Picture this. A female sat in her bedroom, mouth stretched out in a smile, holding up a shopping bag in one hand and a bundle of clothes in another. Does this sound vaguely familiar? Try searching ‘haul’ on YouTube and 28 million different video choices await you. Welcome to the intoxicating world of fashion haulers.
These haul videos are always somewhat the same – ten to twenty minutes of an overzealous female teenager discussing in painstaking detail of items that they have proudly purchased. All jokes aside, it's no mystery why these videos are wildly popular. But, given the spendthrift nature of the videos, are we unwittingly contributing to the increase of fast fashion in our already consumerist society?
Identity developer Janne Baetsen, founder of MindFashion.today, explains that YouTubers are one of the many vocal marketing voices that encourage the consumerism values to be quickly spread globally. She believes that humans are hardwired to consume, and while this process started centuries ago, there has been a growing increase after the introduction of mass marketing and social media. "Consumption and ownership are still the fuel of our economy," explains Baetsen. "The fundamentals of the growth of the economy and the consumer identity are based on a continuous increase in demand to produce goods and services. Products are, preferably, not designed to last as long as possible."
YouTubers are creating content that features brands such as Pretty Little Thing, Boohoo and Missguided. These fast fashion brands promise low prices for trendy clothes and fast delivery, perfect for your last minute 'Friday night out' shop. Haul culture, unsurprisingly, comes hand in hand with 'throwaway' culture. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee says that British shoppers buy and throw far more clothes compared to any other nation in Europe. The compelling egotistical need to look good is increasingly becoming a problem. But, the motivation isn't necessarily the same for everyone. Shoppers on a budget are generally attracted to these fast fashion brands because of their affordable prices.
Creative director and founder of Trendlistr, Louisa Rogers, source vintage clothing pieces from across Europe, buying piece by piece to add to the online vintage retailer. "Globalisation has numbed us to prices," she explains. "£30 or less for a dress feels appropriate, but £150 is too much. What people don't realise is, using organic fabrics to make a simple dress in the United Kingdom (UK) would amount to a retail price in the hundreds." The affordable prices linked with these fast fashion brands highlight that something is wrong. Rogers believes that the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse was a huge wake-up call about the working conditions that garment workers overseas have to face and that the sustainable fashion movement is being driven by the consumer desire to extend their humanity to their buying decisions.
There is no doubt that the existence of haul videos drives consumption. Our society's innate need to keep buying is an unhealthy addiction, a craze that large corporate brands rely on. These companies make money out of the exploitation of people and the environment, and they are not going to stop unless they have to. Fortunately, some content creators are using different platforms to promote other forms of fashion, without sacrificing their personal style and sustainability.
Izzy McLeod, for example, is using her voice to show people that living more ethically and sustainably is doable. She describes her blog, Muccycloud, as a "Friendly Activist" blog that is mainly focused on ethical fashion but also dabbles in sustainable travel and cruelty-free beauty. "I did buy from those fast fashion brands because their clothes were so cute and cheap!" She says. "But, I'm well aware that the small dopamine rush you get when buying new clothes is only temporary, and definitely not worth supporting sweatshops and slave labour for."
McLeod is very aware that fast fashion brands play up to the temporary buzz that comes with buying new clothes. Advertisements and social media posts are structured to act like a friend to consumers, encouraging and persuading you to "treat yourself" and "practice self-care" by buying new clothes. With haul videos, she can only describe YouTubers who regularly uploads fashion hauls to have a sort of cognitive dissonance. "They know a lot of this horrible stuff is happening on some level," she explains. "But, they won't think about it so much that they care. It's a coping mechanism we all have."
Young content creators, like McLeod in particular, who understand the issues and offers practical solutions on her blog, play a vital role in the sustainable fashion movement. She is a Year of Green Action ambassador, which is a Trust that is part of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Agriculture's (DEFRA) 25-year environment plan, which has big aims to make a lot of changes to protect the environment and nature in the UK. McLeod explains that she looks at her community's issues and feed that back to DEFRA so that they can share helpful information, make campaigns, or try to get the government to change their policy on certain things. "People see shopping ethically as too troublesome as it takes effort and research, but I'm trying to change that with my content," explains McLeod.
We know these problems exist, and although it may seem impossible to solve them, there are small changes we can all make - start buying less for one. When it comes to haul videos, it's time to start investing our views, likes and subscriptions into something worthwhile. Try searching 'haulternative' on YouTube and delve into the enigmatic world of charity shops, customisation and throwback vintage pieces which is just, or if not more, rewarding than that Pretty Little Thing haul.