How fast fashion and social media are fueling a world of high consumption and low quality

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

Clothing from brands like Shein may be ultra-fast, but they’re low quality.

Can consumers recognize a beautifully crafted garment more?

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


Danielle Vermeer, product manager. A veteran second-hand shopper. He runs the Goodwill Hunting second-hand fashion newsletter and co-founded the startup Teleport. (@DLVermeer)

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

Also highlighted

Sydney Greenthe Gen Z shopper who feels conflicted about buying new clothes.

Highlights of the interview

About the definition of quality fashion

Danielle Vermeer: “For quality fashion, there are elements of both objective and subjective measures. So, for example, objectively there could be a quality item of clothing that has great durability. It lasts a long time, or it’s excellent workmanship. The production, construction of the clothes, the functionality of the materials and the composition of the materials are of higher quality. And there are also subjective characteristics. It’s the look and feel, how it wears over time, aesthetics, creativity, all of that in combination creates a higher quality or, conversely, a lower quality of clothing.”

About the Shein business model

Danielle Vermeer: “There’s definitely more of a social listening aspect, whereas the traditional fashion industry was top-down. Brands, luxury houses, they usually create these two seasonal capsules, and then it trickles down into mid-range fashion and mass fashion. Shein is really turning that model upside down to see what interests consumers. Let’s do these small batches to start with and then ramp up if there’s more demand. And in theory that’s great because you have less waste.

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

About the availability of quality fashion

Danielle Vermeer: ​​”Affordability includes both price and affordability, but also things like size, inclusiveness, following trends, practicality. And then after reading thousands of comments, especially from Shein customers on social media, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, they also bring up things like nihilism, which is really interesting from a consumer insight perspective.

“I almost 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 in terms of availability are where to find quality fashion in the first place and can you afford it? Will it suit me? Will it actually be something I like that is cute? And for many younger consumers, especially Generation Z, they haven’t been exposed to quality fashion and don’t have much access to it yet.”

About the nihilism of Generation Z towards fashion

Danielle Vermeer: “Gen Z feels a lot of pressure because they feel like 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 immersed in social media. And that’s why, according to Thredup, one in three members of Generation Z 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 deal with it every day on social networks. And so they feel these really negative emotions like guilt and feelings of dependence, feelings of pressure. And that’s not what I think fashion should be about. I think fashion should be a means of self-expression, creativity. It should be fun, it should feel good. And I don’t think guilt or addiction is something we should support.”

About the fashion cycle of abundance

Mandy Lee: “The affordability factor in the price of fast fashion, for example, that affordability is very attractive and creates this idea of ​​abundance. You can buy a lot of things at once with the same amount of money you would invest in a higher quality, maybe one piece of clothing. And this abundance mindset creates an almost revolving door mindset when it comes to your closet.

“Which means, I can replace almost everything in my closet at a very low cost. I’ll continue to rotate in and out depending on what’s trending or how my taste evolves over time. And that, I think, is really part of the root cause in this kind of continuous cycle of buy, buy, buy, throw away. Because the clothes from Shein and other fast fashion retailers are not of good quality. They can just fall apart, literally fall apart in the wash.”

About how social media is shaping the way we shop

Mandy Lee: “[Social media] it plays a huge, huge role and is a huge driving factor in this, you know, abundant mindset that we’re talking about. And something that Danielle talked about a little while ago about the culture of transportation, these videos are extremely good and provide polarizing content. Some people can be very, very against it. And, you know, add engagement, you know, this kind of comment is bad, blah, blah, blah. That’s kind of the end. And then other people will fight over it. That’s how this really polarizing piece of content is created.

“And then the user who just bought, you know, 20, 30 items of clothing from Shein gets a dopamine hit. as their mentions and their notifications grow as their video goes viral. These pieces of content perform very, very well. And it kind of reminds me of, you know, if you buy something online and you’re waiting for it to arrive in the mail, you’re kind of riding that dopamine rush of getting something new. And it really reminds me of the same feeling as, you know, watching a video or an Instagram post or a Twitter thread that you’ve posted also go viral. They are connected. And I feel that those feelings are very similar and overlap a lot.”

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

Mandy Lee: “It is difficult to answer this because from what I have 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 individual’s efforts are truly admirable. But I think a lot of people blame individuals for this problem. Where if you buy from Shein, yes, you contribute, but that’s not who, you know, runs this machine.

“It’s much bigger than an individual and spans the entire industry. It’s not just a problem in Shein. That’s everyone’s problem at the moment. And if you consider what the guest is talking about, what they have in common is practice. They have invested effort and time to identify what is high quality and what is not. And you have to have that experience yourself. It’s not something that you can really, you know, look at online and know to touch and feel and exactly what to look for in person. It’s experience you’ve earned, done.

“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 what influence looks like, you know, monkey see monkey do, buy further period. Trust me. You know, it really takes time and effort to build those skills into clothing recognition. And I think that practice has really been lost in the last ten, 20 years. And I just think it’s so human to want to do that. So I’m honestly not sure how to get back to it, if it’s even possible. I like to think I’m an optimist, but at this point I’m not sure how this issue will end.”

About building a new culture around fashion

Danielle Vermeer: “I think for consumers, especially younger ones who haven’t yet been exposed to quality fashion, I’m excited when they experience that ‘Aha’ moment when they can touch and feel, try and even smell what a well-made item is. And that will probably be through second-hand clothes and vintage because those clothes are made to last.”

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