blogging business

When A Digital Detox Isn't Enough: 5 Things I Learned When I Gave Up Instagram

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I was an Instagram addict.

It started off innocently enough. In 2015, a friend in the budding "influencer" space suggested I make an account for my blog. Before I knew it, I had integrated the platform into my blogging business plan, started taking on sponsorships, worked to grow my following, and committed myself to posting a minimum of once per day.

I kept this up for almost three years, contemplating quitting at least once a year during that time as I could feel myself agitating under its watchful eye.

I had an Instagram-related nervous breakdown in 2017.

I tried to quit again in January of last year.

Finally, after enduring months of grief and trauma in my family life and continuing to deny PTSD symptoms that had been triggered by the events in Charlottesville in August 2017, I had five days of panic attacks brought on by Instagram. I came to work hyperventilating/weeping that Thursday morning and my volunteer sat me down and yelled at me.

"Enough is enough! Delete it now!"

I did it. And I wouldn't say I never looked back, but overall I feel that I made the right choice. Here's what I've learned about myself since I quit Instagram...

5 Things I Learned When I Gave Up Instagram

1. I don't, and shouldn't have to, get dressed for others. 

Before I finally parted ways with Instagram (just last month), I still believed that my personal style would suffer without the "accountability" of posting daily outfits. That couldn't have been further from the truth.

Not subjecting myself to outfit surveillance has actually given me a better sense of what I like and what suits me.

I get dressed for myself, and if someone in my day-to-day life likes my outfit, that's a nice perk, but it's no longer essential.

2. My life is not improved by "likes."

I thought that receiving positive engagement from Instagram was improving my sense of self worth, but it turns out it was just exacerbating anxiety and distracting me from feeling truly grateful for what I have.

Before, I would post on Instagram then obsessively open the app dozens of times per day to check for likes and comments. This made me really inefficient at work and play, and in some ways pushed me to the margins of the experiences and relationships I already had right in front of me.

I was always looking for more gratification, mostly from strangers, instead of seeking to better myself in more substantial ways.

3. We differentiate internet versus "real life" for a reason.

I often juxtapose internet interaction against "real life" - meaning embodied, tangible life - and people respond, "the internet is real life." They're not exactly wrong, but I've noticed that the way I feel and react is very different in each context.

While I've made several authentic friends through the internet, nothing beats going out for drinks with local friends, anticipating the collective breath as a member of a choir, going for a walk on a windy day, or grazing your hands against clothing in a store. There is something primally essential about valuing the bodies we occupy and moving through physical space.

I had begun to see my "real life" and my internet life as equals, but it's clear that my physical world offers more value.

4. My writing and creativity are best cultivated outside of social media.

I used to draw all the time, but when I finally picked up a stylus and started doodling again in January, it had been years since I'd last done it.

I grew up crafting: jewelry making, oil painting, collage, even songwriting. But I had dedicated all that creative energy to cultivating the perfect Instagram feed, with nothing of value to show for it in the end. Similarly, I had begun writing as a kind of reaction to the influencer niche, or to what I was seeing on social media, instead of pushing for more complexity and innovation in my subjects.

Now I see that creativity comes first through impressions in quiet moments and in long form conversations with people I admire, not through the cacophony of social media.

5. Social media is a serious addiction, with serious consequences.

The weirdest discovery after leaving Instagram, and this started even after I quit my public account and kept my personal one for a few months, is that it feels like a thick fog has lifted from my brain's cognitive functions.

I have more clarity of purpose and insight. And I'm less reactive overall. Instagram cultivates a perfect storm of self comparison, algorithm-manipulated dopamine rushes, hyper-speed pacing, and group think that pushes us - all of us - to the limits of what our brains can handle. But because we're addicted, we keep legitimizing the platform and making excuses for why we're still there.

If you feel like you "have no choice" but to stay on Instagram, you might have a legitimate addiction. Have a friend ask you some questions and see if they can help you let it go.

Admittedly, my experience may be a bit extreme. People who use Instagram primarily for its original intended purpose of documenting life spontaneously for the benefit of their friends may have a mostly positive relationship with the platform. But I know that for every person who finds it beneficial, there are likely dozens who find it harmful in some way.

It might be time to say goodbye to Instagram. If not forever, then maybe for Lent? Lent is a season of fasting practiced in many Christian traditions. It begins this Wednesday and lasts until Thursday, April 18th. During that time of "giving something up," we are encouraged to re-focus our attention and intentions on practices that bring us closer to God, truth, and wisdom. If you want to take on this practice, let me know and I can discuss it with you!

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Weekend Links: How Tech Addiction is Changing Our Brains and Making Us Sad

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Well, I did it. I deleted Instagram off my phone and deleted the private account I've been halfheartedly maintaining since I deleted my public account in November. 

And I'm feeling good. I feel like I'm getting a big picture perspective back. I feel like I'm getting myself back. 

Because of this recent lifestyle change - that admittedly still feels fragile - I've been consuming studies, podcasts, and articles about social media and tech addition that steady me in my decision and (hopefully) will keep me removed from a platform that was exacerbating mental health issues for at least the past year.

And just a note on the potential "privilege" of leaving: as someone very interested in restorative justice and the necessary, hard conversations that entails, I do not believe that we can comprehensively do the work on these platforms without eventually taking these conversations and relationships offline. And the below links indicate that we simply aren't psychologically capable of tackling high stakes issues through media that preys upon the primal parts of our brains. (I would also note that it's a privilege to own the technology that supports Instagram, from a relatively new smartphone to a longterm cell phone plan.)

That's not to discount the work that regularly is done through social media, or the profound way global access to social justice communities has positively changed people's lives. 

But we need to continually assess our relationships to the devices and platforms that exist primarily as data mining and advertising tools. They aren't here to help us, so we must remain vigilant.

Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain

It’s an unnerving sensation, being alone with your thoughts in the year 2019. Catherine had warned me that I might feel existential malaise when I wasn’t distracting myself with my phone. She also said paying more attention to my surroundings would make me realize how many other people used their phones to cope with boredom and anxiety.

The Machine Stops

Everything is public now, potentially: one’s thoughts, one’s photos, one’s movements, one’s purchases. There is no privacy and apparently little desire for it in a world devoted to non-stop use of social media. Every minute, every second, has to be spent with one’s device clutched in one’s hand. Those trapped in this virtual world are never alone, never able to concentrate and appreciate in their own way, silently. They have given up, to a great extent, the amenities and achievements of civilization: solitude and leisure, the sanction to be oneself, truly absorbed, whether in contemplating a work of art, a scientific theory, a sunset, or the face of one’s beloved.

Cal Newport Has An Answer for Digital Burnout, Ezra Klein Show Podcast

When I was a blogger, it never read as social rejection to me. Now I’ll tweet something and people attack it on social networks - 2,000 likes on how I’m an idiot - and I feel it much more as social rejection, like being bullied in elementary school…when this is moving into a context of approval and rejection, there’s a lot more danger in it.

Depression in girls linked to higher use of social media

Girls’ much-higher rate of depression than boys is closely linked to the greater time they spend on social media, and online bullying and poor sleep are the main culprits for their low mood, new research reveals.

Is Social Media Addiction A Disorder? Researchers Think The Problem Needs To Be Taken More Seriously

What was most interesting to researchers was that this link only revealed itself during the last 20 times people completed the IGT. At this point in the game, risk became much higher. The findings therefore demonstrated that excessive social media use was associated with an inability to make good decisions in high-risk situations. Those who are addicted to drugs also show signs of this kind of behaviour.

Some Online ‘Mobs’ Are Vicious. Others Are Perfectly Rational.

Like a pitchfork, Twitter is an imperfect tool. Its brevity suppresses nuance; its virtuality opens the door for insincerity; it incentivizes people with no true investment in a controversy to weigh in anyway. And the internet has primed us to demand instantaneous results: When everything we want to know or buy can be accessed with a few clicks, perhaps we expect that justice be served just as swiftly. Members of some crowds acknowledge that these conditions are less than ideal. But for disingenuous outrage trolls, the blunt instrument of outrage is an end in itself: The crude result of getting someone fired is the entire point.

My post from last year:

Why I Wish I Could Quit Instagram

The film is, above all, a critique of the way social media compels all of us - stalkers and glamorous influencers alike - to pretend we're something we're not for the sake of digital fame, or at least being liked.

Have you said goodbye to social media or your smartphone? What helped you stay away?

I'm a Professional Blogger and I Don't Want Free Stuff Anymore

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Before I delve into this post, let me first say that I believe very strongly that bloggers, influencers, and other creatives deserve to be compensated for their work as marketers, writers, and storytellers. I have known other bloggers to burn out because they *don't* believe that, but that isn't my story. 

January is a slow time for sponsorships, which is understandable because we're all exhausted from the Holiday push. But the handful of pitches I've received from brands, though well intentioned and personable, are just not doing it for me anymore.

You would think that there would be no shortage of want on my end; it's human nature to want. I used to perk up at mention of free goods and quickly imagine the ways each new item would benefit my wardrobe.

It's always been easy for me to "make it work" stylistically, and that means I've been happy to bring new things in at a pretty frequent pace. Sure, I didn't, strictly speaking, "need" an embroidered keychain or another pair of shoes, but that's one of the perks of this job. And I thought that if I believed in the company's mission and felt the collaboration rate was fair, there was really no reason to say no.

But now I find myself wanting to say no to gifted product.

I have mentioned several times (here, instance) that the combination of receiving free product and mindlessly scrolling Instagram was doing a number on my sense of style and, in effect, the self-narration that builds my personal identity. I didn't like this new me because I wasn't having any fun.

But I deleted my brand Instagram account in November and decided not to pursue any sponsored posts in December, determined to take a much needed break to enjoy time with family and friends both in Charlottesville and back in Florida, where I grew up.

I am fresh from my Florida getaway, a physical break I thought would revive all my previous passions, but I'm still feeling off, like what I've been doing isn't what I need to be doing moving forward.

The reality is that I simply don't want free stuff anymore. 

Do I want to be compensated for my dedicated brand coverage?

Yes

Do I want to work with brands in a sponsored capacity?

Yes

What I don't want, however, is to either be beholden to reviewing what the brand wants me to review without consideration for my personal taste or to be offered free product in lieu of monetary compensation.

The Psychology of Investment

I want to shift the scale from one that is purely convenience-minded to one that is authentic, and not social media "authentic" in the *increase your following on Instagram in three easy steps* kind of way.

Authenticity, to me, means two things:

  1. I only review things I picked out

  2. I forked over some cash for it

This might sound counterintuitive under a sponsorship model, but I think it makes sense from a psychological perspective. When you have to give something up for the thing you want, you inherently make better choices. Things that come at a cost take consideration, and the price point becomes a part of the evaluation of the item in terms of quality and worth.

In his 2015 piece on the subject of spending more on fashion purchases, Marc Bain writes:

Researchers have found that the insula—the part of the brain that registers pain—plays a role in purchase decisions. Our brain weighs the pleasure of acquiring against the pain of paying. As clothing prices decline, that pain does too, making shopping easy entertainment, disconnecting it from our actual clothing needs.

Under a free stuff model, try as you might you can't really understand what it feels like to slap down $200. I know this well, because in "real life," I am a bargain shopper who shops almost exclusively at thrift stores. The disparity between that person and blogger-Leah can be profound depending on the item and my frame of mind. 

So, I'm not saying that I'm kissing sponsored posts goodbye. But what I'm suggesting (and am very curious about from a brand perspective) is whether it would be possible to create a collaboration structure that comes at a cost to both of us: sponsoring brands pay me fair market value and I am responsible for purchasing product for review. I feel the strain of investing in ethical goods but I'm still compensated for my skills.

Changing the Narrative

In addition to the psychological question of receiving free stuff, I think requiring a give and take from brands and marketers in the personal style category may actually improve the marketing relationship because the result is measured, intentional partnership.

When brands "pay" primarily in free stuff, their marketing strategy can sometimes appear like a last ditch effort rather than a labor of love.

I mean, just look around: the ethical fashion space is overflowing with the same sweater, the same wide leg pants, the same perfect bralette. While it's true that potential customers need several "touch points" with a brand or product before they decide to make a purchase, at some point they'll start ignoring the product altogether, feeling like each new review is proof not of popularity but of inauthenticity.

When the goods are flowing freely, where is the accountability? Where is the minimalism, the slow living, the sustainability?

Things have just gotten...overwhelming. Not to mention the fact that the longer we entrench ourselves in a model that places the priority on the free stuff rather than professionalizing the field, the more we ultimately hurt ourselves as bloggers, and confuse our readers in the process. It may be a profitable policy for brands now, but it's not building the kind of infrastructure befitting a truly sustainable company. 

(There's also a case to be made for a totally reimagined sponsorship model that works more like traditional print media, or like a podcast. In that model, a post like this one could be sponsored by a brand and contribute to the longterm running of this blog while not being directly linked to a product review. That would be fun, too, but I'm not so sure I'll get a lot of people on board with it.)

But I digress. I'm just feeling frazzled and aimless, and wanting to get back that free form drive I had in the early days. I think I'll get there, but it's going to take continual reimagining of what's possible for this space. For now, I'm saying no to free stuff and saying yes to taking myself seriously both as a professional with marketable skills and a person in need of equilibrium.

P.S. If you're a brand who likes (or doesn't like) my suggested sponsorship model, reach out. Let's talk about it!! (My Contact Form is in the sidebar)

Bloggers, readers, and brands: what do you think of this proposed collaboration model? Would it work?

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StyleWise is 6 Years Old! | 6 Questions

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Can you believe it?

StyleWise turns 6 years old TODAY. 

And rather than spend a lot of time reflecting - because, honestly, I've done a bit too much of that lately - I want to open up the floor to you with...

Six Questions for Readers

1 | When did you first learn about exploitation in the fashion industry? How has it changed you?

My Answer:

About 6.5 years ago, which is why I started this blog!

2 | What are your favorite resources (podcasts, books, influencers, blogs, etc.) for discovering industry news, ethical fashion brands, and other ethical explorations?

My Answer:

I follow a lot of EWC members who share links on our forums, but I like Alden at EcoCult for her investigative work.

3 | What brands and styles are you currently into? What product is on your wishlist (ethical or not)?

My Answer:

I have been really into Camper's funky shoes and over the top statement earrings, but nothing's on my wishlist right now.

4 | What TV shows are you currently into?

My Answer:

Daniel and I are rewatching Friends. And I must admit that I'm sort of into the new Marie Kondo show on Netflix (though it's making me anxious to clean everything).

 5 | How do you take your coffee?

My Answer:

I like it with steamed oat milk. I've also been making "hot toddies" with ginger tea, honey, and bourbon whenever my sinuses or throat need some TLC.

6 | Where do you live? Where would you ideally like to live?

My Answer:

Charlottesville, Virginia. Long term, I think I'd like to live closer to family, so maybe in Florida? But I do love this part of the country.

To longtime readers and newbies alike: Thanks for following along! StyleWise has been and continues to be an interesting journey and I keep doing it because of people like you. 

2019 Ethical & Sustainable Brand Partnerships

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Hello!

As you know, StyleWise takes on advertising partners throughout the year in order to support the ongoing work of this blog. I have tried to be very up front about my strategy with readers, simply because there's a lot of misinformation and deception - however unintentional - in the world of blogging. This year in particular, I have worked to build out a quality over quantity strategy that pays me fairly and creates effective brand awareness for the brands I work with.

On that note, today I wanted to introduce my 2019 Collaboration strategy. 

In an effort to create the types of partnerships that most benefit all 3 parties - the reader, the brand, and me - I will be introducing a new format next year.

Quarterly Partnerships

How It Works:
  • The brand will pay a base rate at the beginning of the quarter and provide 1-2 items of clothing or accessories for me to use and wear regularly. 
  • Brands and products are selected at my discretion to ensure a high degree of transparency and authenticity.
  • During that quarter, the item(s) will be featured in 3 total blog posts: 
    • 2 Personal Style Posts
    • 1 Seasonal Favorites overview
  • Each post will receive social media shares, and the Seasonal Favorites post will be shared on Pinterest with a custom graphic.
  • As items will be integrated into my closet, they will then be featured sporadically in additional posts throughout the year, based on what I wear organically.
  • A la carte coverage can be added to this as appropriate.

Why this format?

Message Consistency: 
I realize how frustrating it can be as a reader to see a string of "brand spotlights" featuring items the blogger never seems to wear again. A lot of this can be boiled down to the blogger simply not having the time to re-feature certain things, but it can still feel like it's going against the stated premise of a sustainable fashion blog. By incorporating items seasonally, I hope to be able to re-feature items more frequently.

Relationship Building:
I have made a lot of trusted friends through brand partnerships and other types of blog collaborations, and I want to be able to continue those relationships with the people I know while also working to build connections with new brands. Longer term collaborations make that possible, and they also mean we can respond to the needs of all involved in a much more thoughtful way. 

Minimalism:
I really don't need a million new things, but having a blog that partly deals with reviews makes it hard not to acquire a lot of stuff. Working with only a handful of brands per quarter means I'll get the chance to reduce total acquisitions for the blog while also better appreciating the things I have received.

Financial Security:
I'm hoping to book seasonal collaborations early enough that I know how much I'll be making off of freelance well in advance, which frees me up to stop hustling so hard in the interim. That means my non-sponsored content can be bolstered by financial confidence, and hopefully that will also mean I'll have more time to do researched posts, which can fall by the wayside when I'm trying to manage the backend of this blog business.

Why Sponsored Posts?

I've talked about this before (links below), but I believe in sponsored posts for this blog because they help me create long form, useful content that gets brands in front of the eyes of the right people. They are, of course, marketing strategies, and it's perfectly fine to think of them that way. Working in the space of sustainable fashion is a bit different from managing a traditional fashion blog because we are doing the work of long term awareness rather than impulse shopping. Sponsored posts often work better than affiliate links in this setting as a result.

If you're a brand...
Please click through to my Media Kit, then contact me at stylewiseblog@gmail.com if you're interested in partnering.

If you're a reader...
Please let me know in the comments what formats, brands, products, etc. you're interested in and why.

I've closed the books on 2018 collaborations, but I have two more sponsored posts and a BIG ethical Holiday gift guide coming in the next couple weeks, with plans to take off the whole month of December (!).

Related:
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Personal Style in the Age of Influencing

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For the past few months, I've been on a journey.

Since early July, I've been working on a freelance project with a new ethical fashion company, writing a series of articles on ethical fashion, labor movements, and certifications. Having external prompts and external feedback helped me work out questions I had struggled to resolve by myself. I also read Tara Button's book, A Life Less Throwaway, in just under 7 hours and became fixated on the chapters about planned obsolescence, the way marketers and makers exploit our psychological need for novelty and social conformity to get us to buy more.

Finally, I undertook the #glamcapsule 10X10 challenge, which forced me to get *really* creative with my wardrobe since I chose loud colors and prints that at some point had to be mixed and matched (a throwback to the pattern mixing days of my early 20s). It also provided excruciating clarity on what my actual style is, to the point of nightmares!

These things on their own don't amount to much, but together they've nuanced the internal discussion I've been having with myself on running an ethical style blog and being a conscious consumer. They've also forced me to spend more time thinking about identity and how it's tied to social pressures and expectations.

Boredom & Barriers to Personal Style

Earlier in the year, I got really tired of the aesthetic on a lot of the minimalist blogs I followed and went on an unfollowing spree, replacing them with just one blog, Man Repeller, a place that feels very welcoming to both the intellectual and fashion-y sides of my personality. Following this "conventional" blog has helped me get out of the negative headspace I was always in trying to understand my distinct style while looking only to people wearing neutral linen as my inspiration.

While fashion is more democratized than ever - and seemingly any style, color, and silhouette goes - we are, I think by nature, tribalistic, and this leads niche communities (like ethical fashion, for instance) to slowly and perhaps unintentionally develop a type of uniform. As evidenced by a lot of the top sustainability bloggers, and especially by the looks in the typical 10x10 Challenge, that uniform consists mostly of wide leg pants; drapey linen separates (think Elizabeth Suzann); clogs and glove flats; leather; and hues of burnt sienna, taupe, and black.

Does this sound dreamy to you? I mean, it does to me. 

But the problem is that when I attempt to put these things together, I feel like I'm wearing a costume. The shapes don't always suit me. The colors, depending on how light they are, make me look like a ghost. And I don't get that energy boost I have come to rely on when I'm wearing a bright, eye-catching color.

Excuse me for a moment while I go on a tangent...

Instagram's Pull

Some of the current predominant style may have something to do with Instagram. I mean, in one sense it's because we are all looking at and referencing each other when we get dressed in the morning. But there's something more happening, I'm convinced.

Despite how free we are to wear what we want, it's undoubtedly true that some trends will garner higher engagement on the highly visual platform of Instagram. And getting likes and comments isn't just addictive, it's business if you're a blogger or influencer. So we all rush out to buy the thing that will make for a great photo, higher engagement, and, ultimately, more financial security.

That's not to say that we're being totally insincere. We're convinced we like these things because they make us successful and well liked. Heck, maybe we actually do like wearing these things. But at some point, the line is blurred between truly personal style and slightly adulterated "personal" style that serves a broader, less artistic or emotive purpose in our lives.

In a way, it's a costume worn for the part we're playing.

Consumer Culture & Aspirational Dressing

The reason why contemporary marketing is so effective is that it sells aspiration, subtly and seductively telling us that we aren't good enough at the same time it offers a "solution." Unfortunately, social media users are pretty good at using this strategy, too.

When a blogger or influencer shares a new look that garners hundreds of excited likes and comments, even if the post isn't sponsored, it achieves an end of convincing the viewer that the influencer's life is somehow better, that her style is more current and curated, and that indicates something about her worth. And the viewer, obviously, can't actually become that idealized person on their iPhone screen, but they can buy some new clothes or adopt a new diet or get the same haircut.

We live so much of our lives on social platforms that were created to exploit us through advertising that we ourselves have become the advertisers. We are willing - but perhaps ignorant - pawns in a consumer culture that couldn't care less about the person in "personal" style or anything else.

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Getting Personal

There's nothing wrong with being interested in fashion or curating a minimalist wardrobe or following style icons on Instagram. But we need to learn how to separate the various pulls of aspiration - which, in more accurate terms, is really just a form of self doubt - in order to get back to the joy of choosing things for ourselves. Sometimes that choice will leave us happily empty handed if we find we are content with what we have. Sometimes it will lead us into the back of Grandma's closet or to the clearance bin at the thrift store.

For me, fashion has always been about creative self expression. I don't consider myself an artist, but getting dressed can be artful, and like doodles on an etch-a-sketch, it's something I can make and re-make every day, in endless combinations and color schemes. I lose myself as an artist of personal style when I rely too much on what other people think about what I'm wearing, or when I'm not in alignment with both who I am and what I want to express, not only in my clothes but in my presence and language and action.
---
You will never be able to buy enough to bury your insecurity, to make yourself someone different. Who you are at your core is vibrant and attractive, perfect in its imperfection.

So if you want to tell a story through your clothes, let it be the story of who you are: where you've been, where you're at, and who you're becoming. You are not a character in a disjointed story told through images or social media mentions. You're, if I may paraphrase Pinocchio, a real person.

Today I'm starting a small revolution: I'm doing what I want. So what if I turn into one of those middle aged women who still wears the stuff she bought in her 20s? I'm ready to be me.

Karin of Truncation Blog wrote a great piece on this topic a couple weeks ago. Fran wrote an interesting piece on personal style, too.

Greedy Influencers, Bitter Brands: 5 Ways to Spot and Select an Ethical Influencer

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There's a passive aggressive war going on in the influencer marketing space these days.

Sure, big brands like Gucci have fully embraced influencers as the key to selling their high-end products. But their marketing budget can be measured in millions of dollars, whereas smaller start-ups, social enterprises, and nonprofit companies simply can't afford to experiment with different types of advertising.

This, paired with a lack of transparency and pushy-ness on the influencer side, has put a bad taste in the mouths of small businesses trying to navigate their way through a tricky online marketing space.

Brand Complaints

From what I can tell, most brands avoid working with bloggers and influencers for a few reasons:
  • Influencers routinely "cold" email them asking for collaboration, then demand payment.
  • Paying money for a collaboration feels dishonest (whereas sending free product feels organic).
  • Influencers fail to disclose paid relationships, which is misleading to potential customers.

