By Sica Schmitz
Founder of Bead & Reel, frequent speaker, writer, and sustainable stylist.
I’m in a very rare position, as someone who both runs an ethical fashion brand (winner of the 2017 Sustainable Business Council Award, nbd), and is also an ethical fashion writer both for Vilda Magazine and this Bead & Reel blog (which is somehow ranked #9 among sustainable fashion blogs based on search and social metrics… nbd). So basically, I get to see a full 360 view of the much-debated and very touchy aspects that go into both sides of trying to create, promote, and sustain this ethical fashion space.
Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.
– Potter Stewart
All sides are much more complicated than those who work on just one side often realize, and I hear a lot of complaints; brands often feel underwhelemd when working with ethical fashion bloggers, and ethical fashion bloggers often feel undercompensated. And they are both right. Considering the vast amount of time, money, and products I have sent to ethical fashion bloggers over the past 3.5 years, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I was impressed with the end result or the sales results. And considering the vast amount of time, energy, and thought I have spent in creating my own ethical fashion articles (especially lately), I can definitely agree that you very rarely get an appropriate return on your investment.
I might eventually write from the perspective of what we as brands can do to help fix this somewhat dysfunctional relationship, but for today I want to start from the place of what we as writers and content creators can do. Because the thing is, most ethical fashion blogger I know or know of are very nice people, who genuinely care about the issues they are talking about, and yet, in an industry that all of us are saying we want to see more transparency, the onus seems to be placed exclusively on the brands and there isn’t a lot of transparency among those who are supposed to be reporting on it. I consistently see suspicious social media practices, misleading media kits, and my brand friends feeling exploited by money paid for a job poorly done.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just like with the fashion industry as a whole, we can work together to build a more transparent and ethical fashion writing industry together. Here are some of my ideas.
vegan, Made in USA, female founder
Why I love it: cupro is a beautiful vegan alternative to silk, and the fit is absolutely stunning
Jumpsuit: EcoVibe Apparel
vegan, plant-based, female founder, sweatshop-free
Why I love it: affordable, comfortable, and so versatile – I seriously wear it all the time (and would wear it even more, but sometimes it’s in the laundry)
Necklace: Purple Impression
vegan, fair trade, female founder
Why I love it: it’s so unique to find wood and hand embroidery in jewelry
STOP USING PODS, BOTS, AND BOUGHT FOLLOWERS
I want to preface this with full disclosure: I used a bot very early on with Bead & Reel, long before it was commonplace, and once I realized that it wasn’t helping me build the kind of authentic audience I wanted, and it wasn’t an honest representation of my brand, I stopped. (To quote a very wise woman: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” ~ Maya Angelou).
But I still know so, so, so many influencers and writers in this space who use these… tools?… in an effort to appear more popular to brands so they can charge more money, and that’s….dishonest. That’s lying to brands about who you are. And if you wouldn’t be okay with a practice happening to an artisan (lying… manipulating…), then you shouldn’t be okay with it happening to the brands you say you support. False representation is literally something we are supposed to be fighting against in ethical fashion, not contributing towards.
Quick definitions for those who may not know:
- Pod: a private Instagram group where everybody agrees to like and comment on each other’s posts in order to seem more popular (so when you see people who always get tons of likes and comments, they may be genuine, or they may just be in a pod or several pods)
- Bot: an app that will go around liking or following (and then unfollowing) users using a certain hashtag to get their attention and hope they will want to follow you
- Bought Followers: buying fake followers, which is questionable in and of itself, but especially when you realize where these fake followers are coming from
What you can do instead: stop worrying about the size of your following and instead worry about creating quality content (good photos, good stories). This will lead to genuine fans and followers who really care about what you say and what you support, which is more fulfilling, more impactful, more honest, and worth far more to brands.
