An inside look at the business of ethical fashion blogging
It’s been just over a year since I started documenting my journey to slow fashion on Instagram through (nearly) daily outfit posts. When I started, I had a wardrobe of about 300 fast fashion items that I semi-liked. I wasn’t sure if they encompassed my style any more. I had been out of college for four years, in a marketing career that was a little too busy for me to think about curating a sensible wardrobe. So that’s how I walked blindly into what I didn’t realize would be an even bigger adventure than I thought.
I started taking outfit photos because:
- I had just bought a house, and couldn’t buy new clothes 🙂
- I wanted to see how creative I could get with what I already owned
- I wasn’t even sure what my style was
- I was tired of buying cheap and not knowing where my clothes came from
- The few ethical items I’d purchased over the years were some of my absolute favourites
Soon, I realized everyone had the same questions I did about how blogging and partnerships ACTUALLY work. So I’m answering them here!
I did not get into posting for a large following, or to get free things. My motivation was (and still is) connecting with everyone and discovering makers who are changing the face of the industry <3 I recognize that gifting is certainly an absolute privilege that I am extremely grateful for, which I’ll get into in the Q&A below.
As a note, links to my current partners in this post are affiliate links, which means any purchases made through them will give me a small commission to help support my work. This post is not meant to sell, but legally I do have to disclose! 🙂
Part 1 // where to start
Q: Ok, I want to shop ethical! Do I just toss everything and start over?
A: Nope! The best thing you can do for the environment and for you, is to get into slow fashion slowly. That way, you don’t go into “wardrobe shock” when you suddenly have nothing left (or rack up massive debt trying to replace everything!)
Q: How do I even start building an ethical closet, then?
A: Start by getting creative with the clothes you have! I kicked off by doing a 10×10 challenge, which involves wearing 10 items of clothing for 10 days in 10 combinations. I did that over and over with different pieces in my wardrobe as a way to see what I still loved, or hated by the end. What was easy to work with? What did I enjoy wearing? If I felt icky wearing it, I put it into a “transition” pile under my basement stairs. I took it very slow so that if I suddenly missed an item, I had the chance to rescue it from the “transition” pile.
Q: How do you find ethical brands to start shopping from when you’re ready?
A: That’s where bloggers and sites like The Good Trade come in. And honestly, that’s what is so amazing about this community! When you’re just starting out and have no idea where to go, here are all these people who have already gone through the motions to find cool brands and sustainable or ethical alternatives to the pieces you’ve worn out or need to replace. That’s why I continue to share brands with you—because I remember how hard it was to find them when I started out, and I LOVE finding you conscious alternatives when you’re in the market for something!
Q: How do you control the urge to just replace stuff with beautiful new ethical things?
A: Make a mental note (or keep a notebook!) of brands you love. I try to keep off Instagram once I have an awareness of the brands I really like. I limit myself to browsing like a magazine, and adding an item to a “wishlist” on Pinterest if I know I need to replace it. I try to not welcome a new item in unless I’m missing it: like a pair of black heels. I also give myself license to buy something nice once per season if I’m really itching!
Q: How do you know when to shop ethical, or shop secondhand?
A: Skirts, blazers, bags, knits and denim are awesome vintage. I always shop secondhand for those first. And shoes, if you’re lucky! Shoes are best at more curated vintage shops in city centres—they’re better quality. Secondhand is also a great way to still get in on trends if you’re reaaaally jonesing for a denim jumper, without breaking the bank (and being sustainable!). I shop new when I need something to fit extremely well, or that needs to live through a lot! Often I’ll shop new for things like fitted jeans, work tops, button-ups, heels/winter boots and cotton basics. I’m also a big fan of shopping vintage IN-PERSON rather than online, because you can experiment with styling the piece and check on the quality yourself.
Part 2 // brand outreach
Q: When did brands start to reach out to you?
A: The first partnership I took on (and still have!) was Tradlands, at about 1,500 followers. Smart brands care more about quality and community than quantity. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about cultivating a space filled with like-minded people who are really invested in each other. The beautiful thing is that it’ll start building a more earnest, inclusive fashion space—but brands have to be committed to that as well! Some of my favourite people to follow have followings under 10k, because they’re so fun, spontaneous and creative.
Q: Do you reach out to brands, or do they mostly contact you?
