While many brands and “superior” fashion folk are noticing the lucrative side of the fashion blogging industry, and while they may buy into it, particularly in South Africa, it seems it will be a while before this “profession” is taken seriously. Regardless of how many times my work has been commended in print and online media, regardless of a six month unpaid internship at Marie Claire under my belt, a UCT Media degree and experience behind and in front of the camera, as well as post production and videographic ability – I have found my reputation as a “blogger” – in the bad sense of the word – has preceded me many times and resulted in people not taking me seriously. An opinion which bothered me for a long time, and I often shied away from owning this “on-the-side” profession of mine because it was a little embarrassing explaining to people a.) what I do here b.) that I actually know what I am doing c.) how it all works d.) I’m not living in a dream world, I’m creating one.
As bloggers, sometimes we would love you to believe we “woke up like this”. We would love for you to believe we live in a world where a pavement’s gradient doesn’t cause our heel-clad feet to wobble, because, well, we’re too fantastic for gravity to get to us. We would love you to believe our sleek website layouts didn’t cost thousands and appeared out of thin air. We would love you to believe that we just happen to have our own paparazzi following us everywhere, and that’s how we happened to snap that perfect shot of our hair blowing in the wind in a daisy field. And above all, we would love you to believe we are incredibly modest.
At first I was a little against the theatrics of bloggers’ lookposts and posting art-directed imagery of outfits the subject may or may not have worn. Websites like Lookbook are a bit of a joke with how it has become more of a photographic competition or newbies hustling to get noticed, rather than having anything to do with the actual outfit, with everyone bringing their A-game in the almost-useless hope that they will end up on the “Hot” page. With my own mental debates ranging from “I’m not a model” to “that’s a tad unrealistic because you never actually wore that”, for a long time I was against having a professional photographer helping me with what I needed. I always enlisted the help of whoever was around to shoot my looks, because I insisted that I wanted to be “real”, which often resulted in amazing outfits not being shown in their best light, defeating the purpose entirely. It didn’t seem authentic or “right” to be producing content too professionally in many ways, because it took things from being the somewhat believable notion of things coming from “a real and ordinary girl, just like you”, to completely unrealistic. I wasn’t taking myself seriously, and yet I expected to be taken seriously. And conversely, I often openly/shamefully/viciously/publicly critiqued the low standards other bloggers had in the production of their own aesthetic, which in actual fact was a major contradiction on my own part if I really care about where this industry is going.
Somewhat overnight, what started as a fun way to document and marry my various hobbies online turned into a business and a genuine responsibility, with others aspiring on their platforms as much as I would. You get to a point where you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” and “Where do I want to go with this?”, and those answers are what propel you or cause you to slack or stop. In the great clamour up the ranks it was, and still is, important to persevere or be left behind and losing readership and money to better quality than your own. Outfits improve, images become clearer and more directed while posts become more frequent. You spend money to make money, otherwise you’re just like the girls who Instagram pictures of themselves in their underwear and don’t get a dime for it. I mean, I could go on about how “real” I am, but isn’t everyone real? Doesn’t everyone have hair they would love to remove? Crazy family stories? Memories they would love to forget? Do you really need to know about mine?
As effortless, self-centred, appealing, glamorous and superficial blogging about fashion may seem, no one sees the hard work, maintenance and perfectionism that goes into the final result. And for those who think it’s absurd, they don’t feel the drive we feel towards curating this online “world”. They don’t see us laughing all the way to the bank either, because surprise, we can’t use the presents people send us to put petrol in our cars, and thankfully, a few brands understand that, and they understand it well.
