Halftime Sports

Scaling the growing mountain of overconsumption

March 23, 2024

Design by Pia Cruz

“Check out my haul from REI!” “Get dressed with me as I prepare for my hike!” “I tried tons of outdoor pants and here are the four you NEED to buy!” 

Influencers are showing off their outfits all over social media, reviewing different pieces of clothing and introducing the newest styles for hiking and other outdoor activities. While these videos seem innocent, they point to a new issue facing outdoors enthusiasts: clothing overconsumption. The sheer amount of clothes is starting to pile up, and it’s causing harm to both the environment and the people participating in nature.

Hiking and camping have risen to be the most popular outdoor activities in the United States, creating a new wave of outdoors influencers showing off the idyllic scenery of the Appalachians, Colorado, and hidden worlds you need to find.

Yet this twinflower of popularity has a second bud: the new bloom of athletic wear brands. 

First, established brands have seen sales climbing since the 2010s. Patagonia quadrupled its sales numbers during that period, according to a TIME report. In 2023, The North Face sales increased 11 percent.

The ascension of “athleisure” brands, clothing lines that combine comfort with exercise, has given people even more ways to style themselves while immersed in nature. Debuting in 2020, Target’s All In Motion has already reached $1 billion in sales. According to True Fit, sales of athleisure items marketed toward women rose 84 percent a year after the start of COVID-19.

Fortunately, it seems that most outdoor clothing brands pay great attention to preserving the environment with sustainable practices, along with making nature feel accessible to a diverse array of people.

Each year, athleisure brand Lululemon releases an annual report detailing the ways it is making their products more sustainable. Everlane’s website shows off the ways the company weaves sustainability into its production chain and includes an article touting the Glossy Sustainable Brand of the Year award.

What’s more, business writers have heralded Patagonia as the model for corporate social responsibility for the way they support environmentally-focused charities. The company donates one percent of its profits to nonprofit organizations. Patagonia’s website features an “activism” tab, which directs consumers toward environmental issues where they can make their voices heard. The website also lists over a thousand advocacy groups that people can connect with in their communities.

Certain brands want to increase the inclusivity of the outdoors, too. For example, the North Face’s Explore Fund Council set a framework for how to make nature more inclusive for BIPOC communities and follows through with grants to organizations following their mission.

These initiatives are important, but at the end of the day, these brands are profit-driven companies. No matter how sustainable a clothing line is, there is still a specter antithetical to its claimed values: the need for consumers to buy more.

While Lululemon claims to be meeting climate targets, its overall emissions increased 20 percent from 2022 to 2023 due to the need to move more merchandise. According to a study done by STAND.earth, a nonprofit organization focused on removing fossil fuels from fashion supply chains, Lululemon scored a C- in overall performance. Patagonia and VF, the parent company of the North Face, each received C grades. Columbia, an outerwear company, received a D-. 

In Patagonia’s case, while the brand does try to promote sustainability, it still follows fashion industry trends like flooding consumers’ inboxes with deals and promotions, offering free shipping as a reward for spending enough online, and cycling out colors and styles to entice returning customers. 

To be fair, overconsumption is not a phenomenon exclusive to outdoor wear. Brands like Patagonia and the North Face reject fast fashion practices that lead to quick disposal of clothes. Yet, the drive to buy has increased the environmental impact of groups claiming to respect it and has harmed the brand’s message of inclusivity.

For example, the urge to buy more outdoor wear harms potential hikers who feel they need to be fashion-forward to be able to enjoy nature. 

In the comments section of the aforementioned influencers’ content, many users ask the creator where they got that stylish jacket or how much those pants were. 

This creates the mindset that nature cannot be enjoyed without this “essential gear,” the same feeling you get as a kid when you swear you cannot play baseball without those new sunglasses.

What’s more, these companies release new styles and colors of clothing each year to make people feel like they are lacking the latest and greatest. Sports teams do the same, releasing special jerseys each year meant to represent their city, but instead end up alienating fans who cannot keep up with trends. 

Nature should inherently be free. Yet, certain clothes can be seen as a “luxury” item, something that confirms your belonging in a space. As a result of this luxury tag, potential hiking hobbyists can feel the sport is exclusive when surrounded by people with the newest and most fashionable gear.

Therefore, those who can afford the financial burden of constant outdoor wear updates drive up the sales of clothing companies, encouraging the retention and expansion of fast fashion practices, while those who cannot are socially barred from the wilderness.

Despite this, the planet is not doomed. There is an undercurrent of creators rejecting this consumption economy. Other influencers on TikTok show how to hike and camp with as little gear and impact as possible. If outdoor brands can live up to their values of sustainability, then the impact of overconsumption can be lessened. Finally, if consumers focus on mending the gear they have and not duplicating their wardrobe, then that mountain of wasted clothes can be overcome.

Bradshaw Cate
Halftime Sports Editor. From Fayetteville, Arkansas (if you can't tell from my articles). Go hogs and hoya saxa!

More: , , ,

Read More

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments