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We need to stop blaming influencers for everything

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The ‘Influencer’ industry has come under fire recently, with the comment pages on YouTube filled with criticism about wastefulness and encouragement of fast fashion. But in a world fuelled by fast fashion, can we really blame influencers for this problem?

The big players in the fashion industry are made up almost entirely of men - Sir Philip Green (Arcadia), Pablo Isla (Inditex), Karl-Johnan Persson (H&M), Nitin Passi (Missguided) and Umar Kamani (Pretty Little Thing) to name but a few. So why are we excusing them for the blame of contributing to a world-wide problem, and instead of passing it onto a community of (mostly) women who are just making a living from sharing their love of clothes?

 Pictured: Zoe Sugg, who has over 11 million YouTube subscribers. Image Credit:  Gage Skidmore on Flickr

YouTube is awash with ‘hauls’ where influencers show off what they have been buying (or been gifted) recently. In a way that differs from traditional media, these influencers show their audiences what the clothes look like on without any prior styling (or clips to make them more flattering) they are often un-retouched and totally off the cuff, which gives consumers a real insight into the products.

Unlike magazines, these influencers will also discuss the products that they don’t like. The ones that don’t fit well or aren’t true to size. This is great for consumers as they can be more educated before going online (or into the store) and spending their well-earned money.

But is this trend of hauling just another way of promoting fast fashion? Are these influencers really to blame for the effects of fashion on the environment?

In a post on her blog entitled ‘Fashion Haulers v Sustainability’ blogger and YouTuber Samantha Maria wrote: “This is a confusing place to find yourself in as a Youtuber. Here we are, we have built our platforms and our followings after years of sharing our personal style, what's new in our wardrobes & showing you how to make items work - after being asked multiple times for this content. No party in this exchange has had bad intentions. It helps to see that jumper you've had your eye on styled by someone with the same body-type as you or the same height as you. You are happy as a creator that you're having such great feedback to your videos and that you can make content that you and your audience really enjoy. 10 years later we find ourselves in a spiralling vortex of eco-guilt.”

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As Samantha explains, these hauls are heavily requested by the audience, there is a huge demand and as this is their job why would they not respond to their audience?

Essentially with or without influencer culture, we as a society are always going to shop in this fast fashion shops. Did you stop shopping in Primark after their factory in Bangladesh collapsed and killed thousands of their workers? I can guess that the answer is no. You shouldn’t be made to feel guilty and neither should these influencers.

When they do shop from more sustainable and often more expensive brands, they are criticised for being out of touch, and un-relatable. Their audiences want to see affordable clothing, and with affordability often comes issues.

They are just doing their job, and many of them have families to support. You wouldn’t criticise someone working in Topshop for utilising their staff discount and posting a cute Instagram picture online, so why is it any different? Yes, they have big audiences, but that is the decision of the followers. They are not forcing you to follow them, there’s no contract, no fee – if you don’t agree with hauls, which are a fundamental part of their jobs, then the unfollow/unsubscribe button is right there.

Influencers are an easy group of people to blame because nobody really understands their jobs. Recently the BBC broadcast a Panorama episode discussing the effects of influencer marketing and how essentially these people are to blame for the rise for a whole multitude of problems. This, again, shows how influencers are being used as a scapegoat for a much bigger problem.

Zoe Sugg, the YouTube star behind ‘Zoella’, has over 11 million subscribers. Despite not uploading a video on her main channel in over 7 months, she has still been exposed to more criticism than any male influencer I’ve ever seen, purely because she’s successful. When will this trend of needing to drag women down end?

Maybe next time you think about passing the blame, why not go to the sources of the problem? The people who are profiting off of the exploitation of women in factories. Those who are contributing to a detrimental impact on the environment. They are the ones whose products arrive wrapped in tonnes of plastic, whose ‘cute’ pink packaging goes straight in the bin because it can’t be recycled. Why not challenge them instead of women who are just doing their job?

Lead image credit: Gage Skidmore on Flickr

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