By Sufia Alam-Tomkins,
As the not-so productive university student that I am, I prefer to spend my free time on TikTok, the app of mindless watching and scrolling at the comfort of your fingertips.
Like many social media apps, TikTok allows interconnection between people and ideas, which plays a big part in how we as people think and behave. TikTok for me is a platform where I can be both entertained, but also seek out and explore new parts of myself through different views, beliefs, interests, and hobbies. Tik Tok has enabled users to tap into their own exploration of self- identity- which I think is super interesting and neat.
TikTok has heaps of layers and genres to suit your personal needs and interests, fashion TikTok for example is a realm of the app which is filled with creative ideas to upcycle your wardrobe and practice ethical sustainability. Personally, I have become more consciously aware just through the help of creators on TikTok sharing their knowledge on ethical practices and how this ultimately betters the planet, which in turn, betters us.
TikTok has been the medium for inspiration when it comes to fashion. You can share practically anything in a video format and motivate others to tap into their innovative side and get creative with what they have. During last year’s first lockdown, there seemed to be a new sort of eclectic fashion trend sweeping the creative minds of young people. It focuses on different materials being sewn together and mix-matched patterns cleverly stitched and embroidered to make a funky piece of art.
I love this.
The new style that’s been emerging can be matched with a cute bag, your favourite pair of black knee-high boots and also the cape of dignity because knowing and understanding the process behind reusing old clothing is probably the most fashionable thing you can ever wear.
This new style has encouraged not just new ways to style and create fashionable outfits to catch the attention of thousands, but has also encouraged a thoughtful and mindful process behind reusing old clothing. Lockdown dis-enabled us to take the easy route of going out and buying more material, we had to think outside the box and use whatever was lying around. This in turn motivated us to create cute lockdown fits in a sustainable way.
With this in mind, I would have happily stayed on fashion TikTok; swiping my days away following seamstress artists who give me new inspiration for my next outfit.
That was until I started noticing a huge problem on TikTok, which in simple terms, promotes the behaviour of overconsumption.
“GIANT SHEIN HAUL”
“SPENDING $500 ON ONLINE SHOPPING”
These video trends are shocking and promote the idea that clothing is as easy as buying and throwing away; there is no care or thoughtfulness around it.
In the centre of it all is Shein, the fast-fashion company that has grown immensely popular but carries ugly consequences to the planet. Taking one look at their online website screams a fast fashion nightmare: ten-dollar dresses, eight dollar jeans, the list goes on. The clothes aren’t decent quality at all, however people love the brand and promote their pieces through social media, with millions of watchers interacting with this sort of content.
A recent hashtag #SHEINcares has been trending on TikTok in effort to promote the protection of animals and is sponsored by the problematic fast-fashion company. This hashtag has 22.0 billion views, with many influential Tiktokers using this hashtag in their videos.
Shein also graciously provides users with an interactive filter they can add to their own content where it shows imagery of smiling dolphins, pandas and tigers to promote that ‘sustainable conscious’ and ‘environmentally ethical’ feel. In a statement written by SHEIN, they promise to donate $300,000 to meaningful animal welfare organisations such as Code Animal, International Fund for Code Animal, and four wildlife reserves in Singapore.
Some of you may think, $300,000 is still heaps of money, which yes of course it is, but let’s take a look at how much money SHEIN has in its name. According to Insider, SHEIN is worth an estimated $15 billion. Yes. You read that correctly. So, $300,000? That’s nothing to them. This company will happily throw a very small sum of their money where it wants as it’s an easy way for them to keep up this ‘generous’ image they are so sneakily posing as whilst injustices occur.
Shein donating to animal welfare organisations is completely ironic on their part because the only thing they claim not to use in their clothing is ‘exotic animal furs.’ as for anything else… That’s fair game.
The materials in Shein’s clothing are formed by microplastics and use an enormous amount of greenhouse gas emissions, which affects those ironically adorable little animals used in their filter they so kindly have gifted to us. While having a look at their clothing information, wool is seen in a large number of pieces, which if we add up the fact that they partake in mass production, and carry out unethical practices, they’re obviously not obtaining this wool in an ethical way. It’s a huge slap in the face to anybody who has supported the #SHEINcares movement if this is the kind of practice the brand supports itself.
And it gets worse!
I’ve only talked about the environmental effects, the humanitarian effects are gut-wrenching.
On Shein’s website, they state how the brand “always practices fair labour” and ensures a “happy and healthy working environment,” but fails to disclose any specific information, statements, or evidence from their supply chain. Shein is able to sell their products for as little as $3, making it obvious that the garment workers behind these clothes are clearly not being paid anywhere close to a fair amount for their time. With prices that low and with a company who prides themselves on their overproduction, it can only be assumed that with no evidence to back their ‘happy worker’ claims, these garment workers are likely subject to dangerous working conditions. Consumers being left in the dark about Shein’s manufacturing processes makes it all the more terrifying about what’s actually going on.
Shein and many other fast fashion companies are able to get away with this due to the more relaxed laws around child labour and harsh working conditions in many countries of the Global South.
The issues that have been discussed about Shein are not new issues that have just been brought to light either. I’ve found that many people who buy from this clothing brand are actually quite aware of their reputation. I believe this stems from the glamorisation of fast fashion labels who have managed to make a name for themselves on social media sites. For me personally, I believe TikTok has had the most influence.
“If a wealthy and popular TikTok creator can wear and promote Shein’s brand, then it must be okay for me to wear.”
To some, the idea of wearing clothes that are popular, in trend, and glamorised by social media are prioritised far higher than caring about the ethics that gave them this chance to look stylish in the first place. It’s quite hilarious when I see a social media influencer preaching about the impacts of fast fashion whilst at the same time wearing the new shirt she bought from SHEIN. Saying this though, there is always room for growth and I respect anybody who has the capability to change their old habits and does so for the better of the planet. I know that I have grown so much from old behaviours and am trying my best every day to reduce my carbon footprint.
The mindset of wanting to follow current trends is understandable and of course, one would assume that if their idolised creator endorses a product, you want to be like them. Saying this though, this is still a damaging practice to not only the planet, but people. It is often hard for people to fathom the issues that are occurring that they cannot visually see or feel the immediate impact of.
Unlike a pack of cigarettes which you can clearly depict the damaging side effects of plastered on the packet as a warning to users, fast fashion labels plaster their advertising in beautiful models, bright colours, and the appeal of knowing that you’re keeping up with the latest trends. This has led to overconsumption and fast fashion brands like Shein to be normalised, leading to immense damage towards the planet and communities.
TikTok is supposed to be a safe space for all, and companies like Shein giving their viewers this misleading agenda of who they claim to be takes away the amazing efforts that creators with sustainable values share with their viewers. This is unfair considering the amount of work small creators will put into content that promotes ethical practices. Money hungry corporations probably discourage people from sharing different ideas, views, and beliefs online as these corporations seemingly remain to have the most influence.
Fast fashion companies don’t care about animals or people, or even if you look good in their clothing. They care about money and how they will continue to make more of it.
They’ve cleverly found a platform that can promote their pieces and make people believe that they’re some ‘ethically woke company.’ However please, be mindful of this and stay on the side of TikTok where you can revamp old clothes, and even create new ethical trends in your wardrobe. If we all started to do more of this, Shein wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving in the industry.