Our Dangerous Obsession with Huge Fashion Hauls

March 27, 2021

me wearing a red paisley top tied in the front with tan pans

I don’t judge people for buying fast fashion, but I do judge the glorification of overconsumption. Massive fashion hauls aren’t new, but they’ve been blowing up recently because of TikTok. 

In this post, I wanted to talk about the motivation behind these hauls, the vicious cycle they create, and the common arguments people give in defense of them.

Overconsumption is the Problem

Let’s first define hauls, as there’s sometimes confusion around the term. “Hauls” generally refer to a video where someone shows off the items they recently purchased. You see them most often in fashion and beauty, but they’re in many niches, from stationery to food. Hauls are usually synonymous with a large quantity of purchases, though some can be more mindful. For this video, I’m talking about the huge, unnecessary hauls.

When I criticize hauls, I am absolutely not shaming people for shopping fast fashion out of necessity. I’m criticizing the overconsumption. Lower-income people aren’t the ones fueling the fast fashion industry because they can’t overconsume by default. In fact, they often participate in sustainable fashion out of necessity. Poor folks have always been buying less, thrifting, mending clothes, and giving and getting hand-me-downs. 

On the flip side, if you’re doing regular massive hauls, you’re probably not poor and can afford more sustainable brands. Sure, you won’t be able to buy as much, but the clothes you get will be better quality and last longer. The workers are usually treated better as well. 

I always acknowledge that avoiding fast fashion completely is a privilege. But if you have that privilege, it’s wrong to use other people’s disadvantages to justify your overconsumption.

Pinterest pin that reads 'the problem with fashion hauls' over an image of a huge pile of clothing

Why Do People Do Fashion Hauls?

When people buy massive amounts of cheap clothing, they don’t value that clothing and probably don’t even wear it that much. In fact, a lot of people probably return that clothing after filming it, and online returns are more likely to be thrown away than restocked.

Fashion hauls are almost never about the clothing itself. So what’s the motivation?

There was a viral TikTok where someone said they learned that hauls are tax-deductible. If this is the case, that certainly could explain the popularity of hauls.

I’m not a tax expert, but I do know a little about business deductions from my blog, and it’s not as simple as it sounds. For one, when something is “tax-deductible,” that doesn’t mean it’s free. It just means you save money on taxes. You’re still paying for the majority of that purchase. 

For example, if you spend $500 on a haul and you make $5000 from your blog, your taxable income would be $4500. If your tax rate is 20%, you’re really only saving 20% of 500, which is $100. You’re still shelling out $400 on that haul.

graphic of the math done in the example of tax deductions

I’m also not convinced that hauls are actually tax-deductible. For expenses to be tax-deductible, they must be “ordinary and necessary” to your job, and you wear clothing outside of being an influencer (at least I hope!). Clothing for a haul really doesn’t seem like an essential business expense. On the flip side, if you’re thoroughly reviewing a specific product, that seems more viable. 

So, the main motivation of hauls is likely not financial—it’s mostly likely social.

Fashion hauls are obviously a way to show off your social status, but they’re also a way to gain status. I’ve seen several videos on TikTok of regular people going viral for doing massive hauls. These videos will literally get millions of views and hundreds of thousands of likes. People will also gain tens of thousands of followers. In fact, it’s almost like a rite of passage now for any aspiring influencers because they know these types of videos can get views and rank for haul-related keywords.

Correlation doesn’t mean causation, but the search terms “SHEIN” and “TikTok” often trend with one another. We can’t deny the role of social media in fueling fast fashion. We’re constantly bombarded with advertisements from not only the apps themselves, but also brands and influencers.

Google Trends graph of the terms 'shein' and 'tiktok' over the last 5 years

The Vicious Cycle of Fashion Hauls

Do you think people would still do massive hauls if they couldn’t post them? I highly doubt it. 

I think the most dangerous aspect of hauls is the social aspect. We have all these people doing hauls to gain followers, then millions of people see these hauls and are encouraged to do it themselves. 

The worst part is that doing hauls becomes these influencers’ personal brands. When this sort of content goes viral, people follow you to see more cheap clothing hauls, so to keep your following and engagement, you need to keep doing them.

Here’s what influencer Demi Donnelly said in an interview with Fashion North:

“I have always continued to do my hauls because it’s where I started and it’s what people want to see…If I go a few weeks without a haul, people just constantly comment ‘when is your next clothing haul’ and ‘when are you going to Primark?’ I have tried to do sustainable hauls with brands before because I thought that’s what people wanted. However, I still got hate for it because it’s just not relatable, for example, the number of people who were like ‘you’ve changed’, ‘you would have never paid £50 for a shirt before.’”