My personal policy on contacting brands for collaboration is that I can't simply demand something without starting a relationship. And in most cases, if the brand hasn't reached out to me first, I don't request payment at all. This is because I can't make assumptions about their marketing strategy and budget, and to assume they can throw some money at me doesn't take into account the relationship-building that is integral to a quality collaboration. In a similar vein, I find a failure to disclose partnerships ethically ambiguous at best and thoroughly irritating at worst. It's the actual law to disclose marketing relationships, so if you notice an influencer never disclosing, avoid them!

But to the point on payment versus offering free product: in the eyes of the Federal Trade Commission, both strategies indicate a marketing relationship. You may feel that offering free product doesn't have the power to sway an influencer, but that still counts as a form of payment, so to create a clear dichotomy between them is a justification that doesn't hold up.

The Business of Influence

When a blogger or influencer works in a paid or comped-product capacity, they are taking on the role of a marketer. Marketers get paid for what they do - they are compensated for deliverables such as photography, copywriting, and concept - so it only makes sense to pay influencers, too. Sponsored posts are like advertorials in a print magazine: they offer a service and fit in with the features in the magazine, but they're marked as advertising. That's not so foreign when you look at it that way.

The key to effective influencer marketing is transparency! Bloggers and brands should do their due diligence to ensure that readers understand the collaborative relationship and trust the influencer's discretion and curation of brands.

If you're a brand looking to work with influencers in an effective, legal way, this is what you should look for...

1. Check for FTC disclosures and ask follow-up questions.

Do blog posts and/or social media posts that appear and read like sponsored posts have a disclosure indicating the influencer's relationship with the brand?

i.e. "This post is sponsored," "I was compensated for my work on this post," or "I received free product."

If you're not sure what's going on, reach out directly to the influencer and ask them what their disclosure policy is. It's ok to ask for links on what a sponsored post looks like for them versus what a non-sponsored post looks like. This will help you confirm proper disclosure and determine how frequently they create advertising.

2. Track how often they feature the product they're promoting.

Does the influencer seem to authentically enjoy the product they received for review? 

One way to gauge this is to check their personal style and #ootd posts on their blog, social media, or Instagram Stories to see if they use the product more than once. While this is not an indication of ethics, it does indicate something about the way they curate collaborations.

3. Assess their overall aesthetic and writing voice to gauge authenticity in collaborations.

Do the products you see the influencer promoting seem to fit within her overall aesthetic, meet her explicit standards, and cohesively work in her life?

I've seen some bad collaborations (a fashion blogger promoting Tylenol, for instance). Trust your gut when you see these types of off-brand posts, because they may indicate a lack of curation on the influencer's part. The products an influencer promotes should fit into her life, and align with her aesthetic and values. Most ethical influencers turn down far more collaborations than they accept.

4. Analyze the balance of paid versus unpaid posts.

Do all posts appear to be sponsored or is there clear variety?

Carefully scan through blog and social media posts, looking for FTC disclosures and other indications of sponsorship. Decide what balance you're looking for and how that balance affects engagement and trust with readers.

(I know some bloggers who do almost exclusively sponsored posts to great success. Most of us, though, will be more in the 50-70% non-sponsored content category).

5. Ensure that influencer fees are in line with fair market rates.

Does the influencer's pay rate seem in line with the influencer industry at large?

Ask the influencer to plug in their stats to a site like FOHR or Social Blue Book and check their rates against standard rates for the industry at large. This will help both you and the influencer know that you're getting a fair deal.

Any questions or anything I may have missed? Let me know in the comments.

Learn A LOT more about working in the ethical influencer space by purchasing my E-Book here ($5 off through this link).


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Related: 

Gettin' Around: Reframe Your Life Podcast, Writing Workshop, & E-Book Sale

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While I've slowed down a bit on blogging over the last month, I've been busy with cool projects in the ethical fashion space...
ethical blogger podcast reframe your life with leah wise stylewise-blog.com

First up: My Podcast Debut

The lovely and thoughtful Sandy Reynolds of podcast, Reframe Your Life, interviewed me last month for an episode on spirituality, progressive Christianity, ethical fashion, and being an influencer in this niche. I really enjoyed the pace and scope of the conversation and would love for you to give it a listen and tell me what you think! I'm always happy to respond to questions and continue the conversation. 

This was a really good opportunity for me to share a fuller picture of who I am, and I'm just glad it's out there in the world.


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Upcoming Workshop

Join me, Jen Panaro of Honestly Modern, and Kate Hall of Ethically Kate to learn how to create a compelling, effective blog post. From essays to research articles to shopping guides, we'll share our processes, SEO strategies, and candid tips. 

August 13, 4:00-7:00 pm EST (with the option to receive the recording if you can't make that time)

how to be an ethical lifestyle blogger discount code stylewise-blog.com

My E-Book, which includes lots of information on starting and maintaining your own ethical lifestyle blog, as well as working with ethical brands and organizations, is $10 off during the month of August, which brings the price down to $15.

Use code BACKTOBLOG or
SHOP HERE WITH DISCOUNT APPLIED AT CHECKOUT

In other news, I just made it to 10K followers on Instagram!

Thank you so much for your continued support. I've been working on lots of new posts for the coming weeks and am excited that the busy fall season is almost here.

I Don't Think Conscious Consumerism Has Made Me a Better Person

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Simplify. Consider. Research. Shop with Intention

These are buzzwords in the ethical fashion niche. And they are said with authenticity and heart.

But they are also crazy-making. People often use these words in tandem with an idea that removing things from their life and being more thoughtful in their purchasing will make them better friends and partners, better activists and citizens.

Clearing out the intellectual and physical clutter of a life ruled by consumerism is seen almost as a passive act - something that is done on our behalf - rather than as the real, complicated, headache-inducing, isolating habitual practice that it is.

Since I started down the path of conscious consumerism, I've become more thoughtful, yes, but that thoughtfulness has not transferred to the way I treat the ones closest to me, or the way I greet people I meet on the street.

That thoughtfulness, in fact, has often led me deeper and deeper into myself, less able to see the world around me or enjoy the grandeur and surprise of life.

I was more deeply affected by Anthony Bourdain's death than I expected. I've cried over it every day since it happened. In him - or in his public persona at least - I saw something of a kindred spirit. I saw a kind but conflicted man, a man who thought things through and gave people chances, who grappled with his mistakes but still found a way to eek out some joy through the weight of what he'd experienced. And then he decided it was enough, or too much. I don't know.

And I am not suicidal, or even chronically depressed in a serious way. But his life and death, and my reflection on those things, has made me reconsider whether this aggressive, oppressive, agitated path I'm on to change the world one person at a time - this quest to "be a good person" - has made me, in actuality, a worse person.

I have been operating under an assumption that the only way to care is to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. If that makes me unhappy, so what: happiness is not a primary goal of mine. 

But that weight, that intensity, can be infectious. It can, and has, made others around me fear my intensity, feel burdened by it even. And then I consider the people in my life who walk with a literal bounce in their step, who come in singing their greetings, and always see silver linings.

In my ego-trip quest to be virtuous, I saw these people as the ones who didn't care enough, because if they did, they wouldn't be so happy. But now I think that their absolute insistence on visible joy is one of the most courageous ways to live. Their joy is infectious and their company is buoying when I am sinking in feelings of near-absolute hopelessness - this hopelessness I have convinced myself is somehow the way to perform virtue in the public square.

But willful sadness is not a virtue. 

That is not to say that it isn't normal, appropriate, or reasonable. But I had convinced myself that, happiness not being the end goal of a life well-lived, sadness - because it is opposite - is.

It isn't. It isn't. It's not.

My restrictions and deep feelings and tight containment have not furthered the goals of the conscious consumerism movement, and they have not made me more patient or kind. They have done the opposite. I have been trying to virtue-signal out of desperate self-consciousness by remaining in a state of perpetual melancholy. But now I am seeing the prison I've made and I am angry that I ever put myself in there in the first place.

We don't need to perform virtue in ways that hurt our spirits.

Author and environmentalist Barbara Kingsolver once said that "hope is a moral imperative." I have been living by that mantra because I really believe it, but I recognize now that by framing it as an imperative, it makes it feel like obligation rather than leaning in. It makes it seem inflexible.

So I am taking a new route now. I am taking the route that gives me permission to hope, encourages joy, without insisting and tightening its grip.

