Law in the Internet Society

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EstherStefaniniFirstEssay 3 - 01 Jan 2021 - Main.EstherStefanini
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The cost of a "like"; how the fast fashion industry has utilized behavioural data to the detriment of generation Z

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The cost of a "like"; how the fast fashion industry has utilized behavioural data

 -- By EstherStefanini - 09 Oct 2020
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The coupling of the fast fashion industry and its prevalent use of behavioural data for targeted advertising has had dire consequences on the economic strata of society. Indeed, in a world where 75% of 18-24 year olds actively use Instagram, influencer campaigns and targeted ads have contributed to fast fashion becoming the new normal. Despite the convenience and affordability it provides, the industry must be curbed in order to prevent worsening consumer culture and rising debt amongst young people. I suggest that regulation of targeted advertising would contribute to reducing the popularity of such brands, especially amongst young people who are avid users of social media and particularly susceptible to such ad campaigns.
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SECOND DRAFT
 
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Introduction
 
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What is ‘fast fashion’?

‘Fast fashion’ refers to (usually online) retailers who mass produce trend-driven garments at a low price. Not only do they benefit from not having a store-front, but such brands tend not to use traditional marketing campaigns but instead work with social media influencers. Brands such as the Boohoo Group PLC made up to $1b in sales last year and the majority of their consumers are 16-24-year olds in the UK, US and Australia. Unsurprisingly, they fail to gain traction with older consumers who are less concerned with keeping up with the fast-paced fashion trends perpetuated by social media.

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Since its birth in the 1990s, fast fashion, a term used to describe the throwaway fashion of clothing of relatively poor quality bought at ultra-low prices, has thrived. In addition to affordability, a large proportion of its recent growth has been attributed to three internet-related factors; (i) social media influencers, (ii) targeted ads and (iii) copycat online retailers. This paper considers the social and environmental impact of fast fashion and how the internet has accelerated its growth.
 
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The impact of fast fashion on the environment

Every year, 62 million tons of clothing are consumed globally which is set to rise to 102 million tons by 2030. The industry’s CO2 emissions are expected to rise to nearly 2.8 billion tons per year by 2030, the equivalent of the annual emissions produced by 230 million passenger vehicles. Textile production is one of the most polluting industries, producing 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) annually which is more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping. Furthermore, the industry contributes over 92 million tons of waste per year and uses 79 trillion liters of water. Notwithstanding the global impact, the environmental impacts at local level on poor regions that are home to clothing manufacturers is huge.
 
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Textiles and clothing now play a key role in the global public discourse on climate change, chemical society, water shortage, and human rights. Basic issues such as water supplies tainted by the effluents of industrial waste from garment factories are commonplace in the Asian sub-continent, for example. On top of the environmental issues are issues of poverty pay, long hours and unsafe working practices. Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised by the West taking advantage of cheap labor and poor environmental standards in developing countries that are the engine room of the textile industry. Given that we largely created the problem, however, we should also consider it a moral duty to be part of the solution
 
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The psychology of targeted ads and influencer culture – why is it so effective?

A 2019 report from e-commerce personalization platform Nosto showed that of 2,000 U.S. and U.K.-based shoppers surveyed, 52% of consumers want the fashion industry to follow more sustainable practices, but only 29% of consumers would pay more for sustainably-made versions of the same items. Additionally, 62% of consumers would like to receive discounts on sustainable clothing items.
 
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Why does this dichotomy exist? I posit that the addictiveness of getting hold of the latest fashion and being able to post it to the world on Instagram trumps, for the average 16-24-year-old, the desire to put into action their inner woke thoughts. Or maybe their environmental conscience is simply not strong enough, as yet, to make a personal sacrifice. Of course, the causes may be more sinister and less obvious to this cohort that the generations before them. They have grown up with targeted ads that use information about what you have previously searched for and purchased to entice you with other products that they have calculated you may also be interested in. for. Indeed, the desire to conform and not give up accustomed “convenience” also hinders young people from changing their behavior. Generation Z have grown up with the ease of the internet and social media at their fingertips and consequently an over-proliferation of fast fashion too. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that going without both – social media and constant purchasing of fast fashion – may come as a culture shock to them.
 
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Targeted advertising and the boom of fast fashion

