Bye Bye Gucci, Hello Kotex: How Fashion Blogging Went Mainstream

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
If you follow lifestyle bloggers and vloggers on Instagram, you might have recently come across the curious phenomenon of elaborately staged photos of maxi pads. Around Spring Break, @IreneSarah photographed a box of Kotex next to a passport, selfie stick, and other “travel must haves.” The same week, @KrazyRayRay paired her Kotex with headphones and a Michael Kors wallet ("So excited for Coachella!"). @Manicurator designed a cheetah-print nail look to match the pads' packaging and @mommatoldme frosted cookies to look like butts in underwear, a nod to Kotex's #savetheundies promise that its pads protect panties from a bloody death.

It was a heavy flow of sponsored content, to say the least. "If I see one more sponsored thing by Kotex, I sweeeeear to GAWWWDDDD," one commenter lamented. The campaign spammed — er, spanned — beauty vloggers, style bloggers, nail artists, models, and influencers with everything from a few thousand followers to a few hundred thousand. Aggressive influencer-wielding isn't unique to menstrual products. In April, Lord & Taylor seeded a single dress to 50 fashion personalities, drenching Instagram feeds the world over in sherbet-hued paisley. The dress, at $88, was a hit, selling out within a week.

Such campaigns are harder to find among brands who sell dresses for $880. This is partly because sponsored posts, like Photoshop magic, can be difficult to detect, but also because in fashion’s upper echelons, luxury brands once awash with blogger partnerships are diversifying. Gucci, for instance, which featured more than 25 bloggers in campaigns around its Soho Disco Bag and Horsebit Loafers in 2013, has more recently turned to DJs and musicians. Sources at similar brands who didn't want to be named said that their marketing and PR departments are less interested in blogger projects now than a few years ago. Meanwhile, some of the most successful bloggers (Man Repeller, The Blonde Salad) are morphing their websites into online magazines and designing their own lines. One decade into its existence, the fashion blog is far from dead, but it is in the midst of an identity crisis.

In their early years, blogs were more like zines, manned by obsessive fashion fans who got paid in the emotional currency of comments rather than agent-negotiated contracts. They had more candor and edge than mainstream fashion magazines, in part because brands weren’t paying attention. Readers were, however, and soon, advertising rolled in: In 2005, anonymous blogger The Manolo revealed he made a six-figure income from his site, making waves around the internet. A few years later, such announcements were commonplace. Blogs appealed to advertisers as authentic alternatives to mainstream outlets, with personal voices that their readers trusted.

Commercialization was inevitable. “The professionalization of blogging has been something I'm happy about...People are able to turn their hobby into a job,” says Susanna Lau of Style Bubble. On the other hand, “Perhaps some people go into fashion blogging not necessarily because they're passionate about their content, but as a fast track to fame, freebies — or both."
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
James Nord, one of the co-founders of Fohr Card, a platform that pairs influencers with brands, sees the new blogging economy as a natural evolution: “Twenty years ago, [bloggers] would have worked at fashion magazines. Now, there’s not a huge incentive to make $28,000 a year, when you can have your own voice and style and aren’t running around getting someone’s coffee.” Fohr Card lists 6,000 influencers in its database, which brands can access for a yearly subscription fee. The most popular type of partnership is sponsored posts, he says. An influencer with 500,000 followers and good engagement might earn $5,000 to $7,500 per Instagram photo. A YouTuber with a similar following might net $25,000 for a video and two photos. The more followers you have, the higher it gets: Harper's Bazaar recently reported that influencers with more than 6 million followers can wrangle upwards of $20,000 a single Instagram.

Of course, not even Chiara Ferragni has 6 million followers, which means it’s probably easier to get a coffee-shuttling Condé gig than it is to make $20,000 on an Instagram post. For every Blonde Salad, there are dozens of blogs who never get sponsorships, much less a seven-figure incomes. The Divinitus, for instance, a personal style blog run by filmmaker Dorota Swies, has more than 4,000 Facebook fans and says she rarely gets free products because her style isn’t mainstream enough. “Sophisticated taste doesn't sell,” the blogger, whose site showcases her penchant for moody Rick Owens pieces, tells us. “Blogging has fallen into the same trap that mainstream fashion magazines did years ago.”

According to Nord, the most successful influencers carefully vet brands on more than money, or risk losing credibility by pushing products irrelevant to their followers. In other words, there’s a reason Man Repeller isn’t participating in #UbyKotex. Fohr Card also helps pair bloggers and brands through analytics that track the labels bloggers post about, using that information to match them with similar paying companies. The capacity of influencers to reach niche audiences particularly appeals to brands, Nord argues. Unlike with traditional advertising, they can target not just women who love Elle, but women who love, for instance, Korean beauty vlogs.

Meanwhile, the fact that so many big blogs have now gone commercial — or made the move away from blogging to other media outlets — also creates opportunities for new, fresh voices. “Because there was a period of time where fashion bloggers became quite monotonous...now we're seeing individuals come through, but on social media as opposed to a web-based platform,” observes Lau. “It's almost like the big fashion bloggers have become ‘establishment’ and people on Instagram or Vine stars are doing their own thing.” Instagram artists like Ms. Nina come to mind, as do stylists like Haley Wollens or editors like Julia Sarr-Jamois.

You could make the argument that the rise of influencers on non-web platforms signifies the death of fashion blogging — or that they’re just bloggers in a different form. As blogs morph and dissipate, practices they originally popularized — outfit selfies, haul videos, general over-sharing of life’s minutia — are only becoming more ubiquitous. These days, everyone and their mom is blogger, but we’re just not getting free Kotex. Yet.
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