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How Influencers are Sparking the Downfall of Their Industry

Sondos Alqattan, Kuwaiti influencer who has set off global backlash for her racist remarks on social media. Image: Sondos Alqattan/Instagram

OPINION: I have never liked the saying, “A woman of style and substance.” Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but I sure have the right to judge your IQ! And yet, style without substance is undeniably what is being served, post after post, to anyone following influencers on social media today. With some few honorable exceptions, of course.

In-flu-en-cer An individual with a significant following on social media who is influenced by brands to promote their products to said followers, via free products and trips and cash payment per promotional post. The purpose is to persuade followers to purchase such products. Popular medium of choice for influencing: Instagram but not limited to Facebook and Snapchat.

Not so long ago (one year, to be exact), Vogue US creative digital editor Sally Singer tweeted, “Note to bloggers who change head-to-toe paid-to-wear outfits every hour: please stop. Find another business. You are heralding the death of style.” At the time of Singer’s tweet, bloggers—now called influencers (the majority stopped blogging, bemoaning the effort involved in creating written content)—fired back. Vogue editors were deemed hypocritical and unwelcoming. Now, a year later, bloggers and influencers are starting to write similar notions about each other. Removing themselves from the conversation, perhaps unaware that this is a beast they have all had a hand in creating.

Last week, Dubai-based influencer Zahra Lyla wrote on her first blog post of 2018, “With the rise of social media, I feel like content posted online no longer has substance. I browse through Instagram rolling my eyes instead of being inspired. It’s either an image of a half-naked girl (to each their own) or someone twirling around and captioning it ‘mood.’ How is that doing anything for anyone? Yes, it’s cute the first time around but when it is being shoved in my face over and over again, it just makes me resent being in this industry.”

Brands who have jumped on the influencer bandwagon are now scrambling to reset their storied houses. In an effort to make their brands more inclusive, it would appear that influencers, who represent “the people,” just might harbor values that are not so all-encompassing, after all. When Kuwaiti beauty influencer Sondos Alqattan published her views on the treatment of household workers—employers should possess employee passports should the latter decide to “run away”—a deluge of complaints were directed at her collaborative brands. M.A.C, Shiseido, Max Factor Arabia, and Phyto severed ties immediately with Alqattan.

This month, Christian Dior organized a mass influencer campaign to promote its saddle bag. Every influencer across the globe posed with their trophy bag accompanied by a gushing caption. If the idea was ahead of the curve, industry watchdog Diet Prada swiftly called out influencers for not captioning their posts as advertisements or specifying that the bags were gifts. Many posts were amended but the damage was done. The bag striving for It status is now intrinsically tied to followers harboring feelings of being duped.

A post shared by Kat Lebrasse (@katlebrasse) on

Dubai-based influencer Kat Lebrasse in one of two images promoting the Dior saddle bag to her 52.6 K followers, offering no indication that this is part of a campaign. Courtesy Instagram.com/Katlebrasse

A post shared by Camila Coelho (@camilacoelho) on

Brazilian influencer Camila Coehlo also promotes the Dior saddle bag to her 7.3 million followers, with the hashtag #suppliedbydior. Courtesy Instagram.com/camilacoelho

Don’t mistake brands for victims. They are effectively giving the keys to Ferraris to people who’ve never seen a shift stick. Where journalists are educated about international ethics at university, where models, sports, and culture personalities are protected by major agencies who follow universal rules of good governance, most influencers, are governed by themselves, friends, family, and boutique agencies. How else can one explain Alqattan’s non-apology, which reinforced her belief that employers should maintain employees’ passports, irrespective of nationality?

When I ask brands, like Givenchy or Chanel, if the houses’ fashion departments work with influencers, the answer is a flat no. Influencers, after all, make fashion accessible. If high fashion brands position themselves as such, they will just as quickly snuff out an aspirational status that some have been working to maintain for over a hundred years.

The fact is, super influencers (those with a million or more followers) do drive sales to everyday people—their followers. This is why beauty influencers-turned-entrepreneurs are so successful. Their products are accessible and are purchased en masseForbes reported that Huda Kattan is now worth over US$500 million. Meanwhile, micro influencers, a category on the rise, are individuals with focused passions (yoga, gardening, cooking) and a few thousand followers, and while the following is much smaller, the engagement is higher.

As for the “hater” followers in fashion—also known as trolls—a measured dose of envy helps to drive the consumer machine. But when, as I have observed, vanity and dependency reach a point that an influencer cannot even function at an industry dinner without compulsively monitoring the likes rise on her ‘gram, it is akin to a hamster on a spinning wheel that only proverbial death and reincarnation can stop.

A post shared by Miroslava Duma (@miraduma) on

Founder of Buro 24/7, Miroslava Duma, writes a rant lamenting the state of Instagram today. Courtesy Instagram.com/Miraduma

Case-in-point, Miroslava Duma, founder of Buro 24/7 and one of the world’s former super influencers, with what is possibly a bot following of 1.6 million (general engagement averages a few dozen comments per post), recently announced on her Instagram,

“Social media that was initially designed to provide infinite opportunities for people to connect, learn, build and grow, is now leaving most of us feeling more isolated than ever before. The ugly truth is that it is destroying core foundations of how societies work, interact and function.

“Never before has the level of depression, anxiety and suicide amongst teens been so high. Anything from Fear of Missing Out to feelings of loneliness, jealousy and inadequacy, to the spread of fake news and cyberbullying are pushing young kids to the darkest and scariest of places.

“We are dealing with a highly addicted generation, a real time bomb ticking. For the sake of our sanity, and for the future of our children, we must do something about this.” (Note* Duma then announced that she would be retiring from social media for a while to attend to her family and new projects; though this has since been deleted.)

Remarkably, this is being preached by the same woman whose influencing decline was triggered when she posted a photo of a bouquet and card reading, “To my n****s in Paris.” With a heart emoji. A video in which she spews hate speech (against other industry members and minorities) to high school students was unearthed shortly thereafter and shared on social media.

It appears that influencers are taking a real, hard look at themselves and are as turned off by what they see as some brands and most followers today. What is left but to move forward, and morph into something new? And yet, only a handful of influencers—with work validated by the industry and general public—have the potential to trade their likes in for cash and spearhead empires like Kattan or Chiara Ferragni. In other cases, they will go backwards; humbly gather up the remnants of their blogger past from among that crumpled heap of last season clothes. Back to the keyboard. Fortunately, recycling has always been in fashion.

Related Read: Beauty brands sever ties with Kuwaiti blogger Sondos Alqattan

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