Excessive consumption serves as a marker of status, while attracting attention, displaying wealth and power, and differentiating the conspicuous consumer from the rest of society. This phenomenon may be observed throughout history in expansive estates, gilded chateaus, elaborate garments, and lavish banquets featuring delicacies like stuffed peacocks. While it looks different today than in past centuries, the phenomenon is far from extinct.
There is no paucity of such displays. People showcase their meals, workouts, possessions, and properties on social media. Collections of tangible items or consumption of goods has become an integral crux of the brand upon which content creators build content. The era of influencer culture created an environment in which excessive consumption no longer merely serves to signal wealth and prestige. Instead, content centered around consumption can become a means to building a career.
Today, one of the most troubling iterations of this instinct for conspicuous consumption as it pertains to fashion is the haul video. Unfortunately, these videos frequently display large purchases from fast fashion brands and glorify the overconsumption of environmentally and socially irresponsible clothing brands. The latter poses an immense issue. It insidiously normalizes this overconsumption behavior and reinforces the message of the fast fashion industry.
In these ubiquitous videos, a creator may spin or dance their way through a variety of looks. Sometimes the content includes a review of the pieces; sometimes the pieces rhythmically flash by, look after look.
Not all haul videos fall into this sinister archetype. Some videos may showcase purchases of responsibly sourced items which the content creator intends to use and wear. Creators demonstrate their senses of style and show off items which have brought joy into their lives. The relish that wearing something new and receiving a compliment on it can be replicated online through sharing items which express style or imbue confidence. This content can become a community space for sharing thoughts, ideas, and inspiration for fashion.
Unfortunately, a preponderance of haul videos may also contribute to many of the problems of the fast fashion industry, exacerbate the societal pattern of treating clothing as if it is disposable, and commodify excessive consumption. In order to evaluate what you’re seeing or creating, I recommend asking yourself 3 questions:
1. Why were these clothes purchased:
If the clothes were purchased for the creator of the haul video to wear and enjoy, great! If the clothes were purchased purely in order to create a haul video, this is far less palatable. Textile waste accounts for nearly 10% of the annual waste produced and 20% of water pollution globally. Production is water intensive and contributes to pollution of the air and water supply. Shipping and packaging come with their own waste issues.
Consumption of clothing is both a necessity and a source of creativity, expression, and joy. Excessive consumption, or thoughtless consumption, contributes to the social and environmental ills of the textile industry. Showcasing a new outfit or item or displaying different outfit combinations is a great way to demonstrate style and create fashion content. Wearing dozens of new outfits only once and then discarding them, however, demonstrates a failure to understand the immense footprint of clothing production.
2. Where did these clothes come from:
Clothing purchased from fast fashion brands may be a necessity for some people. Everyone is doing the best they can, with what they have, where they are.
The issue arises in conspicuous consumption of fast fashion brands. Think about the phenomenon of videos with titles like “$500 Shein haul” “What I got at H & M for $300” etc. These content creators are not purchasing out of necessity or with the intent to wear and enjoy these clothes. Rather, they are purchasing for the sake of creating content. No one person needs to buy dozens of outfits at once from fast fashion brands. These creators are thoughtlessly and excessively consuming, without thought to the inhumane working conditions, the environmental and social cost of perpetuating the cycles of fast fashion, and the wastefulness of the entire endeavor.
We love to see the clothing that our customers and supporters find at Thrift 2 Fight sales or other second hand stores. Setting the example of more environmentally and socially responsible sources of clothing helps to normalize secondhand and upcycled garments.
3. What happens to the clothes after the video?
Haul content becomes much more palatable to me if the content creator wears and enjoys the articles of clothing after production of the video. If subsequent material demonstrates different ways to style the same items, this can provide inspiration for followers to repurpose and refresh their own wardrobe.
Should the creator have no intention to wear any of these clothes, this becomes a very different situation. Some fashion influencers have built careers on not re-wearing looks and pushing the freshest trends. This lifestyle perpetuates the marketing cycles which fashion companies have invested decades in perfecting.
The amount of textile waste produced by adult residents of the US increases every year. While studies vary depending on region and age of participants, it seems that around 50% of US residents throw away clothing when they no longer wish to wear it, rather than donate, fiber-recycle, upcycle, or otherwise dispose of it in another, more socially conscious way.
Americans throw away an average of 81 pounds of textiles every year, while buying a new piece of clothing every 5.5 days, on average. The connection between the more frequent consumption and increased rate is more than a positive correlation. Buying in excess contributes to excess waste in production, shipping, and disposal of textiles.
What can we do?
**Purchase intentionally. Find items that speak to you and items which you intend to wear more than once. Strive to purchase less, and purchase second hand where possible. Examine the brands or organizations from which you are purchasing clothing.
**Seek out content that exemplifies your position on the fashion industry. Do not contribute to the audience statistics of creators who contribute to and perpetuate the wasteful fast fashion cycles. To be clear, fashion content creation offers an opportunity for self-expression and entrepreneurship. The concept of modeling clothing pieces and creating an eponymous brand centered around this does not necessarily have any problematic implications. When content creation depends upon excessive and thoughtless consumption of fast fashion clothing with no intention of actually keeping or wearing the items, a dark cloud shadows the enterprise. Seek out those creators whose content responsibly consumes articles of clothing, and reject those who spend massive amounts of money on clothing which they have no intention of using or wearing.
**Repurpose your own clothing. Upcycle, restyle, or alter clothing to fit the current needs of your life and to extend the life of pieces which you already own.
**If something no longer works for you, dispose of it in a socially and environmentally responsible way.
Eleni Georgiadis is a classically trained horn player currently residing in Kentucky. Outside of music, she enjoys knitting, sewing, composting, kombucha brewing, and spending time outdoors. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to share her thoughts about sustainability and inclusivity in fashion, weaving together her technical knowledge, passion, and research.