What are the connections with overconsumption in fashion and social media?
In this episode of the podcast, Lily of Imperfect Idealist (Instagram: @imperfectidealist; YouTube: Imperfect Idealist; TikTok: @imperfectidealist) is exploring how social media influences consumption and why overconsumption + overproduction are such big problems in fashion.
Lily is also sharing:
- Why fashion hauls are so problematic;
- What some of the solutions are — on both an individual level and system level — for overconsumption and overproduction;
- What she sees as the biggest misconceptions about sustainable fashion;
- How we can make the space more inclusive; and
- Her tips for talking to others about the problems in the industry without sounding “preachy” or judgmental.
Lily advocates for inclusive and realistic sustainable fashion on her blog and social accounts. She shares everyday knowledge along with ways to use your voice for systemic change.
CONNECT WITH LILY:
- How to Make Your Clothes Last Longer
- Our Dangerous Obsession with Fashion Hauls
- 9 Common Misconceptions with Sustainable Fashion
- Sustainable or Greenwashing? How to Evaluate Fashion Brands
- TikTok is Roll Out In-App Shopping Features
Tune in to this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast below, or on your favorite podcast app.
The transcript of this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast is below.
Hey, there and welcome or welcome back to the podcast. Today we are talking about overproduction and overconsumption.
The theme of this season of the show is circular fashion. And as we’ve established, circularity must mean producing and consuming less first and foremost.
And while big fashion brands, namely fast fashion brands, are the main cause of this rising consumption that we’re seeing, another important part of this conversation is social media and influencer culture. So in this episode, I am chatting with Lily of Imperfect Idealist on;
- The connections between social media and the rise of fast fashion
- Why overconsumption and overproduction are such big problems to begin with
- Lily is also sharing how fast fashion hauls glamorize overconsumption
- What some of the solutions are for overconsumption and overproduction
- Her tips for consuming less
- Common signs of greenwashing that we should keep an eye out for
- What she sees as the biggest misconceptions about sustainable fashion
- And her tips for talking to your friends and family about these issues and about more conscious or slow fashion
As always, the transcript for this episode is in the show notes hosted on consciouslifeandstyle.com If you like this episode, be sure to subscribe or follow our channel Conscious Life & Style so that you do not miss any future similar episodes.
And if you are liking the podcast so far, a five-star rating on Apple Podcasts. is super appreciated and goes a long way in helping new listeners find our show.
Finally, if you want more sustainable fashion content, you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter The Conscious Edit.
This is where I share articles and books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, campaigns I’m supporting, videos and documentaries I’m watching, and other cool conscious fashion things I’m checking out.
You can sign up for that at consciouslifeandstyle.com/edit or through the link in the episode description.
Alright, now let’s get started with this episode, Lily is going to share her background and what led her to start her platform Imperfect Idealist.
Basically, my blogging journey started when I was in middle school, it was kind of at the height of fast fashion giants, like Forever 21 and H&M.
And I was just a regular old-style blogger. I had very colorful, embarrassing outfits. And over time, I just became more aware of sustainability and consumerism.
I’d say around the college is when I really started slowing down my own consumption. But that was really the extent of my knowledge about sustainable fashion.
It was only a couple of years ago when I started really getting more interested in sustainability and sustainable fashion.
I felt like a lot of the movement was really emphasizing still consumerism just for ethical brands. So I wanted to kind of dive into those misconceptions and talk about other ways to participate in the movement beyond buying more from these different brands.
And that was actually my first kind of piece of content in the sustainable fashion sphere. It was a blog post about the misconceptions about sustainable fashion.
And from there, it just expanded to a bunch of different platforms.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, that’s really interesting that you got your start in the sustainable fashion space with that topic, because you still talk about overconsumption.
And that’s a big topic that we’re talking about today in this interview.
So to sort of set the foundations for this conversation, could you share what overproduction is and overconsumption is, and then why these are such big problems?
LILY: Yeah, of course.
So, overproduction is more like this systemic, like fashion company level, but we have these brands that are releasing thousands of styles weekly, or even daily.
And they’re producing more than can be consumed or sold. What ends up happening is that they will burn or destroy their unsold stock.
And it’s both the cheaper brands as well as the luxury brands, especially since the luxury brands want to preserve their own attainability, right?