You have permission to say thank you to the birds and the sunset, to your generous spouse and your attentive mother. You have permission to lay down your heavy load and settle into some soft cushions.

depression conscious consumerism stylewise-blog.com

The Business of Blogging: Why Fair Trade Rhetoric Must Include Bloggers

why bloggers should get paid for their work stylewise-blog.com
The fair trade system was created to address the root causes of global poverty and income inequality by advocating on behalf of marginalized workers - mostly women - and creating economic infrastructure to aid in long term, sustainable employment.

Because the fair trade system as we know it grew out of Western, mostly white, charity models, it continues to create and reinforce, despite its best efforts, a power differential where Westerners are assumed to be the kindly, financially secure philanthropists and artisans, primarily located in "the Global South" are assumed to be the destitute, poor beneficiaries.

This means that promoters of fair trade here in the States and in Europe are often seen more as fundraisers than business people. We are expected to evangelize the fair trade cause out of the pure goodness of our hearts, using the language and structures of nonprofit charity models even when we're, in actuality, promoting for-profit social enterprises.

These root assumptions also disguise growing income inequality and continued sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression in "the West," - not to mention diminishing economic opportunities for Millennials - by lumping in all Americans as financially secure when, in reality, many of us are far from it.

Look, I recognize my privilege. I am thankful that I can subsist on the income from my day job and freelance work, and that my husband receives a stipend while working to complete his doctorate. I'm not claiming that I'm impoverished.

But my current job cannot financially support a healthcare plan for its employees and the ACA marketplace premiums are higher in Charlottesville than anywhere else in the country, so I am very aware of how close I hover to financial disaster if a health scare plagues my household. Lack of comprehensive healthcare makes it difficult for us to plan for the future (like, can we even afford to have children?) and an inability to save means we can't partake in the traditional wealth-building exercise of home ownership.

My wage at the shop, after calculating inflation, is nearly identical to the previous manager's starting wage in 1992, and we can't raise our product prices along with inflation because fast fashion brands like Walmart and Forever 21 are now the thrift shop's biggest competition.

I say this to point out that, though my economic situation may be better than that of an artisan in Peru, I don't fit the mold of the kindly, rich benefactor. And I don't think I should be required to work for free.

The rhetoric of the fair trade and ethical fashion movement is screwed up. And I'm not talking about the principles laid out on behalf of artisans. I'm talking about the way it treats the business owners, social media managers, customer service representatives, fulfillment workers, freelance marketers, and bloggers who hold up the system from right here in the States as if we're living on a Carnegie family inheritance while bootstrapping a social-good business when, in reality, we're broke or headed toward it swiftly.

The social enterprise model is relatively new, popularized by TOMS shoes in the mid aughts. Blogging, too, is a new industry. So it's understandable that this uncharted territory is difficult to navigate. But I, and my fellow bloggers over at the EWC, feel it's necessary to address a growing problem in the field of ethical fashion marketing and blogging:

No one wants to pay us. 

Due to stigma around blogging as a business or sexism because of the culturally gendered topics we discuss or a perception that our labor is not-for-profit, we often get feedback that we should work for free, that our sponsorship fees are too high, or that free product is compensation enough for what we do.

This may have been true five years ago. But as blogging has grown to become a legitimate business, and as companies have seen real benefits from influencer marketing strategies, it's become clear that serious, effective bloggers are a key part of business, not a gaggle of sea gulls fighting for free product that you occasionally toss bread to.

This flippant attitude toward serious, effective bloggers (because not all bloggers are serious or effective) is particularly problematic in the ethical fashion industry because of all of those claims about fairness and women's empowerment. Yes, people in immediate need deserve our attention and we should make amends for the horrors of colonialism that set so many in the Global South up for failure in the first place.

But women (and men, but mostly women) in this industry are making wages they cannot live on, even when their compatriots in traditional blogging are making six figure incomes, and it's because we have allowed ethical companies for too long to make an argument that goes, "If you really cared about poor people, you would support my for profit business for free."

This is, simply stated, not fair. 

If you think we are valuable enough to email about a collaboration, then why aren't we valuable enough to be compensated?

(And if it's simply a matter of budget, I get it. I run a retail store. But if that's the case, then it may be best to hold out for the collaborators you best align with instead of casting your net too wide.)

My argument, of course, does not apply to bloggers and influencers who routinely take advantage of brands, who hawk products they don't use or barely tried, or who regularly cold-call companies asking for product without prioritizing a relationship or an effective collaboration strategy.

But there are a lot of us who are professionals, who know our readers, who have our strategies down pat. And if you want us to work with you, we simply ask that you treat us as valuable members of your business.

We simply ask that you apply fair trade principles to the way you work with all employees - whether contracted or full time.

We ask for humanity and we ask for a fair wage. 

P.S. I'm not going to get into the ins and outs of particular monetization strategies or their ethics in this post. I do delve into that more deeply in my new e-book, which you can purchase here

Related Posts from EWC Members:
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How to Be An Ethical Lifestyle Blogger: My E-Book is Here!

guide to ethical lifestyle blogging - how to become an ethical lifestyle bloggers stylewise-blog.com

I'm excited to announce that after many, many hours of hard work, my first E-Book is now available for purchase.

Ethical Lifestyle Blogging: A Comprehensive Guide for Experts & Beginners

In January I had the opportunity to do some consultancy work for an ethical trade organization. 93 (fun and informative!) powerpoint slides later, I was ready to share my knowledge on everything from blog posts to monetization to social media best practices. It was an illuminating experience for me, as this was the first opportunity I'd given myself to write down what I've learned as an ethical blogger and freelancer over the last five and a half years.

That experience gave me the encouragement I needed to put my head down and write a conversational but informative guide on ethical lifestyle blogging. 10,400 words later, I'm pleased with the guide and ready to share it with the world.

guide to ethical lifestyle blogging - how to become an ethical lifestyle bloggers stylewise-blog.com

Why I Wrote My E-Book

The ethical and sustainable fashion sector is growing by leaps and bounds, and that means that a new crew of influencers are cropping up to fill an ever growing need for transparent conversations and ethical brand discovery. I've learned a lot by trial and error over the last several years and I wanted to be able to spare up-and-comers the frustration of those experiences by offering a comprehensive guide to this niche.

In addition to serving the ethical fashion blogging community, I believe that this guide serves as a great tool for brands who want to work with sustainable influencers and bloggers, as it does a deep dive into the industry from our perspective and helps brands frame their pitches and form better relationships with bloggers from the get-go.

(And, let's be honest, it's also kind of fun to snoop around and see how bloggers manage their businesses. I am not shy about sharing my methods, so if you're simply curious, you might benefit from my guide, too.)

What You'll Learn

Real Life Advice:

I've done my best to share lessons I've learned, anecdotes from both blogging and my experience as the General Manager of a thrift shop, and the trial and error that has helped me build a viable business and community out of my blog. 

Analytics & Financials Tracking:

I suggest processes and programs that will help you track your analytics and financial goals over the short and long term so you can understand your blog business with total confidence.

Monetization:

My Monetization chapters on affiliate linking and working directly with brands through paid partnerships will help you figure out what strategy or combination of strategies will work best for you, and are also pertinent to brands and individuals looking to work with bloggers and influencers in this niche. 

Content Planning & Creation:

I'll walk you through how to create a blog site and content that will bring readers back, and keep you from burning out.

Testimonials

I’ve been blogging for years on various topics, but never have I come across such a succinct and power-packed blogger’s how-to guide. Leah’s book provided information for new and seasoned bloggers alike; I honestly learned more about the business side of blogging by reading the Ethical Lifestyle Blogging Guide than I have anywhere else. The tips are actionable and to-the-point. I have a hearty to-do list as a follow up, and I’m excited to implement what I learned. I would recommend Leah’s guide to ANY lifestyle blogger looking to take their efforts seriously. - Jen, Honey Rule

The writing and sections flow really well into each other, making it an uncomplicated and helpful read. I wish I'd read it before I'd started. Even now two years in I've made a super long list of things to do from reading this guide - Fran, Ethical Unicorn

The business of blogging takes work, skill, time, and patience, but the payoff is worth it as long as you have reasonable expectations and know how to negotiate your way through brand collaborations, difficult conversations, and potential burnout. I believe my guide serves as an essential resource for any blogger, brand, or influencer looking to take their work seriously and make a difference in the world of sustainability and ethical fashion.

