Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How Bloggers Made the Fashion Industry Pay More Attention to Minorities

How Bloggers Made the Fashion Industry Pay More Attention to Minorities:

Chriselle Lim and Aimee Song, two Korean-American bloggers with massive followings in their communities. Photo: Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images
Chriselle Lim and Aimee Song, two Korean-American bloggers with massive followings in their communities. Photo: Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images
When Asma P. started Haute Muslimah in 2009, she was one of the only bloggers in the U.S. writing about modest fashion. “I was interested in runway trends, and writing about creating a modest look out of those outfits," says the Austin-based mother of two, who prefers to keep her identity partially under wraps. Today, there are dozens of bloggers writing about modest fashion in the U.S., from Days of Chandler -- written by Utah-based Mormon Chandler Roberson -- to Fabologie, New York-based stylist Adi Heyman’s site geared toward Orthodox Jewish women.

But it’s not just an increase in the number of bloggers who are writing about modest fashion that has changed: Asma has seen shifts in the attitudes of brands as well. When DKNY launched its Ramadan collection in July 2014, Haute Muslimah had one of its best traffic days ever. Asma’s post on the announcement generated more than 100,000 page views -- around the same number she usually receives in one month. Over the years, she has noticed other brands catering to the modest-fashion community. Chanel, for instance, hosted its 2015 resort show in Dubai. Valentino’s floor-length, covered-up silhouettes are a big hit with her audience. And she has closely tracked the development of halal nail polishes, something that was unheard of before 2013. “I do see a change,” she says. “The designers care more now than they used to.”

Asma’s experience may be mostly anecdotal, but it speaks to the increasing influence minority bloggers have on the fashion industry. For instance, look at what the plus-size blogging community has accomplished in the past year. GarnerStyle blogger Chastity Garner’s open letter to Target, scolding the big-box retailer for leaving plus sizes out of its designer collections, not only spurred the store to add plus-size styles to its upcoming cllection with Lilly Pulitzer, it also helped nudge along the launch of Ava & Viv, a full-fledged plus-size fashion line. (Garner and fellow bloggers Nicolette Mason and Gabi Gregg modeled for the first lookbook, and also consulted on social media strategy for the February launch.) Mason in particular has developed a reputation for promoting diversity in the industry. She speaks openly about race -- she is half-Persian -- sexuality, and yes, body image.

Fashion blogging, despite its reputation for over-Photoshopped Instagrams posted by wannabe models with heads full of hot air, has also forced the industry to recognize groups of women that have been ignored in the past. When we talk about criticizing the fashion industry, we often talk about how we can’t see ourselves on the pages of magazines, or even on the racks at the store. We complain about how the industry dictates beauty standards that are unachievable for the majority of the population. But while there are bloggers who perpetuate those stereotypes, there are also many popular ones who don’t. And they are the ones moving the needle.

The numbers tell a promising, if still cautionary, story. Fashionista’s 2015 ranking of the world’s 20 most powerful bloggers includes 10 that represent at least one minority group. Blogger database Fohr Card reports that 31 percent of its top 100 influencers are Asian, Hispanic or black. In the past three months, over 30 percent of the media spend on Fohr Card has been focused on these communities. “I think the reason [minority] influencers do so well is that traditional fashion outlets ignored them for years,” says Fohr Card founder James Nord. “Brands are finally waking up to the importance of speaking to that side of their consumer base. Oftentimes, the best way to do that is by working with an influencer.”

Brands are not shy about looking for bloggers that represent a specific niche. “In the last few days alone, I've had two different beauty brands specifically ask what Hispanic talent I work with because they want to target that demo for their upcoming campaigns,” says Vanessa Flaherty, vice president of the management division at blogger agency Digital Brand Architects. “Another nail care brand is coming out with range of polish that fits different skin tones, so we matched our diverse range of talent with them.”

Mass and luxury labels are making an effort to diversify because of the clear financial upside. The buying power of Hispanic Americans equalled $1.3 trillion in 2014. African Americans: $1.1 trillion. Asian Americans: $770 billion. (That’s all according to the Multicultural Economy Report, a study released in September 2014 by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business.)

But there is also no denying that much of the fashion industry is still lagging behind. On the tall 2015 runways, 80 percent of the models were white, according to a report compiled by The Fashion Spot. And in 2014, only 119 out of 868 magazine covers featured a minority.

Chriselle Lim, the blogger behind The Chriselle Factor, believes that the industry moving in the right direction, however. “I do think the industry has changed in the past 10 years,” says the Los Angeles-based Lim, who began her career in editorial before breaking out on her own in 2010. “When I started, it was so rare to see an Asian face on a campaign or even on the runway. I think that social media, and just digital media in general, has really given a voice to minorities.” Lim, who is a first-generation Korean American, says that she has received many reader comments and personal emails over the years thanking her for inspiring them to work in fashion. “For Asian Americans who are first generation, so many of our parents have wanted us to pursue work outside of the arts,” Lim says. “It’s great to inspire other people to make careers out of it.”

Indeed, while the industry still has a long way to go, these anti-cookie-cutter fashion bloggers have already succeeded in offering a place for their audiences to connect with someone who is reflective of their own backgrounds. "I’ve had so many readers email me to say that they’re so happy that I keep my hair curly,” says French-American biracial actress Christina Caradona, the blogger behind Trop Rouge. “There are still a lot of bloggers who fit that blonde hair, blue eye stereotype. But there are plenty who don’t. It has opened up a lot.”

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