The Moral Quandary of ‘Slow Fashion’ Influencers

Mornings are spent curled up in an armchair, sipping cafe au lait from a wonky ceramic mug, in a quiet corner of the internet. A loose-fitting, earthy colour palette and chunky handcrafted clogs are frequently paired with this style of clothing. There is an abundance of natural fabrics and an abundance of indoor greenery.

There are a lot of people in the “slow fashion” community who share their outfits and promote the virtues of thrifting, repairing, and purchasing high-quality clothing rather than fast-fashion items.

These influencers have amassed a devoted fan base thanks to their eco-friendly shopping habits, serene Instagram images, and their uncanny ability to look good in clothes. There is a more complicated reality beneath all of the lifestyle photography.

Slow fashion is a philosophy and a way of life that encourages people to reuse and recycle their clothing whenever possible. However, the term is increasingly being used by brands that do nothing more than produce clothing in smaller batches than, say, Gap.

Fashions sold by these companies (and promoted by their influencers) may be made in small batches, but they are still made with resources taken from a finite planet by workers who are paid fairly. For slow fashion, the communist refrain that “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” is more than just rhetoric; it is an actual problem.

According to Aditi Mayer, a 24-year-old content creator, photojournalist, and labour rights activist from Los Angeles, “just the term’sustainable fashion influencer’ can sound quite oxymoronic.”

Despite the fact that these influencers may be promoting eco-conscious brands, their posts still encourage people to buy their products. If you spend enough time searching for relevant hashtags, you may develop an urge to spend $400 on an oversize sweater from a brand you’ve never heard of, a price that may reflect fair labour wages.

The influencers in this social media niche are well aware of the irony of their messages. “The desire to divest from capitalism and overconsumption while at the same time having to participate in it” is the core of sustainable fashion influencing, according to Beth Rogers, 27. That tension, she said, is best dealt with “by holding space for it and not attempting to evade or avoid” it.

When it comes to the fashion industry, Mayer sees herself as a “Trojan horse” who uses conversations to glean information about brands’ business practises. Since the average consumer does not have access to a major corporation’s internal suite, she found herself in an unusual position. When she inquired about the brands, she found that they didn’t always respond well to her.

Plus-size designer Marielle TerHart, who goes by Marielle Elizabeth on the internet, believes there is a lot of room for improvement for the average consumer. Ms. TerHart, 32, helps her followers develop more conscious relationships with clothing by encouraging them to care for their garments and promoting brands that carry an inclusive range of sizes.

According to Lyndsey DeMarco, an Oregon-based content creator who uses budgeting software to track her purchases, she purchased 15 clothing items (new and secondhand) in 2021 and received an additional 15 pieces of clothing from brands. She said she only accepts about 5% of the free clothes that are regularly offered to her. According to Ms. Rogers, she typically purchases between 15 and 20 items per year.

Many influencers choose their partners based on a set of predetermined criteria. The goal of Ms. TerHart is to support companies that pay their employees fairly.

Designers who are underrepresented in the fashion industry, she explained, “have a bit more leeway because I know that their funding opportunities are very different.” Her top priority, she explained, is to ensure that everyone involved in the garment’s production receives a fair and livable wage.

As part of the Faustian bargain, Ms. Mayer is willing to work with larger brands in order to promote smaller brands with better ethics but a smaller budget, as long as the financial freedom allows her to do so.

Lydia Okello, 32, a plus-size content creator from Vancouver, British Columbia, says, “I really try to present garments as options, not as must-haves.” While accepting paid advertisements to promote products, Mx. Okello’s is mindful of the language she uses in posts about these garments as a strategy to balance the incongruity of encouraging consumption while accepting paid advertisements.

Okello said, “I don’t think that just because you’ve seen it on me or someone else, you should buy it—even if that is literally my job.”

As an intermediary between the consumer and the brand, Gabbie Nirenburg, a self-described “un-fluencer” in Philadelphia, explains, influencers have an awkward position in the marketplace. Her role is primarily a practical one: seeing clothing on different bodies can be extremely useful when deciding whether or not to spend $200 on an ethically made pair of jeans. (The Style Blogger Index was created by Ms. Nirenburg, 38, who works full-time for a health insurance company and maintains a massive spreadsheet where customers can find bloggers with similar body measurements.)

Author of “Consumed: The Need for Collective Change” Aja Barber believes that sustainable fashion influencers are more than just advertisements. They serve as a source of outfit inspiration and a demonstration of how to wear the same piece of clothing multiple times. They may elicit a desire for new products, but they are not part of a cyclical trend.

According to Ms. Barber, “It isn’t: “OK, now onto the next.”” What he is saying is: “These pieces are my possessions, and I intend to wear them for a long time.”

Experts are divided on the issue, however. One of Glasgow Caledonian University’s senior marketers, Elaine Ritch, believes that the commercial nature of an influencer’s partnership can dilute the message they’re trying to convey.

Slow fashion content may come across as dishonest because of the medium it is delivered on. Before, social media was a place where people could connect with one another, but now it’s used to promote products and people. Even the most sincere posts about social causes can appear out of place on the internet.. In other words, the medium is the problem, not the message.

That doesn’t imply that the message is worthless, however. To reimagine the future of fashion without the qualifier “sustainable” because it already values labour and the environment, according to Ms. Mayer, is an important part of her work.

According to TerHart, “it’s incredibly difficult to work in fashion while advocating for a fashion industry to end” in some ways.