The rising trend of overconsumption

The ease of clicking online to buy and sell may be doing serious harm in an age where people seem more and more obsessed with purchasing goods.
The rising trend of overconsumption
What is overconsumption in the digital age?

Clothing. Makeup. Technology. Overconsumption in the digital age is dramatically changing all of these markets. As a society that engages in mass consumption, companies are creating massive amounts of goods based on rapidly changing trends. 

With newly emerging influencers saying what is popular and what people “should” be buying, impressionable viewers as young as eight years old can get caught in the cycle of buying specific and unnecessary products and clothing, such as the newest Stanley or every Drunk Elephant product. Because many influencers share their everyday lives, they can come across as more authentic than traditional advertisements with celebrities, making viewers feel more compelled to buy certain items. 

The ease of purchasing items online has also perpetuated overconsumption. As more companies engage in fast fashion culture, and more platforms like Depop and TikTok Shop arise, it is easier than ever to sell and buy items. Even thrift stores and dupe culture, which are cheaper alternatives, may play a role in society’s obsession with purchasing goods. 

In this spread, we explore the cause and effects of overconsumption in society today, as well as the successful and unsuccessful efforts to combat it. 

Chasing online trends

In 1969, CompuServe became the first online commercial service created by two electrical engineering students in Columbus, Ohio. The purpose of CompuServe was to sell timeshares of electronic mailing and technical support services which were accessible to few people at the time. More than 50 years later, online shopping has grown exponentially beyond the abilities of CompuServe, and as a result has had growing contributions to the fashion industry and consumer trends.

Online shopping can look very different depending on where somebody shops. For many major fashion brands, such as SHEIN, Forever 21 and ZARA, online clothes shopping involves a type of commercial technique known as “fast fashion.” Fast fashion is the “fast” production of clothing items designed to reflect rapidly changing trends and microtrends, which last for a month or less. In 2022 alone, Shein produced 700 to 1,000 clothing items per day, according to Shein’s chief operating officer, Molly Miao. 

For years now — notably during the COVID-19 pandemic — as fast fashion has grown in popularity, questions of its environmental impacts have circulated social media. The different steps of the fast fashion process each have their own impacts on the environment, such as the amount of packaging used with each order, the shipment process as the clothes move often from country to country and the significant number of clothes thrown out after purchase. In general, the fashion industry alone has contributed 92 million tons of waste and used 79 million liters of water to create clothing, reported by the Center for Biological Diversity. 

While fast fashion appeals mainly to youth, some students think that fast fashion is wasteful and not worth the environmental impacts. “If you’re not gonna wear something more than once, or you’re not gonna wear it until it breaks, there’s not really a point in getting it if it’s just gonna lay in your closet,” said junior Kiera Schimke. 70% of 16-19-year olds say that sustainability is an important factor in consuming fashion products according to Mintel, a British research firm.

The effects of online shopping differ from in-person shopping for one main reason: it is just a few clicks away from social media users at all times. As someone scrolls through social media, they may come across a business promoting themselves with links to their website and a quick way to buy the product. For example, a teenager can scroll through TikTok and see a new trend in water bottles, whether it be the Hydroflasks of the 2019 “VSCO girl” era, the reliable Yetis and Owalas or the trendy Stanley cups and purchase those items within minutes. 

TikTok Shop is an example of online shopping at its finest. As a shopping site on TikTok that anyone can apply to sell on, TikTok makes it incredibly easy for users to buy products through shoppable livestreams, shoppable videos or product showcases. When scrolling through TikTok, users may come across review videos that have direct links to the products on screen. These videos are often created to receive some sort of coupon or reward on TikTok Shop because they encourage others to keep buying products. Items such as custom-made clothing, freeze-dried candies and chamoy pickle kits often show up on someone’s For You Page with viral TikTok videos of people reviewing these products and increasing their popularity. This cycle of buying and posting allows stores on TikTok to sell their goods at a fast rate.

Some influencers have turned against the tide of constant consumption of new trends and become “deinfluencers,” informing users of what not to buy and what is worth their money. This has led to “dupe culture,” which involves copying what is usually an expensive product and making it cheaper. At first, this seemed sustainable, but turns out it may actually be the opposite. Multiple fast fashion outlets have created fake versions of items, ranging from clothes to makeup to accessories, that have become trendy. After the trend dies down, these clothes pile up in the landfill. According to data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 17 million tons of textile waste ended up in landfills in 2018. 

