If you've been using social media for a while, especially if you've delved into the world of fashion blogging of fashion influencers then you've probably seen some kind of fashion haul content, whether that's a video on instagram or tiktok or a blog post (something I delved into myself back in my days of fast fashion blogging).

The general idea of this content is to buy lots of clothes, often from one brand, and show them off. There's usually some kind of review element and an emphasis on how many items bought/how much spent, such as a tiktok video proclaiming the creator spent $962 at Shein. This may all seem pretty innocent and fun on the surface, until you look a bit deeper into the fashion industry, how these clothes are made, and what happens to them after said creator is done with them.

Now, to quickly address my very dramatic title for this post I want to say I don't think haul content and influencers are primarily what is fuelling the climate crisis and making out planet uninhabitable. However, I do think that this kind of content is perpetuating a culture of seeing clothes as disposable: buying lots of shit you don't need (for clicks, views, clout, or whatever),  and disconnecting from where clothes are made, what from, and by who, as well as feeding into a wholly unsustainable fashion system. This is definitely a huge part of what is fuelling the mess we're currently in. So let's talk about that.

Where are these clothes coming from?

So for a haul video you might but 10-100 pieces of clothing, spending anything upward of £100, £500, £1000 on one brand. This is a lot of money, but you also get a lot of clothes, with most brands frequently featured in haul videos (H&M, Zara, Shein, Primark, PLT, Missguided etc.) selling clothes for £5-20 a piece. But this comes at a hidden cost in the supply chains.

The fast fashion industry is pretty dirty from the start, with most manufacturing taking place in the Global South because of cheap labour, lax labour laws, and lax environmental laws. To make clothing they're using synthetic fibres extracted from oil, toxic chemicals are used in pesticides to grow natural fibres and in the dyeing process for fabrics, and the people making these clothes are usually working in incredibly unsafe conditions, for long hours, and very little pay. And the examples I'm using here aren't just a few bad apples in an otherwise "good" system, the system was designed to run on the exploitation.  Big brands will try and tell you that they put manufacturing in the global south in order to give people opportunities and jobs, but these "opportunities" mostly include poisoned waterways, risky work environments, and perpetual poverty. Not opportunities I think many people would choose.

A dress can't be sold for £10, while making the company that sells it profit, pay workers well and be made sustainably. And haul content as we know it today couldn't be done if clothes weren't this cheap and easy to buy in huge volumes so the two go hand in hand. You can't rally do clothes haul videos without the exploitation of people and the environment (I mean if you want to split hairs you can buy from sustainable and ethical brands to do this, but it's still very sustainable).

Plus if you're buying lots of clothes and seeing them as basically disposable, then you are likely to be very detached from the actual process of what goes into making them, and this is exactly what the fast fashion brands want you to be doing. They don't want you to think of what actually goes into making their clothes, they want you to buy buy buy more and more and haul content, and influencers and content creators really help them to keep doing this.

Fast Fashion Keeps Getting Faster

Fast fashion is called Fast for a reason, and it's been getting faster. From 1992 to 2002 the life cycle of consumer products shorted by 50%[1]. In 2014 the number of garments made exceeded 100 billion, with the average person buying 50% more clothes and keeping them for half as long as 15 years before[2], and where most big brands but out two collections a year in 2000 they are now putting out 12, 16, 25, even 52 collections each year[3]. It's hard not to see this as unsustainable and getting worse, fuelled by the kind of thinking that feeds haul content, with clothing being more and more disposable with each passing year.

The fast fashion industry as it stands today, this goliath of exploitation, extraction, and environmental damage would not survive if we all just bought less. If no one did haul content anymore and everyone wore their clothes for months, years, after buying them. And sure haul videos aren't the only way that people are over consuming but they sure feed into that system, they're a big symptom of this problem we have. 

If you're doing regular hauls, buying tens of pieces of clothing per month or week, are you going to be able to wear all those clothes? I definitely couldn't! So a lot are going to end up trashed, send back, or given to second hand stores in the days, weeks, and months after this content is made as people make room for the next cycle, next collection, next haul.

What happens to clothes once they're done with?

In the Uk we throw away 300,000 tonnes of clothes every year, and it's estimated that 95% of this clothing could be used again in some way [4]. This is pretty staggering, and though there's definitely been an increase in fly tipping and chucking of clothes over lockdown, I don't think many people who do hauls put basically brand new clothes straight in the bin after a couple of uses. What is much more likely to happen is for them to be returned to stores or given to charity shops.

I know back in the day there were a lot of bloggers who would buy stuff, wear it for a post with the tags on, and then return it. A bit cheeky, sure, but not the worst thing right? Well a lot of what is returned to stores just ends up in landfill, only around half is estimated to end up back on shelves to be sold. Some go onto secondary retailers of are send back to manufacturers, but a lot go into the bin even if there's nothing wrong with them. It's cheaper and easier for big brands to bin things than to try to resell them, this is all about profit[5]. Yeah, this problem like many of the others we have discussed are on the brands to fix but mass returning of clothes is still unsustainable and means a lot will end up in that 300,000 tonnes of textile waste in landfill.

