How quickly fashion and social media are heating up a world of high consumption and low quality

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

Clothing from brands like Shein, while ultra fast, is of low quality.

Can consumers still recognize a beautifully crafted garment?

Today, To the point: The clothes have gotten worse. And social media and ever-changing trends don’t help.

Guests

Danielle Vermeer, Product manager. Experienced second-hand buyer. Runs the second-hand fashion newsletter Goodwill Hunting and co-founded the startup Teleport. (@DLVermeer)

mandy lee, freelance fashion journalist and trend analyst. She runs the TikTok and Instagram account Old Loser in Brooklyn. (@oldloserinbrooklyn)

Also featured

Sydney GreenGen Z shopper conflicted when buying new clothes.

Interview Highlights

About a definition of quality fashion

Danielle Vermeer: “For quality fashion there are elements of both objective and subjective standards. For example, objectively speaking, there could be a high-quality garment that lasts a long time. It lasts a long time or there is great workmanship. The processing, the clothing construction, the functionality of the materials and the material composition are of higher quality. And then there are also subjective characteristics. It’s the look and feel, how it wears over time, the aesthetics, the creativity, all of this together makes for a higher quality garment or, conversely, a lower quality garment.”

About Shein’s business model

Danielle Vermeer: “There’s definitely more of a social listening aspect while the traditional fashion industry has been very top-down. The brands, luxury houses, usually create these two-season capsules, and that then seeps into mid-tier and mass-market fashion. Shein is really flipping this model on its head to see what consumers are interested in. Let’s start with these small batches and ramp up when there is greater demand. And in theory, that’s great because you have less waste.

“And Shein reports that they have less than 1% unsold inventory, while the average for the fashion industry as a whole is between 25% and 40%. So a lot of excess inventory, and I think we as consumers see that with all these sales, discounts, clearance shelves that are overflowing with things that people just didn’t buy. And while on-demand is a great place to start, there’s still a size and scope to how much you create as a brand like Shein that’s frankly pretty low quality and not built to last.”

About access to high quality fashion

Danielle Vermeer: ​​”Accessibility includes both price and affordability, but also things like size, inclusivity, trendiness, and convenience. And after reading thousands of comments, especially from Shein buyers on social media, on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram, they also bring up things like nihilism, which is really interesting from a consumer insight perspective.

“Almost to say, well, the world is already on fire, so why can’t I look cute and buy this $3 top from Shein or somewhere else? But the biggest ones in terms of accessibility are where can you even find quality fashion, and can you afford it? will it suit me Will it actually be something I like that’s cute? And many younger consumers, especially Gen Z, haven’t had exposure to high-quality fashion yet and don’t have access to it.”

On Generation Z’s nihilism towards fashion

Danielle Vermeer: “Gen Z feels a lot of pressure when they feel the weight of the world is on their shoulders, that they have to be the ones to solve some of these world problems. But they also grew up as digital natives, bombarded and social media immersed. And that’s why, according to Thredup, one in three Gen Z feels addicted to fast fashion and one in five feels pressured to keep up with the latest trends and shop, shop, shop.

“Because they see it. They deal with it every day on social media. And so they feel these really negative emotions like guilt and addiction, pressure. And that’s not what fashion should be about, in my opinion. I think fashion should be a vehicle for self-expression and creativity. It should be fun, it should feel good. And I don’t think we should encourage guilt or addiction.”

About the cycle of abundance in fashion

Mandy Lee: “The accessibility factor in the price point for fast fashion, for example, that accessibility is very attractive, and it creates this notion of abundance. You can buy many things at once with the same amount of money you would spend on a higher quality item, perhaps a piece of clothing. And that kind of abundance mentality creates that almost revolving door mentality when it comes to your wardrobe.

“It means I can replace pretty much anything in my wardrobe at a very low cost. I’ll just keep switching in and out based on what’s trending or how my tastes evolve over time. And that, I think, is really part of the root cause in this ever-revolving cycle of buy, buy, buy, throw away. Because clothes from Shein and other fast fashion retailers are not of good quality. They can just disintegrate, literally disintegrate, over time with washing.”

How social media shapes our shopping behavior

Mandy Lee: “[Social media] plays a huge, huge role and is a huge driving factor in this, you know, abundant mindset that we’re talking about. And in a way that Danielle talked about haul culture a little earlier, these videos work extremely well and they offer polarizing content. Some people may be very, very against it. And, you know, add engagement, you know, comments like this are bad, blah, blah, blah. So kind of the end. And then other people will argue about it. This is how this truly polarizing content is created.

“And then the user who just bought 20, 30 pieces of clothing from Shein gets a dopamine hit. because her mentions and her notifications explode because her video goes viral. This content works very, very well. And it kind of reminds me, you know, when you buy something online and wait for it to come in the mail, you’re kind of floating on that dopamine hit of getting something new. And it really reminds me of that same feeling when a video, Instagram post, or Twitter thread you posted goes viral as well. You are connected. And I feel like those feelings are very similar and overlap a lot.”

Do you foresee any changes or a retreat from the fashion industry itself from these practices?

Mandy Lee: “That’s hard to answer 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 really admire the efforts of the individual. But I think a lot of people blame individuals for this problem. Although if you buy from Shein, yes you contribute, but that’s not who runs this machine, you know.

“It’s so much bigger than the individual and extends to the entire industry. It’s not just a Shein problem. It’s kind of everyone’s problem at this point. And if you pick up on what the guest is talking about, we’re talking about what they have in common is practice. They have put a lot of effort and time into figuring out what is good quality and what is not. And you have to experience this yourself. It’s not something you can really, you know, look at online and know how to touch and feel and pay attention to personally. It’s an experience you almost deserve.

“And I think a lot of people don’t want to do that, because again, that instant gratification that comes with buying fast fashion, you know how influencers push like, you know, monkey see monkey do, buy on the spot . Trust me. You know, it really takes time and effort to build these skills into clothing identification. And I think the practice has really gotten lost in the last 10, 20 years. And I just think it’s so human to want to do that. I’m honestly not sure how we’re going to get back to that, if that’s even possible. I like to think I’m optimistic, but at this point I’m not sure how this issue will end.”

About building a new culture around fashion

Danielle Vermeer: “I think consumers, especially younger ones who are new to high quality fashion, I look forward to them having that ‘aha’ moment where they can touch, feel and try on and even smell what for a good fashion. made article is. And that’s probably going to happen through thrift and vintage because these clothes are built to last.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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