So we just have a ton of bad things happening on that. The overproduction, though is still related to overconsumption on an individual level.
Because these companies, do what’s profitable.
So on the individual level, we have overconsumption, where people are buying more than they need, they are getting a ton of trends, cycling through a lot of clothing quickly, and not wearing it as long as they can.
I’d say that these two things are very related because there are people who love to say blame the companies and not the consumers, and they say it’s just an overproduction problem.
But we as people, are consuming way more than we used to decades ago.
And for some companies, it just might be more profitable for them to produce a ton of this one trendy thing and have some extras than to produce less than maybe sell out.
So yeah, I’d say these two things are super related, and I definitely hope that both of them can be addressed.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, for sure.
They are definitely very interconnected. And there are a lot of causes of overproduction and overconsumption.
But I feel social media has played a large role in it.
Like SheIn for example is this ultra-fast fashion brand that doesn’t even have physical stores; they basically have relied on social media to grow their brand.
What connections do you see with social media and fast fashion and overconsumption?
LILY: I definitely think they’re very connected.
This isn’t super scientific or anything but if you were to look up SheIn and TikTok on Google Trends, you’ll see that they kind of peak and dip with one another.
Which I don’t I mean, they’re definitely, it seems pretty correlated.
And you’ll see on TikTok, in particular, these massive SheIn hauls that are hundreds, sometimes like thousands of dollars.
And they’re not only by influencers, but they’re also by regular people. And they amass hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of views and likes.
We know now shopping is being integrated into a lot of these social media apps as well. Like Instagram with the shopping tab, there’s stuff like liketoknowit.
Within these platforms, there are sponsored posts, encouraging people to shop from these fashion fast fashion brands.
So I’d say it’s definitely social media is kind of a two-way street in the way and its relationship with fast fashion because people will not only buy from social media, but people will also buy things for social media, right?
People will buy clothing just for their Instagram posts, or just for their hauls.
And they don’t really want to want it to be seen twice on their feeds because they think that’s bad, right? So it’s a very interesting kind of a two-way relationship here.
Yeah, and I’m not on TikTok at the moment, but I did read that TikTok was launching their own sort of shopping tool as well or something in the works with that.
And Instagram is constantly launching new shopping features and making it easier and faster to shop on Instagram.
Even in the main feed, when I’m scrolling through, it won’t suggest it… it will like to suggest just for people to follow, but shops to check out.
It really feels like they’re pushing you more and more to shop, even directly on the app.
So it’s clear that we cannot deny the role that social media plays with fast fashion and what role fast fashion plays in overconsumption and overproduction.
And one of the ways that this happens is with hauls, which is something you mentioned. And I’d love to dive deeper into that.
So could you address the topic of hauls and share why hauls are so problematic?
LILY: Yeah, of course, I always like to say that, it’s one thing if you buy a lot of clothing, you keep it to yourself, that’s like, not super great, right?
But it’s another thing if you go buy a lot of clothing, and then you are promoting it to people. And this begins this vicious cycle of consumption because these hauls go viral.
And then regular people want to do them because they see that they can gain views and a following from them.
And then, unfortunately, the people who build their platforms by doing hauls, have to continue doing that, because that’s what people are interested in.
I’ve read interviews by influencers who started out this way saying that they are kind of stuck in this cycle.
And then even if people are not making haul videos, if they’re not influenced by the things that they see to make their own videos, you’re still exposed to them and you see all the likes. There are a lot of impressionable young people on TikTok, for instance.
And people who don’t know much about fast fashion and these young folks, think that these brands must be really good.
And this is desirable, right? This is attainable because so many people are liking this. So I just worry seeing all the cycle continue to perpetuate itself…
So what do you think some of the solutions are for overproduction and overconsumption?
Maybe on an individual and more systems level?
LILY: Yeah, for sure.
So when it comes to overproduction, I think that’s where we need more legislation.
So we need to have these laws making it so that these companies have to donate their unsold stock, for instance, so that it doesn’t just get destroyed.
Maybe making it illegal for them to write off that destroyed stock on taxes, or at least taking any benefits out for destroying your stock.
And then I think also on another end, we need to be ensuring that these companies are having ethical working conditions and fair pay.
So recently, there have been agreements like the Garment Worker Protection Act, the Bangladesh Accord, which were recently renewed.
