Due in large part to social media, consumer culture is on the rise. Nowadays, many social media users feel like they have to participate in every trend that emerges, caused by a fear of missing out. Trends that are being perpetuated on social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok have resulted in individuals purchasing and re-purchasing items in order to keep up with what’s popular. While overconsumption because of social media has impacted all age groups, it has most severely impacted Gen Z. A 2023 report by the International Council of Shopping Centers stated that 85 percent of Gen Z males and 86 percent of Gen Z females say that social media has impacted their spending habits. Social media-driven overconsumption fuels unstable consumerism and helps promote poor working conditions. Additionally, this can also cause individuals to not develop their own unique personal style, resulting in a sense of cultural monotony at times.
All around Berkeley High School, you can see students wearing and using certain trendy products, such as Stanley cups, Uggs, and other items that reflect this pattern of young people following trends and contributing to overconsumption. Students at BHS should not blindly follow consumer trends because of social media. Instead, they need to make conscious decisions about their consumer choices in order to protect the environment and reduce the exploitation of workers, while simultaneously developing their own forms of expression.
An example of overconsumption occurring because of social media trends is the rising popularity of the Stanley Cup. Stanley Bottle, a reusable water bottle brand that used to be marketed to “outdoorsy, adventurous” men, has now become popular amongst Gen Z and millennial women. The 40-ounce Quencher H2.0 FlowState Tumbler specifically, has become widely popular due to social media influencers on Instagram and TikTok promoting the bottle. Popular videos on TikTok include people showing off their Stanley bottle collection, with some having entire drawers filled with Stanley cups. It is problematic when an item becomes so trendy it becomes more than just a usable product; it becomes an accessory and symbol of status. This excessive consumption defeats the original purpose of reusable water bottles, which is to help the environment.
Additionally, when any item starts to become “old”, in other words, not trendy anymore, people need to replace them with products that are in style. Hydro-flasks, which were a popular water bottle brand around the late 2010s due to the “Vsco girl” aesthetic have now become a flash in the pan.
This problem is especially prevalent in the fashion industry. Fast fashion brands like Shein and Forever 21, sell cheap and trendy clothing, which often aren’t worn for a long time. In addition, these companies often exploit their workers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency,11.3 million tons of textiles were landfilled in 2018, which was the last updated collection date.
One way that social media perpetuates fast fashion is through “haul culture”. “Haul culture” involves TikTokers showing off their recent purchases or “hauls.” Companies such as Shein pay influencers on social media to promote their products through these hauls, therefore sucking in Gen Z customers to buy more and more of these fast fashion products.
One outcome that is directly seen at BHS, is the lack of individuality among many students when it comes to their own personal style. While there’s nothing wrong with wearing clothes or having items that are popular or trendy, it can limit student expression to what is deemed popular. Those who dare to push limits may be judged or taken less seriously. In addition, it’s not unlikely to think that when these items become out of style, students will start shopping for new trendier items, therefore contributing to overconsumption.
In short, BHS students need to carefully evaluate the consumer decisions they make, and be aware of the influence social media has on their own decisions, both for their own benefit and the well-being of the environment.