I want to extend a hearty thank you to readers, friends, family, and fellow bloggers who have supported me and helped me build the skills and confidence to keep this blog running, and write this e-book. I hope to write another guide on social media and post more about photo editing and graphic making in the near future.

If you have any questions, please email me at stylewiseblog@gmail.com

Disordered Eating and Consumption in the Intentional Living Movement

disordered eating and consuming in intentional living community stylewise-blog.com
Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist or medical doctor. Ideas expressed here are based on my personal research, firsthand accounts from friends and acquaintances, and personal observations. Please seek out a professional if you have questions.

I recently read an article about the connection between partaking in a "clean eating"-type diet and having an eating disorder (most often orthorexia). The claim in the article - and a tendency I've actually seen occur in the intentional living community - is that rigid lifestyle habits both encourage and disguise disordered eating. Diets that use the language of health and wellness legitimize obsessive and restrictive tendencies that can result in life threatening self harm.

This is serious, and we - bloggers, writers, and practitioners in spaces that intersect with intentional living - should be sensitive to this and do our best to spot potential extremes before they cause irreparable harm to our sisters and brothers.

Eating disorders are not caused by surface-level issues (i.e., they're often not about food per se), and they're also not generally caused by one thing. Rather, a confluence of genetics, lifestyle habits, psychosomatic issues, and trauma lead to developing the harmful habits and compulsions associated with eating disorders. From a psychological perspective, eating disorders often develop in an attempt to regain control.

And this is what makes them so dangerous: in their earliest stages, they can appear to be positive forms of self regulation.

I worry, because I'm starting to see the warning signs typically associated with eating disorders in the minimalist and intentional living community when it comes to wardrobe curation and consumer habits. In fact, if I go down the list of psychological and social risk factors on the National Eating Disorders Association website, I can spot them in a few bloggers and influencers I follow...

Psychological:
  • Perfectionism
  • Body image dissatisfaction
  • Personal history of an anxiety disorder
  • Behavioral inflexibility
Social:
  • Teasing or bullying
  • Limited social networks

Of course, I'm not interested in diagnosing particular individuals, and I wouldn't encourage anyone else to do it either. But I finally sat down to write this post (even though I knew it was a really sensitive topic) because I want people I know and respect to ask themselves if their consumer and lifestyle habits feel nourishing, or if they are struggling beneath the surface of their carefully curated lives. 

Endless closet purging and curation - and conversely, "binge" shopping and incessant returns - aren't likely to result in major physical health problems. But they are potentially a sign of an anxiety disorder that can diminish quality of life and lead to other forms of self harm if left unchecked.

In this community, we are encouraged to think about what we buy and why we buy it, and sometimes that process can become obsessive. We are rewarded for intensive analysis of what we wear and held up as moral exemplars for what we cut out of our lives. In short, we get positive feedback for doing things that look pretty extreme from an outsider's perspective. In my Ethical Purity post, I speak to this in more detail. 

But we need to ask ourselves if our endless quest to eliminate or perfect is in some ways a quest to diminish ourselves - or that nagging feeling that something is off - either mentally, physically, or relationally. 

Does this process of self-curation satisfy a need to control a life that feels anything but secure?

In most treatment programs for eating disorders, patients are given a dietary regimen that requires moderation. They are asked to confront - for their own survival - foods that they have previously rejected due to a judgment call about its nutritive value. They are essentially encouraged not to diet, because even a "healthy" diet requires restrictions that can contribute to a relapse. 

Ask yourself what it would feel like to stop your clothing diet, to end the restrictions and ease up on the morality claims. Does it feel overwhelming? Does it make you feel out of control?

If so, it may be time for you to ask for help.

If you are struggling with a potential eating disorder, learn more on the National Eating Disorders Association website

If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, learn more at MentalHealth.gov

If you are currently experiencing thoughts of self harm or suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately.

Know this: you are not alone. And easing up on your restrictions will not make you a bad person. A fair and just world must include you.
eating disorders and anxiety in minimalist living

Blog Housekeeping: Logo, Guides, & Patreon

ethical blog
It's been a long while since I did a Housekeeping post around here. 

I've been stir crazy, and there's nothing like doing a little spring cleaning to release some of that anxious energy. So I've updated a few things and added a few features:

1. New Logo Design and Illustrated Portrait by Tolly Dolly Posh

I've been following Tolly's work, primarily through her ethical fashion blog, for the last couple of years, so when she announced that she was looking to build her portfolio and take on new clients, I was immediately on board! Tolly created my new StyleWise logo and did the illustrated portrait in my sidebar. It was a really positive collaborative process and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend her if you're looking for similar work.

A note on the logo: Tolly and I worked together to brainstorm some visual symbols that represent both me and StyleWise and I'm pleased with the result. The glasses are based on the glasses I wear, but can also represent the researched, thoughtful intent of the blog. The bee hearkens to my childhood nickname, Leah Bee, but also represents the sustainability aspect.

2. I'm on Patreon

Patreon is a platform that allows readers to make a monthly pledge to support the work of content creators they follow and enjoy. As a part of my long term strategy, I would love to rely less on specific sponsored content and more on crowdsourced funding that helps me dedicate time to research, blog-related projects and travel, and events. Even $5 a month helps a lot!

You can learn more and/or make a pledge here.

3. Updated and Alphabetized Shopping Directory

I alphabetized the Clothing and Accessories pages of my shopping directory over the weekend and added a convenient landing page here.

If you have suggestions for shops, brands, or categories, let me know.

4. I'm Making a Guide!

I've been wanting to do this for a long time, but I'm (hopefully) going to get it done in the next couple months. I'm putting together an Ethical Blogging Strategy digital guide with an add-on option for Skype consulting. If you're looking to build an ethical marketing company or blog, this will be a comprehensive resource to work through your story, set up a Media Kit, and make a financial plan.

The plan right now is to offer the guide at around $15 a pop with half-hour consultations starting at around $30. Let me know if this is something you're interested in and make suggestions for topics to cover in the comments. Leave your email address and I'll add you to my newsletter.

Why I Wish I Could Quit Instagram

Why I Wish I Could Quit Instagram - Ingrid Goes West
At the end of last year, I watched Ingrid Goes West.

Starring Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, Ingrid Goes West is about an emotionally dysfunctional woman named Ingrid who upends her whole life to befriend an influencer named Taylor, who she "met" through Instagram.

If you spend a lot of time in the world of social media and influencer marketing, many scenes will feel painfully familiar to you. Ingrid slouching on her couch barely watching a TV show while she double taps photos on her feed. Ingrid hesitating over liking a food pic as she stares in disgust at her messy meatball sub. Ingrid taking a big bite out of a meal she ordered on an influencer's recommendation only to spit it out. Ingrid and Taylor posing under a gas station sign, asking the poor mechanic to "get closer to the ground" and frame the shot just so.

The film is, above all, a critique of the way social media compels all of us - stalkers and glamorous influencers alike - to pretend we're something we're not for the sake of digital fame, or at least being liked. 

It dwells on the banality of obsession, and on the ways we sacrifice authentic relationship for an aspirational life. On the way Instagram in particular encourages us to scroll and refresh over and over again, even when we no longer derive pleasure from the platform.

I laughed one of those ugly, knowing laughs through much of Ingrid Goes West, to the utter confusion of my husband, who doesn't use Instagram. I didn't like the way that laugh sounded.

And sure, I'm not a stalker. I know better than to spend an inheritance on chasing down a carefree, glamorous life that doesn't actually exist.

But I am constantly pulled back to scrolling and self comparison by a platform that I don't really find that interesting.

And that's why I wish I could quit Instagram.


I have continued to use Instagram half-heartedly since my nervous breakdown early last year because I've felt obligated to use it as an extension of my blog. But I don't like that feeling of obligation, and I don't like reinforcing an idea that we are required to use these tools that often do more harm than good.

For some reason, even in spite of the data that Instagram is horrible for sales and click-through, brands and influencers alike feel that it's the end all be all of fashion marketing. I understand that for some of the early adopters of the platform, Instagram has been the key to their success. But for those of us who were unfortunate enough to get there after numerous algorithm changes and more than 600 million users had signed on, it feels like playing a game we'll inevitably lose.

