Do student discounts create an unhealthy relationship between students and fast fashion?
Access to student discount giant UNiDAYS is one of the biggest perks of becoming a student. As a fresher in 2018, I couldn’t comprehend how we were getting such a big discount on pretty much every fashion brand available! Like many other naive, ecstatic students, that’s exactly what I spent my double SAAS payment on that fateful September. It went on fast fashion, unnecessary purchases and regrets. At first glance, UNiDAYS seems a godsend for the skint student to get some steals from Topshop or a fiver off Nike trainers; but with sustainability making headlines in recent years, questions were raised about the ethics and intentions of the app. UNiDAYS promotes fast fashion as the only option for students when there are affordable alternatives on the high street in the form of fresher’s sales and charity shops. Surely, we can redirect UNiDAYS’ love for discounts to something more useful for student life. Is UNiDAYS good for us, or is it a strategically marketed app damaging our planet one push notification at a time?
I’m older and wiser than I was in first year and I’m also now a sustainable fashion activist: only with my newfound knowledge can I tell you how damaging UNiDAYS is to students and the environment. The language and marketing on the app gives a nod to the Black Mirror side of our society; manipulative marketing disguised as savvy discount codes can pull us all into the world of impulsivity. What I’m referring to specifically is the language used in the adverts and discount codes – designed to entice.
To get a student-wide opinion of UNiDAYS, I asked my Instagram followers a series of questions, the first one being “do you feel UNiDAYS promotes fast fashion/overconsumption?” - 86% of people said yes. The second, “do you shop on sites you would not frequently buy from if you are offered a discount code?” - again, 70% of people said yes. UNiDAYS know that students have a need for convenience. They know this well and play us like a fiddle, they play into the narrative that students are creatures of desire, and urgency; if they’re scrolling through ASOS and see a turtleneck that would go SOOO well with that pair of jeans they wore once, they want it now or not at all. The Topshop advert on UNiDAYS writes that “over three hundred new items are added 5 days a week!” “FREE next day delivery for a year”… for £20 upfront, and the students come swarming to get their fast fashion fix delivered within 24 hours. As Ariana said: I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it. We’re at the point where the scale of over-production correlates to how successful a brand is and the industry has convinced us that three hundred new items of clothing that we don’t want or need, must be scrolled through immediately. The problem with fast fashion is quantity; 300 new styles and at least 2,000 of each style in a warehouse ready to go. And you wonder how they can afford to give us 10% off all year round? It’s because it’s unethical, and UNiDAYS marketing shops like this is only increasing the problem.
The same goes for persuasive language like “limited time only!” or “selling fast!” notifications from UNiDAYS for Boohoo or Missguided. I used to work in Topshop, and I can tell you for a fact, it wasn’t selling fast, and the deal isn’t running for a limited time only. The language is designed to create a sense of impulse – if you’ve had your eye on something then UNiDAYS will know because, well, just watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix. They’ll send a push notification to let you know it’s reduced by 25% on Black Friday! Wow! You pay for next day delivery, completely negating the original discount, and then by Boxing Day, it's 75% off. Oh but then it’s January sales… This is the fast fashion cycle by definition. Overconsumption by convenience. UNiDAYS churn discount codes out 365 days a year, and will never stop as long as students are sucked in by the discount language. There has to be an alternative.
Everyone has different financial situations; people rely on UNiDAYS for many reasons. Discount codes offer an easier life or a self-care treat, and that’s what they exist for! If we’re going to keep UNiDAYS around, we need to remove the impulse element. We need to think about cost-per-wear, we need to separate needs from wants and think about how ethically our clothes are made. There are ways to wean yourself off of UNiDAYS; as a student, charity shops have been my best friend, and during the pandemic, many of them have gone online. It’s basically ASOS without the unethical practices and environmental damage. With search bars and online vintage kilo sales, finding what you want will be easier than you think, you can get garments for an equal price to fast-fashion retailers if not cheaper. It’ll be unique, it’ll have a life story and, most importantly, it won’t be contributing to the waste cycle. No one is 100% sustainable, but altering our student shopping habits slightly can make big changes.
I don’t want to exile UNiDAYS, I just want practical discounts that’ll make our lives easier. I asked for suggestions in my Instagram stories of shops students would like to see discounted on UNiDAYS and almost everyone said they’d like supermarkets, stationery/bookshops and homeware shops consistently on the app. At the start of the year Waterstones offered a small student discount, and at one-point Sainsburys were discounting a six-pack of wine, but we need guaranteed access to these discounts all year instead of access to cheap clothes 24/7. If UNiDAYS can negotiate 10% off of ASOS, one of the biggest retailers in the world, they can surely get us a cheaper weekly shop, and throw in that Sainsbury's wine while they’re at it.
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