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How Microtrends are Polluting Individuality and the Environment

Throughout history, trends have shaped decades in the fashion industry. When I think of fashion trends, I think of the Kurt Cobain-inspired grunge trend of the 90s or the neon color block trend of the 80s. I mean, what would the early 2000s be without the infamous juicy couture tracksuits? Throughout history, fashion trends have come and gone, defining each era. That is until Social media was born. 

Following trends can be a fun way to participate in fashion. The way you dress can help you express yourself and shape your identity. However, with the invention of social media, trends have come and gone faster than ever. In a matter of months, we see the rise and fall of the latest fashion trends. As a result, clothing is being overconsumed and overproduced at an exponential rate.

Exploring fashion trends is nothing new, but the method has been on overdrive since the arrival of microtrends. Take a look at TikTok’s “cottagecore” revival or Shein’s checkerboard print trousers. These trends’ popularity zoomed past our eyes, so much so that if you watch a video of someone wearing them, you can immediately tell when it was filmed. Don’t get me wrong; micro trends aren’t all evil. As a matter of fact, these trends might motivate us to look deeper into our closets and rediscover clothes we haven’t worn in a year. However, the problem lies in the ethics of microtrends. Fast fashion brands propel the reaction loop of these trends – quickly producing cheap polyester versions of garments to meet the high demand. 

The Nightmare of Fast Fashion

Before fast fashion, clothes were built to withstand almost everything, given that Americans had less clothing. Garments were well-constructed and made to last. Before fast fashion companies like Shein and Fashion Nova entered the market, fashion trend cycles lasted about ten years, allowing consumers to wear garments until they were out of style. However, the shift in the fashion industry, as of late, has traded quality for quantity pushing companies to sew clothes quicker. As a result, lower quality clothing, less attention to detail, and exploitative labor practices all led to cheap and thin clothing being generated rapidly to suffice the growing population. Now, with fast fashion now at your fingertips, the cycles last only a few months. As a result of this shift in consumption, our environment is being adversely affected. Additionally, it’s threatening our individuality.

Social media apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Pinterest are dominated by micro trends, and ultra-fast fashion is driven by micro trends. Even if micro trends usually start organically, brands with alarming labor and environmental records capitalize on them to push consumption and waste to new heights. Consequently, this generates a massive problem for the environment. The number of times a garment is worn has declined by around 36% in 15 years. As a result, an estimated 11.3 million tons of textile waste – equivalent to 85% of all textiles – end up in landfills on a yearly basis, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. On top of that, the infamous two-day shipping is just massive carbon emissions from transporting clothing, rapidly contributing to 10% of all carbon emissions globally.

Pop Culture and Surging Searches

Microtrends can now be created at lightning speeds by entertainment, social media, and iconic celebrity moments. For instance, HBO’s original show Euphoria had everyone obsessing over every character’s fashion choices, more specifically, the character Maddy Perez’s fashion. In season two of Euphoria, Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie) wore a black cut-out dress that sent social media into a panic. Everyone thought, “I have to have that dress!” Because of this, there was an 890% increase in demand for this trend search. After season two of Euphoria aired, fashion e-commerce searches skyrocketed. 

As much as micro trends fixate on newness, many of these “new” trends leech off of existing past styles. As many of us feel as though there has been an upheaval in our lives, social media has been the breeding ground for the rediscovery of old fashion trends. For instance, the “indie sleaze” aesthetic that was once popular in the early 2010s is slowly returning to the fashion world. This, in part, is due to social media’s glorification of these trends but also because of the overall nostalgia of it. Due to all that is going on in our lives, both personally and collectively, we tend to look to nostalgia as a way to “look back” when times were happier for some of us as a way to look at our current lives through rose-colored glasses. 

An Ode to Personal Style

Being in the midst of the sea of microtrends flooding social media, it is key that you look inward and find your own personal style. That being said, humans are constantly evolving, our identity is constantly fluctuating, and it might be hard not to adhere to microtrends. However, it would help if you looked within to find your personal style instead of focusing on aesthetics. 

I found that thrifting clothes is not only great for personal style and individuality, but it’s also great for the environment. Before being disposed of in a landfill, buying and donating old apparel helps to slow the fast churn of overproduction and consumption of clothing. Fashion is a fun way for people to express their personalities, but paying attention to what you’re wearing is vital. Shopping sustainably and preserving classic fashion trends will go a long way toward reducing the overproduction and overconsumption of clothing.

Before you purchase clothes, ask yourself, “Do I love this piece, or do I want to buy it because it’s trendy?” This will help you determine whether or not the piece complements your personal style. If we take the time to be slow and selective of the clothing pieces we purchase, maybe it will be harder to fall prey to the rapid churn of fast fashion trends on social media. 

After all, the most sustainable idea in fashion is personal style.


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