5 Thoughts about (Australian) Fashion Bloggers

Everyone likes to complain about fashion bloggers. The editors of Vogue, W, and Harper’s Bazaar complain about them; traditional fashion journalists like Suzy Menkes and Colin McDowell like to complain about then; PR firms complain about them; digital publishers complain about bloggers, as do designers and retailers and everyone else living under fashion’s lingering sun. Heck, even bloggers complain bloggers. How a group of young people harnessed the power of social media to create doors where door once never existed has everyone baffled. Who are they? How much do they earn? And, more importantly, can they be trusted?

Left to right: Tash Sefton, Jessica Stein, Elle Ferguson. Photograph by Peter Brew-Bevan for The Australian Women's Weekly.

Left to right: Tash Sefton, Jessica Stein, Elle Ferguson. Photograph by Peter Brew-Bevan for The Australian Women’s Weekly.

These are increasingly important questions, so much so that The Australian Women’s Weekly (AWW), which typically only reports on the royal family, published a seven-page feature in its March issue on the topic, titled: “ The rise of the fashion blogger–is it over?” I haven’t covered a lot of Australian fashion on Antwerpsex because, well, there’s not much to report on. The industry here is very small, and there always seems to be something more interesting happening overseas. There have been many, many, MANY posts written about the business of blogging (and the ethics behind it), but most of them overlook the situation in Australia. In this post I’d like to talk a little bit about the Australian fashion industry and our fashion bloggers.

1) Is the Australian industry large enough to sustain itself?

It amuses me whenever I read in local newspapers and magazines that Australia is a “major fashion location” because I know that simply isn’t true. The signs are everywhere. Firstly, despite our vast land size, the population of Austalia is a mere 22.7 million–the buyer power simply isn’t here. Last month, the Business of Fashion published an interesting (and rather depressing) story about “Australia’s fashion crisis,” listing a bunch of prominent local brands that have shut down, or are currently struggling to stay afloat. Among them were Bettina Liano, who was popular for her slim jeans; and Collete Dinnigan, who was one of the first Australian designers to present at Paris Fashion Week. Local designers are finding it terribly difficult to make a name for themselves in Australia, citing limitations on production, fabric, and pricing as their main obstacles.

The grand opening of Zara on Bourke Street, Melbourne.

The grand opening of Zara on Bourke Street, Melbourne.

Interestingly, the decline in local talent has been almost synchronous with the entrance of European retailers into the country. So, am I underestimating the buyer power of Australians? Zara and Topshop have only been in the country for a few years and they’re already so popular. They have taken over incredible real estate in major shopping districts. The biggest Zara store in Melbourne is located on Bourke Street, right next to Myer and David Jones, Australia’s two biggest department stores. H&M recently bought out three levels of the heritage-listed Bourke Street GPO (General Post Office) building to house its first Australian store, and one of the largest in the world, just metres away from Zara. The store opens next month. Only time will tell how successful it will be.

As the fashion industry in Australia is so small, the space for fashion journalism is also small. Fashion just isn’t a prominent part of Australian culture, at least, not in the way that sport is. Also, we’re so far away from the fashion capitals of the world. I don’t think most people would be able to locate Australia on a map. That’s why I was surprised to read in the article that blogging has become such a lucrative business in Australia (for the lucky few, of course). In fact, I feel proud in a way. It’s good to know that fashion and social media are intertwining in such an interesting way in my home country.

2) Are people really buying “likes” and “followers”?

AWW reporters Emily Brooks and Bryce Corbett profiled a handful of top Australian bloggers in this feature, including such details as their followers on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You’ll notice that these numbers have increased since the issue hit newsstands.

  • Amanda Shadford of Oracle Fox : 184,925 Instagram followers; 132,067 Facebook followers; 6,233 Twitter followers.
  • Nicole Warne of Gary Pepper Girl: 776,123 Instagram followers; 146,766 Facebook followers; 22,271 Twitter followers.
  • Tash Sefton and Elle Ferguson of They All Hate Us: 82,982 Instagram followers; 28,381 Facebook followers; 3,771 Twitter followers.
  • Jessica Stein of Tuula Vintage: 820,351 Instagram followers; 215,037 Facebook followers; 24,626 Twitter followers.
  • Antoinette Koulas of Sydney Fashion Blogger, who has over 500,000 followers on Instagram.
The Ministry of Talent is an agency that represents major fashion bloggers in Australia. It is run by Roxy Jacenko, who set up an Instagram account for her 2-year-old daughter Pixie Curtis. Yes, 2-year-olds earn earn money from Instagram.

