I Used to be a Fast-Fashion Obsessed Blogger
A toxic relationship? Fast fashion & fashion bloggers. TBM editor Abigail Jones talks about her relationship with fast fashion developing as a result of the enticing ‘freebies’ offered by fast fashion brands. Until, she realised, she didn’t love the clothing she was given.
Imagine this, you’re sat at your make-shift desk that is also the table that you do your make up at on Monday mornings at 6am before getting on the Tube to head to your full-time job. But it’s a Saturday. You’ve been working on your little corner of the internet for the past year or so, there are a few comments and Instagram likes here and there. But nothing major, no payment, no extra source of income. Blogging is just your fun hobby.
Then one day, you receive an email from one of your favourite fast fashion retail brands. Be it Missguided or Boohoo based in Salford or Romwe or SheIn based far away in central China. They’re offering to send you free clothing. That tempting word, free. Suddenly the past year’s work seems like it was for something. You’ve been acknowledged by one of your favourite brands and you are exceptionally flattered. You immediately reply, ‘Yes, I would love to collaborate’. You send off your three, four, five or maybe more choices of items. Knowing, full well, you could afford to buy them yourself if you really wanted or needed them. You wear them, post your blog photo, you don’t get paid. The pieces are then added to your wardrobe and the process repeats itself. This is the often the life of fashion bloggers. For a while, it was mine.
Blogging is a career that many people have an opinion on. Even if they don’t know anyone personally who does it for a living. The millennial and Generation Z tend to shrug, we are of the train of thought that blogging is a viable career option. We’ve grown up with the internet, we know our way around a camera, and that really is all you need to get going.
Baby boomers and beyond tend to believe it’s a hobby not a career and that is requires very little ‘real’ work – whatever ‘real work’ means. Last year a small UK fashion blogger named Darby was publicly shamed by a restaurant-cum-hotel in Dublin for sending an email request for collaboration. She was sharply and rudely turned down, which in turn propelled her subscribers and followers sky high and garnered the restaurant who savagely replied and shamed her and flood of 5-star reviews from people all over the world who think that blogging is stupid: “You aren’t afraid to defend yourselves from idiots who think they can get something for free” the Facebook user is blissfully unaware that this is typically how online marketing works. Not just with bloggers, but all around. Person receives something for free, person promotes it. Other reviews aren’t as nice and some are simply competitive: “LOVE watching the owners melt a millennial snow flake on YouTube!!! My daughter is a millennial. She works at The Historic Park Inn… in Iowa!” Whilst the blogger is a ‘millennial snow flake’ the daughter putting in gruelling hours to work in a hotel is undoubtedly a ‘real’ worker, with a ‘real’ job.
Sarah Mower’s comments in US Vogue, not so long ago echo a lot of the recent sentiment surrounding fashion bloggers:
“but most of all pathetic for these girls, when you watch how many times the desperate troll up and down outside shows, in traffic, risking accidents even, in hopes of being snapped.”
Mower’s comments on blogger’s multiple changes throughout the day and the love of photography opportunities during Fashion Weeks might have held their weight if fashion professionals didn’t do the same thing. Whether the article was written out of spite, jealously or fear of fashion bloggers is unclear. What is clear, is that fashion bloggers have power. Pursuing an online career in 2018 is no longer a laughable pursuit, but a very real goal. In China becoming an influencer is such a serious business that there is now a booming ‘influencer incubator’ industry. Companies who invest in young Chinese women and men to nurture their online career and propel them to online stardom. The value of China’s influencer or ‘wanghong’ industry is estimated to be a colossal $18.3b.
The allure of becoming an online influencer may lie in the fact that many believe it’s an easy job. Waking up late, taking photos, writing a bit of copy about what you’re wearing and then clicking ‘upload’. *Cue the millions a la Zoella* When really the role entails website design, SEO management, developing a brand, marketing and operating your own business. Most of the time, whilst working a full time, or if you’re lucky enough, part time role to help you support your blogging.
What is concerning about the blogging and influencer industry isn’t that it’s popular, or so controversial. In fact, its controversy is old news. But the rate at which influencers are consuming fashion. With rumours that bloggers use garments just to be photographed for one Instagram post and for the garment to the thrown away after is enough to make an average person feel disgusted and someone concerned with sustainability to feel ashamed and angry. Anyone with a remote interest in sustainability knows that the best solution isn’t giving away these barely worn garments to charity shops (which often end in landfill anyway) but simple refusing these freebies in the first place. Simply saying no to having more.
The appeal of fashion bloggers to brands is very simple. One Instagram post can garner thousands of click throughs to a brand’s Instagram page, which in turns translates itself to sales. It costs them very little to send out free clothing, but the ROI is high when the right fashion blogger posts an image wearing their clothing.
The problem is, fast fashion brands are constantly sending out clothes because they constantly have new clothing in to meet the public’s demand of a new and fresh look. It’s a vicious cycle. Fashion brand needs more followers, fashion brand capitalises on fashion blogger’s audience, fashion blogger receives package of clothing, fashion blogger wears clothing for one blog post, clothes are relegated to an already full wardrobe. The clothing may be seen again, it might not be. But the dress that they wore for their blog post may be sold hundreds of times to their fans because of their post and in turn, stimulating the fast fashion industry even more than it was before they posted. It isn’t just the one freebie that’s sent out, its the chain of sales of fast fashion that that one Instagram post stimulates as a result.
For many young women (and men — there is a huge market for male fashion bloggers) the sparkly world of fashion blogging is tied strongly to the number of free products and gifts a blogger receives. Just like in fashion movies where the keen intern is gifted a make-over from the older gay fashion cupboard manager. Young women in love with fashion want those gifts, of course they do. It’s so hard to refuse.
But we have to. In order to break the cycle of endless clothing waste that finds itself in charity shop basements, never sold and then relegated to third world countries as landfill. Fashion bloggers and fashion editors must begin refusing to be such a critical part of the fast fashion cycle.
The clothes we all wear come with a certain amount of environmental baggage. Especially those that come from fast fashion retailers where the supply and manufacturing chain is unclear. What is obvious is that a dress being sold for £15 on a fast fashion retailer’s website certainly isn’t paying its workers very much to assemble it. But that fact is, of course, shrouded due to the glamour of ‘free’ products.
Not everyone cares about where their clothing comes from either. Some fashion bloggers may not care about sustainability, or equal pay for the people who make their garments. But when fashion blogging is so closely tied to ‘girl power’ and virtue signalling on clothing it’s hard to ignore the hypocrisy. The online retailer Simmi shoes capitalised on the #MeToo movement wearing black clothing to the Oscars by running a campaign that encouraged its Instagram followers to purchase from their all black selection to fit in with the latest trend. Their Instagram story read:
“wearing all black is the new colour to show girl power and togetherness amongst celebs… and now you can be part of that movement”
Evidently fast fashion brands aren’t above using activist movements to peddle sales of sub-par products where the travesties of fast fashion are far away from eyesight. But fashion bloggers and all of us interested in fashion need to be bothered by this.
It is both unfair and unfeasible to ask fashion bloggers to deny all free products. They work hard to develop their reputation and free items are a perk of a very strange and very stressful job. Any freelancer will understand that not knowing where your next pay check is coming from, or if your invoice will even be paid, isn’t a nice situation to be living in. But it is time for fashion bloggers and fashion editors to think a little more carefully before accepting their next care package. I was never given a gift where afterwards I thought ‘Wow, I am so blessed to have that.’ It’s a nice perk, but one that I can live with a lot less of, if not without it entirely.