Why TikTok’s favorite #haul trend isn’t good for the environment
“I have another target transport for you,” says a TikTok user @maddogshauls as she starts one of her videos.
She releases various off-camera products: concealer; plush pink sandals that would have paired well with a summer version of Sebastian Stan’s Met Gala look; and red heart-shaped sunglasses. She hangs each piece on camera as she describes them, making various audible gasps to indicate how cute the items are while letting her viewers know why she was forced to buy them and at what price.
The #haul trend has become a social media marketing tool for fashion brands to attract more customers. Many of these carry videos focus on clothing from Shein, Revolve, H&M, Urban Outfitters and Zara – brands that rely on synthetic materials, such as nylon and polyester. While these materials keep costs low for both the business and the consumer, the garments last about as long as the trends that inspire them.
Such speed of execution encourages customers and designers who are looking for cheap, ever-changing and fashionable wardrobes to keep coming back, creating an extremely rapid cycle of creating, buying and wasting. Thus, the popular and ever-growing Internet trend encourages mass consumption, fast fashion and waste, aggravating the environmental crisis.
That problem with a trait like @maddogshauls is that it’s not a one-time deal. While his videos are made unique by his own style and cadence, they emulate many others. (The TikToker did not respond to Grabrequest for comment.) A quick search for #haul on TikTok generates 18.8 billion views, making it one of the platform’s top trends. Each video features creators showing gifts and recent purchases, making it a grown-up take on unboxing and unboxing videos children are obsessed with.
Another popular account run by Kate Bartlett, @katebartlett, features a video she made, titled “PR haul,” showing the number of packages she receives from brands every day. She pulls out multiple hits from Instagram, Amazon, Set Active (a brand that often partners with SHEIN and Revolve), and several more for her 1.3 million followers. One box is from Conair and contains thousands of purple plastic streamers, making it a makeshift cradle for the hair dryer inside. Kate mentions that she will find these little “purple things” all over her house. She ends the video by saying, “It never stops feeling like Christmas morning.” A user comment pops up: “The amount of trash hurts my heart.”
The creator @alexa.haulss begins a video holding a giant plastic bag with the name SHEIN written on the side in bold black letters. Tearing the bag open, she throws several other smaller plastic bags that look like palm-sized candies on the floor. “All my groceries come from SHEIN because I’m broke and can’t afford expensive clothes,” she says before trying on each item. She is not alone. In my haul doomscroll, I come across several other accounts that have #SHEINhaul or #RevolveHaul in their bios, all doing 180 and 360 degree spins in various sets and pieces from both brands.
The advent of instagram and ICT Tac [made] nobody from spectator to spectator content the creator feels like he could be the next Joan Rivers.
People in the comments ask for discount codes for each item, and many creators provide one, indicating they have a partnership with the brand they’re hauling for. Others ask for clarification on where the clothes came from, compliment the designer on their fashion choices, or say they can’t wait to buy a certain item. The clothes are pretty carbon copies of the latest fashion trends shown on mostly slim bodies, all with an emphasis on retail therapy, feeling good about yourself and dressing to impress.
Approximately 10 percent of global carbon emissions come from the fashion and textile industry each year, marking a 5% increase since 2000. Although it can be argued that the increase in the world’s population from 6.2 billion to 7 .9 billion from 2000 to today explains the need to produce more clothes, consumers keep their clothes half as long as before.
The amount of clothing waste, approximately one garbage truck load per second, is made possible by the emphasis on “what’s hot right now”. To encourage consistent consumption, fast-fashion brands release dozens of collections a year, making an item of clothing popular in January unfashionable in March. The increase in the rate of clothing production is causing consumers to buy more of what they don’t need in an attempt to stay up to date. Such consumption has only gotten worse since the rise of Instagram and now TikTok, making anyone from viewers to content creators feel like they could be the next Joan Rivers.
Becoming a successful influencer or digital content creator can be life-changing, and it’s a desirable vocation among social media users who want the flexibility, freedom, and security that the creator economy can sometimes boast. But these creators are often building a platform from scratch, much like someone starts a business. In order to grow their audience, a creator often needs to invest time, energy, and capital before brands actively seek out a partnership. In the early stages of this work, turning to fast fashion brands can be quite tempting. Group purchases can be made to create content without breaking the bank. Once that following is established, however, it might be difficult to break away and begin to present a more enduring message.
“I have tried be more attentivebut sometimes you have to To do what you have to do.”
Secora Hawks, a “ThriftTok-er” with the handle @secorarecount Grab: “A majority of the brands that are aimed [for collaborations] are not sustainable. Sustainable clothing brands are unfortunately not as accessible to low-income people. Since the majority of my content is related to savings, sharing these types of discoveries is much more realistic for the majority of my followers who are in younger age brackets.
Fast fashion brands make trendy clothes more accessible to people of modest means. But where does the social and environmental responsibility of an influencer stand compared to that of a consumer?
“I once worked with a fast fashion brand and honestly, I felt really guilty about it,” Hawks says. About a year ago, a fast fashion brand approached Hawks for a collaboration that gave him free swimsuits. Hawks, finding himself in need of new summer swimwear, jumped at the chance to get some free merchandise. “I tried to be more attentive and picky in the collaborations I did [since]but sometimes you have to do what you have to do,” she says.
Watching the trash pile up on the screen for countless haul videos, I can’t help but wish some of these creators would create something else. Still, it’s hard to imagine given the current state of the fashion industry and the pervasive nature of social media. To succeed on social networks, especially TikTok and Instagram, the creators are encouraged posting once a day, which makes it almost impossible in Fashion-Tok to gain steady momentum without constant purchases. It’s the digital form of “following the Joneses,” except the Joneses are content creators with thousands more followers than you.
“There are only so many choices,” says Tessa Callaghan, CEO and co-founder of AlgiKnit, an environmentally conscious company that makes harvestable yarn and fiber from kelp. “The change really needs to exist within the industry itself. It’s true that fashion is one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis, but the reality is that won’t change until there’s global transition. Companies continue to overproduce synthetic clothing, leaving consumers with few cost-effective options for sustainable fashion. Without a reinvented industry, the cycle is set to continue.
This continuum makes it difficult for influencers and consumers to make ethical and sustainable decisions. Yet the term “influencer” is derived from the role’s ability to change and encourage certain practices, or otherwise affecting behavior. The creator economy demands a particular global presence, one that costs time and money to maintain, making the fast fashion option cheaper and more viable for those trying to make their accounts and videos go viral. . So what can influencers do in the meantime, while waiting for the industry to change?
“The most enduring thing is transparency,” says Malvika Sheth, digital content creator and founder of @stylebymalvika. “If influencers started focusing on Why they buy what they make rather than just what they buy, then the needle might start to move towards consumers who are making more informed and sustainable choices.
This explanation could also give a break to creators’ shopping or collaboration habits, encouraging a “stop and think” method designed to prioritize quality over quantity. The virality of these #haul videos, intended to encourage others to buy fast fashion items en masse, perpetuates the growing climate crisis, an issue linked to the continued growth of the fashion and tech industries.
It’s a confusing scenario to find yourself in: navigating how to engage in ethical creation in a time that both begs and denies it. Yet it is the pervasive and relentless loyalty to the easy way that solidifies the gravity of our environmental circumstances.