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  • Sarah Murray

The Trend Cycle and How it Affects the Environment


The term trend is thrown around a lot now, but there's often some overlooked nuance in its usage. A trend is a particular style of clothing that becomes popular for a period of time.

There are three types of trends: a fad, a standard trend, and a classic. Each kind of trend has a distinct cycle, or a period that includes when a trend is introduced, increases in popularity, peaks, declines in popularity, and stops being a trend.


Above is the graph of a standard trend cycle. The graph shows that the sales increase as time goes on until it reaches its peak. Then, sales decline and the trend dies out, but will likely repeat in 20 to 30 years.

One regular trend is low-waisted jeans. Low-waisted jeans have been rising in popularity for the past couple of years. They’re currently heading towards their peak and probably won’t start declining until a few more years.


A fad, or micro-trend, is a trend that undergoes a shorter cycle, about half of the length of a regular cycle. It undergoes all five stages rapidly.

A good example of a fad is those chunky, usually colorful rings that were popular in 2021. This doesn’t mean that no one wears these rings anymore, just that they’re not as widely popular as they were. They can be considered a micro-trend because their introduction and rise were in the spring of 2021, their peak was in the summer, and then their decline was immediately after that. This is much shorter than the standard trend cycle, which is usually at least a few years.


A classic becomes popular at some point and remains popular. The classic cycle is noticeably longer than a standard and fad cycle. It only includes 3 of the five standard stages, and is expected to stand the test of time.

An example of a classic trend is a leather jacket. Leather jackets became a closet staple in the early 1900s. The style of leather jackets that is popular has fluctuated since then, but, at its core, the leather jacket hasn’t changed. The leather jacket will continue to be popular for a very long time.

Originally, trends would come from the runway and would take a while to reach the public. Now, trends are often started on social media. Most of these trends become fads because so many trends are being introduced at once. This has increased the trend cycle so much that some trends that are only 10 to 15 years old are coming back, like how right now we’re starting to see some trends from 2010 resurface.

The acceleration of the trend cycle increases the harm of fast fashion and overconsumption. Overconsumption is when the use of resources has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem. An example of overconsumption is buying a $500 SHEIN haul that includes upwards of 30 pieces of low-quality, trendy clothing that you don’t need, won’t last very long, and that you’ll probably stop wearing in a couple of months when it isn’t trendy.

The term fast fashion refers to companies that source their clothing unethically and produce clothing at a rapid pace, which aids overconsumption. Sometimes, they’ll put 50+ new styles of clothing on their website per week. They often pay their factory workers below the living wage and have unsafe conditions in their factories.

The accelerated trend cycle negatively impacts the environment because of its relationship to overconsumption and fast fashion. Overconsumption negatively affects the environment because it leads to pollution and contributes to global warming. A lot more clothing ends up in landfills, leading to more clothing being incinerated, which produces dangerous gasses and toxic substances.

The fast fashion industry also contributes to pollution. Textile dying causes major water pollution because of the harmful chemicals that are used. The fast fashion industry also produces tons of microfibers, which release more carbon emissions than cotton does. In fact, the fashion industry is currently responsible for more annual carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. It’s predicted that in the next decade, greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 50% if the fashion industry continues in the same way they are now.

There are multiple ways that you can combat this. The first way you can help is by thrifting rather than shopping from fast fashion brands. It will be inexpensive, and you’ll also most likely be purchasing high-quality items that will last. However, it’s important to note that thrifting too much is still overconsumption. Above all, you should focus on buying clothes that you’ll wear and try not to buy clothes for the sake of it.

The next thing you can do is focus on curating a personal style, instead of defaulting to current trends, because it’s important to determine what you like. This will reduce your overconsumption and help you express yourself in a more satisfying way.

The last suggestion I have is to get creative and rework the clothing you already have. This reduces the amount of clothing you consume because instead of throwing away clothing when you outgrow the style, you can turn it into something that suits you now. You can rework your clothing by dying it, embroidering it, sewing it, or painting on it, making your clothing very unique.

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