Is Your Favourite Digital Influencer Lying to You?
Quick question; who is your favourite Instagram Fashionista? Okay maybe that’s a little too specific; who is your favourite blogger/Snapchat Queen/Facebook Aficionado/Twitter Fashion Pundit? Because, like it or not, if you consume fashion in the 21st century, you have one.
Fashion has migrated from the glossy pages of high fashion magazines to the apps on your mobile phone. We are just as likely to spend an hour on our favourite social media star’s platforms as we normally would leafing through a magazine. While this migration happened organically over the last decade we are only starting to grasp the consequences it has for fashion as a multi-million-dollar business and as a creative and artistic outlet and especially for the savants of this new medium; the digital media influencer.
It truly is unprecedented the changes that advancing technology has had on the once stoic and guarded fashion industry and its elite. It truly democratized fashion, taking a huge chunk of the power out of the hands of mysterious and reclusive fashion and magazine editors and put it in the hands of the consumers of fashion, it has allowed them decide who is ‘cool’ and who is not. Digitizing fashion was supposed to take the establishment out of decision making, and celebrate style over the fleeting, trend driven machine that fashion has become.
Before the digital influencer, there was the ‘it-girl’. Chosen by fashion editors for their ‘rebelliousness’ or ‘non-conformity’, it-girls were watched constantly, their sartorial choices dissected and aped by designers and editorials alike. But the it-girl always fell into a certain niche; thin, white, young and rich, and many women simply did not see themselves in this mold. They began to search for alternatives, and they found them on social media.
What then is a digital media influencer?
A person with a sizeable following on one of the many digital platforms that dominate conversations globally, able to directly or indirectly through updates on their platforms. American reality TV star Kylie Jenner’s entire career as a beauty entrepreneur is built around 70 million Instagram followers, mostly women between ages 15 and 40. For perspective, Ghana has a population of about 30 million people total. Every single one of Kylie Jenner’s updates on Instagram immediately reaches approximately four times the entire population of women in Ghana, women with disposable income. To bring it closer home, fashion It-girls Zainab Balogun and Bolanle Olukanni have seen their professional profiles rise significantly with their growing digital fan bases. Beauty blogger Lola Oj just recently released a bath soap in collaboration with beauty brand Bath Kandy solely on the strength of her digital reach.
However, there is an implicit agreement between the enthusiast and the influencer. We follow the digital influencer because they are unallied to any brands, they do not conform to the whims of some shadowy magazine editor. They aren’t told to wear, what to like, how they choose to present themselves. We love them for their independence and try to emulate them. But influencers are people too, and creating the gorgeous images and editorial work we love is time and money consuming. And our independent influencers are starting to mislead us to make a quick buck.
We have all seen the new ‘Slimming Tea’ testimonials on your favourite fashionista’s Instagram feed. Or maybe it’s Waist Trainers, or hair extensions. They swear it is the most revolutionary thing they have ever ‘discovered’ and swear it will give you some miraculous effect in no time. You’re not wrong to wonder why a person who is already a size zero needs slimming tea or why an avowed natural hair lover is peddling bone straight hair extensions. This is advertising and when a person is paid to advertise something to you, no matter the platform, they are required by law to inform you that they are being paid to endorse the product. But brands understand that a paid for opinion holds less water than a genuine, enthusiastic one, they encourage your run off the mill influencer to smudge the truth with cash incentives.
The Nigerian fashion industry is young enough that this deliberate misleading of consumers is minimal but in a few years, it will. And as a consumer looking for authenticity in an industry where everything is staged we need to ask for accountability from everyone, including digital influencers.