In 2007; before the advent of Instagram, the takeoff of the style blog, during moment in time when the word influencer didn’t exist as a job title; there was a group of men and women who watched fashion intently from the outside. Long seen as an industry meant for editors, socialites, designers, and models, the rest of us used to wait with baited breath for magazine issues to drop giving us insight on what was en vogue for the season. Then, without warning came a new type of journalism – fashion bloggers.
Blazing onto the scene turning the world on its head as lay-people offered commentary on runway shows, took photos of looks inspired by said shows, and suddenly there was someone else to listen to. But like the industry it derives from fashion blogging is just another entity that continues to fail black people, especially women, time and time again. Now ten years later when anyone can become an authority on style through the use of their iPhone and amass a following via an app, it is painfully clear that the access given to white and other select WOC bloggers is not meant for Black women.
Recently there was an uproar on Instagram after a photo appeared on the Revolve brand account showcasing a group of influencers on a press trip in Thailand. Looking at the photo you are instantly met with the faces of the same girls that happen to be invited on most of these trips. All sample sized and mostly white, with a few token ethnic girls thrown in, the image is nothing new. As someone who has closely monitored and been an active participant in this space for the better part of a decade – I expect it. I am not shocked by the lack of diversity or the overt way that brands refuse to engage with Black bloggers in the same way they do white ones. What is bothersome is once again a brand is met with questions about their common practice and per usual the silence is deafening.
Before micro-blogging became a thing, bloggers were working their way into the hearts of readers through their writing, their mood boards, and photography. The notion that, you too could be a part of the game, was more real. Now the landscape has changed in that no matter how much work you put in on your blog – it’s the social following that seems to matter most. While Instagram itself is confusing to navigate, the idea that all you need is great photography to be noticed, is a farce. What these bloggers fail to realize is that even with the wardrobe, styling savvy, and photography to get you invited to the dance, it is the access to the industry that matters most. And that ticket is most always – tan, bland, and brunette.
In a message regarding the aforementioned photo, prominent digital influencer Aimee Song stated, “sometimes I wonder if it’s just that there aren’t many “known” influencers that are POC or if it’s merely that the POC don’t get the same opportunities as white people?” While I personally have followed Aimee, have read her book, and paid close attention to her career; the tone deafness of this statement rings loudly. The naivety in thinking there are no Black women influencers with the same amount of influence as white bloggers is outlandish and offensive. The truth of the matter is there a multitudes of Black women bloggers who are vying for their chance to be noticed but never get the opportunity because they are denied access to the places and spaces white women are allowed in. Further, even if there are some women of color who are granted access to events, press trips, front row seats during fashion week they are usually “digitally passing”, a term coined by a digital strategist Maya Francis. Meaning their ethnicity is acceptable because they can blend in with the white women surrounding them. Bloggers like Aimee, Jules of Sincerely Jules, Olivia of Corporate Catwalk, and more are allowed to rub elbows with the other women because they are the people of color that are more palpable to white audiences.
The naivety in thinking there are no Black women influencers with the same amount of influence as white bloggers is outlandish and offensive.
Take for example the highly regarded, Like To Know It app, used largely by many bloggers as a way to gain notoriety and earn money from their blog posts. LTKI does not actively repost or support Black women en masse on their platform. Several larger bloggers in the space have attributed a spike in their following and growth to being reposted by brand accounts or feeds like Like to Know it, but what if that chance is never given? Then certainly it will be easy to assume that we simply do not exist because we aren’t on the radar. Which then would allow non Black bloggers to insinuate that there cannot possibly any Black women motivating purchases, introducing products to legions of women, or simply inspiring people with their sense of style. Which we ALL know is untrue.
Diversity is quite the buzzword these days. Yet the issue with a word like diversity being thrown around loosely, is that people forget it is the byproduct of an action. That action is inclusion. If you fail to include those who are missing, you certainly cannot expect them to be represented. Blogging has grown vastly and quickly in the last ten years. Not only as a new form of journalism but also as a method of e-commerce, how ironic is it that Black users make up 51% of Instagram’s users, as told by Nielsen’s African American diverse report, but are left out of the conversation when it comes to driving purchasing power? How then are companies able to keep making moves without the presence of Black women? How is fashion blogging in particular an industry that operates like a high school clique, only allowing a chosen few sit at the center table?
While I won’t be giving up my blog anytime soon and will continue to focus on putting out authentic content for my audience, I urge the girls sitting at the top to start taking a closer look at who is sitting next to them. Pay attention to the fact that you only see the same group of girls invited to shows, press dinners, trips around the world, and ask yourself – is fashion really just one color fits all?
What are your thoughts on this issue? How do you propose we change the game? Let’s talk it out!
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