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Social media is deciding trends at breakneck pace, and it's fueling fast fashion

ALINA SELYUKH, HOST:

What does it mean if you hear your clothes are so 2021? Well, probably that you're looking at TikTok and getting a dig for being part of a microtrend. A new wave of this conversation has been sparked by a movie on Hulu called "Not Okay." The main character's satirical portrayal of influencer culture is prompting hot takes like this.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It's crazy 'cause they dead filmed this last summer, and trends have, like, moved forward so fast that it almost feels, like, outdated.

SELYUKH: What is a microtrend? Fashion writer and TikTok influencer Mandy Lee defines the term like this.

MANDY LEE: Singular pieces of clothing rather than maybe genres or aesthetics that reach peak and obsolescence very, very quickly.

SELYUKH: And to keep up with microtrends, many people rely on fast fashion. That's the latest clothes, which are constantly dropped at low prices by mass-market retailers like Shein or ASOS. Fast fashion is often criticized for not being the most environmentally or ethically sound. But Lee argues people go for it for many reasons.

LEE: Accessibility with resources, you know, nearby - maybe they don't have somewhere to shop that's convenient to them close by. Maybe the sizes that are offered for places that they would prefer, that might be a little more ethical - they don't carry those sizes.

SELYUKH: Sustainable shopping at thrift stores is often seen as an antidote to fast fashion, but Lee says the actual problem is just buying too much stuff.

LEE: Also, you can totally overconsume at the thrift store. I feel like I see that almost more than people doing fast fashion hauls nowadays, where people are buying just, like, trash bags and trash bags of stuff at the thrift store just because it's cheap.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I have one of my craziest thrift hauls literally ever and biggest.

LEE: I think that the problem really lies with the idea that a wardrobe is revolving and, you know, people striving to constantly replace things that may not be on the pulse.

SELYUKH: So instead of thinking of our clothes as disposable, regardless of where they come from, Lee says, it's all about our habits.

LEE: My ideas about ethical shopping is thinking about longevity. So how long can you wear something that you're about to buy? And, like, really think about it. And that exercise has helped me save a lot of money and to make my wardrobe something that I truly love and do not get tired of.

SELYUKH: That was fashion writer and TikTok influencer Mandy Lee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.
Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a production assistant with Weekend Edition.