There are very mixed views on a blogger’s place in the industry. There are renowned brands who want to throw money and expensive merchandise at you while others won’t give you a second look even if your numbers are sky high. There are magazine editors who fawn over you and think you’re amazing, and editors who know exactly who you are, yet you can forget expecting any manners or sincerity you’ve shown them to be returned. Bloggers are often still associated with being narcissistic free-loaders who unrealistically expect to be taken seriously in the fashion industry, a connotation which held me back a lot at first out of the fear of what the local, traditional “heavyweights” think of me. At first I wanted to sit on the fence so that everyone would like me, producing content for everyone; the new generation outfit-post lover, and the conservative reader who wants editorials and great writing. I sometimes tried to prove my talents in a way that didn’t show my face so that even if I came across as self-absorbed, my evident not-too-shabby brain kind of balanced out. After almost four years I have gotten over that insecurity and learned to embrace blogging as a real industry on its own, appreciating the doors and unique creative opportunities it has given me, without having to prove my abilities or personality to balance out the times where someone may accuse me of being horribly vain. I’m headed in the direction of a readership who find me to be their “cup of tea”, no matter what I post, and quit trying to impress those who don’t.
And yes, bloggers are sent free things all the time. Do we write about all of it? Some do. Some will say every freebie is amazing, and will post any press release they are sent. I most definitely don’t. I pride myself on quality aesthetic and if I posted every thing I received I’d just look like a very confused brand whore, for lack of a better word. And my brand is not a whore, it is one your brand can settle down with and “marry”, so to speak and be confident in the honesty, hard work and commitment I put into our relationship. And if my brand really loves yours, and I’m given a dowry of exclusivity then I may be open to monogamy. I don’t feel obligated to post on every event I attend or gift received because I didn’t ask for it. If it isn’t a brand I appreciate and believe in, it’s not going to be on this site. At most, a courtesy Instagram or two will serve as my virtual thank you, but again that also that serves me in the way that it substantiates the online world I’ve created for my brand. If I love something I will rave about it, whether I bought it or someone sent it to me. And if I don’t like it for whatever reason, I simply remain silent. I’m not here to praise people who just send me freebies, nor am I here to write scathing reviews about things I hate. I’ve had people write and say horrible things about me/Fashion Breed, and it’s not a great feeling.
Furthermore, in South Africa, brands and PR companies need to make more effort to grasp the online power this industry has. Fashion houses overseas have recognised this and has seen bloggers seated at Anna Wintour’s side. Bloggers are treated as an integral part of the industry, not as randoms who are simply just “willing” and trying to “get in”. We are not desperate for content. We are not hungry for your press release, nor are we appreciative of passive aggressive emails asking when you “can expect a post”. No. Not okay. I quite enjoyed recent tweets/instagrams by local blogger, Brett Robson who said:
“Internationally it’s a standard that bloggers are paid in cash, not in shoes. Do you pay your PR company with shoes? Or your accountant? So many SA brands have no clue! I can’t be working for your free shoes. I can’t eat shoes… When there are so many bloggers willing to do anything you ask in exchange for a freebie, I can see why you think your way is okay. But it’s not.”
I couldn’t agree more. At times I find it offensive when a brand proposes to me that they’ll give me gifts if I post for them. Unless the gift is phenomenal, and worth more than my post, I find the audacity quite rude. I’d rather request it myself, it makes me feel less “cheap”, especially since I would be doing the work. For example, I may personally propose merchandise in exchange for posting from a brand that is well-known worldwide, as it is great for my personal growth to maintain a relationship with a company of this stature. It’s different of course when you’re just starting out and your readership isn’t strong yet. I’ve done a lot of work for free or for presents. But four years later, I can’t put peanut butter on my free shoes. This is not to say we don’t appreciate it, or that we will never post on it. It’s the sending without us asking and the expectation thereafter that isn’t welcomed with open arms.
I sat speaking to Aisha about this for hours last week. While everyone keeps saying “print is dead”, how many truly believe it and embraced the move to an online sphere and the inevitable aesthetic evolution that it brings? We spoke about blogging losing its taboo, and the way our hard work isn’t given the credit and payment it deserves. In an effort to highlight why taboo is often brilliant, Aisha discussed the Kimye Vogue cover debate in a recent post of hers where she wrote:
“Vogue is no stranger to colouring outside the lines, changing things to make us uncomfortable yet question ourselves… Anna and her team are asking us to consider our generation and what we have created. Kim and Kanye speak volumes of the generation we live in. We live in a time where multi-racial relationships are normal, babies before marriage are no longer taboo, our opinions mean something, we are insta-famous and less private than ever before. Our generation changed the # symbol from a symbol to a tool used to group us together across borders and oceans and brand ourselves…We live in a time where someone’s micro fame is more influential than a big movie star’s macro fame. We are the self-made generation and Vogue salutes us.”