Because I think overproduction is related to unethical labor. The reason this clothing is so cheap to produce, and that these companies are able to produce so much of it is because people are being exploited, they’re being overworked, they’re being underpaid.
On that end, definitely we need more legislation.
When it comes to overconsumption, I think we really just need to change this culture around the way we approach our clothing.
I think we need more literacy around the way we take care of our clothing. People just don’t necessarily know how to wash their clothes, that they don’t need to wash their clothes every single time that maybe they should consider air drying.
People don’t know how to mend anymore, because it’s not taught in schools. And people don’t know how to style things in different ways, because all they see are hauls.
They don’t like that there are not as many styling tips. Right?
So yeah, I think when it comes to an individual level, we need to reshape this culture, right?
ELIZABETH: Right. It’s a cultural shift that needs to happen.
And that’s so true about the styling tips and influencers or the lack thereof.
A lot of influencers are in addition to hauls, having these outfits they post with a liketoknow.it link for people to shop for the exact outfit.
And then their followers just buy all of the pieces the influencer is wearing to copy the look. And it’s not about building your style, finding what you like, learning how to work with your closet, but literally just copying the exact looks that you see on Instagram.
So there’s obviously a lot of temptation all around us that is causing this overconsumption.
So what tips do you have for somebody who is trying to reduce their consumption but is having a difficult time doing so?
LILY: Yeah, I would say the first thing is always just to try to remove that temptation.
So I know shopping, for instance, is considered a very popular social activity in some different spaces.
And I used to go shopping with my mom a lot. And now I just try to say no and suggest another activity like, let’s go on a walk.
Or I actually really like mending clothes with my mom, because it’s a really relaxing thing to do. And you can use that time to talk about different things.
And so that’s the first thing I’d recommend just trying to suggest some alternative activities and to just remove yourself from these situations.
So another thing I’d recommend is unfollowing fast fashion influencers and replacing those with people who talk more about slow fashion and styling.
But also kind of being careful not to follow people who are still constantly promoting consumption, even if it’s from ethical brands.
And then I would definitely say to learn how to take care of your clothes, learn how to mend. And I know we talked about just a moment ago, finding your personal style.
So that’s kind of a nebulous term. But I think what can help is if people go through maybe a no-buy period.
If they’re used to buying a lot of clothing, just finding what they naturally gravitate towards. People really like to make mood boards on Pinterest just to kind of explore different styles.
And then trying to find what your signature pieces might be and building outfits around those.
ELIZABETH: Yes, such great advice there.
Removing temptation is very key.
So in this sustainable fashion journey, we know it is a constantly evolving journey where we’re always learning more.
So I’d love to explore some of the misconceptions of sustainable fashion because you’ve talked about this before on your platforms, what do you think, are some of the most common misconceptions that people might believe at the beginning of their journey?
And why are those not true?
LILY: I think one of the first instincts people tend to have when they’re transitioning to slow fashion is they think they have to get rid of all their old fast fashion.
I think a lot of people think it’s really about the clothing, the labels they have in their closet.
And that’s really just counterproductive because one of the main things or pillars of sustainable fashion is wearing what you have as long as you can.
Because if you get rid of that clothing, you’re gonna have to get more clothing, right?
So that’s antithetical to slow fashion.
Another one, I’d say is that people think that sustainable fashion is really only for rich people.
When poor people, immigrants, BIPOC, a lot of them have been participating in sustainable fashion out of necessity all this time.
Really, people just conflate sustainable fashion with expensive brands. But that’s really not the case. I’d say what’s more important is reducing your consumption, making your clothes last, taking good care of them.
And a lot of times people don’t have a choice, but to do that, right?
I’d also say that another one that people don’t realize is that they think that donating their clothing is really good, when in fact, about only 20% of their clothing ends up getting resold in the thrift stores.
And the rest usually ends up in the Global South.
I think CBS might have done a story about this recently with some footage of the rotting clothing and landfills on the shores of Ghana, and it just it contaminates the water, it puts the local textile workers out of jobs.
So I think all of this is just connected, right?
Like the clothing, we buy the clothing that we get rid of… it just doesn’t disappear.
And I think people kind of have this out-of-sight, out-of-mind mindset. So I would say those are some of the really big ones.
