Fashion trends

Sustainability expert slams viral TikTok fashion trend

Gen Z may be leading the way in sustainability, but so far, their eco-conscious hopes for the future have been undermined by their shopping habits, keeping fast-fashion retailers like Shein and H&M in high demand. A viral hashtag on TikTok called “keep it or return it” has garnered more than 140 million views.

Here, fashion bloggers have ordered mountains of clothes to try on, calling on their followers to decide which purchases deserve a place in their wardrobes. Thanks to free returns, creators can make videos on a tight budget to send back most, if not all, of their purchases.

The carbon footprint of the fashion industry is notoriously high, and clothing returns are an incredible problem for businesses and the environment. About 30% of online purchases are then returned, most of which end up in landfills.

Whitney Carthcart, co-founder and CEO of 3DLOOK, the company behind leading virtual fitting room YourFit, said of the trend.

“I’ve worked in fashion for 30 years and have seen the disruptive impact of the industry as shoppers move online, happily enjoying perks like free returns, without really understanding what happens to the items they send back. That piece Tops that don’t fit are put back on the shelf for others to buy, right?

Well, your purchases are transported from your home to the distribution center, and then at some point, in gas-guzzling trucks to the store, filling the air with noxious fumes along the way. It may end up back on sale, but if it’s no longer in top shape, its next stop is on the shelves of the bargain bin or discount store. At the end of the day, 92 million tons of clothing ends up in landfills, where it’s either incinerated — releasing harmful pollutants into the atmosphere immediately — or buried underground and slowly decomposes, causing generational damage to the environment.

FashionUnited spoke to Whitney to learn that consumerism is slowly changing and moving towards a sustainable future.

Social media platforms are not going away, communication in the digital realm is the norm. What are the alternatives for fashion brands and influencers, as a big part of their success is constantly showing new ideas in multiple looks that drive engagement.

If a brand wants to meet the rising demand for sustainable practices, it should find a way to put them front and center across the company. This includes incorporating sustainable practices in design, material sourcing, marketing and e-commerce. Today’s shoppers know if a brand is truly authentic and communicates its commitment to the planet and a more sustainable fashion ecosystem, which is more important than ever to gaining and keeping loyal customers.

Brands with large social followings can use their channels to educate their shoppers about the damage fashion does — not just the products themselves, but the impact of excessive and unnecessary returns. Shoppers who love and trust the brands they follow will no doubt embrace this new, eco-friendly message — after all, consumers aren’t overly reliant on returns because they like doing environmental damage. They just don’t realize the damage it does.

Many brands have continued success in the digital space without putting engagement ahead of the environment. Partner with eco-focused influencers to showcase your products in a transparent manner and create an experience that takes the guesswork out of the customer journey. For example, brands can offer images of products with different body types, or create videos that show clothing from different angles. Plus, implementing a virtual fitting room could allow shoppers to judge an item’s fit and appearance on themselves — while encouraging shoppers to share the garment with their own social media followers, driving brands without environmental costs further involvement.

Many influencers bought clothes to display on social media and then returned them. Virtual fitting rooms won’t solve this consumerism problem, which still has a huge appetite.