Is ethical influencing the answer to both our environmental and social media concerns?

Viral documentary, The True Cost, highlights that 80 billion new garments are purchased every year worldwide, putting an eye-watering figure to the all too familiar notion of having everything in our wardrobes, but nothing to wear.

As fashion lovers, it seems we’re becoming more aware than ever of the effect our clothing consumption has on the environment.

However, fast fashion’s grip on us seems to be loosening, as research by fashion search engine Lyst report internet searches for sustainable fashion have increased by 66% in the past year. Indeed, #thrifted has been tagged on Instagram outfit posts over 1.7 million times.

I’ve been a sucker for second-hand since I was little, inspired by my grandfather who famously thrifted multiple keyboards in his lifetime, despite not being able to play. Fast forward to now, I’d estimate that my wardrobe is around 70% charity shopped – a cashmere coat, RRP £300 jeans, a vintage Coach handbag and Chloe playsuit included in that.

But for those who didn’t inherit the thrifting gene, and want to be more conscious of their ethical and environmental footprints, a community of Instagram “thrift-fluencers” have emerged. Far from the TeaTox flogging, Boohoo glad figures we are used to on our timelines, these accounts are the kind who call out fast fashion retailers instead of being sponsored by them.

Instagrammers Jade Doherty (@notbuyingnew), Becky Hughes (@theniftythrifter_) and Eva Suszczenia-Whitt (@evagoesthrifting) rack up over 35,000 followers between them, using hashtags like #FastFashionRebellion and #30Wears to share their journey of not buying any new clothes – at all – for a year.

But this isn’t just KonMari inspired minimalism, it’s about making active choices to shop less, and if you do, choose consciously. “Protest with the power of where you spend your money”, is Jade and her community’s rallying cry. Not only are they changing the way we shop, but the way we think about how influencer power can be used more positively. When @evagoesthrifting hit 2,000 followers she celebrated with a different kind of giveaway: a personalised “thrift box” full of charity shopped goodies in the winner’s size and style. “I wanted to prove that you can get amazing clothes second-hand” she explains. “Most giveaways promote new clothes or products and I wanted to stay away from that. But I couldn’t believe how many people were interested in it.”

This new breed of influencers do more than look on trend in their second-hand wares, they’ve created a solid community committed to doing the same. “I’d tried to give up fast fashion on my own and I couldn’t do it,” Jade says, but when she turned to Instagram she found a thriving community with people talking about the benefits of secondhand.

Never one to fall for a Pretty Little Thing discount code, to my surprise I’ve found myself truly under their influence. They post a charity shop haul, I immediately want to go out rummaging myself. For me, it’s reaffirming what I already know: that shopping second-hand is what’s best for the environment and, happily, our wallets. But for others, they’re inspiring a first foray into a much slower – and I would argue rewarding – approach to fashion.

So is ethical influencing – where Instagram stories teach you how to repair your clothes and don’t promote £3 bikinis – the answer to both our environmental and social media concerns?

“We are still a minor force within a powerful Instagram influencer base, but we are certainly increasing our impact” says Becky, realistic about the part she plays in such a formidable industry. “We don’t need a handful of people buying consciously – we need thousands of people making an effort to buy consciously with a knowledge of what they are buying, who is making their clothing and its carbon footprint”.

Jade is just as honest. “We know there’s no easy answer and similarly, there’s no single answer to the fast fashion crisis. However, a collective conversation helps piece together the many problematic strands.”

It’s by no means a quick fix, and still has a long way to grow, but ethical influencing undoubtedly makes the internet a more conscious place. Here’s hoping it’s a fashion and social media trend that stays.

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