Yeah, I also feel that those are the biggest misconceptions that I see, and ones that I believed myself too, so definitely not shaming anyone or anything like that because I do think that one of the factors that play into these misconceptions is greenwashing or misleading marketing.
So could we talk a little bit more about greenwashing?
Have you greenwashing play into these misconceptions and also what are some common signs of greenwashing that you look out for?
LILY: Oh, yeah, I definitely say so.
Especially when it comes to the whole donating recycling kind of thing. Because of a big initiative that a lot of fast fashion giants have like SheIn and H&M, I believe Zara as well, they have this recycling program.
And if you bring in some of your old clothing, you’ll get a discount, right? And people think that that’s great.
My clothes are gonna get recycled into new ones. When this is not really helpful to have circularity when you’re not reducing your production in the first place.
You’re not reducing your consumption in the first place. And in this case, these recycling programs actually probably encourage further consumption because people think they can just buy more if they’re closer to going to get recycled.
I would say that’s like, a really big connection. And then some of the other really popular ways to greenwash are when these companies have their specific conscious lines, but the rest of their thousands of products, those are not conscious, those are not made in a conscious way.
And a lot of times, maybe the materials are a little bit better.
But we still don’t know about the working conditions of those garment workers. We don’t know how they’re being paid.
And I think the brands are really able to accomplish this by talking about sustainability and really vague terms. They call themselves conscious.
But what does that really mean?
They say they’re radically transparent. But what does that really mean? They really need to back that up with specific measures, right?
They need to back that up by saying, we pay our, garment workers X amount, we have this many audits per year, and this is how we did and those audits.
Every time that a brand comes out with a statement, that sounds really good.
I think we should be constantly questioning that and digging, digging deeper. Right?
We need more data, more transparency, more information.
We need to keep asking more questions. So education is obviously super important to this movement. And so is accessing it.
So could you talk to us about some of the barriers you see in sustainable fashion and how we can make help make it more inclusive?
LILY: Yeah, of course.
I’d say that I know sizing can be a really big issue in the fashion industry in general, not just in sustainable fashion.
It’s an issue for fast fashion brands, slow fashion brands, for used clothing, because that trickles down eventually.
So if we want more people to participate in sustainable fashion, we have to make sure that there are options for people.
One thing I try to do, if I’m working with a brand is just asking them about their plans to expand their sizing.
We can support brands that already have this extended sizing.
Another thing that can improve inclusivity is when brands create adaptive options for people with disabilities. So that could be people with sensory issues, people in wheelchairs, who might need different types of clothing.
And again, if we want people to participate, we need to have not good options for them, not just basic options.
And, yeah, I think another thing that really prevents people from getting interested in the movement is just they believe that they have to be perfect.
They think that they can’t ever buy fast fashion, which, if you can avoid it, for sure that’s great, you should probably try.
But if you don’t have a lot of options, because there aren’t thrift stores near you, and you don’t have a lot of time to go digging, and the online options don’t work for you either, for whatever reason, maybe it’s a sizing issue.
I think we have to kind of give people some grace. Because if you have to pick an option that might not be the most ethical, you can still do the best you can and make that piece of clothing last.
And I think sometimes within this sustainable fashion movement, there are people who are understanding of these different situations, just like the reality of what’s going on.
So I think just being a little bit more open-minded about the different situations people are in and not judging people for whatever they have to do, and just encouraging people to do their best, I think really makes a difference with inclusivity.
ELIZABETH: Mhm, yeah I think it makes a huge difference.
So in terms of inclusivity and broadening the appeal of this movement and increasing the access.
A question I get a lot from people is something along the lines of I want to share about sustainable fashion or share the problems with the fashion industry, but I don’t want to sound preachy, or judgmental, or anything like that.
And I feel like you do such a great job at education and making it feel very inclusive.
And so I was curious if you had any advice for that?
LILY: Yeah, of course.
I think that’s a really common concern for a lot of people. Especially, younger folks who might be worried about what their friends think and everything.
And I mean, even older folks, you don’t want to potentially sound pushy, or you make people defensive.
So I think one thing that can be helpful is just always framing that around your journey. So, if you were to say to your friend who wants to go shopping, like, Oh, actually, I was learning about sustainable fashion, and I don’t really want to buy so much clothing anymore.