Socks: Solo Socks
vegan, organic, fair trade, gender neutral, zero waste
Why I love it: a pack of 7 mix-and-match organic socks so if you lose one (which always seems to happen to me and I don’t underestand where it goes!!!) you don’t end up with a lone sock
BE A FAIR TRADE BLOGGER
I get contacted almost once a day (sometimes more) by a blogger or influencer who wants me to send her something for free or pay her to talk about my company. You know, because she totally loves what I’m doing and her followers would love to learn about Bead & Reel (hearts and kisses!). And I absolutely believe that people should get paid for their work (it’s sort of a tenant of fair trade, right?), but just because you want something to be your job doesn’t mean it can or should be. I mean, I would love to get paid to nap, and I’m actually pretty good at it, and I even do on a regular-ish basis, but, that doesn’t mean I deserve to get paid for it, even though I’m definitely putting my time, energy, heart into every single nap I create (note: if anyone is intersted in investing in me as a Nap Ambassador, I’m definitely open to sponsorships).
If you don’t have a genuinely engaged following (having 20,000 Instagram followers isn’t necessarily a genuine following, please see above) who is genuinely either going to shop/follow/sign up/be interested in the brands you talk about, then you haven’t yet built up your platform that is a fair investment for brands, especially the many many small ones in sustainable fashion who are already operating on a very slim budget. And that’s totally okay – we all started somewhere, and these things take a lot of time and energy to build, but if you want to support fair trade, then you need to trade fairly.
That’s why I think affiliate marketing is such a fair solution, because then bloggers get paid for the sales they actually generate so there’s a real incentive to invest in creating quality content and a quality following.
What you can do instead: Unless you have a big, engaged following, offer to work with brands for free to show you are serious about their product and message. And then do a really good job, and go above and beyond what is expected of you so that they feel great about hiring you going forward. And then keep making unique content so you can build up a unique, real following that will lead to effective affiliate revenue. Yeah, I know, it’s a lot of work, right? That’s why most people don’t do it – and why you should.
Scarf: Purple Impression
vegan, fair trade, organic, female founder
Why I love it: lightweight and slightly sheer, it is the perfect mid-season weight and adds a soft, feminine hint to my very black wardrobe
Jacket: EcoVibe Apparel
vegan, female founder, sweatshop-free
Why I love it: this affordable vegan leather jacket is an incredibly flattering cut and a perfect spring and summer layer
Bracelets: Bead & Reel
vegan, Made in USA, female founder, recycled
Why I love it: these handmade Wonder Woman cuff bracelets stack so well together (and always add a little extra strength to my day)
CARE ABOUT THE BRANDS YOU’RE WORKING WITH
Like any small business, I am always looking for ways to market my company on a budget. I don’t have a PR team or marketing department (or any department….it’s just me), and so in theory working with bloggers is a more affordable way to broaden the reach of my company.
But I truly can’t even begin to count the number of times I have sent free products or even paid sustainable influencers for a “collaboration” only to realize they just wanted free stuff or easy money and they didn’t actually care about my brand. They didn’t care about it being mutually beneficial, or “collaborative,” or even doing a good job because they knew there are so many other brands to prey… oops, I mean collaborate with. I’ve seen so many half hearted iPhone photos, one-time-and-never-again mentions about my company, or even straight up using my photos and words to create the post I paid for.
I finally started insisting that the bloggers who contact me first work through Bead & Reel’s affiliate program before we discuss any further paid opportunities, and 99% of them will disappear the moment an actual expectation is presented (which tells me a lot about their intentions).
The blogger/brand relationship shouldn’t be a one night stand, it should be a long term relationship that we are all investing in to create a healthy, thriving sustainable fashion industry.
What you can do instead: Like any relationship: communicate! Check in with the brands you’re working with. See if they were happy with how things went, and if they aren’t, just like any committed relationship, offer a solution or compromise. And then keep the relationship going by continuing to share about and support the brands you believe in, even after your official relationship is over.
Vegan Silk Jacket: PERI | Hair: veganism 😉