If you want to be known and followed for something other than hauls, overconsuming clothes isn’t even a smart growth strategy.

Even sadder, there’s little financial return in becoming famous for fast fashion hauls. Most fast fashion companies refuse to pay creators for sponsorships, even if they have hundreds of thousands of followers. Fashion Nova and SHEIN are notorious for this (you can see more examples on @influencerpaygap). 

Sure, you get tons of free clothes, and you may get some ad revenue, but these creators are ultimately being exploited by these fast fashion brands as free advertising.

screenshot of SHEIN hauls on a creator's profile

Debunking Common Defenses of Fashion Hauls

The comment sections of these massive fashion hauls are always a mess, so I wanted to address some of the most common arguments I see.

“No ethical consumption under capitalism”

I love this argument because it’s so ironic. If there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, consume less. That is the most ethical thing to do. 

Yes, capitalism is messed up, and we should blame the corporations, but they’re fueled by overconsumption. Corporations follow the money. By glamorizing these companies, we’re helping perpetuate these unethical systems.

“Capitalism pushes us to overconsume”

Absolutely. Our lives are saturated with ads that tell us we need more, that we don’t have enough. We might feel compelled to buy the latest trends to fit in.

But no one is forcing us to overconsume. We have free will. Saying otherwise is only infantilizing. We can take personal responsibility AND work to address the systems that allow exploitation to happen.

“Your phone is made from child labor”

Phones are basically a necessity in the modern word, but massive fashion hauls, not so much. The difference is again overconsumption. And besides, you can buy phones secondhand on sites like Swappa (affiliate link). Companies like Fairphone are also creating more competitive sustainable technology.

“I only haul once per year”

This is obviously better than doing a haul more often, but it’s still feeding into this idea that we need to keep up with trends and that our clothes are disposable. Beyond changing sizes, there are very few reasons to replace your wardrobe that often.

You might think it’s harmless because you donate what you no longer want, but only 20% of clothes donated to thrift stores are actually resold. The rest is trashed or dumped in poor countries, where it hurts their local economies. It’s a common slow fashion myth that donating clothes is sustainable; what’s more sustainable is taking care of your clothes for as long as possible.

“I like to consume vicariously”

This one is both amusing and disturbing. It’s great if hauls can help you consume less, but it also speaks to a darker side of consumer culture. Why do we even enjoy watching people overconsume?

If watching hauls helps you get your “consumption fix” though, there are plenty of existing videos out there. I just hesitate to give hauls any sort of traction, as more views and comments encourage creators to do more hauls.

I think it’s also important to re-evaluate the things that make us happy if they’re tied to consumer culture. Instead of feeding that desire to consume or watch people consume, maybe we can try more fulfilling things, like upcycling a piece of clothing or organizing a clothing swap.

“Do thrift hauls instead!”

I’m not a huge fan of huge thrift hauls because they still encourage overconsumption. I don’t mind small “hauls” though, since it’s fun to see what people have found. It really comes down to whether the creators genuinely care about living more consciously. 

Yes, a lot of clothes in thrift stores go unsold, but what we need is for more people to thrift the things they need rather than people to thrift more. Despite its popularity, thrifting is still stigmatized to an extent.

Final Thoughts

Chances are that we’ve all been guilty of overconsumption, so this post is certainly not meant to shame anyone. I find hauls to be an extremely interesting and dangerous social phenomenon, which is why I wanted to share these observations. 

Let me know how you feel about hauls, why you think people do them, and any defenses you’ve heard of them.

You may also like these posts:

Sustainable or Greenwashing? How to Evaluate Fashion Brands
How to Get Rid of Clothes Responsibly
Is SHEIN Ethical or Sustainable? Deep Dive Into Their Greenwashing

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2 Comments

  • Nina March 28, 2021 at 7:04 am

    I just don’t understand wanting to watch somebody show off the products they buy. But then I also don’t get “what I eat in a day” videos. This voyeurism of wanting to see details of another person’s life doesn’t seem very healthy to me, and I hope people can find interesting things to do in their own lives instead. Or, if they want to consume things at least have it be educational content.

    • Lily March 28, 2021 at 9:49 pm

      I myself have also never really enjoyed more “lifestyle” content, but it is very popular! I do like that it’s becoming more common to provide educational content rather than lifestyle, as I feel that it brings more value in general (a lot of lifestyle content just feels aspirational, and often promotes unattainable or unsustainable habits).

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    I'm Lily, and I run races and go places (& blog about it). I also try to advocate for the planet & its people.
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