Haul Culture and Youtube’s Sustainability Problem

This week Maria Henry explores the issues with ‘Haul Culture’ and the glorification of fast fashion.

Over the years the fashion and beauty side of social media has gained huge traction. More and more influencers are turning to social media mediums such as YouTube to show off their style, give fashion tips to people looking to the internet for guidance and to express their love of the art form.

 

One aspect that comes hand-in-hand with this internet success is sponsorship; this gives prominent influencers the ability to make money by advertising products from a brand that wants their promotion. This has been a long-standing Instagram tradition, with a multitude of fashion bloggers dressing in outfits provided by brands. This then allows viewers to click on the items they like and gives the influencer a small percentage of commission for each purchase made via their post as well as a lump payment for the post itself.

As the influencer phenomenon started to come into its own advertisements like these became problematic, as many influencers were not disclosing that their posts were ads – fooling people into thinking they genuinely loved the product and hadn’t been paid to endorse it. As the ethics of this were highly scrutinised, the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) made it a legal requirement to be open with the fact that a post or video is an advertisement by tagging it #ad or clearly stating that someone has provided you with the products as a promotion. Though this has made advertising on platforms like Instagram much more transparent, advertising on YouTube is still somewhat questionable.

What is a ‘Haul’?

A haul is a type of video in which an influencer will show off a large number of clothes that they have obtained within a small amount of time. This is often done as a promotional stunt with a brand sending the influencer hundreds of pounds worth of clothes to try and review in an effort to show people what they have available to buy.

With the influencer’s approval, it makes it more likely that fans will buy into the idea of the clothes – purchasing them because they’ve seen them on someone they
admire. This clever marketing technique has become extremely popular with fast-fashion brands such as Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo, who send huge amounts of cheap clothes to influencers and ask them to talk about how ‘good quality’ they are for the price, whether this is true or not.

This is particularly damaging for two reasons. The first being the fact that the honesty of the influencer is challenged by promotions such as these. In many of the videos, we see an overwhelmingly positive response to the items they have been sent with the influencer remarking about the quality and the relevancy of the products. Even if they don’t like a product, they side- step saying anything negative about the quality or style. This leads to an ethical concern about the honesty of the opinions being portrayed as we

know that a brand is likely to send more free products if the influencer is positive about the initial products.

Hauls also offer a way to side-step the ad rules as the only thing that they need to disclose is the fact that they were sent the products from the brand, there is no disclosure over if the brand has promised them more items or prompted them in what to say. Although they may tag the video as an ad in the description, it is a lot less obvious to the casual viewer.

Sustainability and ethical consumption

The next issue is that of environmental sustainability. Fast fashion is a major contributor to the environmental crisis we’re facing. Among many environmental impacts, the process of dyeing textiles is a massive polluter of clean water and on top of this the cheap polyester that a lot of fast fashion items are made from shed harmful microfibres that kill sea-life and damage the eco-system. Fast fashion’s over-production means that many items end up in landfill or are sold to stores in third world countries where they eventually meet the same fate if not purchased.

There is also a massive issue of ethical production. Most fast fashion companies use factories in third world countries to produce their clothing, paying them less
than a standard living wage in order to keep costs down. The environments that workers are placed in are often overheated, cramped and even dangerous – as made evident with the Dhaka garment factory collapse which took place in 2013, killing over 1000 workers.

Following this disaster brands such as H&M promised that they would pay workers better wages – but to little avail. Since then numerous fast-fashion retailers have appeared in the market, producing huge amounts of clothes and excess waste. In 2018 the Financial Times reported that there were factories in the UK known as ‘dark factories’ in which workers are illegally paid as little as £3.50 an hour, unable to leave as they are desperate for the work.

The hauls that we are seeing become so popular now are actively promoting the purchase of fast fashion in bulk, they emphasise the idea that people need new products constantly to be up to date with fashion trends and as a result support this toxic industry.

Flex Culture

Another issue is the idea of ‘flex culture’. Hauls are often titled with the enormous amounts of money the influencer has spent on clothing, to create shock value and draw in audiences to see if what they promise is true. This again promotes the idea that excess is better and that spending extreme amounts of money is the best way to be fashionable. There is almost an elitism attached to this phenomenon, with social media allowing people the opportunity to ‘flex’ or brag about how much they are able to spend for amusement. The more money you can spend, the better.

 

This promotion of excess consumption is especially dangerous for young audiences, who watch these videos and see the image projected that success can be quantified by owning a large number of things that you don’t need. The constant flaunting of personal wealth can lead to people feeling bad about themselves for not having all these expensive things and it promotes the idea that you can buy yourself an image.

Moving Forward

More recently, there has been a reaction to these fast fashion haul videos. More and more thrift and charity shop hauls have been popping up, promoting shopping for second-hand clothing as a sustainable alternative to shopping for fast fashion. These videos show people that you can have stylish outfits and get them at an affordable price by shopping vintage. They also highlight how much more special and individual these items they can be, how you can find something unexpected and wonderful.

 

Resale sites such as Depop and Poshmark have also contributed to this movement away from fast fashion, making it easier to get vintage items online at reasonable prices. ‘Sustainable Hauls’ have also begun to grow in popularity with people buying products from brands which care about environmentalism and produce their clothes in ethical ways, with recycled or environmentally friendly fabrics.

These hauls show us that you don’t have to be a minimalist to be sustainable, you just have to think about where you’re buying from and the production involved with the final product. They show viewers that you can reuse items you have innovatively to create different effects for your outfits, instead of simply buying something new to replace a similar product you already have. It is entirely possible to be on-trend without un-necessary consumption of unethical products – and the promotion of this idea and the core values of sustainability for a better future are how we start the fight against fast fashion.

You can read more of Maria’s work on twitter @Mariawriteshere

Images on this page via YouTube

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