The other day I had a long email conversation with my friend Frances of the blog Materfamilias Writes about, among other things, excess. Shopping excess. And how the big “shopping haul” seems odd to us now. In poor taste, somehow. Behind the times. That slow fashion is in style. Or should be in style. But somehow isn’t… quite yet. Somehow there’s a very big slice of the population of the western world for whom the message consume, consume, consume is the same as it’s always been. Namely, consume, consume, consume. I find this a bit discouraging.
So, this post is not really a fashion post, my friends. It’s about ethics and influencers. I wanted to rant a little about “influencers” who unfortunately use their influence to promote the same old message about consumption. And I wanted to share a little love for those “influencers” who don’t. Because they’re out there. Influencers, bloggers, Instagrammers, and vloggers who have the courage of their convictions. Who preach slow fashion, buying less, and shopping mindfully… and then walk the talk.
Let’s start with those influencers, okay? The ethical ones. Who use their influence to help us to consume less.
Like Alyssa Beltempo. I wanted to mention Alyssa first because she’s Canadian, and a local girl. I was directed to Alyssa’s YouTube channel a while ago by a reader of this blog, whose name I can’t remember. So whoever you are… thanks for that. Alyssa creates Slow Fashion videos which you can find here. She also runs on-line workshops, and individual styling sessions where she helps others to do what she has long been doing for herself … make the clothes they already have in their closets into outfits that are current, chic, and fun to wear. You can follow Alyssa on Instagram here, and check out her styling workshops here.
You’ll know, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, that I love clothes. That I am a big “clothes keeper” as Orsola de Castro says in her book Loved Clothes Last. But I’m also a clothes shopper. I shop all the time. I peruse on-line offerings from my favourite stores, follow IG accounts and vloggers whose style inspires me. And I’m a big fan of Pinterest. Most of the time all this “shopping” does not result in buying… but in exploring my closet to see what I can do with what is already in there. And thanks in part to Alyssa Beltempo, and the three “content creators” below, I never run out of ideas.
Danish vlogger and Instagrammer Signe Hansen of Use Less is inspiring in her minimalist approach to fashion and to life in general. She is a big proponent of the slow fashion movement and of building chic capsule wardrobes through shopping second hand or thrifting. Her YouTube channel and her Instagram feed reflect this.
I’ve mentioned stylist and vlogger Allison Bornstein a ton of times in my blog. I love her YouTube channel, especially the videos where she demonstrates her closet editing system. How to organize and edit our closets by identifying those pieces we never wear, the ones we wear the most, and the pieces we seldom wear (called the “maybes”) because we can’t figure out how to style them. Her idea is to give away or consign what we never wear. Then try to style the “maybes” with our favourite pieces to see if we can breath new life into clothes that have temporarily fallen off our radar. I’ve used her method in editing my own closet.
Early on, Allison was featured on the YouTube channel of Violette_fr. But her own channel is finally coming into its own. I’ve only recently started following Allison on Instagram. I can’t think why I didn’t do this before. And I’m finding I like how she reposts outfits which inspire her to shop her own closet.
Of course I can’t fail to mention my favourite “influencer” Emma Hill. I follow her on YouTube and on Instagram. I love her style, her use of jackets and coats in particular. And how she promotes buying second-hand with her hashtag #secondhandbutgrand.
So there are “influencers” out there who have the courage of their convictions, who walk the talk. They may or may not be monetized and make their living from the content they create on social media. But they choose to create responsible content. I follow lots of other people on social media who support sustainable fashion with their content. Whether that’s thrift store finds, recycling old clothes into new, or simply promoting careful, mindful shopping, and creative restyling of what’s already in our closets.
My friend Frances from Materfamilias Writes, who I know many of you already follow, is another example. She espouses slow fashion. And practices what she preaches. Not that she’s preachy… far from it. You can check out Frances’ latest blog post here. About some of the pieces from the carry-on, capsule travel wardrobe she recently packed for a three-week trip. And how the choices she made served her well. And also reinforced that, as she writes, “we can have slower fashion and enjoyment of style’s aesthetic as well.”
But not everyone who blogs, vlogs, or creates content for Instagram is mindful of the changing climate in fashion these days. Pun intended. And that was what precipitated the conversation about excess which Frances and I had via email the other day. About how we wished that “influencers” would take the time to educate themselves on the ideas around slow fashion, ethical shopping, and the perils of fast fashion and over-consumption. And the fact that by promoting unbridled shopping, whether consciously or unconsciously, they are, in Frances’ words, “not serving our planet well.”
And this leads me to the Instagram post below, which in part precipitated this blog post. Let me explain.
