Sustainable influencers have become more popular than ever. But how realistic is it to combine the two? Promoting sustainable brands is always better than promoting non-sustainable competitors, but seducing your followers to buy something isn’t.
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You probably know a bunch of sustainable and eco-friendly infleuncers. Perhaps you even follow them on Instagram. They happily live their eco-friendly and sustainable influencer life – including its perks. If that means flying to fashion week to attend a Stella McCartney fashion show or receiving the latest Filippa K collection, most of them are on it.
Recently Leah Thomas – the girl behind Green Girl Leah – told Vogue UK she felt conflicted about recommending products to her followers. Despite that these products are all eco-friendly, sustainable and a better alternative to fast fashion items, it felt weird to her – especially when receiving products she doesn’t even need.
And there we head to the key point of sustainable fashion: it’s all about buying better and buying less. With an emphasis on buying less. Until a couple of years ago, only celebrities and other famous people used to have an influence role. Today, social media has created a shift. Nowadays, everyone with an Instagram or TikTok account can be an influencer.
With Instagram making it easier to instantly shop, companies are demanding shoppable content more than ever. Combined with high investments in infleuncer marketing results in a recipe for success. According to Business Insider, the influencer marketing industry will go up to $15 billion in 2022, from an estimated $8 billion last year.
Concerning the climate crisis, evoking a “buy more” mentality isn’t a good thing, even not when we’re just talking about sustainable items. We should rather be talking about buying less – and better. These two contradicting concepts make you question: do sustainable influencers actually exist? An interesting starting point for a discussion.
Influencers simply can’t be thought away from today’s society. They are here to stay. According to some, sustainable influencers do exist. You simply have to approach it from a different angle. Some ‘influencers’ should be valued as activists or educators, since they put a lot of effort in educating their followers on making deliberate choices when it comes to their shopping behavior or even entire lives.
To Vogue UK, Tolmenia Gregory a.k.a. Tolly Dolly Posh explained it as follows: “They tackle the climate crisis head-on, even if they do occasionally sell a product here and there. I think the big difference is they’re not afraid to tell the truth about what’s happening in the world.” Gregory hopes there will be an “influencer shift” concerning the gifting of products. Everyone has to play their part in turning the system. Together with this, we have to keep in mind that nobody is perfect – rather, we should view sustainability as a journey which gets better and better as times passes by.
On the other hand, some say that sustainable influencers don’t exist. People recommending items on social media – in any possible form – encourage other to buy things, while you can be perfectly happy with what you have. Of course it’s better to buy a secondhand blazer, but were you planning to buy it before you saw a certain influencer’s post?
That’s the tricky part. Influencers prime their followers and viewers of their posts. Maybe someone doesn’t directly sprint to a local vintage store to buy an item, but a little seed is planted in the mind. The next time this person sees a similar blazer, the urge to buy this item has increased. Affiliate platform Awin explains it loud and clear: “When an influencer shares new content discussing third-party brands or products, the market is already primed towards the influencer’s choices and much more likely to follow the recommendation. A recent survey shows that seventy percent of buyers take the recommendations of peers into account before purchasing, demonstrating the capacity of this form of marketing.”
Then we come back to the question: how sustainable are sustainable influencers? If they promote a sustainable lifestyle, educate their following about more deliberate choices and position themselves as (climate) activists – without promoting products – they might exist. However, it’s a grey area of which the last word has not yet been spoken.