When I get on Instagram now, in fact, the whole thing feels like a game. Bloggers, brands, and influencers who have been told they must have an Instagram presence are following set "rules" to increase engagement, from liking relevant hashtags to commenting "meaningfully" on other accounts. And there seems to be an unspoken rule that we're not allowed to complain publicly about how soul sucking it feels to create metrics around "meaningful engagement." There's fear built into the system.

I don't think Instagram was built for this, which is why it's failing us now. In order to function as an organic social network it would need to be isolated to real life community groups and family networks, or at least toward smaller affinity groups.

So we're all desperately clinging to this platform that was never intended for monetization, finding awkward workarounds and praying for the day we hit 10K. 

I don't think there's anything wrong with employing social media as a tool for building a business or a movement. But Instagram is not really the answer. I can think of one social media tool that's helped me more than anything else and that's Pinterest. Twitter is fine for talking to people and sharing links, but any actual growth I've experienced on this platform - my actual blog where real conversations happen - has been through Pinterest.

And beyond that, the real key to my success has been writing things that matter (to me, at the very least, but hopefully to you, too). You can have the best graphics and lifestyle shots, but if they redirect to half-hearted content, how can it possibly make you feel good? A couple years ago, people told me I couldn't grow my blog without having a considerable Instagram following. Well, my Instagram following is still relatively small but I've managed to grow to 25,000 page views over the last year, and I'm proud of that growth even if it's slow by industry standards.

To be clear, I'm not saying that there aren't social media geniuses out there who have harnessed the power of Instagram and other networks to profile their amazing blog content, I'm just saying that it isn't really working for me, and I doubt it's working for most of my fellow bloggers in the way they'd hoped it would.

So I'm sitting here for now, awaiting the day the Instagram bubble bursts - if it hasn't already - so I can sign off and get back to what I actually want to do. 

The Ethics of Blogging: Do Ethical Bloggers Need a Code of Conduct?

the ethics of blogging: should ethical bloggers develop a code of conduct?

When I use the term ethical blogger, what do you think of?

I use it to mean bloggers who write about ethics, and more specifically those who subscribe to and promote a conscientious consumer lifestyle.

This, admittedly, reveals a specificity in meaning that isn't apparent at all by the term itself. When I say ethical in this context, I am really only talking about a topic, not about an overarching set of values that inform the way we ethical bloggers conduct our marketing, interactions, writing, and business decisions.

But if we subscribe to an ethical consumer lifestyle and promote social justice, shouldn't we be obligated to live by a set of standards that make us stand out from the crowd of conventional bloggers? Put another way, if we claim to value holistic ethics (to paraphrase MLK, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"), shouldn't we extend that to strategy?

The online ethical community (including brands and consumers of both media and material goods) should confront this head on by asking the following questions.

Should ethical brands and bloggers use automated programs to grow their followings?

There's been some discussion recently among small groups of ethical bloggers on the topic of using automated services that like content on your behalf on Instagram.

While there's generally some discomfort around using these programs because they obscure authentic engagement, a surprisingly large amount of ethical lifestyle bloggers and brands have been and still are using this tactic to increase their Instagram followings (full disclosure: I have trialed automated tools). While some readily disclose their use of such tools, a significant number are shy or unwilling to admit it, which, to me, is telling of moral ambiguity if not outright unethical behavior.

Automated tools are not allowed according to Instagram's terms of service, but that doesn't necessarily make the practice existentially bad. The problem is that engagement doesn't mean much when robo-you is liking me and robo-me is liking you. If we are pretending to value these metrics, we need to be up front about how we're arriving at our numbers.

In any case, according to this article, if an account you're following frequently appears in the Likes > Following tab with an indication that they've interacted with 8 posts within a few seconds and if their following increases by hundreds of people every few days, chances are they're using an automation tool.

(This question is different from, "Should ethical bloggers and brands buy followers?" A significant portion of people in this space would confidently say, "no." But that doesn't mean that some larger accounts haven't purchased them, I just don't know people who've admitted they have.)

Should ethical brands and bloggers copy the aesthetic, name, logo, or concept of another business?

From pictures to post topics to entire apps, ethical businesses and bloggers have blatantly plagiarized the intellectual property of their peers. One blogger took the entire concept of a blog, including her writing team, from another blogger. One brand blatantly created the same product to solve the same problem in the ethical space, then rushed to advertise before the original company could scale.

When I mentioned the second case to a fellow blogger, she said, "that's just how the market works." And sure, she's right. But just because Capitalism allows this behavior doesn't mean it's ethical or responsible. Ethical bloggers and brands love the idea of #collaborationovercompetition, but they seem awfully determined toward individual success sometimes.

Should ethical brands and bloggers charge market rates for blog and social media posts?

A lot of bloggers now enter this space with the intention of making blogging their full time business. This isn't necessarily bad, but going into this when you're all business frames things differently than if you entered as a hobby. Conventional bloggers with high readership can make a six figure income through brand collaborations. This, again, is pure Capitalism. They make that money because brands consider bloggers to be viable marketing avenues. But is there a point where we're asking for too much money?

There are very few ethical bloggers making enough money to go full time, but that will certainly change within the next few years. My gut sense is that ethical bloggers have an obligation to make price determinations based on something more than market standards, but I don't have a very good idea of what other factors to consider, outside of ensuring that we're not bleeding ethical brands dry with our rates. Hannah at Life Style Justice has discussed this off an on within the context of fairness. As contract employees of ethical and fair trade brands, what should we consider a fair wage for ourselves?

(To clarify, I'm thinking of an upper limit, not a lower limit, to our work. I believe that bloggers who treat their blogs as a business and have proven themselves influential in the space deserve to make a living wage.)

the ethics of blogging: should ethical bloggers develop a code of conduct?

Should ethical brands and bloggers disclose partnerships according to FTC guidelines?

This isn't up for debate: the answer is yes. But I frequently see ethical bloggers (and their brand partners) obscuring partnerships. I'm sure that sometimes this is just out of ignorance (full disclosure: I'm still not sure I'm disclosing properly on Instagram), but increasingly I suspect that some do this in hopes that readers will trust them more if they don't realize they're taking part in paid partnerships.

Should ethical bloggers promote products they could never afford in real life?

If I promote a clearance event, my commission on sales is going to be pretty low. If I promote a $400 coat, I could make $40 when you purchase it through my affiliate link. The business savvy decision is to promote the coat. But is that ethical?

This is something I am not at all decided on. For myself, I try to select brand partnerships and choose products in shopping guides that are within a comfortable price range for my income level even if I'm not actually purchasing the product (full disclosure: I personally make $35,000, give or take, including my day job and freelance work).

But there are bloggers I've been following for some time who, over the years, have gone from promoting thrift shop goods to reviewing multi-hundred dollar pants, shoes, and accessories. Still fairly made and eco-conscious, of course, but representative of a totally different lifestyle and income bracket. If you can command the attention of readers in higher income brackets, your blog-based income will soar. But where does that leave everyone else? And does our promotion of near-luxury goods encourage unhealthy financial stewardship?

Should ethical bloggers promote their work as better than the work of other ethical bloggers?

This, thankfully, happens rarely, but when it does, it annoys the crap out of me.

An ethical blogger will say something like, "I'm a writer, not a blogger." "I focus on well researched posts, not fluff pieces." "I was blogging on sustainability before it was cool." "I have done this, this, and this, so I'm really practicing what I preach." "My readers trust me, just look at my page views."

The implication in any of the above cases is that some ethical bloggers are just not worth your time. It's an attempt to build rabid loyalty and discourage readers and brands from cultivating relationships with supposedly lesser bloggers and blog concepts. But readers and brands are not unintelligent. They don't need us to tell them who is in and who is out. I understand the impulse to differentiate - after all, that's a fundamental part of building a brand - but does it need to be so...mean girls?

Are ethical bloggers beholden to radical transparency?

And the final question, for now. For my own peace of mind, I tend to lean toward yes on this. The best way for me to frame my own work is to continually "confess" to the community. Blame it on my Evangelical upbringing - I love to admit my faults (you think I'm joking, but I'm not).

But I also want to entertain the idea that bloggers are not obligated to tell readers every little thing they do behind the scenes. And some readers actually feel uncomfortable with tell alls. For instance, less than half of Reader Survey respondents wanted to see monthly or quarterly Blog Transparency reports. This surprised me since it seems that the ethical blogging community is headed toward this degree of transparency, but it was helpful to know that cultivating a sense of trust over time is more important than running the numbers every few weeks.

