The social web (Web 2.0) changed the internet forever. We went from the static web (the first iteration of the internet) where we could only really write and read webpages, to being able to connect with each other, have conversations, build communities, and share our lives through images, videos, and more.
The social media sites birthed from this technological evolution (think Myspace, Tumblr, Meta – FKA Facebook – Twitter, and more) changed our culture in unprecedented ways. We started being able to more directly influence each other’s habits, perspectives, and opinions from miles apart. From technology to entertainment to fashion, no one can deny social media’s wide-reaching effect across industries, and that includes our purchasing behaviors.
What is Consumerism?
Consumerism is a social and economic order that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. This idea started after World War II and intensified during the Industrial Revolution. Consumerism comes from the root word “consumer” (a person that purchases goods and services for personal use) and espouses the idea that increasing the amount of goods and services purchased is a desirable goal, and that a person’s well-being and happiness depend fundamentally on obtaining those material possessions.
This idea is a driver for capitalism and we all fall victim to it in different ways. Even if we don’t consider ourselves “materialistic”, many people are collectors, or just want to “keep up with the Joneses” (or the Kardashians). So much of our modern society is built on commerce and its effects are far reaching.
Consumerism and the Fashion Industry
The fashion industry is a seasonal one by nature. You wear different types of clothing when it’s warm vs. when it’s cold outside. This is a perfect recipe for over consumption. Something new is always going to be on the shelf and when you see your favorite celebrities or influencers wearing something, it encourages you to buy it too. With online retailers and fast fashion making thousands of styles available per day, technology has helped it become an even more vicious cycle.
Over the years, studies have shown that our attention spans have decreased significantly. People are always interested in the hot new thing, and this is perfectly exemplified through social media.
This phenomenon causes people to be exposed to much more content than ever before and has allowed for an increasing number of niche topics to find their way to the mainstream. We’re seeing monikers like cottage-core, barbie-core, Y2K-core, disney-core, even core-core… you name it, it’s out there. You can find a niche for literally anything.
Trends ranging all the way from the early 20th century to futurism are seen across social media. Nowadays, everybody is kind of wearing every style all at once. There isn’t often one trend dominating the scene at any one point in time.
Some Pros and Cons of Consumerism
Although hyper-consumerism has been widely criticized for its social, environmental, and psychological consequences (potentially causing feelings of unworthiness or depression because you’re never satisfied with what you do have), consumerism doesn’t have to be all bad. If looked at from the perspective that consumerism encourages you to purchase goods and services as a means of attaining wellbeing, we can focus on conserving resources and doing as much as we can to purchase the things that make a positive impact on people’s lives, mental health, and the environment.
In the fashion industry, having such a wide range of trends come to the forefront allows designers to be more creative and unique. Think about the Victor & Rolf Couture runway show at Paris Fashion Week this year. In other ways, it can create additional stress to make “the next popular thing” without remaining true to an artist’s authentic creative expression. It’s a double-edged sword.
But, one of the things that excites me, is that if everybody can pretty much wear anything and still be “on trend”, you can consume so much less. Because trends are cyclical, the clothing items in the style you are seeking likely already exist out there in the world. This means you don’t have to buy anything new if you don’t want to. I think this is part of the reason why we’re seeing a stark rise in thrifting. If you know me, you know I love a good thrifting spree!
Therefore, if we are intentional about how we consume, people can spend less, fast fashion can do less damage to the environment and labor market (ex: slave, child, or underpaid labor), and circular fashion can rise.
If we want to make consumerism into a positive thing, we have to do our part. Consumerism creates opportunities for the super influential to use their voice to influence trends. For example, we’ve seen many times over the years how Kanye West leverages his voice to spark conversation. It’s all in an effort to sell his products, bring his brand more attention, or make a statement. And it always works! But, if people make a conscious effort to use their voice for good causes, it can make a big difference.
Ultimately, hyper-consumerism can be harmful due to its often deep impact on the human psyche and negative environmental impact. But, if we focus on ways to consume that conserve resources and benefit the world around us, it can help us make a positive impact for generations to come and fortify creative expression.
Lastly, as we usher in the age of Web 3.0 (the decentralized web), it’ll be interesting to see how consumerism evolves alongside it. Technology has the opportunity to help us scale our positive efforts, so it’s up to us to make that a reality.