How TikTok Killed Fashion – and Ushered in a New Era of Unsustainability

Original art by Ella-Devi Weerackaody
Original art by Ella-Devi Weerackaody

Before the birth of Fashion Nova and Shein in the early 2010s, fashion used to run on a 20-year trend cycle. Take the divisive ultra-low-rise jeans of the early 2000s that have been popping up in department stores and on the bodies of Gen Z influencers starting in 2020. Or the choker necklaces that made it big in the ’90s and then again in the 2010s, exactly 20 years later. Not anymore. Enter the microtrend: a popular item of clothing that floats through the fashion ecosystem like normal fashion trends do, just way faster. Microtrends rapidly gain popularity and exit the trend cycle in a blink of an eye. Microtrends are accelerated trends and set the fashion cycle aflame. While traditional fashion trends used to last years, microtrends are in acceleration mode and oftentimes, don’t even last through one season. You’ve probably seen a microtrend or two out in the NYC jungle. For instance, social media’s viral “dark academia” trend led to cheap plaid skirts, chunky loafers, and skimpy patterned tights flying off the shelves. Among others are the “that girl” aesthetic, the Amazon corset, the green House of Sunny dress, or the indie sleaze style. What do all these microtrends have in common? They were birthed by TikTok.

It’s no secret that TikTok’s algorithm encourages everything new and shiny, presenting any new idea as the “hot fresh trend” until it’s been driven into the ground. TikTok’s influence on fashion is undeniable, with TikTok stars showing up to New York Fashion Week shows, pieces of clothing selling out in seconds due to viral posts, and fashion brands directing their marketing to TikTok-aged teens. 

So what is feeding the market of chronically online teenagers looking to satisfy their next microtrend fix? Online clothing companies such as Shein and Princess Polly have risen to the top of the fashion food chain for their inexpensive clothing that is on-trend with the latest season, adding thousands (yes, thousands!) of new pieces to their websites a day. These brands often sell items made of the cheapest material and labor they can find, resulting in garments that won’t survive even one cycle in the washer. 

As a result of all this, 92 million tons of clothing end up in landfills yearly, the fashion industry’s carbon emissions will increase by 50% in the next decade, and the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of global wastewater. The continued rise of fast fashion as a result of these microtrends is disturbing and extremely detrimental to our earth, and these statistics will only become more worrisome. So instead of buying a new top whenever we feel down or buying absurd amounts of clothing online in a single night, we need to start being mindful. Will I wear this for the next two years? Where will I wear this? Is the quality going to last? Is it comfortable? In an online culture obsessed with consumerism, material excess, and buying the next new hot thing, maybe that’s the most fashionable mindset of all.

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