The Ministry of Talent is an agency that represents major fashion bloggers in Australia. It is run by “PR supremo” Roxy Jacenko, who set up an Instagram account for her 2-year-old daughter Pixie Curtis. Notice that Pixie Curtis charges $200 per Instagram shot.

The AWW reporters mentioned that it is now possible to “buy 10,000 Instagram followers for $69.95,” despite the fact that none of them are actually real. It was also mentioned that “click farms,” where low-paid workers are employed to hit the “Like” button of paying clients, also exist. For the record, all the bloggers in the AWW story denied buying followers.

This is the first time I’ve heard of click farms and, frankly, I think it’s hilarious that people would even bother “buying” attention. It’s just like when people beg for comments in order to seem more popular than they actually are. I’ve had Antwerpsex for just over a year now and not once have I begged for comments because I want people to respond to my posts (if they respond, and often they don’t but that’s okay) with honest feedback. When you force people to respond to your work, they hold back the truth. When they hold back the truth, it sounds insipid and forced and you learn nothing as a writer/blogger/person.

3) How is this business going to be regulated?

A great deal of the AWW article focuses on collaborations between bloggers and brands, and whether bloggers should be required by law to disclose their earnings from sponsored posts to both their readers and to the government. Five years ago, this was pretty much a non-issue, but now we have bloggers who are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars for their posts. Thinking about it hurts my head.

From a legal standpoint, it is mentioned in the article that the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) have both shown a keen interest in the new business of blogging. However, should bloggers also be disclosing their earnings to their readers? I think so, as a matter of integrity and respect.

Last month, as I was reading through Frockwriter’s discussion of the same AWW article, I read a comment by Sydney-based blogger Margaret Zhang, who runs Shine by Three, that interested me:

“Now for the million-follower question of monetisation, to which I say leave it alone. Should Brooks have mentioned in italics at the end of the article that she gets paid $X per financial year with a side order of perfumes and bronzers that the beauty department didn’t use, and the odd cookie and festival ticket from every public relations agency with half a brain?”

While it’s obvious that Brooks’s salary comes from the magazine, whereas bloggers’ earnings are more dubious, it is not uncommon for free gifts to make their way down the editorial hierarchy à la The Devil Wears Prada. Most magazines and newspapers have a rule that they do not accept gifts (they are supposed to be donated to charity), but I can’t imagine that that’s always the case. So is it wrong to crucify bloggers for accepting free gifts when editors and writers sometimes do the exact same thing? Hmm.

Kirstie Clements, former editor-in-chief of Vogue Australia.

Kirstie Clements, former editor-in-chief of Vogue Australia.

4) Is there an element of sexism or misogyny here?

Sara Donaldson, of the blog Harper and Harley, also expressed concern in Frockwriter’s comments section about the subtle sexist tones in the AWW story:

“I picked up a copy last night and was slightly mortified they were painting this picture to the Australian public that bloggers are silly girls dressing up, taking selfies and charging big dollars for coverage. How about we try to celebrate women in the entrepreneurial work space who are working 7 days a week and 18 hours a day to make sure they are creating constant and worthwhile content for their readers. They are marketers, creative directors and role models and for a magazine that is dedicated to Australian women it is a real shame that they can’t support this new generation of business women.”

Interesting.

As I mentioned earlier, fashion, which is a women’s art form, just isn’t given the same level of attention and respect that sport gets in the country. For some reason it’s seen as silly and frivolous, though I’ve seen more football fans throwing tantrums than I have fashion bloggers. Kirstie Clements also points out the “ugly misogyny” in Australia in her book, The Vogue Factor, when she writes: “A day or so after I was fired, as if losing my livelihood and a career that I loved was not enough, the media section of The Australian decided it would be amusing to ridicule me, and the staff, suggesting all we talked about was nail polish and even questioning how we got a magazine out the door every month for thirteen years.”

