90s Kid Unleashed: Celebrity excess clashes with growing sustainability trend

Scroll through Instagram and you’ll find countless sponsored advertisements and influencer posts promoting flashy new sustainable and environmentally conscious products. You might even see your favorite celebrity drinking from a reusable straw on their Instagram story, but this hot new trend still runs counter to the overwhelming culture of excess that dominates Instagram.

In our influencer and social media-saturated culture, PR giveaways provide brands with an opportunity to garner widespread attention — and it certainly works: The Adidas x Ivy Park collection is currently sold out. Between those ubiquitous orange boxes and countless gossip articles speculating that the gifting marked the end of a legendary feud between Kim Kardashian West and Beyoncé, the clothing line skyrocketed to commercial success almost immediately.

But does Kardashian West need free clothes? Scroll through her Instagram feed and you’ll find nary an outfit repeated. Between her clothing line, her family’s clothing lines, free clothes she receives such as the Adidas x Ivy Park Collection and clothes she buys herself, she may very well be able to dress herself into oblivion without ever repeating a single item.

So I ask: Why does Kim Kardashian West need free clothes?

She doesn’t. Period, full stop, end the story here. 

Let’s forget Kardashian West for a moment and consider the average American. A 2018 survey by relocation and removals company Movinga found that 82% of the clothes Americans buy remain unworn. Moreover, each American throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles every year on average. 

Now let’s consider that Kardashian West’s net worth of $370 million is 5,375 times larger than the average American’s whose net worth of $68,828. Based on this basic math, it’s safe to assume that Kardashian West has a much larger wardrobe than the average American and, consequently, a much larger textile-specific carbon footprint.

Climate change’s greatest villains, the 100 companies responsible for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, dwarf Kardashian West’s individual carbon footprint, but her impact is so much greater than the sum of her individual habits.

The conspicuous consumption and consumerist tendencies that Kardashian West demonstrates don’t stop with her. Fans feel compelled to replicate these habits within their own lifestyle, often turning to highly unethical and environmentally toxic fast fashion companies like Forever 21 or H&M to achieve the same wardrobe critical mass that Kardashian West demonstrates with such ease.

This flippant attitude is prevalent throughout the lifestyles celebrities broadcast on their social media. Peruse Kardashian West’s Instagram story or an episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and you’ll find her and her sisters drinking from single-use plastic water bottles. Reusable water bottles are probably the most ubiquitous aspect of America’s burgeoning eco-conscious culture, yet plastic water bottles still litter the social media of celebrities like the Kardashians.

There is a real irony of affordability here because unlike the Kardashians, who could literally fashion their own reusable bottles made out of diamonds, the average consumer cannot afford eco-friendly reusable products. A roll of Glad plastic wrap costs $2.98 at Walmart. An environmentally conscious consumer can choose reusable beeswax to keep their food fresh, but it’ll set them back $20.

At the beginning of January, Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot, became the new face of Smart Water, the Coca-Cola-owned plastic water bottle brand. Gadot announced this collaboration on Instagram, emphasizing her enthusiasm for Coca-Cola’s commitment to sustainability and commitment to make their plastic bottles 100% recyclable.

In previous interviews, Gadot described how important sustainability is to her. She intentionally models sustainable behaviors to her daughters, teaching them to recycle, not to use plastic bags and not to travel in private jets, so why did she partner with a company that is the world’s biggest plastic polluter? Coca-Cola produces over 3 million tons of plastic packaging every year. Surely, she could have partnered with S’well or Hydro Flask instead.

Gadot might try to model sustainable behaviors for her daughters, but she sure isn’t for her millions of followers. This is the paradox of celebrity in the year 2020. These giants of popular culture espouse the gospel of environmentalism but continue to lead deeply unethical and environmentally fraught lives despite their considerable financial means, tacitly encouraging their fans to follow their bad example.

As environmentalism cements itself as a mainstream trend, celebrities’ behaviors have begun to shift. The 2020 BAFTA Awards asked guests to dress “sustainably.” Duchess Kate Middleton fulfilled this request by wearing a dress from 2012, but it’s not enough.

As consumers of celebrity culture, we can push for change. We can reject the need to buy and buy and buy until our closets explode with clothing, tags still on. We can shame behavior instead of rewarding it. Kim and her sister Kourtney recently both promised to give up single-use plastic water bottles after backlash from fans.

At the end of the day, the celebrities we love are themselves products, packaged and sold to us through social media. We are the consumers, and we have the power to stop buying into these celebrities and their bad habits. Vote with your dollars, or in this case, your Instagram likes.

Ellen Murray is a senior writing about being a millennial. Her column, “90s Kid Unleashed,” runs every other Monday.