In my blogging “career” these last ten years, I’ve been so lucky to have experienced so many of the typical blogger perks and opportunities: I’ve attended New York Fashion Weeks; I’ve spoken at a fashion conference (ironically on a panel that focused on the topic of brand partnerships); I’ve attended parties hosted by brands; I’ve met so many amazing people online and in real life; I’ve written guest blog posts for brands; and I’ve been gifted more pieces than I can count. While a lot of these perks and opportunities are less prevalent in my life now, the last one is one that I’ve been wrestling with recently in this third year of chasing minimalism.
Authenticity has been on my mind a lot lately. For so long, I’ve admired it in other people but never felt like I was bold enough to take up space and be myself. Vulnerability scares the heck out of me, but it has also felt more exhausting covering up the real me all these years. The first part of this blog post was my attempt at dipping my toes into authentic living (and authentic posting), and man does it feel so free and almost easier to just say what I want to say. Sure, it was scary as hell to put myself out there, but this space also just seems simpler and more peaceful to me now. The complexity of navigating all that comes with blogging and Instagram feels like a distant and silly problem to have had. Minimalism is making its way into this space, and I ain’t fighting it no more. This space doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful anymore. And so, moving forward, I can’t go wrong if I am striving everyday to be my authentic self.
But how can I move forward with authenticity when it comes to brand partnerships and collaborations? If I’m being honest with myself, I don’t think I can–at least not how I’ve been approaching them over the last decade. As much as I try to be transparent, I still feel like it’s hard to give authentic reviews when it comes to gifted pieces. Ellie from Selflessly Styled said it best in her post, Why I’m No Longer Accepting Free Clothes or Paid Collabs: we don’t want to bite the hand that feeds us. And so try as I might, it’s really hard to say anything negative about pieces that I’m gifted. On the same note, I think the true test of a product is to see how much I actually wear or use it in my everyday life. If we’re going to judge it solely on that criteria–how often I wear the pieces that I’m gifted, then there really aren’t that many “good” pieces that I’ve been gifted over the years.
Through tracking my wear count for the better part of this last year, I’ve noticed that I just don’t love my gifted pieces as much as ones I’ve purchased myself, even those that were of the same brand that I typically buy from. Were those pieces I was gifted beautiful? Yes. Did those pieces flatter my body? Most of the time, yes. Were those pieces ethically and/or sustainably made? Yes. Did I like those pieces? 100% yes. Will I always be grateful for the chance to have worked with such inspiring brands who are doing great things in the fashion industry? 1000000% yes. So why didn’t I wear and love them as much my other clothes? I didn’t know and it bothered me.
It bothered me a lot last year. Even though I wasn’t buying those pieces, I was still consuming and creating excess waste (even if it was ethically made waste). Too many of those pieces have been passed on to friends or eventually donated to Good Will. To counter it, I’ve really tried to slow down with brand partnerships this year. I’m saying “no, thank you” to more brands, and even still, I found myself still overwhelmed with the amount of new pieces that were coming in. The sentiment that we can’t consume our way to a more sustainable world is one that I’ve seen time and time again on my Instagram feed and is one that I want to embody even more moving forward. I can’t truly say I’m chasing minimalism while also encouraging consumerism.
Through a lot of reflection, I’ve connected the dots from how I’ve been consuming to Sarah Lazarouic’s Buyerarchy of Needs, and I feel like, for me at least, there needs to be one more level above Buy: Receive Gifts. Being gifted an item is still a level of consumption, and I feel like it’s a passive one at that…
Being mindful and intentional with your purchases comes with the territory of chasing minimalism. I feel like I’ve gotten more mindful and intentional when I shop. So much thought goes behind before I click “Place Order” or pull out my wallet at a cash register. There’s also quite a bit of risk–financially and even emotionally–within that decision to buy. That risk, when paid off, tends to deepen my love for a garment because I actively chose that piece; because I thought about how many hours I worked to get that piece; and because I used my money to support that particular brand. When I am gifted a piece from a brand on the other hand, there’s no risk–financially or even really emotionally–on my end. All the risk is taken by the brand. If shopping ethically means caring about the people who make our clothes and if shopping minimally means shopping intentionally and mindfully, then I am no longer okay with receiving gifted pieces.