What young people perceive as the average experience is far from reality. It is a norm to portray the rose-tinted version of your life on social media platforms which has exposed young people to a crazy variety of lifestyles across social spheres and continents. Whilst social media has indeed democratised fame, it has also set the bar higher than ever before – Keeping Up With the Jones’ no longer means being the coolest kid in school but you need to be the most popular on Instagram too. Yet, Instagram’s algorithm is skewed to prefer those with the most sought-after features and luxurious lifestyles and the pressure to keep up is immense. Indeed, one influencer was recently caught out for staging a photo in a studio decked out to look like she was on a private jet. The constant consumption of the most popular Instagram profiles creates a desire to compete amongst young people. Coupled with the app’s tracking of likes, comments, posts sent to friends and internet searches, brands are able to produce an idea of your personality and consequently target ads directly at you. If you spend a few extra seconds looking at a post of Kylie Jenner with a Prada bag and then scroll down your feed further or even switch to Snapchat, you may find a ‘PrettyLittleThing’ post “coincidentally” advertising a replica version for under $20.
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Influencers paint the picture of an aspirational lifestyle, available at either designer and knock down prices with the added benefit of disposability. Because of social media, the average person can now publicly document their life in outfits. The rise of influencer culture and marketing has opened up a niche for fast fashion brands, specifically online retailers, to flourish. Thanks to social media’s constantly changing, visually-driven nature, brands have developed a symbiotic relationship with popular celebrities and influencers, like the Kardashians, who have the ability to turn whatever they wear into an instant trend. As such, the personal identities of young people nowadays are often intertwined with their consumption of goods which they share online – Veblen wrote in 1899 that the consumption of goods is linked to status in society. Little has changed today. The fast fashion industry is so deeply intertwined into our culture of conspicuous consumption that a move away from unsustainable levels of consumption will require a major cultural shift.
 
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The Fast Fashion industry lures young people into debt

One may be inclined to think that fast fashion is no bad thing – essentially brands have been able to utilize new methods of marketing to keep consumer prices low. What is there to complain about? If something sounds too good to be true that is because it is. The effect of constant behavioural surveillance, the popularity of social media and the bombardment of targeted advertising has produced a consumer culture whereby trends last little more than several weeks. Nowadays, every moment is recorded and posted publicly – hence, young people avoid wearing the same outfit again in public and thus feel compelled to buy new clothes constantly. Fast fashion brands may be cheap, but few young people can truly afford to only wear an outfit once and keep up with trends. This problem was solved for many when Klarna, Europe’s largest fintech company, partnered with the most popular fast fashion brands such as Asos and Boohoo. Offering consumers a ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ service, young people over 18 years old with no credit history are now able to buy clothes from their favorite brands and pay back in weekly or monthly instalments. They charge no interest, no fees and it takes minutes to sign up. Companies such as Klarna make money by charging the retailer instead of the consumer. They advertise the added perk of being able to order several sizes and return the ones that don’t fit, ensuring that you won’t be charged for the order until 30 days later. But this is irresponsible. Brands now pay influencers not only to take photos in their clothes/shoes/hair extensions/lip fillers but also to remind their followers that they can just ‘pay later’ if they can’t afford it right now. Considering the youth and impressionability of many Instagram users, it is appalling that this goes unchecked. Indeed, one 16 year old racked up more than 500 of shopping debt after making a Klarna account in her name but with her mother’s date of birth.

The Future of Fast Fashion?

The low prices and swiftness to mimic popular trends means fast fashion is probably here for the long run since consumers are now used to being able to buy what they want, when they want. My hope is that more studies are done into the frequency of which targeted advertising compels young shoppers to make purchases. Hopefully this occurs sooner rather than later as Generation Z risk being caught in more debt traps – student loans may be justifiable but a desire to emulate the Kardashians’ is less so.
 
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This is a good first draft: it gets the facts you want to rely upon onto the page, and it makes clear the questions you have in hand. There's plenty of room to condense the factual discussion of fast fashion, to make room for more careful discussion of what it means, which I think is the best route to improvement.
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Conclusion

Where do we go from here? The issue with legislation is that without cross-border co-operation, the impact is likely to be ineffective. Tariffs could be route to explore, bringing cheap clothing closer to parity with their better made counterparts; tariffs are generally unpopular with voters, affecting their disposable income, looked upon dimly by trade partners who may retaliate and have a ceiling assuming the nation state actually lives by WTO rules. Another possible legislative angle is the introduction of minimum quality standards which would render the “barely lasts one wash” garments unsaleable.

Encouraging the growth of clothes recycling or renting has been proposed by environmental activists and government advisory groups in recent years; whilst noble it would do little to dampen the effect of fast fashion specifically given its short shelf life which is unlikely to create a buoyant secondary market. Notwithstanding this, coupled with efforts to reverse the growth trend of fast fashion, this is a solution that should be pursued.

Perhaps, however, the greatest change will have to come from the consumers themselves. As one report earlier this year concluded “Consumers must understand fashion as more of a functional product rather than entertainment and be ready to pay higher prices that account for the environmental impact of fashion”. It may be too tall an order but the cycle needs to be broken and it may be time for consumers to start taking personal responsibility for their consumer habits.

 
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What would we do without Thorstein Veblen? Fast fashion is a splendid example of conspicuous consumption on Internet time. As Boohoo's boohoos show, we don't need to deny advertisers free speech in order to enforce minimum wage law. Whether young people want to contribute to stopping global warming fourteen digits to the right of the decimal point compared to the extraction companies, or care about the effect of plastic pollution on sea life more than they want to look attractive is unfortunately the sort of question which a wise society knows young people should be completely free to decide unwisely for themselves. But the more important point is that the evolutionary theory of economic institutions does suggest that the elements one derides in fast fashion are likely to be precisely why it thrives.
 
You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable.

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