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How should we talk about fast fashion?

I started the @modern_darling instagram account because I was enjoying sewing and designing so much that I wanted to share the love. On a bleaker note, I was also increasingly disheartened to learn what an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe the fashion industry has become and wanted to share my vexation. 

Since then, my frustration with the industry’s practices has only deepened and continues to fuel my work. But it’s something I often struggle to address through my Instagram channel. 

Messaging to all

The issue is twofold: I’m afraid of condescending to people familiar with the issues and more importantly, ostracizing people who aren’t. The latter are exactly the people I want my message to reach if we have any hope of inspiring a collective action that leads to industry change. I also understand that one’s relationship to fast fashion – like most things – is tied to their wealth and access to education. 

People with less wealth have less exposure to the fast fashion discourse, which usually exists within college-educated social circles. Inexpensive clothing is often a necessity for people in low income brackets–secondhand fashion is affordable, but unless you have a great hand-me-down network, takes time (which we all know is money). The last thing I want is my disdain for current industry practices to translate as disdain for those who partake. 

Overemphasizing individual action

Instead of addressing the problems with today’s fashion industry head on, I often default to promoting the beauty of secondhand and the joy of sewing but fail to articulate the “why” save for the occasional repost of someone else’s words. But this kind of content overemphasizes the importance of individual action. 

Blame for the industry’s wrongdoing does not rest in the hands of me and my friends spending our babysitting money on clothes that don’t fit and won’t last at Forever 21. It doesn’t rest on the shoulders of the Instagram scroller drawn to Shein’s expertly targeted ad. It certainly doesn’t belong to the parents who are frequenting Target to maintain weather-appropriate wardrobes for their growing children. 

The blame rests squarely on the people leading corporations profiting from such practices and the governmental and regulatory agencies that turn a blind eye. Framing individual action as the cause and solution to global challenges is a very common move among industry leaders trying to deflect their own responsibility. 

The depressing reality is that individual changes don’t make a difference. I am one of 8 billion people on this planet. I could buy a new outfit every day for the rest of my life and the world would be no worse off than if I never bought another article of clothing again. 

If we as a collective were to reduce our clothing consumption, however, the impact would be beautiful. I’m not talking about swearing off shopping and entering a nudist colony. If we collectively reduce our purchases in any demonstrable way, corporations and their shareholders would listen. 

Finding a voice in Reels

The other challenge I find in addressing this topic on Instagram is that the platform, like most social media, is not really designed for complex conversation. With the increase in TikTok-style reels, however, I wonder if there is more room for nuance. Videos are often short, but personally I’ve consumed more video content that has made me rethink and more deeply understand a topic than I have through photos and captions. This of course requires a lot more work for creators to distill an idea, film content, and edit into a neat digestible clip. It’s a tall mountain to climb but, for me, important enough to try.