I was doomscrolling on Instagram when I first came across the often-trending hashtag, #Zarahaul. The trend, popularised by fast fashion brands like Zara, is simple. A young millennial or post-millennial will make a catchy video or Reel, where they will share 20-30 pieces of fast fashion clothing they've received and how they look in them.
These haul videos, often sponsored, are so attractive that I can spend hours looking at them. Yes, I, being a conscious shopper, do judge myself later, but they are just so addictive. Flashy packages, latest collections, endless styling… what's not to like, right?
Well, these trends are actually very problematic. They reflect a lot more about our shopping patterns than just a shared interest in fashion. They tap into our insecurities. Think of all those moments when you bought something just because you were having a bad day, or the number of times you've experienced closet-envy after watching haul Reels, and decided to do online shopping. Do you really want another white shirt with embroidery on it or that tulle skirt you saw an influencer wearing on Instagram? Not really. Fashion brands want us to shop and they use social media strategically to make us want to consume their produce.
As per Unicommerce's e-commerce fashion report, despite a slow economy and pandemic, the global online fashion retail has witnessed an aggressive rise of 66% growth in order volume.
"Clothing hauls are fun to watch. The viewership encourages creators to keep promoting and the brands to keep overproducing," says Meghna Goyal, founder of Mumbai-based conscious and contemporary label Summer Somewhere. “Social media trends, in general, have normalised imitation. When we see influencers whose style we admire, we want to copy them, we want the fast fashion brands they are promoting because the clothes are affordable,” she adds.
Content creators, however, participating in the trend are driven by their audiences.
“Most of my viewers buy from these brands. My audience loves the haul videos. I talk a lot about XL clothing, which not a lot of creators do and, at the same time, I try on the products. Watching how it looks on me gives them a better idea of the fittings,” says Prableen Kaur Bhomrah, a fashion influencer.
Kompal Matta Kapoor, another content creator, adds, “I have mostly received a positive response on wearing mass market brands as I’m very selective about what I’m showcasing."
While influencers use the trend as a tool to review latest collections and sizing of Zara, H&M and Forever 21 clothes, some do it just for fun. I remember one video that said, “thank God for returns” in the caption. According to news reports from 2018, most influencers send back what they order online, especially if they didn't pay for it. What's worse, most returned pieces don't hit the shelves again. They are sent to landfills or to the storage room.
Goyal says, “Haul trends may be new to social media but as consumers we have all been guilty of walking into a fast fashion store and buying way more than we truly need.”
Reason: low cost and trendy clothes. One of the biggest factors driving the appeal is how easily fast fashion hits refresh. With each new collection comes a renewed need to shop, or worse, hoard.
Designer Shweta Kapur of contemporary womenswear brand 431-88 explains: “The reason why slow fashion isn't as popular is because it's expensive. If you are making something in slow fashion manner, you’re paying fair wages, buying better fabrics, taking time and resources. This makes it expensive and automatically cuts down on your customer base."
According to Kapur, shopping from a fast fashion brand should primarily be for basics, because they are used more frequently than standalone pieces. As for the hauls, she suggests, “Instead of #Zarahaul, it would be interesting to see someone do a haul out of their own clothes and create innovative looks. Trying to style clothes we rarely wear is so much more interesting."