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Are you under the influence?

By now you have probably heard of social media influencers. The modern day celebrities made famous for having a high number of followers on social media, generating thousands of likes on their posts and making big money by advertising for various brands, the majority fashion based.

We would be lying if we said that we didn’t follow a few of them on social media platforms like Instagram ourselves. Feeling a pang of jealousy seeing their perfectly posed pictures, wearing the latest clothes that were sent to them for free and getting paid to live a glamourous life.

But why do so many of us feel the need to buy into everything they advertise on their social media accounts? Do we feel that by buying what they’re selling we will somehow become them? Why are they so popular?

Why do consumers like, follow and trust influencers?

Essentially they are just like us, human. Humans with trendy clothes and better photography skills but still human, and this is what makes them relatable. The majority of influencers we see on social media are 20 somethings, good looking and seem to paint a picture of ‘the perfect life’.

They are relatable because they generate conversations with their followers and come across as genuine as opposed to a brand trying to directly sell you something. Retailers are smart about their marketing and know how to effectively use influencers to drive traffic to their brands.

According to Business Insider, the spend on influencer marketing is set to increase up to $15 billion by 2022. Retailers know that by working with influencers with similarities to their target market they can build brand loyalty and deliver their messages in a more natural way.

It’s like when you compliment a friend on something they’re wearing and they tell you where they got it from and how much it cost. You would trust your friend’s judgement on what they buy and you would be more likely to buy it if they recommended it, right? If it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for you.

Turning a blind eye

As a fashion student I often have to think about the effects the fashion industry is having on the world, both positive and negative. Lately, the negatives seem to be outweighing the positives.

I recently watched the documentary Stacey Dooley Investigates: Fashion’s Dirty Secrets as part of one of my assignments. It really opened my eyes to the hidden costs that fast fashion is having on our planet.

From the destruction of the Aral Sea, to the harmful production process of cotton which includes pesticides, toxic dyes and staggering amounts of water required to produce it – roughly 15,000 litres of water is used to grow the cotton to make one pair of jeans.

Three well-known Instagram influencers were invited to discuss Stacy’s footage of disasters caused by the fast fashion industry. They all seemed ‘shocked’ by what they saw and promised they would do their part to ensure they made their followers aware of the negative effects of mass consumption. Sadly, however, it seems all of these influencers are back to promoting unethical brands.

Although the influencers reacted shocked and compassionate to what they saw, I feel they knew to some extent the part they play in the problem of fast fashion consumption. They just didn’t want to admit that, yes, they know they are part of the reason why fast fashion is so popular. They turn a blind eye because advertising for those brands is how they earn a living and it’s a matter of survival.

The power to make a change

Influencers are powerful people: they share their message with thousands of followers; their opinions are important and they can change the way we consume products.

The influencers we should be supporting are the ones with an important message to share with the world, the ones supporting ethical brands and helping us as consumers, to make better choices.

Although influencers can choose which brands they work with, a lot of them still elect to promote products from unethical sources. Brands that offer products by the truck load and don’t seem to care about the effect their mass production has on the environment. Producing goods as cheaply as possible for maximum profit is their primary concern.

Coming Out From Under the Influence

As consumers, we have a choice – whether to keep spinning on the fast fashion wheel of doom or break out of it.

More people are coming to realise that shopping ethically is the right thing to do for our planet. With the increase of ethical products on offer by well-known retailers as a result, maybe in the not too distant future we will see a shift in influencers supporting ethical brands.

As part of my efforts to make more conscious consumer decisions, I have recently been using the ‘Good On You’ app . This was recommended to me by one of my lecturers. Good On You helps to put retail brands into perspective by showing their ethical rating.

It also shows how expensive the brand is – particularly useful as cost can be a major reason why young people find it difficult to shop ethically. If you haven’t tried the app yet, I recommend you give it a try next time you want to buy something, while being mindful of how your purchase may impact the environment.

Remember, it’s not about finding an alternative brand to the mainstream high-street retailers. It’s about making smarter choices on what you buy and really asking yourself “Do I really need it?”


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