You might remember in my recent Melbourne post I mentioned how I'd been inspired by some of my favourites ladies to start creating more candid diary-like entries on the blog, as opposed to the polished 'big camera' posts, and to make this space a bit more than just the clothes I'm wearing, so here I am posting my first playlist. I really enjoy discovering new music through others sharing their playlists, so what better way to return the favour than by sharing the top tunes I had on repeat last month. You’ll notice a new icon hanging out in the navigation bar to the left incase you wanted to follow for future playlists (or just have a nosey). February saw me reignite my love for some oldies, such as Beirut, Kate Bush and Devo (I blame Life Aquatic for that track), but also discovered some new’uns thanks to Spotify’s ‘Office Stereo Playlist’ which is great one to have on in the background whilst working.
Unless you've been hiding under a rock, or simply don't use Instagram often (or at all?!), you'll know at the start of the year the CMA caused quite a stir through the blogging and Instagram community after the release of their new influencer guidelines*. I sat back and watched fellow peers go up in arms about the whole fiasco, understandably the guidelines are a bit muddy (read here), and have left many of us confused, myself included, so I completely resonate with the frustration over the need to declare gifting, endorsements and brand partnerships in such detail, but ultimately these guidelines are put in place to protect the consumer aka an influencer's audience. I wouldn't be where I am in today without you, my audience, so I have your best interest at heart when creating content (Always have, always will) which is why I've also felt conflicted about the uproar.
Now that the dust is settled, and most of us are complying I wanted to add my two cents. Instead of talking about the guidelines themselves, because I think that's been done enough (and frankly I don't care about how ugly it makes your Instagram captions, it is what it is) I want to talk more about how the aftermath has made me feel and the wake-up call it's given me.
Within this industry, I fall into the 'influencer' category, but I'm also still a consumer, I still use Instagram for recreational purposes so these guidelines work both ways for me and if I'm totally honest I'm quite thankful for these guidelines, because the past few months have been a real eye-opener and benefical for my mental health when seeing the sheer volume of gifting** happening in the industry and the reluctance to be transparent about it.
I'll be the first to admit, I'm no angel, I declare every single one of my paid partnerships (when money has been exchanged), but I haven’t always been transparent about items brands have sent to me for free, so as soon as I read through the CMA guidelines I thought 'actually , do you know what, this makes total sense for my audience' so I complied immediately and many others have followed suit, but in doing so it has been terrifyingly eye-opening to see how many people AND brands have built their entire empire on gifting, I'm not talking about the odd item of clothing here and there, I'm talking about kitchens, weddings, cars, entire wardrobes of designer clothes. You name it if you've got the credentials it can be gifted. By no means am I trying to throw shade, if someone handed me a brand new kitchen on a plate in exchange for a handful of Instagram stories and posts I'd be hard pushed not to take it, but I'd also begin to question my integrity and the message I'm sending to my audience. It's amazing to see people following the guidelines and declaring gifted items, but it's also eye-opening to see images posted made up entirely of free stuff.
Life doesn't come for free outside the influencer bubble and I think some people are losing sight of this.
I've always been conscious of the image and message I'm exerting online, I'd hate for someone to look through my content and feel rubbish about themselves because I've been on the receiving end and it can be crippling. Funnily enough, in light of what I've seen over the past 3 months, I've increasingly started to feel rubbish again seeing just how much influencers get for free, but rather than dwell on this I've used it as fuel to focus even more so on my audience. I'm trying to be more conscious of my consumption and how my life looks on the surface, I've started to significantly reduce the number of items I accept from brands, even if it's something I wouldn't mind owning or someone I'd potentially like to work with I have to seriously question do I need this? Does this benefit my audience? Am I simply accepting gifts for self-gain? When you're being offered free stuff on a regular basis, naturally it can be hard to say no and I can completely get that, again this is no shade to those that do but I think you can run the risk of becoming a bit greedy with it and forget that you're in this privileged position for one reason and one reason only - your audience. Before the CMA guidelines came in to place, it was very easy to hide and pass it all off as genuine purchases but going forward I think we could see a big shift in audience engagement in response to large amounts of gifting. Especially the unobtainable kind.
