My Journey to Sustainable Fashion

It’s a Friday night, around 11pm. I’m lying on my bed, heeled boots still on, scrolling through Instagram. I’m also slightly tipsy, having just stumbled out of an Uber after a couple of drinks with a friend. Approximately four posts in, I see the blazer again. The oversized Djerf Avenue ‘Forever Blazer’ in grey, specifically. This blazer, coveted by influencers across the world as the staple item of the season, has been plastered across my Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest feeds for the past week. In my cocktail-induced haze, I take this post as a sign – a justification, if you will. I need this blazer. I deserve this blazer. Ignoring the price tag and exorbitant shipping costs, I add it to my cart and checkout. A thrill rushes through me, my body tingling with anticipation. The order confirmation hits my inbox, joining the four other, ‘Thank you for your purchase!’ emails. There’s something truly magical in waiting for a parcel to arrive.

Now you could say I’m the victim of the algorithm – the clever marketing ploys of brands attuned to my shopping habits. As someone who works in this industry, who deals with said brands and actions said marketing ploys on the daily, I’m well aware of how social media has essentially become an online department store. But as a self-confessed online shopaholic, I’m okay with that. I use social media with the intention of seeing what people are wearing and what’s trending. My TikTok and Instagram feeds are primarily comprised of clothing hauls and outfits-of-the-days. I mean, I have a Pinterest board dedicated to items I absolutely need, ranked in order. Some could classify this as a problem. It probably is one. In my defence, I’d like to think I’m conscious of my spending habits and where I’m purchasing items from. I’m conscious of the social and environment impacts of the fashion industry. I’m conscious of endorsed social media posts and targeted advertising.

I’m also conscious that this justification kind of sucks. So, I’m going to be taking a deeper look into this shopping addiction, as well as how social media is revolutionising the fashion industry of today. Through personal reflections, a bit of good, old-fashioned desktop research and an interview social media influencer, Keelin Moncrieff, I’m looking to unpack these behaviours and cultural shifts.

How Social Media Has Changed the Fashion Industry

Social media has fundamentally transformed our society, particularly in regard to the fashion industry. Clothing is no longer defined to a single place or time period, and consumers are now at the forefront of the trend cycle. Instagram and TikTok have been identified as the two major platforms responsible for dictating fashion trends, with Pinterest not far behind. I can testify this finding firsthand – like I said earlier, these sites are my go-to when it comes to seeing what’s on trend. Content like clothing hauls, outfit-of-the-days and styling tips have become extremely popular amongst users, with people eager to see what their favourite influencers are wearing. Social media algorithms favour these posts, rewarding influencers with an influx of views and followers. This content essentially works as a not-so-subtle means of promoting a culture of consumerism, encouraging viewers to purchase new clothing as often as every few weeks. In my interview with Moncrieff, Irish influencer and passionate spokesperson for sustainable fashion, she recognised how fellow influencers create, “…this construct that we needed to have a new outfit for every day of our lives, which is not attainable”.

The Environmental Costs of Fast Fashion

Despite the appeal of fast fashion, the associated environmental and social costs are immense. Moncrieff explained, “If you saw something on your feed, you’d want it straight away, which sped up the process of manufacturing clothes,” leading to fast fashion brands, “…cut(ting) costs and cut(ting) corners… whether that be environmental or ethical”.

I believe most people have a degree of understanding about the impacts of fast fashion yet fail to connect the dots to their own shopping habits. I’m not saying I’m perfect, nor am I overlooking the issues of accessibility and costs when it comes to sustainable, slow fashion brands, but I’ve begun to take these factors into consideration when purchasing clothing. People have a tendency to become paralysed by the notion of living perfectly sustainable lives, which is frankly impossible. However, making more conscious and informed decisions – and just being mindful about the brands we choose to shop with – is a step towards solving this wicked problem.

“…The reason I feel so passionate about (this), especially being a media influencer,” explained Moncrieff, “…is that the creation of fast fashion came from social media influencing”. She highlighted the ‘want it now’ mentality fostered by influencers, and their role in making the industry, “…so fast and so disposable”. Moncrieff also identified consumers as key to alleviating this issue, noting how, “Most people that watch my videos are probably among the wealthy 8% of the planet, so we’re the ones who have to make this change… we need to change our shopping habits”.

By re-evaluating how we understand fashion – as something more than just keeping up with the latest trends – we can create a new normal for clothing brands. Fostering a mentality of quality over quantity, and changing our habits to buy less and be smart consumers will work to achieve this. Collectively, we can initiate a domino effect and transform the industry to value durable and sustainable fashion.

The Rise of Preloved Fashion

Slow fashion brands often difficult to discover. High price points and size inclusivity also presents issues of accessibility – ruling out Gen Z consumers like myself. Our generation is generally more socially and environmentally-conscious when it comes to shopping, yet purchasing from these brands is often unrealistic.

For someone who appreciates clothing so much, I also get a kick from decluttering my wardrobe. My most recent purge left me with quite a few good quality pieces I no longer found myself wearing. Figuring I could probably earn a little money back, I turned to Depop. After installing the app, I had created a profile and uploaded photos of my unwanted clothing in a matter of minutes. Within two weeks, I sold most of my items. The entire process was kind of thrilling – negotiating prices, posting orders and receiving ‘thank you’ messages from buyers was new and exciting. I also started using the site to purchase clothing items saved on my infamous Pinterest board, for a fraction of the price. The fact that these pieces had been worn once or twice didn’t really bother me, if anything it made me feel a little better about my shopping habits.

Okay, yes, Depop may still be fuelling my ‘addiction’, but at least it’s a somewhat sustainable one now.