Brand Research Ethical Fashion Ethical Influencing

Why I’ve Been Slow to Collaborate with Ethical Brands

August 4, 2019

Sort of a clickbait-y title, I know, but I’m not sure how else to put it!

Working with brands is a big part of the ethical fashion community on Instagram and there’s surprisingly little talk about it in amidst style challenges and thrift hauls—from myself included. When I first got started with sharing my ethical fashion journey on Instagram back in January of this year, I was completely overwhelmed by all the new terminology and at a complete loss as to how large influencer accounts navigated the system. What was the different between affiliate and ambassador? Were people making money from their posts? How big did you have to be to be able to share #gifted in your captions? Do you reach out to brands or do they reach out to you? What’s a media kit? How do I track my engagement rate?

If you’re a micro-influencer like myself (an account with between 1,000 to 100,000 followers—talk about a spectrum), chances are you’ve asked or are currently asking yourself these same things. I won’t necessarily be diving into all these questions on this post (maybe in the future though!) but there really is a lot of initial confusion that kept me from doing much of anything with anyone. Today I wanted to talk specifically about my personal motivations behind moving slowly and intentionally into promoting ethical brands vs. just thrifting consistently.

When I started this blog, and sharing my secondhand closet on Instagram, my initial bottom line was pretty easy to find: I wanted to see if I could live as a conscientious consumer as a normal person with convictions and a secondhand closet without being an affluent influencer on Instagram being gifted new items regularly. Absolutely no shade at all to huge accounts that have worked extremely hard to get there—we’re all trying to grow!—but many of us are just not in the same position of influence with access to the same perks.

I truly recognize that I come from a good amount of privilege, including financial privilege (I never had to worry where my next meal was coming from, I was able to get a car at 16, my parents helped with my college debt, etc.) but as a married adult working at a nonprofit, I’m not able to spend upwards of $100 on multiple ethical fashion pieces when my husband and I have other financial responsibilities. It’s a position that many find themselves in–and so we thrift!

I believe deeply in finding your bottom line with anything that you do, and now that I’ve been in the ethical fashion community for this entire year, I am interested in trying to work with more brands. Everyone loves free stuff, but I think the thing that’s so interesting about our community is how many people make decisions based on personal convictions rather than free product and exposure. It’s refreshing to have conversations with my internet friends and hear they say they passed up a collab because the brand didn’t align with their convictions or was already being represented well by other influencers. Intentionality and authenticity is incredibly important to me in all I do, especially in my teeny corner of the internet.

I wonder to myself sometimes: is my voice necessary here? Do people really need to hear what I have to say about brands and products? Please don’t read this as me seeking someone to validate me about my value in this ethical fashion space. In so many ways, this space was created for me and for women like me–thin, white women, who like neutral colors and minimal living as an aesthetic rather than the living-with-less that is born out of lack or limited access to material possessions. I would be naive to not acknowledge that I have plenty of space here–I absolutely do. The space caters to me.

I question the ethics of simply taking brand opportunities and adding my voice a chorus of those already represented when there’s still a lack of diversity with many, many ethical brands. How can we say a brand is “morally correct and good” if we’re acting like it’s only accessible to a very specific group of people and leaves everyone else out? Ethical fashion should include absolutely everyone. Regardless of size, race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, amount of followers, or whether you like layers of eggshell colored linen or multi-colored, multi-patterned harem pants—you should be welcome and represented here. I’m not any type of “woke” champion for saying so–there are many, much more eloquent women of color saying the same things–being able to acknowledge this fact is the absolute least I can do at this point. What I am still learning is how to exist in my space and genuinely promote other women (and hopefully soon, women-owned brands) that have different experiences and perspectives than me living out their own ethical convictions. Figuring out how to do that without it being tainted the lingering remnants of my white saviorism is also part of the challenge but I am committed to unlearning it. 

Another critical point is—I’m not actually trying to get you as my audience to purchase more! One of my favorite things about our community is it’s not a ponzi scheme where people are constantly trying to get you to buy more. There’s nothing wrong with getting something new (or new-to-you, hello my entire thrifting life!) but I don’t want my followers to feel like they need more or need what I have in order to have their own ethical closet—there’s this underlying spastic feeling I can sometimes develop seeing brands that are out of reach for me and I don’t want anyone to feel that way looking at my content. I think part of using me using my platform is acknowledging that it’s a huge responsibility and that I want to take it seriously.

I’ve said no to a few opportunities mostly for these reasons–but I do want to promote brands and organizations that support and promote BIWOC, women in general and inclusive sizing, as well as fair pay and a safe working environment for all people involved in the creation of those garments. I suppose that’s my brand collaboration bottom line that I’ve been working to get to for the past several months. I have to admit, I’m a little afraid to do it wrong and to make mistakes but doing it imperfectly is better than being too afraid to do anything at all. (My enneagram 1 is coming out with a vengeance!)

I was so nervous at the beginning of the year to share that I was changing my shopping habits because posting about it made it real and something that I became accountable to, but accountability is so helpful for personal growth so here I am again. If you made it all the way the bottom of this post, thank you!

I’ve been following the @buyfrombipoc account on Instagram for a while, but have failed to truly and deeply engage with them but I believe that’s a great place to start for us all. I’d also recommend reading this piece from Erin Boyle, “Growing a Minimalist Wardrobe: Buy From BIPOC” if you are interested in learning more!

I’m curious to hear from you all:

  1. What is your why behind wanting to partner with ethical brands?
  2. Which brands would you recommend to others that are women owned? Promoted and run by BIWOC? Inclusive sizing?
  3. Do you have any tips of how I can support others well moving forward into hopefully more brand collaborations?

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