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Before the digital age, marketers mostly relied on tv and radio commercials, newspapers, and billboards to advertise their products. Although these strategies worked, they were not in consumers’ faces at all times. With Americans spending over 2 hours daily on social media, ads are inescapable nowadays.

How businesses do sponsorships and advertisements has mainly become digital with the rise of social media, and brand awareness has also become much easier for companies. About 69 percent of marketers make brand awareness on social media “their number one goal.” Aside from their social media accounts, businesses now depend on influencers for product placements. Nowhere is this particularly true than in the fashion industry.

The ‘Influencer’ Impact on Fashion Overconsumption and Overproduction

Fashion-focused influencers are one of the most followed types of influencers on social media. That said, they have a major impact on society.

A recent study revealed that 86 percent of people bought clothes because they were worn or suggested by an influencer. Often, the clothing mentioned in these influencers’ posts was brand-sponsored. Those with less than 50,000 followers, also known as micro-influencers, can make up to USD 100,000 from promoting these deals. Those with millions of followers can make over USD 10,000 per post. Although it may not seem ethical to be pushing that many products to fashion consumers, there is a strong motivator to be doing so. 

The demand for clothing items is at an all-time high. For instance, Americans purchase about “five times more clothing now” than before social media existed four decades ago.

Due to our vast consumption, fashion trends are also going in and out of style faster than ever. With fashion cycles lasting only up to 6 months, brands are overproducing clothing items and continuously dropping new collections to keep up with our demand. The typical four seasonal collections are “out,” and weekly micro-seasons are “in.” 

As a result, the average number of times people wear a clothing item is about 7 times before tossing it away. The trend fading out is not the only cause of this problem but also the clothing item becoming unwearable.

The majority of clothing sponsored on social media is from fast-fashion brands like Shein, FashionNova, and Zara. These brands create on-trend and inexpensive apparel, which is ideal for their younger audiences, and people earning lower incomes. While these brands try to label themselves as accessible, there is a major downside. Most clothing and accessories made by these brands contain polyester and other synthetic materials, which make items break down and look worn out only after a few wears.  

These factors create a seemingly unbreakable cycle that benefits the brands, rather than the consumers. The more clothing brands need to make for their consumers, the cheaper the production and quality will be, and the more often people have to purchase new items.

The Environmental Impact of Fashion Overproduction

It may come as no surprise that the fashion industry has become the “third-largest polluting industry” worldwide. 

The production of apparel alone drastically impacts the environment, contaminating 10 percent of water used in factories, which is left untreated and put back in the ocean. Not to mention, it creates more carbon emissions per year than “all international flights and maritime shipping combined.” 

Even the use of polyester, as previously mentioned, is extremely harmful. Made from fossil fuels, polyester is a non-biodegradable, non-recyclable type of plastic that sheds toxic microfibers. 

These microfibers are very difficult to clean, with about 533 million microfibers being released annually per Canadian and American households. These microfibers impact humans, the environment, and especially aquatic life. Plastic microfibers can be consumed by fish, shellfish, plankton, and more, which blocks their digestive system. 

The production of clothing, however, is not the only problem. Approximately 85 percent of textiles end up in landfills in America alone. These textiles release gasses and chemicals that contaminate our water, air, and soil during decomposition. Although some textiles decompose fast, many take centuries to do so. Over 18 percent of textile waste, approximately 3 trillion textiles a year, is burned in the U.S., which creates air pollution. Air pollution damages the ozone layer and harms the health of both animals and plants. It also affects our nervous and respiratory systems, possibly leading to cancer, pregnancy and birth complications.  

Ultimately, seemingly innocent product placements in influencers’ posts create a harmful environmental cycle that, in the end, affects us all. 

Playing Your Part

As consumers, we can make certain decisions to reduce these effects and end this environmentally destructive cycle.

Shoppers should be conscientious of what they are buying, why they are buying it, and who they are buying from. The cost per wear, the company’s environmental stance, and whether the product is eco-friendly are just a few things to consider before making a purchase. 

Although influencers are, well, influential, buying clothes should be based solely on necessity during a declining climate. We are approaching a critical point in our planet’s climate if there is no drastic change, so only buying what is needed is an effective way to resolve our global society’s extreme shopping addiction. 

While there is an individual responsibility to save our planet, the damage will continue if influencers and businesses do not take accountability and do their part to help the environment. These actions can include policy changes, and shutting down fast fashion brands.

Edited by Chelsea Bean

Jeanine Tajeddine

Jeanine Tajeddine is a Lebanese-Canadian with a B.A in Justice Studies from the University of Guelph-Humber, and is currently completing a graduate certificate in Journalism. In her free time, she enjoys...