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What are micro trends? And what are their impact?

Written By Lizzie Sharp

Fashion moves fast and trends come and go - it’s a well known fact. Recently, though, fashion has been moving faster than usual. A rise in social media usage over the covid-19 lockdown, especially on sites such as TikTok, coupled with the growth of readily accessible fast-fashion has led to a boom in microtrends.

”Microtrends” are trends with a much shorter lifespan. Whilst the turnover on a trend may be between a couple of months and a couple of years, the turnover on a microtrend is maybe only a couple of weeks before they become almost forgotten. An item of clothing or style may gain popularity for a few weeks, before rapidly declining and being replaced by the next “big thing”. It’s here in which the problem lies.

The ‘y2k’ (year 2000) trend that dominated the 2000s is an example of a trend that stood the test of time. For example, the iconic velour tracksuits and low-rise jeans of the noughties were seen for many years, because they were versatile in their styling and were made to last. This is why now y2k is making a comeback, with a lot of original pieces from the 2000s can be bought as vintage. The fashion seen during the 2000s and also now is a fascinating example of how the trend cycle works; trends tend to have a modern rebirth some twenty years after their creation. It’s interesting to consider whether today’s microtrends will be seen again in the future, or whether their short lifespan was their only airtime.

An emergence of microtrends was witnessed during the covid-19 lockdown, when social media became the main way of sharing and communicating with others. Platforms like TikTok became the ideal place for young people to share their individual styles, interests and personalities whilst not actually being able to leave the house. TikTok, as many of us are aware, is an incredibly fast-moving and addictive app, and the sudden extra time that lockdown provided allowed people, including myself, to get totally absorbed.

It is unquestionable that this sudden boom in activity contributed to the growth of communities within the app- for example, TikTok became a place of fashion. It was this fashion community which gave its users the space to experiment with new styles and aesthetics and share it on a much larger platform than they would maybe get in real life. Videos could reach millions of people in a couple of days, and if the viewer liked what they saw, they could replicate.

Personally, I think it’s very difficult to find someone who can confidently say that their style hasn’t been impacted by something that they saw on social media. One of the main reasons that microtrends exist is because of the large scale of people an item or an aesthetic is seen on. On reflection, the mashup of kidcore and indie aesthetics was one that I definitely went with the trend on, alongside the ‘big pants, little shirt’ outfits. A couple of years on, my style has definitely matured into more of what I want to wear, rather than what people online are wearing, but it’s interesting to look back on how these microtrends did have a hand in shaping what I wear today.

Notably, the argyle-print sweater and school-girl style skirt were two items seen and loved on TikTok. They would often feature in popular ‘grwm’ (get ready with me) videos, as well as being included within different aesthetics, like academia. Their growth on the platform is what fuelled their popularity; people were getting the inspiration to try new styles without as much fear of judgement thanks to the communities created online.

At the same time, fast-fashion was becoming more accessible and cost-friendly. Brands like Shein were able to mass-produce trending items and sell them for cheap costs, and individuals were more willing to buy as there was less to spend on, thanks to covid. This allowed the cycle to continue, with the new trending items appearing online to buy within a week or two of it becoming popular on social media.

There are, however, consequences to microtrends. Environmentally, fast fashion is one of the biggest polluters, contributing to carbon emissions, water pollution and textile waste, as well as being one of the biggest causes of labour exploitation. It has been reported, according to Business Insider, that up to 10% of all global emissions come from fashion, and the industry is responsible for the pollution of streams and rivers. Not to mention that a staggering 85% of textiles end up in landfill. And, unfortunately, it’s not just the environment that suffers, but the individuals who make these clothes as well. It is common for the workers of fast fashion companies to suffer from low pay, long working hours and dangerous, unregulated conditions which can result in long term damage, such as cancer, from repeated exposure to synthetic chemicals.

The quality of these items are also telling of their cheap beginnings- these companies care about meeting the increased demand, typically accelerated by microtrends- this can have a negative impact on the durability and longevity of these clothes. Items created through fast fashion are more likely to fade or break faster, and can sometimes even come damaged due to the lack of quality control.

More and more of the same items are being thrown away, resold or being donated to charity shops because they’re either of poor quality or they don’t carry the same hype that they once did- will the secondhand market one day end up being entirely made of TikTok‘s cast-offs?

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