5 ways you can use social media to help you make more sustainable fashion choices

As it's #secondhandseptember, this translator thought she would share 5 ways that you can use social media in your personal life to move away from fast fashion and embrace a more sustainable wardrobe.

A translator with a taste for thrifting

This September, Oxfam is running an initiative called #secondhandseptember, which encourages people to not buy any new clothes for 30 days and instead share pictures of the clothes they've bought second hand. I know what you're thinking; what's a translator doing writing about sustainable fashion? Well, I am nothing if not a versatile writer so please hire me, and I think it's important to talk about sustainable fashion for a couple of reasons: I think that shopping sustainably is important for the environment, and I have a long, long love affair (I refuse to say “problem”) with thrifting.

To coin an old hipster parable: I was into second-hand shops before they were cool. This is mainly due to the sheer prevalence of charity (or thrift) shops on UK high streets, and my mum, who has the near-magical ability of diving into the haystack of a second-hand clothes rack and coming out with at least five needles of excellent and good quality pieces in my size. However, while I've always enjoyed thrifting, it's only in the past year that I've started to take it seriously and have subsequently given up fast fashion__*__. Therefore, I am naturally thrilled with #secondhandseptember - but what I find particularly notable about it is the utilisation of a tool that has typically been claimed by fast fashion brands: social media.

(_*NOTE:_** _There are of course brands that sell_ ethical fashion**. But reducing our global consumption of new clothes is key to achieving sustainability, which is why buying second hand or upcycling is so important.)

Image of some thrifted clothes I own

A quick definition of “fast fashion”

Fast fashion” is a term used to describe clothes that are produced at an extremely quick rate, and manufactured and sold at an extremely low cost. These clothes are often extremely low quality, not only as a result of how they're made but as they're only meant to last for a short while, in accordance with rapidly changing trends. Perhaps unsurprisingly, while the RRP price of these clothes is low, the environmental and human cost is extremely high. This post is going to focus on the environmental consequences of fast fashion and boy, what consequences (although we should be just as angry about an industry that contributes to the death of hundreds of people with not nearly enough subsequent repercussions or reformations).

The fast fashion industry is the second largest source of pollution in the world. This is due to multiple reasons, such as the prevalence of plastic in the materials, the chemicals used in the manufacturing process, and the rate at which we consume and discard clothes, which often end up on landfills and in our oceans. According to a 2017 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second", which is, I think we can all agree, insane.

Image from oxfam that says: The carbon footprint of new clothes bought in the UK every hour is as big as driving a car around the world 360 times

These facts aren't to make you feel guilty about buying fast fashion - we've all done it and there are multiple, legitimate reasons for doing so. Rather, these facts are to emphasise that a change is necessary, both in the industry and in our own consumption.

Sustainability and social media

The more we learn about social media, the bleaker it seems to get, from collecting users’ data without their permission to pulverising teenage girls’ mental health. We now tend to talk about social media in the same disapproving tones that old Victorian spinsters probably used to discuss young women whose dress hems ended just a little bit above the ankle. However, in my opinion, social media is neither inherently good nor bad, but a tool that can be used in good or bad ways.

In terms of the fashion industry, social media has typically been used in a lot of bad ways, such as promoting fast fashion brands and encouraging us to consume more. According to a survey conducted by Barclaycard in 2018, “almost one in ten Brits reveal that they have bought clothes online (nine per cent) to wear once with the aim of posting a photo to social media and subsequently returning their purchases”. More recently than I care to admit, I found myself lusting after a pair of trousers that I would not have missed from my wardrobe had I not seen them being styled by an influencer on Instagram (I unfollowed the influencer shortly after - but I did buy the trousers).

However, recently, social media has also started to be used as a tool for promoting sustainable fashion. As a blog by the company Linkfluence observes: “Social media and web users want to know how they can shop consciously and ethically, and thus turn to influencers to help them understand what (and how) to buy.” In that vein, here are five ways that you personally can use social media to help you make more sustainable fashion choices:

1. Unfollow influencers and brands that make you want to spend more (particularly those pushing fast fashion)

If certain social media accounts only leave you with a strong desire to own that very specific, brown, ruched minidress with puffy sleeves no matter the cost, or, more seriously, feelings of inadequacy, then do the environment, your bank account and your self-esteem a favour and follow a derpy cat account instead (or dog, if you feel that strongly about it).

2. Follow sustainable influencers and brands

If you're going to be influenced, you may as well be positively influenced. Find influencers or brands that use their platform to advocate for sustainable fashion or provide inspiration for styling second-hand clothes (bonus points if they have a derpy cat and/or dog).

3. Get you an app that can do both

There's a growing number of apps such as depop, thredup, and tise that allow you to buy and sell second-hand clothes. While it's debatable whether these apps count as social media, they're being used more and more in tandem with traditional social media platforms. Apps like this mean that you can still enjoy your favourite brands, while contributing to sustainability and making some extra cash.

4. Discover “sew-cial” media

There are plenty of social media accounts that focus on “upcycling”, wherein an old, so-out-of-style-you-weren't-really-sure-if-it-was-ever-in piece of clothing is transformed into something that would bibbidi bobbidi put Cinderella's godmother out of a job. Not only do these accounts show you exactly how they made this magic happen, but they often provide tutorials for upkeeping clothes generally, such as patching a hole in jeans or sewing on buttons.

5. Join a community

As with everything, making a change is much easier when you don't do it alone (I know I 100% am more likely to go to the gym when I'm meeting a friend who will judge me heavily for not dragging myself out of bed). Finding a sustainable fashion-based community on social media, such as r/ethicalfashion on reddit, will not only keep you motivated but provide tips and brand recommendations.

Image of one of my thrifted outfits: green coat, red top and black-and-white skirt

“If you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em!”

When it comes to social media, I truly believe that it’s not about stuffing the genie back into the bottle but using your wishes wisely. What social media has done for fast fashion, it can easily do for sustainable fashion - but it does require awareness and action on the part of the user to make this happen.

If sustainable fashion is something you've thought about (or if you've made it this far in the blog post and feel like you should probably do something to justify using your time in this way), then I really hope you try out these tips to help you transition to a more sustainable future - both for your wardrobe and the planet.

Originally posted to LinkedIn on 12 September 2019.

Jessica R. Scott
Professional Translator, Writer and Editor

Jessica is a British translator, editor and writer who translates from the Scandinavian languages into English. Her passions include coffee, communications and TV dramas, which conversely means she finds nothing more frustrating than characters in TV dramas refusing to communicate over miniscule misunderstandings (often in coffee shops).