Famous people get free shit. It has been that way for a long time. Nowadays, it has evolved from merely gifting (e.g. swag bags at events) to paying them to promote the product. The notion of fame has expanded too. Anyone with internet access can be famous now, which means that regular people with followers online are being paid large sums of money to talk about things. It seems that we all have a price and, in fact, are all just walking billboards. People are now more aware of this than before and take what they see and read online with a pinch of salt, so perhaps paid promotions will be less effective for brands than before (although I did read that FashionNova was one of the top Google searches of the year and they are known for paying influencers and celebrities to promote the brand).
The lesser discussed side of things is what happens to pieces that people are gifted. As an influencer, you receive PR packages from brands on a daily basis. I used to watch a Beauty YouTuber who would receive an entire collection from a brand and only actually like say 2 out of 30 shades of lipstick sent. The rest of the collection would either be hoarded or donated to women’s shelters. With beauty products, the resale market is small. Only the most collectible items can be sold, and only if they are unopened for sanitary reasons. If a YouTuber opens a product to swatch it, the value is gone. Fashion, on the other hand, is a booming resale market and shows no sign of slowing down.
Influencers are donated pieces, or buy them at a super steep discount (80-90% off), and sell them after they’ve worn them once or twice. After all, once they’ve posted it on their Instagram they have to get rid of it (or not rewear it publicly…). The same thing happens at fashion magazines: editors are gifted pieces for promotional consideration, whether they choose to write about them or not is up to them, and they can do whatever they want with the pieces afterwards. The sheer volume of stuff is why people sell it on and make some money in the process. I have sold items on Depop in the past. The app tends to focus on items with a lower price point, mainly vintage pieces that you could find in a thrift store (often what Depop sellers do, hauling items from Goodwill and comparable stores and selling them for a small profit) or gently worn fast-fashion pieces. You don’t tend to see too many brands on there. The sites that are used for selling designer pieces are TheRealReal, Tradesy, Vestiaire Collective, and sometimes eBay.
The ethics of selling things that you didn’t actually pay for are a little bit murky. On one hand, it is how many young editors in fashion sustain their lifestyles. On the other, you are profiting 100% off of things you did not purchase and are likely not declaring that income on your tax forms so it is pretty shady. Fashion editors tend to be on a very low salary yet seem to all be wearing designer pieces and living in New York City. Something’s gotta give.
Racked did a wonderful project, called The Swag Project, where they kept all of the pieces that the editors were given over a 6 month period and totaled its value, plus added a few articles digging deeper into the ethics behind it all. In the 6 months, the site received close to $100k worth of items for free yet only wrote about 3% of the products sent to them. The best article to come out of this project is an article entitled “The Secret Swag Resale Economy” which delves into the rife reselling that goes on at magazines. For example, a Conde Nast staffer initially felt guilty after selling a laser hair removal package that she was gifted and keeping the proceeds then quickly realized that that is just how things operate there. Much of the fashion industry runs on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, in all facets of the industry. I follow a YouTuber who was involved in a mini-scandal when a follower on Depop called her out for reselling an item gifted to her that was an exclusive piece not originally for sale. This happens all the time so it was interesting to see her response which was, of course, very defensive. Also interesting was the fact that fashion editors do this all the time and get no response. Perhaps it is just because it is less known or less public.
With the rise of social media, fashion editors have fast become celebrities with followings in their own right. It used to be that only the top tier of magazine editors were known, but now even a fashion assistant at a publication can garner a following in the tens of thousands. Of course, once you hit around 5000 followers on Instagram, the paid promotions come-a-knocking. The FTC has cracked down on paid promotions online though, releasing guidelines that say you must clearly state at the beginning of the caption that it is an ad. They have also been investigating people and issuing fines for influencers and celebrities who do not abide by the guidelines. Paid promotions in the fashion industry, however, are not as clear as #ad. Editors get free clothes, discounts, attend parties, get sent on trips, and have dinners. They often attend the same events as influencers who are vocal about their payment / partnership, but don’t post about them in the same way: Fashionista did a good post about the “tricky ethical territory” that editors verge into as a result of this. The discussion on this topic is promising because it means that consumer awareness is high. I don’t have a problem with people attending the events or reselling their free stuff, as long as people know that it is happening. Instagram tends to portray a false reality and people are often fooled into seeing the world in a way that simply does not exist. I would like to see that change and people be a lot more transparent about things.
“The Secret Swag Resale Economy” – Racked
Arguably the most interesting article in The Swag Project, this article delves deep into the practice of gifting at magazines and the ethical guidelines in which staff are told to follow.
The first article in The Swag Project with a lot of information on what was received and what happened to it all. Amazing infographics!
Further delves into the discussion started by Racked and mentions some key items that were suspected to be gifted to editors and influencers alike.