The Vogue cover does not boil down to Kimye and what they’re up to right now, but rather it held a mirror up to life and showed us a changing of the times. If Vogue decided to do a space-themed editorial, with models wearing the most unwearable garments ever, no one would question its curation. People were outraged that someone with Kim Kardashian’s reputation could grace the cover of Vogue. It was seen as wrong, distasteful and enough for loyal readers to stop reading. But they forget that Vogue’s legacy is built on revolution and Anna Wintour understands this. Vogue pushes boundaries and is the very reason they define the rules and trends of publication. Vogue is art, and Anna Wintour is a genius. In the fashion world, we all love what change has brought us, yet we are always so hesitant to embrace that change.
Hundreds of years ago in the art world, academics argued the standard and perfectionism imperative to creating beautiful and acceptable work, and any deviance from this was a disgrace. Abroad (but as accessed by us in South Africa online), I see bloggers like Bryanboy and Man Repeller as the Duchamps and Dalis of this fashion generation, and as superficial and undeserved as it may seem to some (“I mean, who are they to sit front row at every fashion week?”), when you look deeper, you will see and understand this post-modern brilliance. The most successful bloggers are unapologetically changing the face and force of fashion through their online platforms, creating the kind of world that they want you to know, be it ridiculously, offensively fabulous (Bryanboy), or completely rainbows and smiles (Aimee Song and Nicole Warne). Now I’m not saying Vogue or other renowned, glossy publications will lose its well-deserved prestige, but rather like Surrealism and Dadaism, blogging is a new movement that cannot be denied its efficiency, manifesto or effect, both on a superficial and intellectual level. They’re not into academics and Realism, or trying to portray the world accurately; they’re actually aiming to design a new world – using the backdoor but still entering a space of excellence. In the old art world, the rejection of tradition was seen as an outrage, and then later, a mistake, for not giving credit where it was due. When you see a blogger sitting front row at Paris Fashion Week, the organisers are respecting the evolution of the fashion industry, and making sure they do not make the same mistake their creative predecessors did centuries ago.
It is not enough to believe that print is dying, and so magazines should now be online. The magazine format in itself is outdated, long-winded and irrelevant in an age where platforms as informal as tumblr and Instagram even have an infinite scrolling option. We’ve stolen every celebrity’s style before they’ve even shown us in some measly article, because we already follow them all over social media. So no, I don’t need another printed page that is actually three months old to teach me how to “get the look”, I have Google, thanks.
Furthermore, I often made publicly bitchy remarks about poor quality blogs, brands choosing these blogs over my own for exciting collaborations, newer blogs almost blatantly stealing my posting ideas, titles and even tweets and the unfairness of it all. I resented both parties, not out of jealousy but more frustration because I couldn’t understand when people chose really bad aesthetic over something better, if I’m going to be candidly Kanye about it. But be that as it may, I’ve thrown that ‘bad’ attitude away as I came to the more humbling conclusion that besides it being really rude and a waste of my energy, I was contradicting myself, in the sense that it went against my strong belief in propelling the online fashion movement forward, particularly in South Africa where it is still incredibly slow in its take off. Even if I thought brands, some of my blogging peers or readers were “getting it wrong”, their efforts at moving forward and embracing the evolution that blogging brings should be commended and applauded, not criticised. From bloggers, to readers to angry subtweets, we all form a part of this new generation change in fashion, and indeed there is a place for everyone.
If trends can change by the season, why can’t the system? When will the inevitable be embraced? To love fashion but resist its evolution is to be stuck. It is a contradiction because fashion as we know it today was a revolution in itself as it took decades for women to wear trousers and show some ankle. So even when we bloggers post a selfie, a sunset or stilettos, we’re not indulging in our own narcissism. Oh no, darling. We’re working. And if you don’t believe that, it only means we pulled it off. I really could go on about how “real” I am, but isn’t everyone real? My world and my work isn’t about realism, and I welcome you to my gallery.