Law in the Internet Society

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

-- By EstherStefanini - 09 Oct 2020

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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r2 - 15 Nov 2020 - 16:43:04 - EbenMoglen
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