The idea of the Instagram influencer, someone whose job is to look picture perfect and share their plethora of sponsored packages, falls short in 2020; flaunting items on social media has gone out of style. As influencers strive to remain relevant during a global pandemic and a time of major political unrest, many are wondering, are they even necessary anymore?
After briefly conversing with jewelry designer Stephanie Gottlieb (U of M alum) about the topic, she noted that “influencers and brands are being closely watched right now, and more importantly, held accountable for their words and actions… I’ve made a greater point in recent months to be more verbal about social and racial injustice because I have a voice”.
Due to COVID-19 and a significant election only days away, influencers are being held to a higher standard than ever before. Arielle Charnas, the success behind Something Navy, received major backlash for her actions back in March. Charnas was privately tested during a time when most could not receive a test. After testing positive, the influencer and her family broke NYC health guidelines to flee to the Hamptons. Charnas quickly lost her partnership with Nordstrom, saw stark decreases in sales of her personal brand, and became a prime example of white privilege in the media.
More recently, Danielle Bernstein, founder of the fashion blog and brand WeWoreWhat, became involved in a lawsuit with The Great Eros, a Brooklyn-based lingerie company. The small business claimed that Bernstein stole its signature design. Although Bernstein denied this accusation, Eros’ lawyer insists that the influencer was familiar with the brand before releasing the print under question. Because The Great Eros has yet to show proof to support their claim, WeWoreWhat filed a lawsuit against the company.
Consumers today are savier than ever– constantly looking to their favorite faces to speak up about issues, scrutinizing whether they represent diversity and equality, and calling them out for being inauthentic. While being an influencer is seemingly glamorous, there is no room for error. Was Arielle Charnas truly an example of irresponsibility and entitlement, or was she using her resources in a time of uncertainty and panic? Is Danielle Bernstein a fraud suing a small business in the middle of an economic recession, or was she wrongfully accused and rightfully trying to protect her brand?
Many consumers are re-evaluating who they follow on social media. Now more than ever, young people want to hear more about politics, the environment, and organizations they believe in, and less about designer clothing, traveling, or where to have the best dinner. Influencers must step into their newly elevated role, inspiring hope and sparking change; they can now style us for revolution, and help us feel confident and beautiful while fighting for a brighter future.
Chrissy Rutherford is one fashion influencer who embodies the well rounded qualities consumers are looking for. As a contributor to Harper’s Bazaar, she provides her followers with not only cutting-edge style and a sophisticated aesthetic, but is a strong woman of color who has dedicated her content to covering more than just clothes. Rutherford is an advocate for mental health, the BLM movement, and is not afraid to engage in uncomfortable, but crucial conversations. Her posts are casual and relatable while also empowering and raw. In her BLM instagram highlight, she states, “if you share content about everything else in your life, you can share content about where you stand on issues” in our current cutthroat climate.
There is no question that the world is at a crossroads, and there are more important concerns than the latest fall trends; however, we must not neglect the power that the fashion industry holds. According to Business Insider, “brands are getting ready to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022”. Influencer fashion is only on the rise, and creators should be held responsible for keeping up with their fast-paced field.
As Stephanie Gottlieb points out, “the fashion industry, and EVERY industry, can make a difference by working together to uphold certain morals and values, and therefore influence and encourage their shoppers and fans to do the same”.
Although there is no denying that there is controversy in their content, influencers have the ability to spark change; it could be promoting and giving back to organizations at large, or simply relating to individual followers and leaving a lasting message. A product or a philosophy that makes us feel confident in a dark time is powerful. There is strength in numbers; influencers hold the power to sway the opinions of 500,000 to 3 million followers. We are currently telling a story we believe is important to be heard, and fashion influencers undoubtedly hold the potential to dictate this narrative and should be held accountable to do so.