Culture

Bloggers, Brands, and Is Ethical Fashion Even Real?

Sooo… this was supposed to be a fitness post, but then these photos finally got me to sit down and write about something that’s been on my mind for a while: why are we so quick to judge bloggers and influencers for the brands they work with? If you don’t spend every living moment on Instagram like I do this probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, so let me give some context.

Over the past few years, a backlash to fast fashion has emerged, the ‘ethical’ fashion movement. Brands that are considered ethical tend to use sustainable or recycled materials, denounce the use of sweatshop labor, and present a high level of transparency regarding their supply chain. These are all great things, in my opinion. The fashion industry is a huge offender when it comes to pollution, waste, and unethical labor, so it’s great to see brands like Everlane and Stella McCartney paving the way for more ethical business practices across the industry.

In these photos, I’m wearing leggings from one of my favorite ethical brands, Girlfriend Collective, hence how I got on this whole thing. Girlfriend Collective specializes in making cute, effective workout clothes made out of recycled materials like plastic bottles. They tout their clothes “made out of trash” to mainly hipster millenial women, of which I am one, and throw in a good dose of body positivity while they’re at it. I like their brand a lot given the amount of environmental damage workout clothes alone do and they have reasonable prices given the marketplace.

But that’s not the point. My argument continues…

Ethical fashion often collides with vegan or cruelty-free fashion, brands that denounce the use of all animal products like leather or fur. Once again, a thing I’m all here for! Skinning animals to make a coat seems so extreme and unnecessary now days – we’re not Davey Crockett who needed that raccoon skin hat to stay alive! We have access to all kinds of materials that serve similar purposes without any animals sacrificing themselves for your closet.

But here’s where it gets tricky: let’s say I buy a pair of shoes that are vegan (great!), but the material used instead to make these shoes is unsustainable and creates a ton of waste and pollution (not so great…). Or let’s say I find an amazing sustainable beauty brand that leaves no carbon footprint (wooo!), but they test on animals (yikes). What if I find a brand that’s cruelty-free, sustainable, and the production of the product doesn’t create waste (hallelujah!), but their shipping companies create enormous amounts of pollution getting the product from point A to point B (booo…). You see my point. There are so many ways not to win as a consumer today. We may win one battle, but we sacrifice something else that we care about in the process.

So, this brings me to bloggers, people who share their consumer behaviors for a living, and I’ve noticed something really interesting: followers are quick to judge the ethics of bloggers when they work with certain brands, but often only if bloggers have brought up that ethics are important to them. For example, Irish blogger Leanne Woodfull is committed to cruelty-free beauty as part of her brand. But a couple years ago when she worked with Victoria’s Secret on a fashion collaboration, she got ‘called out’ by many followers for supporting a brand that does not create cruelty-free beauty products despite the fact her collaboration wasn’t promoting their beauty selection.

It’s as if followers are waiting for bloggers to mess up, especially those who have committed to representing a particular kind of consumerism. How is it that “every little bit counts” when it comes to environmentalism, but it’s all or nothing when it comes to consumerism?

Because I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to my own shopping behavior. Would I love to buy exclusively sustainable, ethical brands? For sure! But is that realistic for me for a lot of reasons? No. If I could shell out for Stella McCartney pieces every day I would absolutely do that and even though Everlane is a more affordable option, it’s still an investment for me not to mention only available online. So, that leaves me somewhere in the middle: the ethnical fashion gray area. I feel guilty when I buy fast fashion, but I do it anyway. I wear vintage all the time, but I’ve considered buying from ethically questionable sites like SHEIN. Because this is how real people shop – we mix and match and often buy what’s easiest.

Sure, I understand that the rhetoric is different when you’re promoting a brand online and you’re representing a certain commitment to ethics on social media, but it still amazes me that despite all this talk about ‘authenticity’ and ‘transparency’ we are still judging people for making imperfect buying decisions. At the end of the day, there aren’t really many perfect decisions to make. And that’s not a single person’s fault, that’s a result of years of prosperous low-cost, high-waste fast fashion companies.

I think a lot of this critique from followers is a result of our own anxieties about shopping. Millenials are more concerned than ever about brand ethics, but that concern hasn’t translated into a large selection of ethically sound clothing brands. There are more than possibly ever, but it’s far from being the norm. I consider myself a pretty ethical shopper, but I went to Walmart the other day because where else can I buy a Christmas tree on short notice? Until ethical shopping is truly accessible, we will always find it easier to take out these frustrations of brand ethics on those who are just being upfront with their shopping habits.

Can we all work a little harder to put our money where our mouth is? You bet. But can we also stop blaming individuals for the lack of accessible, ethical brands in the world? Also yes. Bloggers struggle to find a balance between aspirational and relatable and followers are often quick to judge those who reflect their guiltiest buying habits – all of this resulting in a toxic social media environment where you can never win no matter what brands you’re aligned with.

So, stop judging bloggers who work with Walmart while you brag about your top from Target. It’s all the same. We’re making slow but steady progress, so it’s okay if we’re all in the ethical gray area for awhile.

Read more of my social media musings: is Slow Instagram a thing, my thoughts on the 2018 Create & Cultivate conference, and a review of Blair Eadie’s collaboration with Nordstrom.

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