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I haven't developed concrete opinions on all topics listed here, but I'm curious to know if you've thought about this and what your opinions are. Please comment and share with anyone who can help this community work through hard questions.

It seems to me that ethical bloggers and brands of every stripe and creed have voluntarily obligated themselves to live by more rigid standards. And surely that must mean brand and business strategy. If it doesn't, it seems that ethical has begun to lose its meaning.

Related Reading:

Both photos via Unsplash

Help Me Out! Take the StyleWise Reader Survey

StyleWise Blog Reader Survey 2017

It's that time of year again...time for the StyleWise Reader Survey!

Your responses to last year's survey were illuminating, and helped me get a good sense of who you are and what you're interested in.

As a result of your answers, I offered more resources on affordable clothing, discussed vegetarianism, wrote a piece on religion and ideology, shared some guest posts on fabric sourcing and ethical investing, continued to talk about broader social justice issues (especially in light of Charlottesville), gave you some thrift shopping tips, and discussed what it's like to run a monetized blog.

In short, your responses not only helped me cater content to suit your unique needs, it gave me the courage to step outside of the status quo and share essays and resources on a variety of interrelated topics. It also exposed blind spots in my own thinking and inspired creative thinking.

So, thank you! I've embedded the survey below for you convenience. Answers aren't mandatory, but your short answers are particularly useful to me (as are the budget ones, as they help me decide what brands to work with). If you want to mention anything else, feel free to leave comments directly on this blog post.

If you're completing it from your phone or tablet, you may want to click this link instead.

 

10 Ethical + Slow Living Bloggers You Need To Follow



Back in the day, being an ethical blogger was kind of lonely. 

I "met" a few fellow conscious consumers through Wordpress, but for the most part, I felt like I was talking to myself. Not so any longer. There are hundreds of slow living, conscious, vegan, eco, and ethical bloggers out there, and I like to think I've heard of most of them. I also follow quite a few of them. It's really helpful to hear about new ethical brands and get fresh perspectives on this work, to step outside of the echo chamber that is my overactive mind, and see what others have to say about the state of the fashion industry, blogging, and mindful living.

Here's my in-exhaustive list of ethical and slow living bloggers that provide great insight and high quality content on everything ethical, thoughtful, and slow. Though there are several others I could name, these are the ones I turn to based on their originality, aesthetic, post frequency, and usefulness.

Leotie Lovely

Holly is one of my dearest ethical blogger friends. Her in depth analysis, attention to detail, and stunning photos (shot by her husband) make her blog and Instagram worth a look.

EcoCult

Alden's day job is as a journalist, primarily writing on sustainability and women's issues. Her professional background means she brings a no nonsense, well researched approach to this niche, which is incredibly important.

Life Style Justice

Hannah is the first ethical blogger I met in real life! Her passion for social justice led her to the Philippines, where she and her husband assist with social enterprise, A Beautiful Refuge. Her perspective "on the ground" challenges me and keeps me from becoming apathetic.

Tortoise & Lady Grey

Summer's focus is on sustainable textiles, and she does an incredible amount of work to ensure that the posts she shares are accurate and will move the industry forward.

Simply Liv & Co

I just discovered Olivia's blog. Her perspective as a young mother with a deeply rooted call to pursue ethics and authenticity are inspiring to me.

A Day Pack

Also a new discovery for me, Emily and her husband share ethical brands in a cheerful way, and their Instagram feed showcases bright, beautiful photography.

Sustainably Chic

A veteran in the sustainable fashion world, Natalie features ethical, eco, and sustainable brands with a relatable voice and spot-on photography.

Grechen's Closet

I appreciate Grechen's stream-of-consciousness posting style and her focus on chatting about shopping and finding what works for her.

Selva Beat

The Selva Beat team focuses on creative, helpful approaches to living a vegan, palm oil free life without being preachy. I'm obsessed with their '90s zine aesthetic.

Seasons + Salt

Andrea's another longtime read. She focuses on capsule-ish dressing and prioritizes a lot of ethical, indie-made brands, with weekly outfit check-ins.

Self Objectification and Personal Brand

blogging and developing a personal brand critique
Image via Unsplash

I have a confession to make: for the last 3-4 months, I've been having emotional breakdowns - I mean, full fledged weeping fests - like clockwork about every two weeks.

The culprit? Social media.

When I started this blog, I hadn't really considered a future that would include monetization or brand collaborations. It's not that I had ruled these things out. I just hadn't thought about blogging as a business that required clear branding, consistent marketing, and creative direction. I was in it because it seemed like a useful way to build connections with other people in my niche, and I have an obsessive need to write every day, so it was the perfect hobby.

Four years ago - even two years ago - I had the luxury of all but ignoring social media outlets like Twitter and Instagram. I had a small but insightful reader base and just enough opportunities for thoughtful back and forth. I didn't get on Instagram until 2015. I didn't own a smart phone until last year. And still, my blog moved forward thanks to in-person connections and one very good opportunity to guest post on Rachel Held Evans' blog. 

But things are different now. According to most advice on the subject, it is imperative that bloggers have a presence on social media, and particularly on Instagram, home of the instant gratification, eternally scrolling photo feed. To be honest, I have struggled. I don't intuitively get Instagram, I don't like hashtags, I don't like typing on a tiny smartphone keyboard. Not to mention that the "shadow ban" that may or may not actually exist is setting me on edge. While many bloggers and influencers joyfully recount the ways that Instagram has led them to new friendships and authentic connections - and this has been true for me to a small extent - they don't often discuss the draining demands of creating and maintaining a personal brand. 

But that's the dark, ever present reality of blogging in 2017.

What is a Personal Brand?

At its most basic, personal branding is the process of turning your distinct attributes into a compelling, consistent brand for the purpose of promoting your work.

Writers, academics, influencers, and even regular people are now encouraged to use traditional branding strategies on themselves - which could include photography, color stories, fonts, graphics, and taglines - in an effort to stand out amid the clatter of other users on social media. Chances are, you're currently following dozens of social media users who have reached you primarily because their messaging and visuals are consistent. 

I encourage you to scroll through some of the feeds you follow and notice the precise curation and voice. Then, ask yourself if you feel like you really know these aspirational figures in your digital life.

Because chances are, even the most sincere of the bunch read just a little bit like sophisticated Artificial Intelligence robots wearing nice clothes. 

This is not an insult to who these people actually are. It's a testament to the effectiveness of their personal brand. They're able to attract a large following because they represent themselves as consumable products. They're just doing what all the industry "experts" told them to do. 

And this is why I've been having breakdowns every few weeks. 

Personal branding by definition is objectification, the commodification of people.

It renders complex, embodied people into oversimplified characters in a virtual reality. When I post on Instagram, I very rarely feel as though people are seeing who I am at my core, and so the the responses ring hollow despite the commenters' best intentions (this is by no means a reflection of the people who engage with me). The more I fall down the rabbit hole, the more isolated I become. 

I am not alone in this. According to a recent NPR interview:

Being engaged in excessive social comparison decreased one's happiness. So it's not that you think that others are happier than you are, but you need to prove yourself to yourself over and over again, and these social comparison engagement makes you less happy.

I've been working so hard to get to that magical 5,000 followers mark employing all the personal branding tricks in the book, but the self-othering work required to achieve something roughly equivalent to racking up play money in the Game of Life is preposterous. Have I signed up for a race that's actually a hamster wheel?

I think most of us would agree that objectification is wrong, that it leads to moral ambiguity around people and personhood, resulting in harassment, othering, and abuse. So why aren't we more worried about objectification when we're doing it to ourselves? 

Today I'm committing to a mantra that grounds me in reality:

I demand to be seen, so I will not erase myself. I demand to be heard, so I will not censor myself. I demand to be recognized as fully human, because I know that if I can't do that for myself, it becomes harder to recognize humanity in others. 

Personal branding may be a requirement of success in an increasingly individualized, online world. But for my own mental health - and to retain a sense of my embodied reality - I recognize the need to take a step back and assert that I am more, that I am a whole person. 

I am not a brand, and neither are you. Don't let social media erase the you that can actually make a difference. Only messy, smelly, real people have the power to change the world.