Fashion blog or Saks catalogue? Images courtesy of Tuula Vintage.

Fashion blog or Saks catalogue? Images courtesy of Tuula Vintage.

5) The future of fashion blogging in Australia and beyond.

One thing I’ve noticed about the Australian fashion industry is that money is the driving force behind every interaction. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course, because everyone has the right to be paid for their work. However, when the sole purpose is to maximise profits then the spirit behind the clothes becomes almost secondary. The Australian fashion industry is about retail more than anything else. The growing popularity of style bloggers who wear trendy clothes, hoping to move sponsored product, is only further proof of this.

Style blogging is all well and good, but not when that becomes the norm for what “fashion” actually is. It’s more than just pretty clothes on pretty people, and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to tell these bloggers apart. There is space for both the “fun” (for lack of better words) and more serious parts of fashion, but I think the former gets more space/attention than is actually necessary.

Whatever happened to the value of the written word? And when did a series of glorified selfies become synonymous with “blogging”?

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About Hung Tran

My name is Hung. I am 21 years old. I study Media and Communications at the University of Melbourne, Australia.
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9 Responses to 5 Thoughts about (Australian) Fashion Bloggers

  1. Michelle says:

    most people aren’t interested in the written word. it’s terrible. the reason for me shutting down my wordy food blog is that google analytics showed that readers spend 10 seconds on each picture and literally skimmed through the writing bit. i was more successful running a food photography blog than a written one. though my peers lament the death of my blog (because of the fact i do not do reviews and my blunt honesty) i don’t think the larger audience would bother. yes, i write for the sheer pleasure of writing but after doing it for so long, i would appreciate it if people at least appreciate the time i spent writing what i wrote.

    similar to fashion blogs. when i told my fash blog friends that i’m a huge fan of your blog, they never even heard of it before. they don’t even know what business of fashion is and think that karl lagerfeld is the owner of chanel (which is not). the knowledge towards the fashion industry that fashion bloggers have is so superficial, i can be a fashion blogger myself.

    i appreciate style blogs. the pictures, the everything but the world doesn’t need another generic style blog, you know. the world doesn’t need reminder that only pretty, skinny girls who have the ability to spend money on professional photoshoots and indulge on trips to milan, paris, londres and tokyo — qualify to become a fashion blogger. people need to be reminded of what the fashion industry really is and the problems it faces and girls of the likes like this do not deserve to sit at the front row with suzy menkes because it’s ridiculous and all they will write in their blog is how amazing x piece is and how pretty y piece is.

    it’s an insult to the artisans who spend n hours working on the piece. it’s an insult to the troubled designer. and the photographers who are getting killed by their cameraphones.

    • Hung Tran says:

      I like your anecdote about the food blog. I experience the same feelings from time to time, particularly if the reaction from my readers is disproportionate to the amount of time I’ve spent writing (this applies to the Fashion 101 posts more than anything else). Then again, people have such busy lives that it can be difficult to find time to sit down and read a post in depth, or even leave a constructive comment. It’s also a visual industry (not to mention one with a very short attention span) so it hardly surprises me that pretty pictures of pretty people get so much attention. It’s a shame, really.

      This blog is very personal, and in the end it’s just a labour of love. I enjoy interacting with my readers so much, but it’s the process of organising random ideas into clear sentences that sustains me. It’s a cathartic experience, being able to get my voice out there. Being able to teach someone else is just a bonus.

  2. Monica says:

    Great article! Didn’t know anything about the Australian fashion industry really. I’ve always been exhausted and puzzled by the myriad of ‘fashion bloggers’ whose product isn’t really fashion, but hegemonic beauty.

    Semi relevant; You might take interest in Bebe Zeva’s blog (ftbh.blogspot.com), I can’t really stand her outfits (loud tumblrcore fast fashion) but the writing is intensely interesting. She’s very transparent about the fact that she earns her living from blogging, even recently wrote “This blog absolutely cannot be political because it is my job. I profit from this platform. And to assuage my raging cognitive dissonance for choosing to continue bolstering ideology, I offer you the tools to trust that everything you read here is, deliberately or otherwise, corrupt. Know better.”

