Are TikTok’s de-influencing and anti-haul trends really challenging overconsumption?

“TikTok made me buy it,” is the beginning of a now well-worn tale. At every turn, the social media app displays aesthetic videos that end with a suggested purchase or two. These mini-vlogs, presented by influencers, range from the ubiquitous get-ready-with-me stints, reviews of new collections, or unboxing videos of massive PR-provided hauls.

With these, the platform has become something of a hub for fashion and beauty enthusiasts(Opens in a new window) and a lucrative platform for creators in this field. The nature of the app — highly-visual and fast-paced, in a nutshell — has encouraged consumerism, supported brands, and led to the creation of niche trends that dominate the trend cycle.

Now, the antidote to this TikTok-supported consumerism claims to be here, and is quickly reaching notability. “De-influencing” videos and “anti-haul” content are, once again, making the rounds on the app. While neither are new shopping phenomenons, the conversation around them has blown up on the app in the past few weeks: #deinfluencing(Opens in a new window) has 63.3 million views and counting, while #antihaul(Opens in a new window) has 54.5 million.


TikTok influencers won’t stop sending me to their Amazon storefronts

Both trends, in essence, refer to influencers critiquing popular items and recommending users don’t purchase them. The tone is usually biting, often cutting at viral products. Think: that perfume(Opens in a new window) all over the FYP, the heated eyelash curler that went viral, the lip oils(Opens in a new window) being advertised with millions of views.

A screenshot of TikTok on web, featuring #antihaul videos.

TikTok’s #antihaul videos are full of influencers telling TikTokkers what products to avoid.
Credit: Screenshot: TikTok / @sheiskyra, @jessikasherman, @joely.malcolm.

De-influencing, which has morphed into something of a verb, sees many TikTokkers pushing for the antithesis of what fashion TikTok ordinarily does: urge new purchases and shower attention on material items. While “influencing” is a direct pipeline to buying, “de-influencing” is supposed to be aimed at preventing the surplus in consumerism.

But not all posts under this wider trend are proposing anti-consumerism entirely; nor are they necessarily aiming to reduce overconsumption. Take this series(Opens in a new window) by influencer @valeriafride(Opens in a new window). “Let me de-influence you”, she begins in the first video(Opens in a new window), before unpacking the overhyped purchases that TikTok sweepingly recommends. For each, however, she provides an alternative that is “so much better” or “half the price”. Several other TikTokkers are following a similar format, gaining traction for their supposedly tried-and-tested substitutes.

Screenshots of three TikTokkers speaking.

Videos about “de-influencing” can range from those suggesting other items to some against TikTok-inspired shopping.
Credit: Screenshot: TikTok / @jacquelynmenger, @tamillionaire4eva, @valeriafride.

Within such videos, the prospect of de-influencing is somewhat dampened. The idea is not to stop influencing viral purchases, but rather to suggest alternative items in their place. It’s tough, therefore, to say that de-influencing or anti-haul posts are a divorce from consumption entirely.

It’s tough to say that de-influencing or anti-haul posts are a divorce from consumption entirely.

Of course, some of the influencers committing to de-influencing are actually discussing the need to purchase less. At the very least, they touch upon the idea that TikTok-endorsed products aren’t necessarily the best ones. The intersection of sustainability and influencing is already a hazy one. Being a “sustainable influencer” can be considered contradictory, even ironic. A 2022 New York Times article(Opens in a new window) reflects on this phenomenon, with journalist Isabel Slone writing, “While these influencers may showcase brands that seek to mitigate environmental impact, their content still drives a desire to consume.” This is exactly what TikTok is seeing today, with creators denouncing certain items merely for the sake of promoting others.

Yet, for many, the trend can still be seen as a step in the right direction.

Mandy Lee, trends forecaster, speaks about de-influencing and anti-hauls in a recent TikTok video,(Opens in a new window) considering the trend to be about “arming folks with knowledge, and trying to facilitate conversation, ideas, and critical thinking when it comes to personal style, consumption, cultural context, and fashion trends.” Lee believes that these trends are a path to facilitating wider conversations about influencing, spending culture, and TikTok’s role in it all. So even with the murkier de-influencing videos, there lies the prospect of a pause: a minute to think more deeply about how and where to spend your money.

Eshita Kabra-Davies(Opens in a new window), founder and CEO of fashion rental app ByRotation(Opens in a new window), believes staunchly in practices that elevate sustainable wardrobes, a core mentality that led to the creation of her tech platform. ByRotation is a digital peer-to-peer rental startup, designed to promote slow consumption(Opens in a new window) and challenge fundamental issues like textile waste(Opens in a new window). She says that platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and even LinkedIn have been instrumental in promoting such conversations.

“One of the great things about social media is that there is a lot of education out there, with everyone sharing their pearls of wisdom. TikTok in particular has a lot of money-saving hacks, and fashion has come into it,” Kabra-Davies tells Mashable. “It’s been really nice to see people, especially young creators, being pragmatic, and great that fashion influencers have jumped from hauls to sustainability and slow fashion.”

Notably, TikTok and its users aren’t the first to promote such discourse. Critical thinking, in the context of consumption, is something sustainability advocates and fashion experts — especially marginalized people and Black women – have long vouched for. Activists like Aja Barber(Opens in a new window), Mikaela Loach(Opens in a new window), Leah Thomas(Opens in a new window), and Cora Harrington(Opens in a new window) have varying conversations in this space; many often question and unpack the likes of haul culture, influencer ethics, and excess consumption.

Kabra-Davies says Barber, journalist and author of Consumed: The Need for Collective Change; Colonialism, Climate change and Consumerism,(Opens in a new window) is among those expediting the necessary debates around influencer-led consumption. To combat the promotion of consumerism, she points to a suggestion(Opens in a new window) Barber makes: to stop tagging items and brands when posting outfits on social media.

“It sounds silly, but by tagging every item in our posts, we are promoting consumerism,” explains Kabra-Davies. “It’s an indirect sell, getting into someone’s subconscious, and trying to make people buy more.”

This conscious decision to not tag products is a piece of the bigger puzzle that is de-influencing. TikTokker Tamillionaire4eva(Opens in a new window) disclosed to her followers(Opens in a new window) that it’s a practice she will now be adopting more, in an effort to jump onto de-influencing consciously.

“I do not want to be just a billboard for products.”

– Tamillionaire4eva

“I’m just sharing what I’m wearing, what I’m doing, what I’ve been liking, and I want to do it in a way that’s like — I don’t want you to feel the need to buy it,” she says, acknowledging that followers occasionally get upset at the lack of tags on individual products.

“I do not want to be just a billboard for products,” she continues.

Featuring subjects like mindful consumption, and moving away from the monster that is haul culture, is crucial in this fight against overconsumption. De-influencing is not without merit. But ultimately, disentangling a platform like TikTok from consumerism will be a laborious task, maybe even an impossibility.

#TikToks #deinfluencing #antihaul #trends #challenging #overconsumption

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