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?
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.
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 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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
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”?