Hey brands, we need to talk.
Every work day I wake up to emails and DMs that go something like this:
“We’re an eco-friendly/vegan/natural/fair trade company and we’d love if you shared a photo of our product on Instagram/wrote a blog post about us/made a video using our product!”
It’s really cool to see how many conscious brands there are now and how many are starting up, and if the company meets my criteria and seems like a good fit for My Green Closet, I typically respond back asking for more info and with a package about sponsored content options.
Then about 95% of the time the brand either completely ghosts or responds:
“We’re a small business and don’t have a budget to pay you.”
But here’s the issue, I’m a small business too. My web hosting, camera, editing software, photographer, etc. all cost money, never mind paying myself for the typical 50+ hours I put into working on MGC each week.
Bloggers, Instagrammers, and Youtubers are often viewed like pitching newspapers or magazines where you can get free publicity for your brand, but the business model is completely different. We’re not paid a salary or rate per post and if there is any advertising/adsense revenue, it’s very minimal. So while traditional media uses their advertising to pay for writing and photographing a feature about you, most “influencers” don’t have a lot of or any alternate funding to cover that. The majority of revenue typically comes from sponsorships and in this eco/ethical niche it unfortunately seems very few brands are willing to pay for them.
The conscious brand and blogger relationship has to be a two-way street; creators can’t just be supporting brands, we should also be getting support back.
But you get “paid” in product!
First of all I know how bratty this might sound – complaining about getting stuff for free, 🙄 right? But please bear with me because there is a deeper issue and discrepancy here that brands, content creators, and consumers in the conscious fashion industry should be aware of. While sending out free products to “influencers” is a promoted and often advised way to market your brand for free/cheap it goes against some of the fundamental values we’re all claiming to support and work towards in a responsible fashion industry.
Conscious Creators Consume Consciously
Say that 5 times fast 😜
I’m probably at the more extreme end of this since I have a capsule wardrobe and live fairly minimally, but any creator who is promoting and actually living a more sustainable lifestyle knows the importance of mindful consumption. Having overflowing closets, drawers full of beauty products and piles of household goods, even if they’re eco friendly, still isn’t very sustainable.
There’s a balance to find as a blogger/youtuber though because people are looking for recommendations – if you’re thinking of purchasing something you want to make sure it meets your criteria and is something you’re going to like and use. The main mission of My Green Closet is to help and inspire people to live more sustainably and responsibly. One way of doing this is making it easier to shop in line with your values by sharing brands, products and better options. However I also have to to do this without going against my own values and ideas; how hypocritical would it be if I talk about consuming consciously and then every month share a new beauty line I’m using, have a totally new wardrobe each season, or post “hauls” (yes, I’ve had quite a few brands ask to be featured in a haul video 🤢).
If I said yes to every brand I like who wanted to send me stuff I would have a bursting closet and way more beauty and skincare products than I could ever use up, which is just wasteful! It is very exciting and encouraging to see how many sustainable brands and products are out there, but the main focus of my platforms is not to sell stuff.
I’m also trying to find other creative ways to share brands and products that I think the MGC audience would be interested in without compromising my own minimalist lifestyle. Doing things like borrowing clothes which can be sent back, only getting small samples of beauty products to try out first, or occasionally giving products to my Patrons/people who will use them, but I still have a set limit on how many partnerships I’ll do and that means only a tiny fraction of brands ever make the cut.
As a brand, if sending products to every conscious blogger out there is your marketing strategy be prepared for a lot of no-thank-yous. Most creators I know in this space only accept free product if it’s something they really want and likely would have purchased anyway. Be careful about “influencers” who say yes to any free product that’s offered, it’s important to do some research on who you’re contacting so you don’t get burned – there unfortunately are some “ethical” creators who use bots and fake followers and/or are just in it for the free stuff, so only approach creators you think are a good fit and align with your brands values, it’s not just about their numbers.
I know as a brand you need to sell your product, but you also need to give some thought to promoting conscious vs. mindless consumption or you’re just doing the same thing as fast fashion.
This also is important in your goals for a partnership, if you want to increase awareness about your brand and let people know about your beautiful products or the cool things you’re doing, great! Let’s talk 🙂 But if your goal is to have me get x number of people to purchase from you in the next week, I’m not interested. Promoting conscious consumption means I encourage people to think about their purchases and take time to make sure it’s something they will use and keep, not immediately buy the product (unless it’s actually the exact item they’ve been searching for).
Fair pay needs to include everyone
It’s hypocritical to tell me how you pay all your employees fairly for their work (which of course is very important) and then ask me to spend hours, sometimes days, filming and editing a video, taking photos, and/or writing content for you, unpaid.
Creators are helping you market your brand and should be part of your marketing budget. A ton of work goes into creating content for you and most of us are one-woman-shows; from researching, writing, editing, to styling, photographing, filming, modelling, responding to questions, and more, we’re doing it all! I assume you pay the models, photographers, social media people, copywriters, etc. that do work for you, so why wouldn’t this extend to the bloggers and youtubers?