Ok, so no mass returning things if we want to be sustainable. But we can give stuff to charity shops right? That's pretty circular, gets resold and reworn? Well, unfortunately charity shops can't fix our overconsumption problem either and they definitely fit into an unsustainable system that helps brands keep doing what they're doing.

Only 10-20% of what ends up in charity shops actually ends up being sold[6] and a big part of this problem is how low quality the stuff being donated is. As fast fashion gets faster clothes are made cheaper, and quicker, they're built to be disposable. I'm definitely not the only person to have noticed more and more Shein, Zara, PLT, H&M, and other fashion brands (the brands often seen in hauls!) in the charity shops. Stuff that is very cheaply made and often "out of style" very quickly too. I know if I really like a new fashion trend I only have to wait a couple of months until I can buy the items myself in charity shops. Some shops even have whole sections dedicated to one fast fashion brand.   

A whole section of PLT in a charity shop. Photo via @FayDean85 on Twitter.

What happens to unsold stuff in Charity shops?

Some of if it redistributed to other charity shops, but the majority of it gets sold to the global south in the name of further "charity". This charity being wealthy countries like the UK, much of Europe, the US and others dumping their waste onto other countries, In 2016 the Uk was the second largest exporter of used clothes, exporting $447 millions worth[6].

These donations end up sent mainly to the global south and end up in second hand markets such as in Kantamanto, Accra, Ghana which is believed to be the biggest in the world. Here big bales of clothing are sold to store owners, sort of lottery style, which they have to then sort through and sell. You may think this doesn't sound too bad, as this is providing a business to people, but most of the clothing is so low quality that it can't be sold on. 40% ends up straight in landfill and store owners end up in a cycle of debt [7].

Plus, even if it was high quality clothing store owners would still never be able to sell it all. Kantamanto (one market, in one country) receives 15 million pieces of clothing per week[8] while the population of Accra is only 2.5 million, and Accra municipal government now spend $100,000 a year clearing up textile waste[7]. The Government of Ghana, and many others in the Global South, are taking on debt to deal with the waste of wealthy nations sent as charity.

The problem has gotten so bad that some countries have even started to ban second hand textile imports. In 2019 Rwanda banned the import of second hand clothes to protect and revive its own textile industry. The US responded by suspending Rwanda's Duty Free export privileges,  a threat so strong that Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania decided not to go through with their proposed bans on used clothes[9]. If exporting second hand clothing to East Africa and other Global South countries was really about charity then why would the US impose sanctions to countries who no longer wanted it? It's clear to see this is about business and profit for the US, and other countries exporting, and isn't altruistic at all.

Haul videos allow people to make cheap, easy, profitable content. But this "cheap and easy" way of buying and using clothes still comes at a cost, from start to finish. Influencers making this haul content feed into this system and though they're not solely to blame they sure do have the power and responsibility to try and help change things.

An example of some #Haulternative content I've made. Full version in blogpost or youtube form

How Do we change things?

It might sound overwhelming but to really change things we have to change the entire fast fashion system. Fashion the way it's run today cannot be sustainable or ethical, it wasn't built for that. But let's focus just on hauls for now, as in a truly sustainable system without fast fashion existing, haul content the way we see it today can't either.

So if your favourite creator makes a lot of this kind of content, talk to them about it! Please don't use this as an excuse to be a dick to people, I'm promoting open conversation here not dogpiling or trolling, But definitely talk to people about why this kind of content isn't sustainable and though you love their work, you'd love to see them do something different! Maybe content that isn't just based around buying stuff? Ask them what happens to their clothes after they're done with them, that sort of thing.

I'd also suggest if you watch a lot of this content to watch less, or stop completely. As soon as it becomes unpopular to make this kind of video then influencers and content creators are going to stop doing it. I don't know if that's going to happen any time soon, this content has been popular on and off for over a decade, but I know that watching less of this stuff over the years has meant I feel less pressure or need to buy lots.

If you're someone who makes this kind of haul content reading this article and maybe having no idea where to start when it comes to changing the way you do things then I'd recommend checking out the #Haulternative content guide from Fashion Revolution. This was mainly part of their Fashion Revolution Week campaign in 2019 but offers a lot of different types of fashion videos you can make that are fun and use what you already have in your wardrobe. 

A big part of solving this problem with fast fashion is buying less, disposing of less, paying people more, caring more about the environment, and slowing down! Something haul culture does not support.

References: 1. Roadmap to Sustainable Textiles and Clothing: Environmental and Social Aspects of Textiles and Clothing Supply Chain, Muthu (2014) 2. Time out for fast Fashion, Greenpeace (2016) 3. Environmental Impact of textile and clothes industry, European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) 4. Fixing Fashion: Clothing consumption and sustainability, UK Government Environmental Audit Committee 5. Your Brand New returns end up in landfill, BBC Earth 6. Used Clothes: Why is Worldwide Demand Declining, BBC News 8. The OR Foundation via Consumed, Aja Barber 9. Dead White Man's Clothes: Fast Fashion is Turning Parts of Ghana into a Toxic Landfill, ABC News 10. How the US and Rwanda Have Fallen Out Over Clothes, BBC News


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