The popularity of online shopping has allowed consumers around the world to engage in overconsumption at high rates. Online shopping helps give companies the incentive to use business techniques such as fast fashion in efforts to expand their business and make a profit. Although online shopping has many side effects, such as its negative effects on the environment, the trend of online shopping has continued to grow among consumers.

Kid consumers, younger than ever

Over the years, many parents have become more lenient with their children’s screen time. In fact, 51% of teens in the U.S. spend a minimum of four hours on social media daily, according to a 2023 Gallup survey. With the rise of social media, children are exposed to products more than before. Not only can they receive targeted advertisements, but they can also be subject to influencers who promote products such as clothing and makeup. 

Companies use targeted advertising through algorithms to direct their products to their target market. These algorithms can perpetuate confirmation bias, the tendency to favor information that confirms or supports previous beliefs or values. This means people are more likely to get ads for products they are more likely to buy. Social media platforms like YouTube are the main perpetrators of this issue. “YouTube constantly has ads targeted towards your watching preference or your viewing history essentially, so the ads are almost confirmation biasing these kids who have no idea what confirmation bias is,” said Business Education teacher Philip Schut. He believes there is nothing inherently wrong with a company marketing their product to make sales revenue, but the problem arises when they have corrupt or misguided morals.

Around January 2024, people on social media brought attention to young preteen girls buying an obsessive amount of beauty products at Ulta Beauty and Sephora. These kids are referred to as Sephora Kids. At Sephora in NYC, for example, employees have noticed that young kids often rush into the store and head straight for expensive skincare products, like Drunk Elephant, according to CNN. However, health professionals are concerned because retinol anti-aging creams like the Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi peptide serum are not made for kids, as it is used to lessen wrinkling and other signs of aging. 

These trends not only affect kids who were allowed to use social media growing up, but also those who go to school with them. In some cases, kids who do not follow the trends for the latest items, makeup and outfits are peer pressured or bullied into it. “My younger sister has gotten bullied for this kind of stuff, for not having this or that, or not having this toy or that item, not having a phone,” said sophomore Jadyn Heath-Hlavacek. “I see my little brother always begging my mom for stuff like a phone when he’s six years old. I feel like it’s gotten really out of hand.”

Some kids are even social media influencers themselves. For example, @evelyngrwmofficialk on TikTok is a 13-year-old girl with over 270,000 followers who posts videos of shopping sprees or talks to her followers while using various makeup products to get ready. Her beauty videos set an example for other young girls by encouraging them to buy more beauty products to improve their own appearance or risk feeling left out. “The fact that it’s on social media makes kids feel that if they don’t have what everybody else has, they’re a lesser human being,” said Child Psychology & Development teacher Julie Coopet.

Some critics think that parents should put more restrictions on their children’s technology use or be a better role model by staying off of their own phones to prevent children from being so influenced. “It’s not just kids. I see adults driving with their phones… and I’m like, you’re not being a good role model,” said Coopet. 

Others think parents cannot protect their children from things that their classmates show them at school, given the prevalence of social media among youth, and that this is a societal problem. “Our son just turned six and we are already fighting the screen time battle. He has friends, he’s in kindergarten, he has friends who have phones…it falls on everybody’s shoulders to some extent,” said Schut. Either way, social media continues to be a driving force for influencing youth in their purchasing habits due to its prevalence in their lives.

Reduce, reuse, resell

As a cheap alternative to shopping in brand stores, thrifting has gained popularity among today’s youth. Thrifting started in budget stores, such as Goodwill and Salvation Army, that sell used clothes at a cheaper price. As styles shifted from the 2010s to 2020s, older looks went viral. This included baggy jeans and faded sweatshirts encapsulating the look of thoroughly broken-in clothes. Not only did this create a trend, but it also caused other thrift stores to pop up that catered to vintage clothes rather than low prices.

With clothing trends quickly moving on, brand stores did not catch on to older trends until a few months into a new look. Even then, they could not capture the realistic look of faded Carhartt jeans or the frayed sleeves of a starched hoodie. These aspects of old clothing can only be found authentically from the wear and tear of old clothes over the years.

