Sustainable influencers embrace fast fashion

Jenny Vaughan – Agence France-Presse

January 21, 2023 | 9:20 in the morning

PARIS, France — Sustainable influencer Masego Morgan was shocked when a fast fashion giant offered her $1,000 (P54,000) for a single social media post to promote her brand.

Not only has the South African social media star never been offered that much money, the company represents exactly what she opposes: the overconsumption of cheap, planet-damaging clothing made by underpaid workers.

And she is not alone. Former “Love Island” contestant and sustainable fashion influencer Brett Staniland said he was offered close to $5,500 (P300,000) for a spot on a big fast fashion brand, money that most small or sustainable brands simply can’t compete with.

Content creators like Morgan and Staniland are promoting sustainable fashion online, where deep-pocketed fast-fashion corporations have helped flood Instagram, TikTok and YouTube with sponsored posts that encourage viewers to buy more stuff — mostly at the expense of the planet.

This growing army of influencers aims to expose the environmental damage caused by big fashion companies like Shein, H&M and Zara.

They’re also encouraging climate-conscious fashion choices — what Morgan calls “mindful consumption” — by asking people to buy less, or if you have to buy, preferably second-hand or ultra-sustainable.

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“We shouldn’t necessarily be competing with (fast fashion) in their way … their model is already unsustainable,” said Morgan, whose TikTok and Instagram pages are filled with playful posts filled with recycled and handmade items, many of which she displays more than once.

“Kraping is revolutionary”

Morgan began borrowing cheap clothes from her elegant Japanese mother, who told her that “mending is a revolutionary act” and encouraged her to mend clothes instead of buying new ones.

The 26-year-old, who posts most of her content from her kitchen in Cape Town, said she tries to hold corporations accountable instead of making people feel guilty about their choices.

Influencers like her are “agents of change,” said Simone Cipriani, president of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion and founder of the Ethical Fashion Initiative.

Social media has become extremely important for fashion brands, who can reach millions through influencers showing off their outfits in posts like #outfitoftheday.

A mainstream influencer in a western country can easily earn six figures a year through sponsored content and affiliate links. And the more followers they have, the more they can charge brands.

Social media has helped boost fashion sales, with global consumption of clothing, footwear and accessories doubling since 2000, according to the Hot or Cool Institute.

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But it came at a great cost to the planet. The apparel industry accounted for an estimated two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 — about the same as the aerospace industry — according to the World Resources Institute.

Those emissions could increase by 55 percent by the end of the decade, it added. They would have to be reduced by 45 percent to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as outlined in the Paris Agreement.

The ecological footprint of fashion production and consumption needs to be reduced by 60 percent in high-income countries to limit global warming, according to the Hot or Cool report.

In addition to decarbonizing the fashion industry, their advice is not to buy more than five new things a year and to wear clothes longer.

‘In contrast’

Exposing the harmful influence of fast fashion corporations is at the core of Venetia La Manna’s content.

The 33-year-old influencer has amassed a huge online following, with around 6.5 million views on TikTok and Instagram for her “Recipe for Disaster” series about the social and environmental damage done by companies like Adidas, Amazon and Nike.

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She makes a decent living and works with resale sites like Vestiaire Collective, eBay and Depop. But it’s not always easy to compete with fast fashion-backed influencers.

“We oppose it in terms of money and power,” she said. “Over the past five years, I really feel that this issue is on the map. Before, plastic and food were the main focus of conversations about our environment, but now fashion is really being talked about.”

The second-hand clothing market is booming and is expected to reach $218 billion (£11.8 trillion) by 2026, up from $96 billion (£5.22 trillion) in 2021. This is driven in part by the growing number of resale companies and renting clothes to a growing class of conscious consumers.

“Love Island” star Staniland hopes that good-for-the-planet businesses will continue to grow on social media.

And he achieved several victories. The 29-year-old was instrumental in the show switching its sponsor from fast fashion to eBay.

But for now, it may be an uphill battle. Like most sustainable influencers, Staniland must rely on multiple sources of income.

After turning down $5,550 (P302,000) from the fast fashion giant, he has been working with an underwear brand he trusts, ONE Essentials, but still needs his model to pay the bills.

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