Do you mind if we go do this instead? Do you want to do a clothing swap instead? Do you want to organize that? Or do you want to mend our clothing together? I can teach you how to do that.
Or maybe there’s this documentary-like that I was really interested in and I wanted to learn more about sustainable fashion.
Would you want to watch that with me?
So I think, rather than kind of telling people, oh, you’re doing this wrong, like don’t shop so much, this is bad. I think just being a little bit more… what’s the word?
I don’t know if subtle is the right word, but I think just approaching it from a more encouraging angle. And just making it seem like, this is important to me, and this is important to me because of this.
And I think if they’re your friends, hopefully, they will understand that and will be open-minded.
I also know that, if you just start sharing about things on your own platforms, and your friends see that it’s not as direct, right?
So it’s not confrontational. I know a lot of people, at least some of the people I know in my life, I don’t necessarily talk to them directly about sustainable fashion.
But they learn about it because of the stuff that I share. Then another thing I guess is just if you ever have any opportunity to talk or give a presentation, I think that’s always helpful. You can always use that avenue.
So, at work, for instance, we do a personal presentation, everyone cycles through a personal presentation.
And I chose to talk about sustainable fashion because that’s obviously really important to me and I thought that was a really cool avenue for me to reach people who might really not know a lot about it.
ELIZABETH: Yeah I love that!
Such great ideas there. So we are coming to the end of our conversation today.
But I have one final question for you. What does a better future for fashion look like to you?
LILY: Yeah, that’s a really important question, because I think we really need a vision, right for what we’re working towards.
And I’d say that there are a couple of different angles that I would want to tackle a better fashion, fashion future.
And I think the first is always just having better legislation, better protections for the garment workers.
So we need enforceable and also and actually enforce laws around the world to make sure that garment workers are safe, that they are being paid fairly.
I think it’s important to have some sort of maybe an international trade agreement so that, if one country does one thing, then people aren’t moving to the other countries without these protections, right.
And I know I’m pretty hopeful with the renewed Bangladesh Accord, I don’t remember why it was the new name is, but I think it was called the International Accord because they have the possibility of being expanded into other countries.
And I think that’s amazing. And I know there have also been talks earlier in the year about maybe having someone in the government dedicated to overseeing the fashion industry. It would be really cool to see something like that.
I know, France had an unofficial minister of fashion and recent years. I think showing companies that we care about what’s happening and their factories are really important.
I think, also, we need to clean up the messes that we made, especially, in countries like the US where we’ve dumped all our clothing in the Global South.
You know, taking responsibility for that eliminating that waste, putting that to good use. I know people have gotten really creative with fabrics that have been overproduced, and they are able to make things from cut-offs.
It’s really amazing. What people can do with just small pieces of fabric, I think we need to teach clothing care, and just what’s going on in schools, I think there’s a lot of disconnects.
So people just don’t realize or they don’t care, because they don’t actually realize what’s happening in these factories, and what they can actually do to implement sustainable fashion in their own lives.
So if we taught sewing, if we taught people about what’s happening abroad, and I mean, even here as well, right?
LA factories and other factories in the US, well, I think if people realize what was happening in their own backyards, they might try to care a little bit more.
And then I think another pillar of a better fashion future would really just be giving people the tools to have their own sustainable style.
So if we were to normalize outfit repeating, if we were to normalize wearing things until they break, right?
If we were to normalize, not going out and buying a ton of hauls or even just the idea that shopping is a hobby is kind of problematic, right?
So just really changing the culture around the way we approach fashion.
ELIZABETH: And that’s a wrap for this episode.
Be sure to take a look at the episode description in your podcast app for the links referenced in this episode, as well as the various links to learn more about today’s guest.
If you would like to spread the word about this show and help the content reach more people, you can share the episode or podcast with a friend screenshot this episode and share about it on Instagram Stories tagging @consciousstyle.
And if you are listening on Apple Podcasts, something that really helps is to leave a rating and review. Thank you in advance for supporting the show and whatever way that you can. For more conscious content, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter, The Conscious Edit.
In this newsletter, I share recommendations for reading, listening to, watching, and much more. To get on that list, you can head to consciouslifeandstyle.com/edit, and the link to subscribe will also be in the episode description. Thank you for tuning in to the Conscious Style Podcast and sticking around until the very end. I’ll see you again, same time, same place next week!