By: Sasha Howard
Lately, I’ve been watching hype culture consume the fashion industry. I am not exempt from the obsession either; just recently I set an alarm in hopes of catching a pair of Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG ‘Dark Mocha’ at retail for $160. Unfortunately, my efforts resulted in disappointment, but my hope officially died when I saw the resale prices on GOAT (a platform to buy and sell sneakers). They ranged from $350 to $750. I found myself wondering why I felt so compelled to purchase yet another pair of sneakers I don’t need, in a time where I am not really going anywhere, and do not plan to for the coming months.
Even in a pandemic, hype culture has survived. Through the COVID period, Supreme - one of the most notoriously “hyped” brands - has “grown their business at a high-single digit rate year-to-date and even accelerated recently,” according to Scott Roe, the executive vice president, and chief financial officer of VF, the corporation that recently acquired Supreme. Fashion’s addiction to hype does not take pauses. In a crisis, once basic needs are met, emotional needs emerge. “That's where fashion, along with hype culture, comes in — it speaks to human emotion, mostly that of satisfying desire or quenching aspirational thirst,” wrote Eugene Rabkin in a piece for Highsnobiety. When things seem to be crumbling all around you, it is easy to divert stressful emotions with a temporary fix. There is no other justifiable explanation as to why the need for new, expensive clothes remained high during a lockdown.
People are buying clothes for the sake of their trendiness and exclusivity. But this phenomenon isn’t “new.” It was not invented by the recent streetwear brands that favor limited-edition drops as their main marketing strategy. Thorstein Veblen’s theory on conspicuous consumption has existed for over 120 years now and explains that people consume goods which are unattainable for others, as a status symbol. This theory still translates perfectly to our society today; it seems that no one recycles the same outfit on Instagram, but instead posts their newest “cops." I understand the pressure to not repeat outfits for pictures; my favorite jeans are the only item that has made multiple appearances on my social media. The concept of never wearing the same outfit twice is ridiculous in practice, so why is it an expectation online? If you choose to abide by this unspoken rule, as many of us do, it means consistently buying new clothes to debut. This never-ending cycle results in my perpetually overflowing closet. Even after just scrolling through my feed, I feel more pressure to keep up with trends and post my own content. I can say with certainty that if I had been lucky enough to get a pair of the Dark Mochas that they would have made an appearance on my Instagram.
Hype, for better or worse, is not going anywhere. “The problem with the hype carousel is that the more people ride it, the faster it spins… There are four, eight, 52 seasons a year,” Alec Leach wrote in a piece for i-D magazine. We have seen this speed firsthand; fast fashion brands release clothes every week, Supreme drops clothes weekly during their seasons, and new collaborations are always appearing. The constant cycle of drops and new releases has contributed to our society favoring overconsumption rather than sustainability. Even as a self-proclaimed thrift queen, I find myself lusting over the newest clothes every time I scroll across an advertisement on my feed.
The fashion industry as a whole is one of the most environmentally draining industries, even though many brands have recently been implementing sustainable initiatives. The number of garments produced annually surpassed 100 billion for the first time in 2014, doubling since 2000. The Boston Consulting Group projects that the global apparel and footwear industry will grow 81 percent by 2030. This astronomical growth reflects the increasing rate at which we buy and throw away clothing. The average American, who used to buy 12 new pieces a year in 1980, now buys 68. Hype culture contributes to this fast-paced consumerism; when there is constantly new clothing being produced it can be hard to resist buying. We’re faced with trade-offs daily, but never realize the implications of our choices. Shopping second hand is a way to “save” clothing on the way to the dump while still satisfying personal wants. Already, 87 percent of the fabric used for clothing ends up either incinerated or in a landfill. Yes, we can attribute much of this change to fast fashion and cheap “disposable” items, but everything eventually becomes trash. As Alec Leach pointed out, “A sneaker collab makes quick headlines, but parts of it could last up to 1,000 years in a landfill.” Would those Dark Mochas I wanted be worth the environmental cost?
Hype is a concept with no tangible base, yet it dictates the significance of a product. A Supreme brick (yes, a red clay brick), which retailed for $30, went for $1,000 on the resale market. A Virgil Abloh x IKEA rug, which retailed for $500, is available now on StockX for $1,939. A pair of Dior Air Jordans, which retailed for $2,000, can be found on Farfetch for $28,325. While sneaker game has cultural significance to many people, I don’t think I could ever justify buying a shoe that has the same price tag as a car. Resale prices are considerably higher than retail for most hyped items, due to exclusivity and demand. Yet, when everyone wants the same clothes, it takes the individuality out of fashion.
I have been trying to reflect on my consumption lately, considering which pieces of clothing I will reach for five years from now. I try to think about how much I genuinely like a piece when I’m making the final decision to buy or not, not the importance of how "wanted" it is currently. Hype is almost always temporary. The Supreme brick, which was released in 2016, is available now for $160. If hype is the sole reason for purchasing an item, then when the hype fades so will the excitement it brings. But, even though hype is temporary, the environmental impact is not. While a part of me still longs for those Dark Mochas, I am better off making good use of the sneakers I already own.