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

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

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

Can consumers recognize a beautifully crafted garment?

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


Danielle Vermeer Product Manager. Experienced thrift store shopper. He runs the secondhand fashion newsletter Goodwill Hunting and co-founded the startup Teleport. (@DLVermeer)

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

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Sydney GreenGen Z shoppers who feel conflicted about buying new clothes.

Highlights from the interview

About the definition of quality fashion

Danielle Vermeer: “There are elements of both objective and subjective standards in quality fashion. Objectively, there could be, for example, high-quality clothing that has great durability. Does it last a long time, or is there great workmanship. Craftsmanship, garment construction, material functionality and material composition are of higher quality. And then there are also subjective qualities. It’s the look and feel of how it wears over time, the aesthetics, the creativity, all of that adds up to 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, whereas the traditional fashion industry has been very top-down. The brands, the luxury houses, usually create these two seasonal capsules, and then it trickles down into mid-range and mass fashion. Shein really turns this model on its head to find out what consumers are interested in. Let’s do these small batches to start with, and then if there’s more demand, we’ll ramp up. And in theory it’s great because you have less waste.

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

About the availability of quality fashion

Danielle Vermeer: ​​”Affordability includes both price and availability, but also things like size, inclusivity, keeping up with trends, comfort. And after reading thousands of comments, especially from Shein shoppers on social media, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, they also bring things like nihilism, which is really interesting from a consumer perspective.

“Almost like, 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 the ones where you can even find quality fashion and can afford it? Will it fit me? Will it actually be something I like and is cute? And for many younger consumers, especially Gen Z, they haven’t been exposed to quality fashion and don’t have a ton of access to it yet.”

On Gen Z nihilism towards fashion

Danielle Vermeer: “There’s a lot of pressure that Gen Z feels where 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 who are bombarded and immersed in social media. And that’s why, according to Thredup, one in three Gen Zs 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 a sense of dependency, a sense of pressure. And I don’t think fashion should be about that. 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 encourage.”

About the fashion cycle of abundance

Mandy Lee: “The affordability factor in the price of fast fashion, for example, that affordability is very attractive, creates an image of abundance. You can buy a lot of things at once for the same amount you would spend on a higher quality, maybe one piece of clothing. And that kind of rich thinking creates this almost revolving door thinking when it comes to your wardrobe.

“This means I can replace pretty much everything in my wardrobe at a very low cost. I’ll keep rotating in and out depending on what’s trending or how my tastes evolve over time. And I think that’s really part of the root cause of this kind of ever-revolving cycle of buy, buy, buy, dump. Because the clothes made by Shein and other fast fashion retailers are not of good quality. They can just fall apart, they literally fall apart over time in the wash.”

About how social media is shaping how we shop

Mandy Lee: “[Social media] it plays a huge, massive role and is a huge driving factor in this, you know, abundant thinking that we’re talking about. And what Danielle talked about a little bit earlier about haul culture, these videos work extremely well and provide polarizing content. Some people may be very, very against it. And, you know, add engagement, you know, comment like this is bad, blah, blah, blah. So that’s the end. And then other people argue about it. So it creates this really polarizing piece of content.

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

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

Mandy Lee: “It’s hard to answer because from what I’ve seen 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 effort of an individual is really admirable. But I think a lot of people blame individuals for this problem. Where if you’re buying from Shein, yes, you’re contributing, but that’s not who’s, you know, driving that machine.

“It’s much bigger than an individual and applies to the entire industry. It’s not just Shein’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem at this point. And if you take what the guest right now, we’re talking about what they have in common is practice. They have put in the effort and time to identify what is quality and what is not. And you have to have this experience yourself. It’s not something you can really, you know, watch online and know how to touch and feel and exactly what to look for in person. That’s an experience you almost earn.

“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 the kind of influencer pressure, you know, monkey, see monkey, keep buying instead. Believe me. You see, building these skills into how to identify clothes really takes time and effort. And I think that practice has really been lost over 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 we’re going to get back to it, if it’s even possible. I like to think I’m an optimist, but at the moment I’m not sure how this problem will end.’

About building a new culture around fashion

Danielle Vermeer: “I think consumers, especially younger ones who haven’t been exposed to quality fashion, I’m excited about having that ‘Aha’ moment where they can touch and feel and try and even smell how well-made an item is. And that will probably go through secondhand and vintage because the clothes were made to last.”

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