Written by: Rachel Cook
Fashion is as beautiful and artistic as any form of art. It transcends its basic purpose to clothe the human form in expressions of social influence and reflections of identity through personal style. Just as every artist has its muse, every decade of fashion has been personified by a select few icons who have revolutionized the industry. Marilyn Monroe set the standard as the epitome of sex and intrigue in the 50s. Jackie Kennedy left her legacy in the White House in the 60s. David Bowie blurred the role of gender in fashion in the 70s. Lady Di brought royal fashion into the limelight in the 80s. Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, and Kate Moss revolutionized the modelling industry in the 90s. And as painful as it is to admit, the Kardashians took over television in the 2000s. All of these people are fashion icons. They are revolutionaries, as unattainable as they are glamorous. Today, the fashion industry is no longer exclusive to celebrities, monarchs, and executives. Thanks to Instagram, the age of the icon is over. Welcome to the age of the influencer.
Fashion influencers can be seen on social media platforms such as Instagram or YouTube. They boast thousands of followers and post regularly about the clothes they wear, their beauty routines, the places they go, and even the food they eat. While they are not icons, they are different from ordinary people because they live a celebrity-esque lifestyle thanks to the generous PR packages they receive from brands such as Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, Givenchy and more. However, they’re also relatable because they aren’t superstar celebrities, and that’s what makes them so intriguing. They have found the balance between aspirational and attainable. The fashion industry has found a lucrative business opportunity amongst this crowd of individuals worth over $1 billion and growing. They’re like the cool kids at school, and everyone wants to be them. Their followers are enamored as they jet around the world wearing beautiful clothes and showing off their loveable, goofy personalities, so it’s easy to forget that they get paid to post about the products they advertise. Influencers are marketers, and it’s dangerous to lose sight of that.
While marketing itself is not a new idea, influencer marketing is. Influencer marketing has proven to be more lucrative than other sectors as it targets a niche audience who regularly follow influencer posts and readily take influencer advice on what products to buy. Today, Instagram has 800 million users, 500 million of whom use the app on a daily basis, and 12 million of whom call themselves influencers. While this form of marketing makes for a good business plan, it comes with problems of its own, and judging by the lack of discussion within the influencer community, it brings into question whether they consider the repercussions of their actions.
Many influencers genuinely believe in the products they promote. Their authenticity makes them successful. However, regardless of their authenticity, influencers are encouraging consumers to buy things, therefore promoting a consumerist culture, especially amongst young people who are more active on social media. Consumerism is fantastic for the economy, but, ultimately, it’s devastating to the planet. Living a high-consumption lifestyle produces copious amounts carbon dioxide which is then released into the environment. Consumption of electricity, maintaining a large house, driving a car, flying on a plane, eating processed food and meat, and buying material possessions, all things that many influencers have promoted, contribute to the pollution of the planet. What makes this a problem is that it’s not sustainable for the entire human population. 7.4 billion people currently reside on Earth, and that number is only increasing. If everyone were to live a high-consumption lifestyle, Earth could only support 1.4 billion people, 1/5th of the total population. According Stephen Pacala, an ecologist at Princeton, the world’s richest 500 million people emit 50% of the world’s CO2 emissions, while the world’s poorest 3 billion people emit 6% of the world’s CO2 emissions. If the amount of money a person makes, correlates to the amount of pollution they add to the environment, then perhaps money should not hold so much importance when it means the well-being of the planet and the people on it is at stake.
To put things in perspective, the emissions of CO2 matter now more than ever as climate change is one of the biggest threats to our planet and population. A rise in global temperature of 1.5°C will result in the destruction of coral reefs, a rise in sea levels that will flood major coastal cities due to the melting of the Arctic and Antarctic, more droughts, stronger hurricanes, more wildfires, more heatwaves, and could threaten crops, livestock and fisheries. While the global leaders are responsible for the legislature that will bring the most significant change regarding use of fossil fuels, everyday people can make small changes to help slow climate change. Buying less meat and dairy, buying more locally sourced food, wasting less food, driving less, walking more, using public transportation, videoconferencing instead of traveling for meetings, line drying rather than tumble drying, and buying products with a low-carbon impact all make a difference.
Even being conscious about the clothes one buys can make a difference. The fashion industry contributes 1.26 billion tons of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere annually. They also contribute half a million tons of plastic microfibers to the ocean during washing. Clothing is thrown away by consumers, unrecycled, and adds to the mountains of trash covering the planet. As the fashion industry tries to keep up with consumer demands, it creates a bigger and uglier carbon footprint. Amidst all the pollution, where is the beauty, the art? Where is the line where fashion stops being art and starts being an addiction? At what point will it become normal to sacrifice the way you dress for the way the planet can sustain its population?
While fashion influencers may not be aware that their lifestyle is contributing to the destruction of the planet, it does not excuse the ignorance. Whether they realize or not, they promote a culture of consumerism that is detrimental to the environment. If the fashion community is blind to their impact, then a change in awareness and a change from a consumerist mindset to a sustainable one is necessary. Right now, value should not be given to money or material possessions, but, instead, precedence should be given to ensuring that buying habits are sustainable for the planet and the people living on it.
It is the fashion community’s duty to ensure that fashion evolves with the times to send a message that society needs, whether it be a social, political or economic statement. The consumerist-driven fashion culture should be avoided at all costs, not worshipped by social media addicts. Fashion is art, and art is unconcerned with money and finds its worth in meaningful endeavors.
This is the age of the influencer. If anything, shouldn’t their influence be used to promote art that will sustain the world rather than destroy it?