How fast fashion and social media fuel a world of high consumption, low quality

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TikTok is full of influencers posting “fashion walkthroughs” and unpacking huge boxes of cheap polyester clothing.

Clothes from brands like Shein may be lightning fast, but they are low quality.

Can consumers recognize a beautifully crafted garment?

Today, On Point: The clothes have gotten worse. And social media and ever-changing trends aren’t helping.


Danielle Vermeer, product manager. Veteran thrift store buyer. He runs the second-hand fashion newsletter Goodwill Hunting and is a co-founder of the startup Teleport. (@DLVermeer)

mandy lee, freelance fashion writer and trend analyst. She runs the “Old Loser in Brooklyn” TikTok and Instagram accounts. (@oldloserinbrooklyn)

also featured

sydney greenGen Z shopper feeling conflicted about buying new clothes.

Interview Highlights

On a definition of quality fashion

Danielle Vermeer: “For quality fashion, there are elements of both objective and subjective measurements. So, for example, objectively, there could be a quality garment that has great durability. It lasts a long time or there is great workmanship. The craftsmanship, the The construction of the garment, the functionality of the materials, and the composition of the material are of higher quality. And then there are also the subjective characteristics. It’s the look and feel, how it wears over time, aesthetics, creativity, all of that. combined creates a higher quality or the opposite, a lower quality garment.”

About Shein’s business model

Danielle Vermeer: “There’s definitely more of a social listening aspect, whereas the traditional fashion industry has been very top-down. The brands, the luxury houses, create these two-season capsules typically, and then that trickles down to fashion. mid-tier and mass. Shein is really changing that model to see what consumers are interested in. Let’s do these small batches to start with and then scale up if there’s more demand. And in theory, that’s great because you’re having less waste.

“And Shein reports that they have less than 1% of inventory unsold, whereas in the fashion industry in general, the average is between 25% and 40%. So there’s a lot of overstock, and I think we We, as consumers, see that with all these end-of-season sales, sales, clearance shelves that are overflowing with stuff that people just didn’t buy, and while ordering is a great start, there’s still a size and scale to how much is creating as a brand like Shein that quite frankly is very low quality and not built to last.”

On accessibility to quality fashion

Danielle Vermeer: ​​”Accessibility incorporates both price and affordability, but also things like size, inclusivity, keeping up with trends, convenience. And then after reading thousands of comments, particularly from Shein shoppers on social media, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, they also mention things like nihilism, which is really interesting from a consumer insights perspective.

“Almost to say, well, the world is already on fire, so why can’t I just look pretty and buy this $3 top from Shein or somewhere else? But the biggest ones in terms of accessibility are where you find quality fashion , and can you afford it? Will it fit me? Is it really going to be something I like, and that’s nice? And for a lot of younger consumers, Gen Z in particular, they haven’t been exposed to quality fashion and don’t have a ton of access to it yet.”

On Gen Z’s nihilism towards fashion

Danielle Vermeer: “There’s a lot of pressure that Gen Z feel where they feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders, that they have to be the one to fix some of these world problems. But they’ve also grown up as digital natives being bombarded and immersed in social media. And that’s why, according to thredUP, one in three Gen Zers feel addicted to fast fashion and one in five feel pressured to keep up with the latest trends and buy, buy, buy.

“Because they see it. They’re interacting with it every day on social media. And so they feel these really negative emotions like guilt and feeling addicted, feeling pressure. And that’s not what I think fashion should be about. I think the Fashion should be a vehicle for self-expression, creativity. It should be fun, it should feel good. And I don’t think feeling guilty or addicted is something we should support.”

On the fashion cycle of abundance

Mandy Lee: “The affordability factor in fast fashion pricing, for example, that affordability is very attractive and creates this idea of ​​abundance. You can buy many things at once with the same amount of money you would spend on a higher quality piece of clothing, perhaps just one piece of clothing. And this kind of bountiful mindset creates this almost spinning mindset when it comes to your wardrobe.

“That is, I can replace almost everything in my wardrobe for a very low price. I will continue to rotate in and out, depending on the trends or how my tastes evolve over time. And that, I think, is really is part of the main cause of this kind of ever-revolving cycle of buy, buy, buy, throw away. Because the clothes made by Shein and other fast fashion retailers are not of good quality. They can just fall apart, literally fall apart in the wash over time. .”

On how social media shapes how we shop

Mandy Lee: “[Social media] it plays a massive, massive role and is a huge driving factor in this, you know, abundant mentality that we’re talking about. And something that Danielle was talking about a little bit earlier about transportation culture, these videos work extremely well and provide polarizing content. Some people may be very, very against it. And, you know, adding engagement, you know, commenting like that is bad, blah blah blah. So pretty much that ending. And then other people will fight over it. Then create this really polarizing piece of content.

“And then the user who just bought, you know, 20, 30 pieces of Shein is getting a dopamine hit because their mentions and their notifications are exploding because their video is going viral. These pieces of content work very, very And it kind of reminds me, you know, if you buy something online and you’re waiting for it to come in the mail, you’re kind of floating on this dopamine hit of buying something new, and it really reminds me of the same feeling that, you know, seeing a video or an Instagram post or a Twitter thread that you posted also goes viral. They’re connected. And I feel like those feelings are very similar and have a lot of overlap.”

Do you foresee any kind of change or setback by the fashion industry itself based on these practices?

Mandy Lee: “It’s hard to answer this because from what I’ve observed and experienced in the industry, luxury and fast fashion, I don’t see an end to this problem in the near future. And I think the efforts of people are really admirable.” . But I think a lot of people blame people for this problem, where if you’re buying from Shein, yes, you’re contributing, but that’s not who, you know, is running this machine.

“It’s much bigger than the individual and extends to the entire industry. It’s not just a Shein problem. It’s everyone’s problem at this point. And if you catch what the guest is doing a moment ago, we’re talking about there, what What they have in common is practice. They’ve put the effort and time into identifying what’s good quality and what’s not. And you need to have that experience yourself. It’s not something you can really, you know, see online and knowing how to touch, feel and exactly what to look for in person.That’s an experience you earn, almost.

“And I think a lot of people don’t want to do that because, again, this instant gratification that comes with buying fast fashion even, you know how the influencer push is, you know, mono go mono do, shop on the spot Trust me. You know, it really takes time and effort to develop those skills in how to identify clothing. And I think that practice has really been lost in the last ten, 20 years. And I think it’s so human to want to do that. So, I’m honestly not sure how we’ll get back to that, if that’s even possible. I like to think I’m optimistic, but right now, I’m not sure how this issue will end.”

On building a new culture around fashion

Danielle Vermeer: “I think consumers, particularly younger ones who haven’t yet been exposed to quality fashion, get excited when they have that ‘Aha’ moment where they can touch, feel, try on, and even smell what a well-made item is.” And that’s probably going to be through secondhand and vintage because those clothes were made to last.”