Do Influencers Deserve Any Money?

Written by: Zanita Whittington

Bit of a delayed reaction post – I’ve been meaning to bring up this topic ever since I featured in an article on Refinery29 regarding strategy and streetstyle at fashion week.

While for me it might seem plainly obvious, the fact that industry professionals attend shows and use fashion week to strategize media awareness feels like some kind of secret. The truth is, it IS very valuable (and alot of fun) to attend and be featured – to boost one’s profile through press features in magazines and online globally. This strategy is employed not just by influencers but by buyers and editors who indeed pioneered the methods – and who are also using those methods to gain the same attention and utilize their growing profiles as part of the in-demand personality trend.

I’ve had the fortune of traveling to fashion weeks around the world – and while in the beginning I didn’t specifically strategize to gain awareness of my work, the fact that it happens work now shouldn’t be a taboo… and I certainly didn’t invent the system. If you’re not good at what you’re doing, you’re not going to benefit from attending because success requires the approval of the most premium photographers and editors. I’m still wearing whatever-the-f*ck I want, and like most of my peers, I’m pretty opinionated and stubborn about what clothes go on my body because that’s part of building an identifiable style brand…  it’s also probably why I’ve rocked some absolute doozies over the years too (cough, clogs, cough). No risk no reward! On an that, costs to take part can be astronomical. It’s why influencers trade in social content with hotels, car services and more to ease the financial burden. Even being very conservative, travelling to all four fashion cities – with meals, hotels, taxis/ubers (we’re often wearing heels cos lol, gotta be fabulous) and flights can cost upwards of 20-30k. I’ve certainly had seasons that left me out of pocket – but the press that trickles down in the following months can prove the payback. Today I won’t travel to a city unless I can work because it’s simply not the investment it once was, with so many photographers and attendees, competition is fierce. It’s a great chance to network but often I’ll have projects to do back home that are just as valuable. I’m a bit disappointed the article didn’t broach further the ecosystem that comes with the street style scene and the personal expression of style being valued by not only the designers and industry as a whole, but by the general public. It’s why we see exciting brands emerging through street-style coverage and new style personalities gaining traction, it’s purely democratic.

I’m keen for the day when individuals in my field will finally be considered ‘Professionals’ and respected for their hard work by the wider public, progress that I can’t help feel is being held back and trivialized by an obvious fact, this is largely women-driven industry.  It’s so frustrating how influencers get thrown under the bus for the work we do – but then again – being advertised to certainly has an ugly side. I get it.

The responsibility lies in these individuals working with clients in creative ways, making unique content and genuine alignments. When you take a birds eye view of the influencer landscape, you see a lot of people who are making money by working with brands, promoting them to huge audiences (yay so popular!) and painting their lives as a whole load of fun. Even I feel a little bitter as I consume the content in my feed, I spend most of my days behind a desk – but I also have a holistic view of the reality and business behind it all.  The day I had the opportunity to work with Louis Vuitton was a dream come true – since then I’ve been able to work on a whole load of incredible projects, working with anyone from huge global clients and smaller local brands to make imagery and content I’m really proud of. I don’t try to monetize everything I do and I’m disappointed if the article gives that impression.  I’m also certainly not saving the world – but I keep my morals in check and I don’t deviate from my genuine self. I do my best to share positivity and my learnings. I turned my hobby and passion into my career and I’m grateful for that everyday.

So I was pretty brutally attacked in the comment section of this article most of which I take with a grain of salt – and I can almost guarantee a few are from a crazy woman who has been harrassing/stalking constantly me over the last six months, more on that coming soon… I’d love to address a few of the comments personally but there’s really no point, most are just resentment, hate and lies. Yes, plenty of money can be made from having a platform on social media – the payouts are correlated to quality of content, cool factor, reach and engagement – all factors where success is hard won and should be deservingly credited. When we consider how much each of us use these platforms it’s easy to see why brands are investing more and more of their marketing budgets on individual talents. You can be bitter about marketing, strategy, business and just capitalism in general – but you can’t hate on one aspect and enjoy and blindly consume another. Influencers are punished for commercialism when other celebrities in various fields get paid millions for campaigns with massive reach, supported by mega media corporations. I could be seeming overly sensitive – but I’m old school, I’ve had my blog for nine years and I still wear the moniker with pride. It’s given me the opportunity to make my dreams come true, refine my talents as a photographer, launch a start-up I believe in – and now – open up my own photo studio in NYC (Also coming soon! Can’t wait!).

So do we deserve the money we’re paid? There’s no shame in admitting – we all resent… even just a little – the absurd amounts of money the Kardashian’s are getting to shill products, but that doesn’t mean the clients aren’t getting a return on their investment. To suggest that they should be paid less is really undervaluing the influence they have amalgamated and putting more profits into the hands of the corporations and big brands paying out, creating an imbalanced and unfair system. I hope that if my influence (and talent!) expanded, my income would deservedly correlate to my own value. It’s kinda gross, but we’re all being advertised to – and we always have been. Thank goodness for disclosure – so we aren’t swallowing so many of those damn blue pills (matrix reference fyi).

Excited to hear your thoughts on all of this! It’s quite the brain dump.

Thanks again for supporting me all along and making me feel ok about being open and myself. You guys rock.

Wearing total looks by Ksenia Schnaider, boots by Tibi and sunglasses by Andy Wolf