new favourite way to sell. Much of the time they don’t even have to pay the women and men who advertise it, they do it of their own accord.
The people showing off these fast fashion items are normal. They’re not celebrities, they’re just like you and me, but better. They’re aspirational. We feel they’re within reach. If we buy that dress from Boohoo that they were wearing yesterday then we’ll be happy and just as beautiful as them.
We’ll buy the dress and realise it doesn’t look on us how it did on them. A month later we’ll realise we don’t even like the dress full stop. We’ll go and seek the next new piece that’ll give us the temporary buzz of happiness a new purchase does, while the dress is consigned to the back of the wardrobe.
We keep going around in circles seeking the happiness that lasts a couple of days at best, hoping that this time it’ll last longer. It never does. Fast fashion thrives off this mindset.
We are kept in this constant balance of being unhappy but at the same time unfailingly feeling like we’ll reach the happiness we desire so much with our next purchase. It’s a precarious balance that the big fast fashion players have managed to maintain so perfectly.
I think for many of us fast fashion isn’t wholly detrimental to our mental health. But it sits there, chipping away, making us feel a little less content with our lives than we should. It leads to us feeling pangs of inadequacy that subtly build up until we’re driven to our next purchase.
As social media rises it becomes harder to escape the fast fashion trap.