Hyperconsumerism, fast fashion and the climate crisis

by Lauren Dixon

Hyperconsumerism is the excessive and relentless consumption of products and services beyond our basic needs. This phenomenon is driven by various factors, such as social pressure, a desire for status and identity, the urge to keep up with the latest trends, and the belief that material possessions bring happiness and fulfillment. The result is a cycle of overconsumption that leads to environmental degradation. You may be thinking, “Wow, that’s horrible, but there’s no way I am contributing to the issue.” However, you may not even be aware of hyperconsumerism in your own life:

  • Buying things on impulse: This is when we buy things without thinking about whether we really need them. We may be tempted to buy things because they are on sale, or because we see them advertised.
  • Keeping up with the Joneses: This is when we compare ourselves to others and feel the need to buy the same things they have in order to feel good about ourselves.
  • Buying things to fill a void: This is when we buy things in order to feel better about ourselves, but the feeling is short-lived.
  • Buying things that aren’t needed: This is when we buy things that we don’t really need, such as the latest gadget or fashion trend.

Fast fashion is one of the biggest traps that people may fall into with the new rising pressure to always have the newest and most trendy items. The fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation, with the fast fashion segment being a significant culprit. Fast fashion is characterized by the rapid production of trendy clothing, often at low prices and with a short lifespan. A daunting fact is that people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000, but they only kept the clothes for half as long.1 As a Gen Z who used to consume TikTok like a fish to water, I saw the continuous rapid changes of trends. A trend could receive millions of views overnight, but by next week be completely unmentioned. It took many brands and businesses to update their social media models to keep track with the changing trends, but once many businesses figured it out, their advertising styles changed with it. Now, we see that many brands are producing significantly more clothing styles and designs than ever to keep up with the changes, causing more people to purchase their clothes, thus continuing the cycle of textile consumerism and waste.

Social media platforms have been instrumental in fueling the fast fashion industry, creating a culture of hyper-consumerism where users are pressured to constantly update their wardrobe with the latest fashion trends. This is facilitated by social media influencers who promote fast fashion brands and create a culture of “wear once and discard” fashion, leading to a culture of disposability.2 In the United States, there is less of a culture to develop your individual style as there was in the past, and this also results in people buying more and more clothing to keep up with the rapidly changing trends. When clothing is available for substantially cheaper prices than it has ever historically been, people over consume because there is no barrier to prevent them from doing so.

The environmental impacts of this culture of hyper-consumerism are severe. The production of fast fashion relies heavily on synthetic materials like polyester, which are made from non-renewable resources and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. These materials also require significant amounts of water, energy, and other resources, leading to the depletion of natural resources and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Throughout the life cycle of a garment, the fashion industry’s contribution to climate change is significant, accounting for around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.3 The disposal of clothing also contributes to the problem, as discarded garments end up in landfills, where they can take hundreds of years to decompose, releasing harmful chemicals and greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Over time, like all pollutants, textile waste and greenhouse gasses will directly harm the environment as we know it now, likely irreversibly if we do not do something.

I was born and raised in rural Arkansas with my Dad’s side of the family having emigrated from Thailand and my Mom’s side being traditional southerners. This meant that both sides of my family had a culture of low-to-no waste, born from poverty and food insecurity. My Thai grandparents relied on their garden and for my father and uncles to go hunt for protein. Even then, the scales of fish or the tendons of deer were not wasted and were used in creative ways to make them edible. My southern grandparents had chickens and grew vegetables to ensure they always had access to food.  If clothes tore, they were sewn back together if possible, and if not, the fabric found some other purpose. The culture of “Waste not, Want not” and “Do not take more than you need” that were ingrained in me since I was a child is slowly dwindling out of modern society as more people become more reliant on shopping to meet their needs. Buying clothes from a boutique will always be more efficient and easy than making or mending your own clothing, but we have become too reliant on the “quick fixes” of life instead of taking pride in trying to ethically source or produce the things we need to live.

We are all to blame for this issue, unfortunately. It is very daunting for me to think about the large-scale steps that need to be taken against fast fashion sites like Shein or apps that heavily advertise fast fashion like TikTok, so instead, let’s address what we can do as individuals.


  1. Fight against the appeal of marketing from fast fashion clothing advertisements and do not purchase clothing from them. You can use this guideif you are unsure if the company you want to buy something from utilizes fast fashion practices or not.
  2. Purchase clothing only second hand at vintage stores, thrift stores, or at stores that specifically advertise slow fashion practices. You will likely find that these pieces of clothing cost more. Slow fashion itemsdo not follow trends, as the items are made slower, with ethically sourced materials and fair pay for the individuals that make the item. This means that if you were to purchase a slow fashion item, it is something that was made to last for a long time, and you are significantly less likely to throw it away like fast fashion clothing, reducing waste and saving you money in the long run.
  3. Consider joining a buy nothing / gifting group in your area. Many cities have Facebook Pages for their area where people can post items they’d like to get rid of but don’t want to waste. Clothing is often available, for free, and using this method prevents it from ending up in landfills. These groups are also great ways to get other items like decor, gardening items, etc. I’ve gotten two walnut tree saplings, a cat carrier, and an entire bookshelf from my group.
  4. Learn how to make your own clothing. It sounds hard, but check with your local library. Many public libraries offer things like sewing and fashion classes where they provide all, or almost all the materials needed to make a piece of clothing. This is a way that you can diversify your closet, without giving money to fast fashion companies.
  5. Have a shirt that you’re thinking about throwing away because it has a stain on it? Consider trying to remove the stain. Not sure how? Review this guide. The collar of the sweater you bought tore? Consider mending itback up. Have a pair of pants that tore so badly you can’t sew them up? Cut the pants into rags to use for cleaning so you don’t have to buy as many paper towels. There are so many ways that we can repair the clothing we currently have to keep using it for longer.

Lauren Dixon is a contributing member of the Grassroots Network Climate Emergency Mobilization team. If you have a suggestion for a future blog topic or are interested in joining the team, please reach out to us at climateemergency[at]sfbaysc[dot]org.

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