A: Both! Out of my most treasured partnerships (and brands I’d continue to purchase from if I stopped blogging tomorrow), Tradlands, Alice + Whittles and Brass Clothing reached out to me. I reached out to Kotn and Detox Market because I’d already been such a longtime customer. There are a few who reached out to me just as I was about to make my first purchase: Everlane, Sotela Co. – and others who I’d already purchased from, and re-connected with for a partnership: Hailey Gerrits, Mejuri, Matter Prints. There are a few who I’ve been chatting with, but things haven’t quite lined up for our calendars yet: Miakoda New York, Vetta Capsule, Swedish Stockings and L’Envers. Let me stress that this didn’t happen all at once! Quite a few happened before the 10k mark, and some of the latter ones mentioned were more recent.
Q: So if you are reaching out to a brand, how do you do it?
A: You can do it in a few ways! Some brands have an “affiliate” application on their website, in which case you just register and apply! It always helps if you have a blog site to support your application. You could also apply through an affiliate site like Share-A-Sale, where you can search merchants to partner with. Last, if they don’t have any of those, you can email them (which I have done before) asking genuinely if they’d like to work together. When I reached out to Kotn, I mentioned that of course, because I already shop with them I’d continue sharing, but that I’d love to create something bigger with them. When you’re genuinely excited and connected to their mission, and if you have an engaged audience (no matter the size), 9 times out of 10 they’ll say yes.
Q: How do you decide if the company reaching out to you is legitimate or ethical?
A: First thing, go to their “about” page. If a company is proud about their supply chain, they’ll be transparent right off the bat. The GoodOnYou app is also a great resource for this. If you can’t find information about where their items are made, or where they source their materials, the next step is to ask. I was pleasantly surprised when I asked Artisan + Fox how they sourced their Lapis Lazuli stones in their jewellery (it’s a stone very often mined via slavery in the Middle East). Their response was thorough, and included links to the mine they work with among other sources detailing their work and its steps to sustainability and commitment to fair trade work. I was so happy with them and although I didn’t get a lapis piece this time around, they’re first on my list the next time I’m gifting for the holidays!
If a company gives vague answers, seems shady or defensive, it’s a sure-fire time to politely say “no.”
Part 3 // the financial reality
Q: What’s the difference between a sponsored partnership and an affiliate partnership?
My only sponsored partnership was with Sol Organics, an organic cotton bedding company (I still sleep with their sheets every night)!! When a partnership is sponsored, it means you’re paid based on the content you share. In a sense, the brand is “buying” a package of content. When you’re an affiliate, you’re paid a small percentage of any purchases that people make using your promo code or link. For example, $2.50 commission from a $25.00 Kotn t-shirt purchase. Here’s the catch: the more you “sell,” the less you feel like a human. The less you “sell,” the less you make. So in a way, affiliate partnerships can become a bit of a toxic cycle of consumerism. I try to balance it by sharing my honest review, and doing a blog post that you can always find on how I style the piece! I step away from trying to “sell” unless a product is launching, or there’s a sale we’d all want to know about 🙂
Q: Is this your full-time job?
A: Noooope! I work full-time in marketing for a nonprofit. I spend about 3 hours each day on PetraAlexandra content, correspondence and photography, and about a half / full day each weekend depending on the season. It averages about 15-20h/week.
Q: Is this a viable second salary?
A: No, not like this. Anyone who wanted to make this a second salary would need to do it full-time, or also start a YouTube channel where Google would pay a salary for content. As-is on Instagram, most of what I do is on a gifting basis or the very, very rare sponsored partnership.
Q: So how much money do you actually make on this stuff?
A: Income from my affiliate links—often through blog posts rather than Instagram—averages to $100-200 around 3 times per year. It’s equivalent to the amount of freelance I’d earn doing photography or design work every once-in-a-while, except now I’m writing content and doing photography to share ethical fashion with you all rather than working for clients in corporate or film!
Part 4 // gifting
Q: How much of your wardrobe is actually gifted products?
A: I was nervous to count this. But in the spirit of being fully transparent, here goes! Just like any other job, there are “benefits/salary”. In this case, my “salary” is clothing. So it perpetuates the illusion that it’s realistic to be able to afford all these clothes in a short timespan (not the case!) I want to share this so you can feel a little more at ease with the pace that you’re at!
The value of gifted items in my closet totals $3,426.
If I were earning $15/h, it would be equivalent to 228 hours, or 76 out of the 425 3-h days I’ve worked since I started blogging.