    • Hung Tran says:

      Thanks for recommending her blog! Before I opened the link I had a clear idea of what the images would look like, and I was right, right down to the Lookbook banner on the side of the page. The post you mentioned was difficult to get through because it was so wordy, but I read it over a few times. Very interesting, indeed.

  3. lepearl2013 says:

    A great article. I and many of my peers who have been blogging about fashion and style well before these It-girls, are fed up with Australian fashion bloggers. They come across as desperate and unoriginal – all falling into the same category of chic-style and looking tear-inducingly perfect. Nicole Warne of Gary Pepper Girl (was of course vintage) was the cute face of the great Australian op-shop find. I watched as she became an ambitious ebay seller with a job on the side to a full on wanna-be model, staging shoots in new season Prada completely going against the face of recycle and reuse. This is an issue I raised with her on her instagram 2 years or so ago. She was not happy being challenged that is for sure but she definitely handled the challenge with maturity. But hey why should she give a fuck what anyone thinks, as long as she has her manicure, Louboutins, quilted Chanel and get’s thousands of dollars for setting a completely unrealistic lifestyle for young girls who already ‘want want want’?

    I was also challenged by Zanita through instagram after I made a comment on Susie Lau of Style Bubble’s account about the deteriorating state of Australian fashion blogging. Unsurprisingly, she carried on like an immature child. I recall Margaret Zhang also placing her opinion in alongside her fellow e-BFFL. On the note of Susie Lau you compare her blog to any of the FELLTs and you will notice a striking difference. Susie Lau’s blog IS a fashion blog. She knows the designers, joins them in studio, discusses deeply the processes involved in the designing or textile preparations themselves. She is a fantastic writer and most of all she is down to earth and honest. She doesn’t blog to sell an image of fashion perfection, she blogs honest feelings, well-analysed reviews and her fantastic outfits that are so well styled it’s border-line criminal.

    The FELLTs are egotistical bloggers. They want to look beautiful and they want you to notice. They also want you to notice their designer outfit, immaculately styled by – surprise – themselves, given to them as a PR gift. I am not saying these girls are worthless, immature or unintelligent. I mean Margaret Zhang is/was studying at USYD, but I cannot wait for the day when they realise how frivolous and ridiculous they are being. There are now very rich teenagers in countries like Indonesia who demand of their parents that they too have a Chanel quilted pursed because the pretty blogger girl at LFW has it and she looks ‘sooooooooo chic’ *cough* Ribbonyboo *cough*. They need a reality check. I weep for them all.

    • Hung Tran says:

      Wow – what a comment! Thanks for taking the time to write this. I share some of your feelings about the FELLT bloggers, particularly what you said about being immaculately styled and being so beautiful that it’s mind-numbing. Besides Frockwriter, I don’t read any of these blogs on a regular basis because they bore me to death. Every post looks the same. It’s this glossed-over idea of “effortlessness” (which, ironically enough, takes a lot of preparation and premeditation) that bugs me.

      You seem very familiar with the FELLT bloggers so I’m going to assume that you’re Australian as well. Good to know that others share my concerns about our local fashion industry, and fashion bloggers in general. Let’s hope things start to shift soon.

  4. jackiemallon says:

    Interestingly enough I have several friends who have worked in prominent European houses that have upped sticks having been hired by Australian companies to work down there. And I have a pair of Aussie friends here in NYC who are doing well with their label based here…

    http://jackiemallon.com/2014/02/09/tome/

    Might be the lure of the exotic: Austraiia wants to sample design talent from elsewhere and Australian designers go where they are better appreciated?

    • Hung Tran says:

      They’re your friends? That’s awesome. TOME was mentioned in that BoF article, and I knew they were Australian from a small feature I read in Vogue Australia (or maybe I read it online? Can’t remember). Your comment about the “lure of the exotic” is really interesting. You’re right to say that Australians are better appreciated overseas, not only from a business standpoint (local luxury designers just can’t sell here) but also from an artistic one, too. The Australian fashion industry is too focused on retail to appreciate art. Great ideas are washed down.

  5. Your Thoughts about Australian fashion blogger are right. I agree with you.

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