Recently, thrift stories have seen an influx of fast fashion. As more people buy excessively from cheap brands like SHIEN and Fashion Nova, more clothes end up in thrift stores. Clothing from hauls that has never been worn and fast fashion left behind from the last trend can all end up in a thrift store. This can also drive up the prices as thrift stores need more workers to sort through clothes without getting overwhelmed. It also leads to buyers finding fewer quality pieces in the store. 

Despite this, many thrift stores also contain well-made older clothing, since companies used to create pieces that were made to last before they began to use large industrial machines that quickly mass-produced clothes. Although clothes at thrift stores can sell for higher prices than they were bought forty years ago, they often remain relatively cheap yet high quality. 

That is why thrift stores popularized the trends of worn clothing and thrifting became a hobby for many younger generations. Many people have even found their “one in a million” pieces through thrift stores. “I guess one of my favorite thrifted pieces are my jeans. I love my jeans, and they were just sitting on a rack and our eyes met. I fell in love … they were only four dollars,” said senior Sam Culhane. 

In addition, apps like Depop have gained traction as people found thrifting specific pieces of clothing difficult. Depop is a platform for people who want to sell clothes instead of donating them. This aspect appeals to people who have clothes that are expensive and good quality but do not fit them or their style. Sellers post pictures of their clothes on the app with a price, and shoppers bid on the items. Starting prices go from $5 to hundreds. The shipping costs increase the price, and that money goes straight into the seller’s bank account. For people looking to make a profit on clothes they don’t wear anymore, this app can be useful. 

However, for others, Depop has become a platform to resell thrifted clothes. Depop resellers go to thrift stores that sell clothes for a cheap price, buying as many items as they can fit in their bags. Then, they post those photos online and wait for people to bid on the items. This can guarantee a profit for that seller, but arguably defeats the purpose of reselling clothes in thrift stores. Instead, it may further contribute to overconsumption. “I think that thrifting and Depop are both products of overconsumption because if we didn’t already buy so much clothes that we don’t need, there wouldn’t be such a push to go and get these old clothes that people have neglected,” said junior Julia Gronert. 

Shipping prices on Depop depend on the seller. Theoretically, the farther away the seller is from the buyer, the more they should increase shipping costs. This is not always the case. Since the shipping depends on the seller’s preference, some try to increase the price as high as possible to create a larger profit. “I have a love-hate relationship. Like I can find some good stuff on [Depop] for pretty cheap, but the shipping is always insanely expensive,” said junior Karin Hoyt. This tanks Depop’s reputation as a buying and selling platform, with many people seeing the main users as money-hungry thrifters. 

Still, with over 700,000 downloads, Depop prevails as a propagating site for thrifters and buyers alike. Even if these fast-moving fashion trends end up in thrift stores, the clothes are reused by people all over the world. The rise of thrifting both fostered a new connecting hobby for generations and provided an effective alternative to overconsumption. 

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Via Yang
Via Yang, Staff Reporter
Via is a junior staff reporter, and this year is her first year on The Viewer. Awards: Best of SNO - Freshman Linnea Ousdigian: National Nordic champion Best of SNO - Sports betting: Teens hit the “slots” Best of SNO - ALL1N the fight against cancer Best of SNO - Marit Swenson Shining Light Foundation raises awareness for childhood cancers
Lillian Landberg
Lillian Landberg, Staff Reporter
Lillian is a junior staff reporter, and this year is her first year on The Viewer.
Mara Peacock
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Mara is a junior staff reporter, and this year is her first year on The Viewer. Awards: Best of SNO - Soundless storytelling: ASLHS to interpret spring musical Best of SNO - Sports betting: Teens hit the “slots” Best of SNO - The teacher shortage crisis
Lale Akkin
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Suha is a junior staff reporter, and this year is her first year on The Viewer.
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Isabella Kunc, Features Editor and Spread Editor
Hi! I am Isabella, Spread and Features editor for the 2023-24 school year. Journalism 1 and 2 were so fun last year that I decided to stay on staff as an editor. While reading and writing are my favorite pastimes, I also enjoy debating, running, singing, learning new languages, and hanging out in Theater. I hope you pick up the next Viewer issue and learn something new! Awards:  Best of SNO - Our community's car dependency
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