Fashion Fever

Viral Trends On Social Media: Is It Harmful To Our Modern Eco-Conscious Culture Or Should We Vaccinate Against It?

In the past decade, social media has been the dominant mechanism for businesses to market, promote and connect their brands to audiences. More recently, it has evolved into a hub for commerce, creating accessibility to products in almost real time to satisfy those chasing instant gratification.

Consumers’ impulsive purchasing pattern attracted the luxury sector of the fashion industry to utilize “microtrends” strategies through social media platforms to boost quick sales and revenue. Ironically, this sector had traditionally taken pride in slow purchasing practices and in-store personal experience. These microtrends, or I like to just call them seasonal “fashion fevers”, usually last for a few months or a fashion season. As a result, the line drawn between modern day luxury fashion and fast fashion is becoming blurred. While the fashion industry generally acknowledges the need for better sustainability approaches to align with the recent awakening of the climate crisis, the creation and spread of short-lived fashion flus transmitted by social media are seemingly contradictory to the effort.


Viral Trends On Social Media: Is It Harmful?


A shift mutation in the luxury market

The luxury fashion landscape is no longer what it used to be. What was once a niche market for a very specific group, mainly for those with excess wealth, has now been fragmented. Just in the past few years, Millennials and Gen Z's have contributed to almost 100% of luxury market growth. And according to MOF’s, The Luxury Report, Millennials are projected to make up at least 50% of the luxury market by 2025.

There is no doubt in my mind that this growth is a reflection of the age of self-expression [credit to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way (2011)], and is being accelerated by the expansion of social media marketing to spread the gospel of individualism. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that self-expression is a form of self-care, but nonchalant consumptiondoes have consequences to the environment and is counterintuitive to sustainable practices.

It has been shown that the young generation of luxury shoppers will place independence and uniqueness above contributing to a communal good. The current era of social media influence is to constantly chase after freshness, the next hype, and to gain clout. The appeal of course is to be recognized as tastemakers, trendsetters, influencers, and personalities for the lens of street style photographers. Perhaps one of my favorite related quotes was from the late Franca Sozzani in Vogue Italia: “It’s not that fashion itself is ridiculous. It’s the people in fashion who make fashion ridiculous.”


Fashion Fever: Viral Trends On Social Media. Is it harmful?


Social media influencers spreading luxury fashion hypes that feel like fast fashion

Social media can function as a platform for self expression, i.e to increase one’s presence and to carve a niche for the users. While the ideology of individualism is on the minds of Millennials and Gen Z, ironically many often will make fashion purchase decisions based on what celebrities or influencers are wearing. Luxury powerhouse Louis Vuitton for example, invited YouTube star Emma Chamberlain to their S/S20 show in Paris, which may seem uncharacteristic but the brand clearly was leveraging her fame as a marketing strategy to tap into her influential power on Gen Z consumers.

Social media also plays a key role in engineering viral fashion hypes. Hypes are often vehicles to drive impulse purchases; but accumulation of impulse purchases can lead to over consumption, and that is contrary to eco-conscious behavior. Just look at the Margiela x Salomon red sneakers Rihanna wore during her 2023 Super Bowl performance which “set the internet on fire” according to the Rolling Stone. The shoes were sold out almost immediately and fans who are not immune to the hype resorted to buying replicas or even knock offs. Unfortunately, hypes are just short-lived trends and are not leveraged or built upon to make a lasting mark on the fashion world. For example - How many influencers are still wearing Fendace, circa 2021? What about Miu Miu’s micro skirt trend? How long before TIkTokers place them in the “that’s so last season” pile? Not long in fact because apparently we’re alreadyrejecting them. I’m also certain that by the time this article goes live, the MSCHF’s rubber red (astroboy) boots that have been going viral all over social media and “everyone is wearing” (even WWE wrestler Seth Rollins) are are likely obsolete. While fast fashion is a culprit of mass production and waste, luxury microtrends naturally “reject social harmony”, which makes our sustainable ethos an even harder bargain to make.

That being said, social media will no doubt continue to be the driving force for luxury sales. There is a steady increase of social commerce (purchasing directly through social media) and it will only continue to rise. Case in point, a recentHubSpot survey shows that 36% of social media users have purchased a product directly from Facebook, and 24.5% from Instagram on social media. With the projection that global social commerce sales will reach $6 trillion by 2026, it is not surprising to see luxury brands barebacking viral microtrends in order to spread the fashion fever through social media to enhance quick profit.


Fashion Fever: Viral Trends On Social Media. Is it harmful?


Can social media be used as a vaccine?

We often forget that social media is just a tool so it is neither good nor bad, but certainly could sway either way depending on end users. We have seen how fashion brands will use social media to turn certain holistic ideologies into high-speed superficial commercial movements. Take sustainable fashion for example, where they utilize greenwashing techniques to misrepresent eco-conscious practices as I discussed in previous NJAL Feature.

Remember when digital fashion rode the wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how some folks believed digital clothing was the saving grace to sustainability. Where are we going with this in the post-lockdown era? We seem to have abandoned this ideal and are back to our old ways where people flock to in-person runway shows. It seems to me that digital fashion was another case of a “fashion fever” inflamed by social media hype.

But let's focus on the positive because social media has also paved the way to shape the modern eco-conscious movement. For example, it brought attention to the climate crisis and educated us in ways to live more sustainably. Many Millennials and Gen Z’s are significant voices of this movement and are to be credited. Thankfully, we are at the stage where environmental buzzwords are a thing of the past. Young consumers no longer want to just listen to words like “sustainability” or “eco-friendly” but rather they expect to see fashion brands act on environmental issues.  According to a 2023 Social Media Trends report, 82% of consumers want companies to prioritize the people and planet first before profit. It’s projected that by next year, you can expect to see brands taking action to perform better in the market. In fact, social media platforms like TikTok have already brought some actionable eco-fashion trends to the forefront.


Fashion Fever: Viral Trends On Social Media. Is it harmful?


Can Eco-consciousness and Viral Trends Leveraged by The Luxury Fashion Co-Habitat?

The concept of luxury, which is defined by great comfort and extravagant living, seems to have lost its meaning in our time given the orgy that is modern consumption. The current ideology of luxury is much more complex. With our increased focus on environmental issues, and how some of our lives have slowed down during the pandemic, it forces us to re-evaluate our own definition of luxury. Modern day luxury could mean different things to different people - it could just be peace and quiet, spending time with loved ones, and having one’s own private space. In fashion, this could mean maximizing freedom to self-express in beautiful clothes or choosing supercharged simplicity where intelligent designs come first.

In my opinion, microtrends that drive unconcerned, impulse consumptions will only be detrimental to the environment. Short-lived fashion fever or hype counteracts our effort to live in a more eco-conscious lifestyle. Fashion trends can co-exist with sustainability concepts, but it requires a lot of work, especially if luxury brands can take a step back and focus on people and the planet over profit and shareholders. At the very least, making trends last longer or trans-seasonal would be a step in the right direction. Even bringing back the archival ways of luxury where products are made durable with high-quality materials to last longer than lesser made productions could reinvigorate the trend of “timelessness” and result in less out-of-season incineration and textile wastes. With their vast resources, surely the Luxury Houses can also easily connect with sustainable partners to craft exclusive products in a more eco-centric way without sacrificing their bold designs and future looking statements.

Luxury brands may also consider partnering with social media influencers who champion AND practice sustainability to steer fashion trends in a positive direction that benefit our planet.  These small steps can ultimately play a huge part in promoting herd immunity against viral fashion hypes and protecting the population against their associated waste and harmful environmental effects.