Up until now, the desire for a cheap fashion fix has drowned out concerns over the environmental damage caused by fast fashion. Consumers have been willing to overlook lasting damage, happy instead to buy more and more without questioning the environmental impacts.  Social media has helped fuel this rise, and in particular, social media sharing Instagram. But if Instagram, as a tool used by fashion brands has contributed to fast fashion addiction, does it also have the potential to encourage a move towards sustainability? We’ll take a further look.

Social media has fuelled massive fast fashion increases

In the past three years, fast fashion companies have seen a staggering 21% growth. While there are many influencing factors on this, the impact of social media platform Instagram has been significant. Fast fashion brands such as ASOS and Boohoo utilise the platform to target millenials directly, actively encouraging a feeling of dissatisfaction and encouraging followers to buy more and more cheap clothes. The practice of using Influencers and micro-influencers by fashion brands to advertise fast fashion hauls and ‘worn once’ outfits on their Instagram accounts has boosted fashion sales dramatically. Glossy images, shopping tags, brand aspiration and the power and influence of social proof and pressure have all contributed to a social sales explosion, promoting an increase in fast fashion that is seemingly unstoppable.

The fast fashion explosion has had devastating environmental impacts

The massive growth in fast fashion is great for a brand’s bottom line, but the impacts are devastating for the environment. Fast fashion increases have put significant pressure on natural resources, increased pollution and contributed to social and labour injustices throughout the global fashion chain. While Instagram and social media can not be held responsible on their own, their influence as a medium to promote never-ending consumption and the implications of encouraging constantly ‘new’ images can’t be ignored. But does this work the other way too? Can social media, and in particular, Instagram help encourage sustainability in fashion, making it genuinely part of consumer conscience?

Social media can promote sustainable fashion

While Instagram depends on new, fresh images and follower engagement, this isn’t necessarily dependant on promoting only new fashion items. Oxfam recently launched their Second Hand September campaign, encouraging people to not buy anything new for the whole of September. This was promoted on Instagram and other social media with relevant hashtags, outfit sharing and follower engaging, creating interaction from fashion followers and Influencers equally. Sustainability and second hand influencers have strong followings on Instagram, proving that the interest and the potential in sustainable fashion is there; it just needs to have a higher priority from fast fashion brands, promoting sustainability and sensible fashion consumption.

Fast fashion brands need to rethink their marketing strategies to encourage sustainability

Fast fashion companies have the power to harness this potential, encouraging their followers to wear and re-use their clothes in creative ways. But fashion brands must take their responsibility to both the environment and consumers seriously, questioning their current marketing focus on the constantly new. Consumers are easily led by marketing and fashion companies are well aware of this, creating a constant ‘need’ to keep buying their clothes. As a result, for consumers, they can never have ‘enough’.  If fashion is to ever truly become sustainable, a massive shift in marketing focus is needed to stop using the power of dissatisfaction as a key driver. Using social platforms such as Instagram could be a massive help in this, focusing consumers to demand sustainable fashion.


While social media platforms on their own aren’t responsible for the serious environmental consequences of fast fashion, their effective use in marketing campaigns by companies such as ASOS and Boohoo needs to be taken seriously. Consumers constantly marketed to on Instagram as needing ‘new’ clothes will buy them; marketing is that powerful. Fast fashion brands and social platforms such as Instagram have the potential to raise awareness of sustainability, environmental impacts on fast fashion and genuinely become part of a culture shift, but they must lead the way.

Textile Consult operates globally and in the UK, consulting on a variety of management, training and sustainability issues within the textile industry. Contact us today to find out how we’ll work with you to find effective, sustainable solutions for your company.