How is TikTok Affecting Fashion?

Fast fashion is one of the big issues in the industry. But how responsible is social media giant, TikTok, for rapidly accelerating fashion trends?

Photo by Jordan Nix on Unsplash

Fast fashion is a big issue in the fashion industry.Micro-trendsadd to the onslaught of ‘dos and don’ts’ when it comes to clothing, including an inter-generational dispute about the most flattering cut of jeans, and singular fashion items being trendy one minute and cringy the next.

It is hard not to look to one of the biggest social media platforms, TikTok, and see them as large contributors for further accelerating the already speedy trends.

With more than a billion monthly users, more than half of which are under the age of 30, TikTok has skyrocketed in popularity since its launch in 2016. It is a pivotal contender in how people view the world around them.

While it has acted as a platform for broad and niche groups to thrive, it has also seemed to encourage unnecessary overconsumption, as seen in shopping haul trends and the existence of the word ‘cheugy’.

So I asked the question: is TikTok really to blame? Fashion expertDr Daphne Mohajer va Pesaranbelieved the app had at least some part in the problem.

“TikTok is like any platform, albeit in hyperdrive, and has immense power due to its immense viewership,” she said.

“Fast fashion brands who can produce [garments] quickly know this, and spend a great deal of resources to make sure that their products are being seen.

"The speed of images, trends, videos being share on the platform have reached hyper-saturation at the same time that global supply chains have become the fastest they have ever been, Covid-related shortages notwithstanding. TikTok has power to influence people's consumption and their values.

"The danger is that trends can be shallow and short-lived on a platform like this. So, while it could bring attention to the term and some of its practices, ‘sustainability’ as a term can easily be co-opted and deployed when brands and individuals want togreenwash.”

Common fashion-related content on TikTok includes shopping hauls, where TikTokers buy exorbitant amounts of clothing in one go and present these hoards to their viewers. Some of these types of videos have garnered millions of views, to Dr Mohajer va Pesaran's horror.

“Pardon the hyperbole, but they are terrifying. Brands like Shein and Wish have no positive impact on ethical or sustainable practices (they are quite the opposite), and train young consumers to expect low-quality clothing at low prices.

"In other words, these hauls encourage people to want fast, accessible, mysteriously-produced trendy clothing.”

On the other side of Fashion TikTok, op-shopping and thrifting clothing have become more mainstream, even sometimes preferable over normal shopping. This side of the platform could be a step in the right direction for fashion and sustainability. Although, as Dr Mohajer va Pesaran pointed out, it still has a long way to go.

“Sustainability on TikTok is positive but can be dangerous,” she said.

“On the shiny side of the coin is the self-congratulating, virtue-signalling, image of an industry or individual. But on the other darker side of the same coin are tokenism, wage inequality, and obfuscated sites and means of research and production.

"For a brand, sustainability shouldn’t only be about the way things look on the outside, or how they are represented in media to attract customers.

"It is about how research is done for a brand, who its staff, stakeholders, and producers are, and what flow-on effects the brand's products can have on culture and the environment. Sustainability should be part of a brand's modus operandi, not only its image. But sadly, that takes work.”

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Despite these drawbacks, however, Dr Mohajer va Pesaran still remained hopeful for the future of fashion. She looked optimistically towards a reality where consumers are even more aware than they are now. 

“The future of the fashion industry is smaller, more community-based, hand-made and co-designed,” she said.

“Rather than the expectation of buying thingscheapandnow, in order to be able to take a specific kind of photograph, people will learn skills to repair and even create their own garments again.

"Hopefully, people start to see how unsustainable and dangerous the immediacy of low-quality fast fashion is.”