If I were saving up to purchase that same amount of clothing on my nonprofit salary, it would take me 5 years, purchasing 1 special piece per season, at an average of $171.30.
Q: What percentage of your closet is gifted?
A: Probably 10% of it is gifted at the moment. I also totaled what I have ACTUALLY purchased in the past 425 days as well. Since I started my ethical fashion journey, I’d say my purchases account for another 10% of the total. In the past year and a bit, I’ve swapped or given away about 20% of my old pieces – so that means 20% of my wardrobe has changed in the past year.
Q: Do you just accept everything?
A: No, I do a few things: I only accept if I need it, or if quite a few people have been asking and asking for an ethical version of a fast fashion item I have. I politely decline if the price range is out of what I could ever afford (or would pay for) on my own. The other reason I decline is if there’s just too much happening. I declined Mejuri the first time around, because I didn’t want to be obligated to sell things to you when I’d already been chatting about too many other brands around the same time!
Q: Have you ever regretted a partnership or a gifted item?
A: Yes and no. I have disliked one of the items in a gift box that was mailed to me, but I liked everything else! And I once got a pair of Everlane shoes that were too small, but still comfy enough to wear all day. In these cases, I always want to be frank about it so everyone else can order with all the knowledge available to them! Sometimes when you’re gifted new products that haven’t been launched yet, you’re kind of a guinea pig on sizing and things.
There was a situation where I was finalizing everything with a brand, when in my vetting process I found that they had a number of items on their site named “kimono.” None of the pieces resembled traditional kimonos, and none were connected to Japanese makers or gave back in any way to the Japanese community. It was a clear case of appropriation, however unintentional. This has happened more than once. In both instances, I flagged this to them and asked for a change, explaining why it was inappropriate. One brand acknowledged and changed their product naming conventions, whereas the other quite bluntly refused and then acted as if I’d become too much of a hassle. I ended the partnership before anything was signed, and I’m frankly appalled at the defensiveness with which they handled it. The other partner who did change their site, I’m happy to say, has been a lovely partner. For more on why naming fashion garments kimonos is not appropriate, see this article on Densho.
Q: Have you ever given away or gotten rid of a gifted item?
A: Not yet! There’s one boxy top from Tradlands that I haven’t reached for like I have my other ones, and I know a friend of mine whose style would totally jive with it – so I might gift it to her! The shampoo and conditioner from Public Goods didn’t work for me (left my hair feeling greasy), but I loved their other items – soap, shaving cream, lotion. I know my sister’s been lusting over Public Goods, so I’ll probably gift her the shampoo!
Part 5 // moving forward
Q: What happens when you don’t need anything else?
A: I’ve been asking myself the same question! SO many amazing brands are reaching out, in really genuine, heartfelt ways. I’d love to share them all, but can’t. And I’m not always the best person to, to be frank! That’s where I think the rest of the community comes in. There’s so much opportunity in engaging people with followings less than 10k, even less than 5k – I’d love to see brands connecting to more accounts who align with their mission.
There’s also the glaring fact that the fashion industry, even the ethical fashion industry, is severely lacking in its support of diverse creators, not only in culture and race, but in size. Brands—the creators you partner with should be reflective of our actual communities and of the people who are purchasing and supporting the brand. There are so many creators (check out Dominque Drakeford’s article here for just a few!) who have been doing brilliant things in this space, and many of them for longer than I have.
As for me, I’d love to focus more on longevity of pieces from my favourite ethical brands, and styling tips as I continue to move forward – while still having a little room to welcome in special partners I really align with.
Ok, phew – that was a LOT. I’m a little terrified to put that in the open, but there you have it! I don’t know that I’ve ever read a post from anyone detailing this kind of thing. Even among other bloggers, everyone’s super quiet about how much they earn or don’t—because it varies wildly. It varies based on the type of partnerships you accept, if you work on it full time, your own pricing (which is not regulated in any way), and on how much you “sell” with affiliate links.
I got into writing and sharing conscious fashion because I love getting to know makers and sharing what they do! I’ve often asked makers to partner up or offer a code for you, not because I want affiliate commission or pay—but because I think you’d love them and I want to connect you all! In those instances, there’s no payment and/or gifting, just happy people sharing!
Have any questions? Feel free to pop them in the comments section below, or drop me a message on Instagram @petraalexandra 🙂