There’s a new eco-movement in town, but is it just for clout? 

Over the years, countless trends and cultural stereotypes have broken the internet and taken on a life of their own. As society acknowledges the pressing need to preserve our planet for current and future generations, being environmentally conscious has become one of the newest and hottest trends. Now enter VSCO girls, also known as Hydro Flask girls, whose name has been borrowed from VSCO (Vis-co), the photo-sharing app where users can post their pictures with dreamlike filters without the pressure of garnering likes and comments…

TEXT  EKOM  @e.kommm

These girls are recognized as the plastic straw hating tumblr girls of a new generation, and thanks to the starter packs brought about by meme culture, have an openly stated uniform to which they always adhere. If you can believe it, their penchant for metal straws and reusable Hydro Flasks adorned with stickers urging us to “Save the Turtles!” has earned them the title of being environmentally conscious. The overall aesthetics have been carefully combined and constructed to portray an air of ease and comfort. Your typical VSCO girl would take about 20 minutes to make a messy bun look effortless. We just love the irony.

Taking a look at the overarching similarities of this subculture, it becomes clear it is frequently made up of 11 to 13 year old girls who are often thin, white, and have access to resources that can buy the various high-end items the sect includes. Thanks to meme culture, their aforementioned starter pack is instantly recognizable. It consists of Brandy Melville crop tops or oversized t-shirts accessorized with a multitude of name branded items such as, Fjällräven Kanken backpacks, an alternating trio of Crocs, checkered Vans, Birkenstocks, PuraVida style bracelets, and an obscene amount of scrunchies (rules say at least three per wrist). The look is always finished off with the now famous Hydro Flask reusable water bottle, accompanied by its iconic partner in crime: the metal straw. Oh, and we absolutely cannot forget about their adoption of the popular internet phrase “sksksk and I oop!”

VSCO girls are being labeled as environmentally conscious, and we want to know why. What have they done to receive this title and do they really deserve it? Are they truly part of an environmentally conscious movement or are they just joining a hot new trend with the hopes of gaining clout? While Hydro Flasks and metal straws are friends to the environment for obvious reasons (the transition from plastic to a reusable metal contributes to the reduction of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, and plastic in our oceans), what about the other items necessary to claim that VSCO girl title? Are they eco-friendly too, and is it enough to give VSCO girls that environmentally conscious label?

“Purchasing on the basis of positive contribution to the environment is more environmentally conscious than buying based on brand popularity alone.”

The Fjällräven Backpacks

These backpacks are a staple piece of the VSCO girl aesthetic and are actually very eco-friendly. The Swedish bag is made partially from recycled materials, and the brand’s classic and most popular bag, the Kanken, is made from one single yarn of recycled plastic bottles. On top of that, the brand has also come out with a remodeled version made from 100% recycled materials. On all labels, Fjallraven states that the bags are “dyed to use less water, energy, and chemicals… and in the distant future [to be] recycled again.” 

This brand definitely produces sustainable bags, but as more VSCO girls thirst for the “necessary” piece to complete their starter pack collection, the environment is not left unharmed. The production is done overseas, and that means shipping methods will inevitably contribute to air, water, and oil pollution. Considering the fact that continuing on the current path shipping methods are headed, they could put contributions to the emissions of GHG at 10% by 2050, this is not as environmentally conscious as it seems. Buying a sustainably produced bag is definitely a great step in the right direction, but an even better option would be to buy one from a more locally based brand. Purchasing on the basis of positive contribution to the environment is more environmentally conscious than buying based on brand popularity alone.

Crocs vs Birkenstocks

Now let’s address the elephant in the room. The VSCO girls favorite shoe – plastic Crocs. Regarded by many to be breathtakingly ugly, they come in an incredible variety of colors and designs, are vegan and cruelty free, and a VSCO girls go to shoe, BUT (cue the “and I oop”) these shoes are not in any way biodegradable. Like… at all. 

Crocs are made from a material called Croslite which is essentially a synthetic plastic. While the unique material allows for incredible performance, these holey blocks of hydrocarbon would literally take CENTURIES before they’d even start to decompose naturally. Thankfully, Crocs has acknowledged this and accepts second-hand shoes at most of their retail stores for the material to be reused. There are also a variety of ways to safely discard the shoes when they have been outgrown. 