Case in point: mass gifting campaigns. Have you ever wondered why all of a sudden every blogger has the same Mulberry bag? Or why the Dior Saddle bag made such a huge comeback? VOILA! Gifting. Don't get me wrong, it's clever marketing and to some degrees works excellently (essentially it's the same as putting multiple adverts in a magazine) but if I'm seeing the same thing over and over it can often have the reverse effect, lose hype and put me off brands - if I think this, surely audiences could also be thinking the same?
It is, however, a bit of a catch 22, sending out free items to bloggers and influencers is an integral part of this machine, it creates relationships with brands, I'm very lucky to have gifting partnerships with some of my favourite brands such as ARKET and & Other Stories (which I’m eternally grateful for) because of this and it helps generates traction/sales and enables us to create new fresh content, but I also know, as I said above, it can make you (the audience) feel quite low. Comparison-itus begins to rear its ugly head and you start to question why your life and wardrobe doesn't match up. So what happens, if like me you have a huge passion for supporting independents, it's difficult not just for me but also for the brands. I have a voice, I have influence that I want to use for good and if I can give a small brand starting out the visibility in what is fast becoming a saturated and difficult landscape to stand out in, then I'm going to. How can a brand without big budgets for advertising campaigns or influencer marketing grow? How can I show you new brands all the time without it feeling like I'm over consuming? Again, gifting! So I find myself in this predicament in which I want to limit the amount I accept but also want to support brands I love. I'm still trying to navigate this whole thing, but in the meantime, I think moderation is key and what I do know is, I have trust on my side. From the very beginning, I've always prided myself on sticking to my guns, having that passion for particular brands and only showcasing the ones I truly love and believe in. I think (or at least hope) this message is in your mind when you visit my social channels.
You will notice in my Instagram captions I now give a detailed breakdown of everything I'm wearing, accompanied with the word gifted, in brackets, if applicable. If you see items credited without the word gifted next to them this means I purchased said item with my own money. Hopefully, this gives some clarity and gives you an idea of how much is gifted vs. own bought. It will also give you an insight into how much-gifted items I re-wear they aren't just a one time feature. The same applies if I’m on a complimentary trip somewhere, and purposefully promoting an experience, hotel, etc, the word ‘press trip’ or ‘complimentary stay’ will feature in stories and captions.
I have no idea if this post was coherent or made the slightest bit of sense, so if you made it this far well done. I could probably ramble on about this subject for another five paragraphs but I wanted to keep it short and sweet, because I'd like to hear your thoughts on this topic. How does seeing all of this gifting make you feel? Does it bother you? Or is just part and parcel now? Maybe you've been oblivious to it all and it's been an eye opener for you too?
*If you're not sure what I'm talking about, the Competition and Market Authority released a set of guidelines outlining ways in which bloggers and influencers need to declare all social media endorsements, regardless of if they've been paid or not. This means all forms of gifting, brand endorsements and incentives must be declared. You can read in more depth here.
**Sat reading this wondering what does she mean 'gifting?!' Gifting is something that happens far and wide within the influencer landscape (it's also common practice within magazine and print media) - brands will get in touch and offer to send you an item in the hope they will get exposure on which platform said influencer/blogger is using. Some brands will give influencers the option to pick what they would like gifted and others don’t, it entirely depends on what the brand is trying to push. I only ever accept gifting that I have been allowed to genuinely choose myself.
Dress: Eudon Choi / Bag: Theory / Shoes: Chanel
I've sat on these photos for months, nearly five to be exact, not really knowing what to do with them. They were taken during a press trip to Salcombe, with Liz Earle alongside a group of awesome woman and have collected dust ever since. This happens to me a lot though, I document outfits or moments and never publish them. I don't know if it's the pressure of executing a perfectly eloquent blog post with a purpose, my terrible tendency to procrastinate or my inability to put aside dedicated time to enough sit down and share these moments, either way, I want to start sharing and creating more on this platform no matter how big or small the moment is.