I’ve been so lucky to have worked with so many great brands over the years. Some of these brand partnerships have blossomed into friendships. It is these friendships that have encouraged me to reconsider how to move forward with brand partnerships in the future. Hearing their stories of how hard it was to get started and how it long takes to actually make a profit and pay themselves a salary (years) made me realize just how much of a strain (and risk) it is to give away a product–even for a trade of an Instagram post (or two).
When I think of how easy it can be to create an Instagram post versus how long it takes for a garment to be made, it doesn’t seem like a fair trade to me. I’ve been blogging and posting on Instagram for so long that an Instagram post can take me less than 5 minutes from shoot to caption to post if I’m not writing a novella to accompany it. A garment, on the other hand, from its inception to its final design to its pattern making to the samples to making its way into my closet can take months or even years. Not to mention the garments’ greater impact on the Earth–its use of resources and labor. This is not a fair trade to me at all. My art and craft is not fully honoring their art and craft.
I’ve also considered the other side of the argument that clothes can’t pay our rent and that we deserve to be paid for our work, especially when whole thing with The Minimalist Wardrobe went down in December (For the record: I’ve never been paid for any guest blog posts I’ve written). But luckily, I don’t need my Instagram or blog to help pay for my rent and honestly, I think if I started treating Instagram and my blog as a job, I’d hate it because it wouldn’t feel authentic to me anymore. Through all of the conversations surrounding the topic of working with brands, I’ve had to come back to my why. I realized that I want to work with brands for different reasons than others. For some, it’s for free clothes. For others, it’s part of their income and livelihood. For me, it’s to connect with the people behind the brand and with other people (like you!). None of these reasons are more right than others. But if am working with brands to connect with people, then I can no longer do product for post trades.
When I think about some of my favorite collaborations I’ve done with brands, they share a few things in common: 1) I create more intentional and creative content for them; 2) I take them with me when I travel or explore parts of LA; 3) I wear those pieces many times beyond that initial post (and they pop up in my feed or blog time and time again); and 4) the clothes move me to write something to accompany the clothes. I loved taking Sotela with me to Joshua Tree in this post; creating a color story with Tradlands in this post; slowing down with MeMi’s loungewear in this post, digging deep with Vele in this post and now this post featuring this gifted Tradlands jumpsuit. And so this is what I want to do more of moving forward: I want to create slow and intentional content in partnership with brands.
So now to address the elephant in the room: How am I going to work with brands moving forward?
The idea of what’s fair is what I keep coming back to. Ironically, ten years ago I said the same thing when asked about the relationship between bloggers and brands at the Chictopia 10 Conference many moons ago (back when all of this first started out). To me, moving forward, it’s fair if I pay for part of the product (at least 30-50% of it) I’m receiving. I will take store credit or cash and be responsible for the difference, but I will no longer be accepting fully gifted products. The brand and I are then sharing the risk. In considering this risk, we both have to think: Is it really worth it–financially and emotionally– to work together? To me, moving forward, it’s also fair if I take the time to slow down and create beautiful, intentional content for the brand (and for me). I want to honor the craftsmanship that goes behind the clothes with the crafts that I have–taking pretty pictures and writing pretty words. No more product for post trades. No more fully gifted pieces. No more affiliate links. No more reviews. Just authentic, creative story-telling through the combination of clothes, photos, and words.
This feels authentic for me right now. For me, it feels like the best way to continue to work with brands in an authentic way. I have a feeling that eventually I am headed for the ultimate decision to leave partnerships and collaborations altogether, but for now slowing down feels authentic and right for me right now.
The world doesn’t need more influencers, but it does need more storytellers, so here I go.
Here I am.