From cute to “cheugy”: how Tik Tok expedited the fast-fashion trend

By Liv Barry
Elm Staff Writer

The phrase “fast fashion,” referring to the process of expediting the production of clothing to sell new trends to consumers on demand, has become an Internet buzzword used by activists and fashion designers to alert consumers to unethical practices in the fashion industry.

While the term only gained popularity within the past few years with the rise of social media, the phrase has existed for decades prior. According to sustainable fashion initiative Good On You, the term “fast fashion” was first heard in the 1990s, after fashion retailer Zara changed their business model to keep up with rapidly changing trends.

“It was coined by the New York Times to describe Zara’s mission to take only 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in stores,” according to Good On You.

Since the 1990s, fast fashion has grown to be the primary business model for some of the most popular fashion retailers, like Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, and SHEIN. These companies track emerging streetwear and runway styles and recreate the unique pieces for the masses, producing entirely new stock for their stores nearly every week.

This rapid overturn in what is considered fashionable results in “microtrends,” or styles that gain and lose popularity within a short time frame. TikTok influencer and fashion forecaster Mandy Lee explains to Lithium Magazine that microtrends operate in short-lived trend cycles.

“The typical trend cycle consists of five stages: introduction, rise, acceptance, decline, and obsolescence,” Lithium Magazine said.

Before the advent of social media, it was celebrities whose aesthetics were meticulously created by stylists and managers that controlled trend cycles. Now, social media influencers control the rapid rate at which trends rise and fall; typically, trend cycles now last a week to three months, when they previously lasted for 20 years.

Influencers on video-sharing platforms like YouTube and TikTok sell new trends to their audiences on almost a weekly basis. Any piece of clothing that doesn’t fit neatly into current trends is considered “cheugy.”

Recently, the New York Times interviewed Gabby Rasson, the creator of the term “cheugy,” to understand its meaning.

“She wanted a way to describe people who were slightly off trend. But she couldn’t quite come up with the right term, so she created her own,” New York Times said on Rasson’s creation.

TikTok’s obsession with what’s cheugy has accelerated the fast fashion process. When certain styles fall out of fashion, consumers are urged to throw away their previous wardrobes and buy an entirely new closet from a fast fashion brand’s newest collection.

As a response to fast fashion, many communities on TikTok have emerged to promote “slow fashion.” These slow fashion alternatives include shopping second-hand, upcycling clothing, mending ripped clothing, and finding one’s own personal style.

In her video “Tik Tok is kind of bad for fashion,” YouTuber and TikTok fashion influencer Mina Lee shares her thoughts on how emerging aesthetic communities on TikTok can actually encourage slow fashion.

“I love aesthetics. I think not only do they create little lovely online communities for people who share the same interests, but they’re also a great way to sidestep microtrends and overconsumption. If you’re really subscribed to one look, you’re obviously not going to chase whatever new trends the Kardashians are wearing,” Lee said.

As much as TikTok wields the power to influence fast fashion trends, it can also carve out spaces for people to explore their own individual style, slowing down the speed at which trends grow.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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