The photo above was posted on Instagram by a woman whom I have followed for a while. Mostly because I’ve read her articles in Vogue over the years. And other than the odd post about the necessity of wearing gloves to a cotillion ball… or something similar… which elucidated just how very much her privileged background contrasted with my own, I’ve enjoyed reading her posts. Until this one.
Let’s talk about excess, shall we? Nine bags of clothing sent to the designer consignment store The Real Real. Nine. You will note that she miscounted the bags. The delivery man is holding one as well. As one person commented on IG, “that’s a lot of clothes!!” The fact of consigning this many clothes would in and of itself not be a bad thing. I mean, if one had perhaps not cleaned out one’s very large closet for years. And years. The clothes must have been in good condition or The Real Real would not have taken them for resale. So it doesn’t seem likely that they have been sitting around moldering for years. And the fact that these are not all of her clothes attests to the fact that this woman has a s**t-load of clothes.
But I’m digressing slightly and not getting to my point. My point is this. That she believes this act leaves “room in [her] closet” to go shopping. That she believes this photo is an example of “reuse, reduce, and recycle” since she has tagged the post with that hashtag. And that her followers have applauded her, and praised her for being an example of “sustainability in action.”
I’ve copied and pasted some of the comments that followed the post below. I’ve also obscured the names of the original Instagrammer and the commenters, as you’ll have noticed.
Since I’ve been reading about slow fashion and the Fashion Revolution, I’ve been hearing a lot about sustainability and about greenwashing. And it seems to me that this woman’s post is an example of the latter, and NOT the former. And it seems unforgiveable, to me, that she has chosen her platform to broadcast this irresponsible message to her twenty-five thousand plus followers. Because sending bags and bags of clothes to be resold, or even donated, so that one can pat themselves on the back, and then shop to fill the empty closet space… is not what is meant by sustainable fashion.
And this is all the more disappointing to me, as a follower of this “influencer,” because I have read them for years in one form or another. Although I’ve recently “unfollowed” them on IG. When it would have been so easy for her to make some sort of statement about the need for slow fashion. How seeing this many bags of clothes that she no longer wanted, and no longer wore, made her realize the excess of clothes she had in her closet. How she should try to do better. And possibly even ways she planned to do better. Imagine the creative posts that could follow, new ways to wear all the really quality stuff that is no doubt still hanging in her closet. If she’d done that I’d be applauding her now, instead of “throwing shade,” as they say.
You might have noticed that I’ve been using the term “influencers” in quotation marks in this post. That’s because I hate that term. Except when it’s used ironically. But all irony aside, people who have a following on social media are “influencers.” And not only in the way the term is usually meant, to denote those who sell their platform and their voice to brands for a price. I don’t mean that to sound quite as snarky as it does. I do not mean to imply that everyone who gets sponsorship from a brand or who creates content for brands is untrustworthy, and simply selling their voice to the highest bidder. There are, most definitely, ethical ways to get paid for one’s work, if one’s work is creating content on a blog, vlog, or social media platform.
No, I mean that everyone who has a social media presence is an influencer, even if they are not selling a product. If they connect with their readers, viewers, and followers, they end up having some sort of influence on that reader, viewer, or follower. And if enough influencers are saying, or even just implying, the same message, then they can affect public opinion, and alter the way people think. For good or for ill.
As a teacher of many years, I know how connecting with your audience helps to get your message across.
That’s why I think that ethical “influencers” need to be mindful not only of their overt message (buy this sweater), but also of their implied message. Which might be: Shopping is still fun. Don’t worry about all those naysayers who think we’re destroying the earth.
But could be instead: Think carefully about what you buy and keep it for a long time because it’s the right thing to do. That could be the message. And how much better to be espousing that message than the other.
You know, Black Friday is coming up. The biggest shopping day of the year. And then Christmas. What an opportunity this could be for those of us who post about fashion and shopping to espouse restraint, mindful shopping, and slow fashion. To not promote the same old, same old consume, consume, consume.
But instead to show that we all have the courage of our convictions. That would be cool, wouldn’t it?
P.S. I want to qualify what I said about that Instagrammer’s nine bags of clothing that went to the consignment store with this: There are any number of valid reasons why someone might decide to drastically edit their closet and get rid of unwanted clothes. As I said above, maybe they have not cleaned their closet in years and years and have decided to turn over a new leaf and get organized. Maybe they have had weight loss or gain and their clothes no longer fit them. Maybe we should have a whole post discussing the reasons why this might happen and be perfectly legitimate. But clearing out one’s closet so one can shop to restock is not one of them in my opinion. That combined with the tone of the post … the “wink, wink, knowing look” tone… and the gleeful comments are what offended me.