For those who are genuine in their environmental practices, this is helpful, but what about the VSCO girls who only want a pair of Crocs simply because it’s the newest trend? You know, the ones that engage in overconsumption by buying 6 pairs of Crocs to match all of their scrunchies? Yeah, they’re probably not going to care about what happens to their Crocs when they are no longer the it item, because their hearts aren’t truly behind the cause.

Birkenstock has much better options in comparison to Crocs, but not in the entirety of the brands collection. The majority of their products are not vegan or cruelty free (they use real leather), but they are made from environmentally friendly cork and rubber, and they do offer a vegan range of shoes. Birkenstocks are made exclusively in Germany so strict labour, recycling, and waste laws are enforced. Of course, with an overseas distributor, we again run into the same issue we have with the Fjällräven backpacks in regards to the environmental effects of shipping. Serious environmentally conscious people should consider buying locally!

“Purchasing recycled clothes is one of the cheapest and most mindful ways to be eco-friendly, however, as it is, only 20-25% of donated clothes sell in stores while the rest go to landfills.”

Fast Fashion Practices

The typical VSCO girl fashion is quite minimalistic in theory. It consists of just your basic pieces, jean shorts and a tee. The main idea is that they are making an intentional effort to consume and waste less. They wear variations on a comfortable and relaxed look, and are not trying to be particularly fashion forward, wearing the latest trends. But this seemingly innocent approach to dressing has a harsher truth behind it, when looking a little closer.

Any environmentally conscious human being knows that fast fashion is one of the easiest and worst ways to contribute to the downfall of the human race on this Earth. Purchasing recycled clothes is one of the cheapest and most mindful ways to be eco-friendly, however, as it is, only 20-25% of donated clothes sell in stores while the rest go to landfills. Even then, why the hell is the token starter pack brand for these environmental leaders a fatphobic and ridiculously unethical fast fashion brand like Brandy Melville? It is over-priced, breeds overconsumption and overproduction, and sells clothes in only one size which is not one size fits all. 

The brand lies at the top of the scale when it comes to unethical practices, and openly places its profit margin above everything else. The clothes are cheaply made, of low-quality materials, resulting in a short lifespan. This brand is so harmful to young girls with its unrealistic beauty and lifestyle standards, that it is honestly hard to believe it is so openly accepted by what are supposedly environmentally conscious Hydro Flask girls.

An alternative to Brandy Melville, accepted by the VSCO girls is Urban Outfitters, which could be considered a better option, but gives off an extremely performative vibe. The brand does have an upcycled reworked line called Urban Renewal (very, and they support the sales of multiple eco-friendly brands, but it is still a fast fashion brand. 

“It’s widely recognized that Tumblr girls walked so that the VSCO girls could run, but what we truly need are young people who care about more than being part of some subculture to be leaders in this movement.”

The Verdict

The whole VSCO/Hydro Flask girl trend appears to have interest in being environmentally conscious. The concept behind the majority of the token items show this to be true, but do they truly deserve the label they have been given? No, not really. That label carries a heavy weight responsibility, and if these girls were buying their reusable water bottles, metal straws, and recyclable backpacks to be environmentally friendly, they wouldn’t stick to the same brand every. single. time. 

Accessibility and inclusion are elements that could aid in the progression of the environmentally consciousness movement. Unfortunately, it appears that the “VSCO girl starter pack” does not create space for those elements to exist. It looks like the majority of the girls who fit into this trend come from the same demographic with the same high level of access to specific resources. Not every young person looks like the standard VSCO girl or will have access to the specific brands that the starter pack emphasizes. If they have been given the eco-friendly label because of their basic starter pack items, then the lack of representation carries the potential of leading those who do not see themselves as part of the demographic to believe they have no part to play, discouraging them from participating in the movement.

While it is nice that much of their aesthetic consists of choosing brands that are environmentally conscious, the evolution of this subculture has shown another side to the coin as an aesthetic or trend to be followed. If the reality is that most of these girls are hopping on this trend to be a part of something superficial rather than truly being environmentally conscious, then that isn’t being environmentally conscious. In truth, it would just be an aesthetic bonding with the current state of the world.

The popularization of environmental consciousness is definitely a step in the right direction. So let’s give a huge shoutout to all of the VSCO girls who have their hearts in the environmental movement. It’s widely recognized that Tumblr girls walked so that the VSCO girls could run, but what we truly need are young people who care about more than being part of some subculture to be leaders in this movement. Let’s hope that the updated version will be able to sprint.