I also wonder if your business is okay
If you tell me you have zero budget for marketing it creates concerns and doubts about your business – all brands should have at least some marketing budget.
It makes me question if you’re serious about your company and mission and I worry if you’re still going to be around in a year with no strategy to market yourself. This is especially concerning if you work with artisans or disadvantaged communities – if you’re employing people without a stable business and long-term plan in place what happens to them if your brand doesn’t succeed?
I want to work with brands who are passionate about doing things better and who create amazing products, but also who are committed to building their conscious businesses. Having no marketing budget makes it seem like you’re not serious about growing your business.
Plus, rates are LOW
If you’re used to just giving out free product, paying for a sponsored post of course can seem expensive, but the reality is most creators in this conscious lifestyle space are charging a lot less than conventional influencers. There’s been talk among my fellow sustainable blogger friends about the need to raise our rates which are significantly lower than industry standards. While I of course believe creators deserve to be paid fairly for their work, I’ve been hesitant and slow to do this because it’s hard enough as is to get sponsors, and will only get harder with a rate increase, even if it only is moving closer to a more standard rate.
I’m also extremely fortunate and grateful because I have the most incredible Patrons helping support my content. Having a consistent bit of income each month means I at least know I can cover basic costs of running MGC.
Additionally, I get some revenue from YouTube ads although I would LOVE to turn them off one day *fingers crossed* – it sucks having ads for brands I don’t support running on my videos, but currently I can’t keep making videos without them.
So thankfully not just sponsorships are solely funding My Green Closet which is why I’ve been able to keep going for 4 years, but most bloggers don’t have these supplementary revenue streams.
Guilt goes nowhere
Definitely don’t try to guilt or shame people into working for free. I’ve heard this from other bloggers too, when we ask for compensation for the work involved, the brand talks about how if we really cared about promoting ethical fashion we’d be happy to share their product. This is infuriating – there are so many amazing, dedicated creators in this space, working their asses off, giving up their free time to help spread awareness because it’s something they’re passionate about. Just because someone wants to spend their time talking about other topics instead of promoting your product doesn’t mean they don’t care about this movement.
Guilting and bullying people into sharing your brand by saying they’re lazy, greedy, or questing their commitment is just not cool. I promise you, if someone wants to make a lot of money and be lazy they don’t start an ethical fashion blog or youtube channel, people do this because they’re passionate about helping change things.
We succeed together
You have a mission to help improve the industry by doing things better and creating more responsible products. Myself and other content creators have a mission to spread awareness and help educate and encourage people to live more consciously. We want to support the success of brands like you but it’s honestly hard and frustrating to do that when the majority of brands don’t want to support us back and often try to get things as cheap as possible or try to guilt creators into promoting them for free.
We both play a role in this complex puzzle and are ultimately working towards the same goals, so let’s work together.
It’s not everyone
I want to acknowledge that some brands are amazing to partner with and totally get that people working for them and helping promote them deserve to be fairly paid for their work, and also understand the value of influencer marketing and have a budget specifically for it. However based on the brands I’ve been in contact with unfortunately only about 5-10% fall into this category.
I also want to say that I don’t think most conscious brands are purposely trying to take advantage of bloggers. Getting free or very cheap promotion is seen as “good business”, brands brag about how little they spend on social media promotion, and I totally get that when budgets are tight you want to save pennies wherever possible. A lot of brands also don’t seem to understand the difference between a PR pitch and a marketing request – letting me know about you is fine, I can do what I want with that info, maybe ask for a product to test out and include you in content if it fits well. However asking to have a video made about you, for a blog feature, or for social media posts (especially by a deadline) is not a PR pitch, you’re asking for marketing content which should be paid.
Overall I just think brands just aren’t looking at the larger picture and the relationship they’re building with “influencers”, don’t understand how much work goes into making content, and don’t realise how many pitches and free product offers creators receive (I currently am getting 1-5 pitches every day), so hopefully this post sheds some light from a content creator’s perspective.
And for some other conscious blogger’s perspectives (who are all much more skilled and eloquent writers that I am, video is my main jam 🙃) check out:
Leotie Lovely, Why Bloggers Should be Paid Fairly
World Threads Traveler, My Role as an Influencer – Working with Brands and Why It Matters to You
Honestly Modern, Paying for Promotion: In The Spirit of Transparency
Style Wise, The Business of Blogging: Why Fair Trade Rhetoric Muse Include Bloggers
Ethical Unicorn, Working With Bloggers & Brands: A Mini Guide
Ecocult, The 11 Non-Negotiable Reasons Why You Need to Pay Influencers for Coverage
You can also hear more of my thoughts on how conscious brands can work better with bloggers, and what you can do with tights budgets in my Spirit of 608 podcast interview.