Influencers promote a new ethical, sustainable face in fast fashion shakeup
For 20-year-old Pakistani university student Zara*, her stumble upon a chance story by photographer and influencer Muzi Sufi jolted her into reconsidering the way she mindlessly pressed the follow button for any influencers whose feed attracted her.
As a fashion photographer, and a lover of fashion herself, Sufi shared how she believed that influencers and content creators who had large followings – and more importantly were economically affluent – had a responsibility to promote ethical and sustainable fashion choices.
Zara shared that while Sufi’s story was fleeting – it left her with a need to delve into the kind of content influencers she followed were posting.
“When Muzi spoke about how influencers had a certain kind of power – both economically and socially – and therefore should be more responsible regarding the choices they make, it struck a chord in me to re-evaluate the content I was consuming because there are such little mainstream conversations around ethical consumerism,” the young student shared.
"Influencers are a business just as much as any brand out there. I 100% believe that *every* single brand on this Earth has a social responsibility to *be* an ethical brand"
The truth is not many people choose to see social media beyond aesthetic feeds and clickbaity content but with the creator economy growing exponentially stronger it’s important to realise the impact influencers can have both on their followers and on broader consumerism.
Danielle, a Latina Sustainability Educator who blogs under the handle Sustainably Kind Living hopes we can change the way we see influencers and content creation.
“I do not look at influencers as just “folks sharing their lives on social media” because that’s not true. Influencers are a business just as much as any brand out there. I 100% believe that *every* single brand on this Earth has a social responsibility to *be* an ethical brand. And yes, this includes promotion as well. On another note, I still cannot believe it's 2022 and we still do not have laws in place to stop these unethical practices from starting in the first place,” she says.
For Danielle, the biggest change she pushes for is that of stopping overconsumption. She frequently shares how she feels like an outsider even in the world of sustainable fashion because she isn’t constantly posting new outfits.
“My absolute biggest tip for influencers is to stop promoting new items and to re-wear an outfit. Repeat as much as possible on your pages. We need to normalise outfit repeating, spot cleaning, and very real *human* experiences with fashion. Overconsumption is the big elephant in the room, and even sustainable influencers can have this problem,” Dani shares.
Danielle isn’t alone in feeling overwhelmed by the constant perfect new outfits influencers seem to be flaunting. Youtuber and influencer Sharon Cancio shares that she quickly became all too aware of how easily social media influence can turn toxic.
“I don't think they [influencers] take into account these ethics etc. because social media can be so toxic and it's all about getting that one picture, that final post,” Cancio says while adding that the obsession with creating new content often moves us into over-consumerism and fast fashion.
The need to stay relevant and liked online regardless of the consequences can also have a lot to do with getting business as creators - which comes from getting high engagement and numerous followers which many believe is the only way to attract brands and get partnerships.
"Influencers have a role in shaping opinions and consumer habits, as this is the core of what they do, and when facing the climate crisis we are in, they have a key role in helping people navigate their ethical living journey"
But for Amerjit Briah, the founder of environmentally conscious retail destination eTHikel.com, partnerships with influencers have different standards. Briah, who opened the store after first-hand seeing the journey of waste and the impact of plastic pollution in South Asia makes sure only to work with pro-Earth brands and influencers who align with her own values.
“Influencers have a role in shaping opinions and consumer habits, as this is the core of what they do, and when facing the climate crisis we are in, they have a key role in helping people navigate their ethical living journey.
"They can show them practical steps, that it’s easier than they think, where to start, and the places they can turn to for resources, products, guidance or community. With one post, they can also help an ethical business succeed, so their partnership choices matter. By turning towards ethical brands, they are helping them become mainstream,” Briah says of why it's important to put values and ethics at the forefront of fashion partnerships.
Even for Cancio, it took a while to realise the impact her content was having on young girls in particular. “Like many teenagers at the time, I simply wanted to become a Youtuber to be cool. I later realised, I had become somewhat of an older sister – with many young followers telling me that they tried something because I had suggested it, even if I’d only mentioned it in passing.”
The Youtuber adds that when she realised that her content had such power to influence actions, she began to work on supporting causes close to her heart – mainly aiming to help eradicate period poverty through sustainable period products.
Her content works because the way she presents herself has become somewhat of an older sister for young viewers, and Instagram expert and founder of Immortal Monkey, Estelle Keeber advises influencers to follow the same route. “I tend to find influencers have an audience that tends to follow their journey from a personal perspective,” Keeber shares, pointing out how shaping that story can help align followers towards a certain cause that influencers want to champion.
Still, there’s a long way to go and change is slow. As Dani pointed out, even the sustainable influencer community can fall prey to the appeal of social media’s fast-changing algorithms and the want to look fresh.
But the best way to change is to create actionable projects and steps for the community you’ve built. “I would encourage them [my followers] to do their research, find something accessible in their country or community, but it’s easier said than done.
"If you're flicking through posts or stories and someone tells you to do research you don't want to make that effort. So as an influencer we can do that by doing that research for them, reaching out to brands that are accessible and say, “Hey, how can I help you reach my followers?” says Cancio of her own attempts at taking responsibility for her content.
The number of influencers that understand the responsibility that comes with their influence is small but when they seem this committed and focused, we can still hold out hope for change.
Anmol Irfan is a freelance journalist with bylines in VICE, HUCK, and The Guardian among others. She has experience writing on minority politics, activism, and gender issues. She is also the founder of the Pakistani community platform, Perspectives Magazine.
Follow her on Twitter @anmolirfan22