Looking back on these photos reminds me of a special time spent on a grey and windy beach, giggling away with some women who I feel incredibly lucky to call my friends (not just acquaintances). I have a lot to thank Instagram and blogging for because finding friends in your mid 20's is no mean feat and I'm not afraid to admit before all of this started I felt very lonely, and I was struggling to make female friendships as an adult.
Don't worry; this isn't a 'woe-is-me-I-didn't-have-any-friends-growing-up' type post because the truth is I did; this is more of a 'who-else-finds-making-friends-as-an-adult-tough' ramble.
When you're younger you can't move for friends, the world revolves around playground hangs, begging your parents to let you sleepover mates, and weekends down 'the field'. I had a relatively regular female friendship group from high school right up until university, yes they chopped and changed, but albeit I always had women I could depend on, but come graduation things changed. The people I'd spent the last three years were moving away, moving on, slowly drifting away one by one while I was staying put in Norwich, chuck in a year travelling around Australia into the mix and you can bet I returned home to a much different landscape, one of crippling loneliness. All of a sudden I was in my mid 20's, working a job I didn't very much like, experiencing a severe case of the travelling blues and living in a city without a single female pal to reach out to. Yes, I had Dean by my side, but I didn't realise how important female connections were until they'd gone. People around me were growing up, getting married, having children and in general being 'adults' while all I craved was to have a group of girls again. I didn't enjoy clubbing; I didn't enjoy drinking and had terrible social anxiety. (Makes for an appealing BumbleBFF bio, right?). So what was I to do? Trying to make friends as an adult is TOUGH, because strong friendship is quite often formed through a shared experience which are way more common in our younger years and it's certainly not as simple as walking up to someone in the playground and blurting out 'Do you want to be my friend?!' (or maybe it is that simple and we're all too shy) instead you're forced to put yourself out there in what can feel like unnatural situations almost infiltrate existing friendship groups and starting the process from scratch, which when you're shy, lack confidence or feel like you don't fit in a certain box can feel really daunting.
Enter Instagram. My deep dive into the world of sharing photos of 'stuff I liked' started in 2013 long before we knew what it would become today. I loved posting just about everything and anything, but what appealed to me most was the escapism and how the space enabled me to make a connection with like-minded women (and still continues to). Yes, it felt totally weird talking to people through social media, especially a photo sharing app, but fast forward four years, and I can gratefully say I'm now surrounded by a phenomenal group of women who I meet up with regularly and class as pretty close pals, all thanks to the world wide web and that little app we all love to hate. These connections have completely changed my mindset for the better. Guiding me through wobbles of self-confidence, work rants and fears of going freelance; they've been there, and (I hope) vice versa
The internet can be a tough place, and as Instagram increasingly continues to get a bad rap, it's easy to lose sight of the good that can come from it. Deciding to walk away from traditional employment and stay in Norfolk to invest in a property with my boyfriend led me to feel quite isolated in the beginning, I genuinely started to think maybe I was destined for a solitary life and that was that, but finding a good group of girls who I can message and talk to about everything and anything has been exceptionally good for the soul. It's stopped me from getting lost in my own company, which eventually leads to wallowing and a lot of self-doubts. Instead, it's helped restore self-confidence and motivate me to continue navigating this ever-changing online landscape.
Female friendships and making them as an adult is an incredibly meaty topic, which I could continue to ramble on about, but for now, I'll leave it here as a small ode to social media and a reminder that loneliness isn't inevitable. Making new friends takes bravery, I was terrified when meeting some of these girls for the first time, but you never know who might also be feeling lonely and in need of a new friend.
My biggest take away from my time in Salcombe and the below images; always surround yourself with women who lift you up.
(Shout out to Lindsey for always documenting these moments and letting me pinch her photos.)