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5 Key Insights On Influencer Marketing & Social Change

Lucy von Sturmer was one of the founding collaborators for Amsterdam's True Fashion Collective. This report on the role of influencers in fighting for positive change appeared in Eco Fashion World in 2018.

Today’s media landscape has dramatically changed. It’s no longer about billboards and TVCs, but Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat.So, with all this buzz, how can sustainability be given the spotlight?

And more urgently, how can influencers talk about the environmental impacts and pressing labour conditions that result from fast fashion?

With 47% of online consumers between 18–24 using ad blocker, younger generations are turning to those they trust, (or feel they can trust) for information. Matched with the fact the average person spends over an hour and a half a day on social media, for those looking to share their message, creating a sponsored relationship with an influencer is a logical step.

But while those targeting consumer products are already onto this trend, for those looking to affect behaviour change, this is much a less explored topic. So, at a recent event in Amsterdam at Fashion for Good, a youtube star, a talent manager, and a sustainable fashion promoter, gathered to explore how the rise of influencers can help to promote a more sustainable fashion industry. Here are five key takeaways:

1) The Concept of An Influencer Is Broader Than You Think

Georgina Rutherford, who represents fast-growing Influencer Marketing Agency,encouraged the audience to broaden their notion of what they consider to be an influencer. “When you think of the word influencer, you probably have the idea of a young female in mind, but an influencer can be anyone.”

She explained that while influencer marketing started in fashion, it’s since trickled into different industries. For most people, their ambition is not to become an influencer, but simply to share their passion online, and by doing so, they create a dedicated community of followers. To underline this point, Georgina shared a recent project undertaken to target truck drivers who have a large online community and, due to this dedicated niche audience, a major brand was eager to partner with them.

2) The Key to A Successful Influencer Relationship Is Collaboration

Influencer marketing is just beginning to mature, and so too are brand’s understanding of how to maximise these relationships. Speaking from a content creation perspective, Zoe Wild, Founder of platform Moderne Hippies and Professional Wild Child, emphasised the importance of finding the right relationship.“Sustainability is one of the key messages that drives me, so when I find a brand or organisations that aligns with this, promoting this message comes naturally.”

The theme of creative freedom as well as the importance of co-creation was repeated. From an agency perspective, Georgina emphasised the value of inviting influencers to be part of the process. She said that by allowing them to think along with the brand, while giving them the freedom to be authentic to their audience, the sponsor will get a lot more “organic” reach simply because the influencer is enthusiastic.

3) Empower Influencers with Education on Sustainability Issues

One of the challenges of empowering influencers to become agents of change was a perceived lack of awareness of the complexity facing fast-fashion. However, this is not necessarily due to a lack of interest, but a lack of knowledge about where to start. Georgina’s advice for those wanting to partner with influencers was to engage in knowledge sharing from the start.

“If your objective is to share a robust sustainability message, we advise you to sit down and do a workshop or training session to share key information on this issue.”

4) Focus on Positive, Actionable Change

Thalita van Ogtrop, Co-founder of The Next Closet, a circular online marketplace for high-end second hand clothing, admitted that when you delve deep into the issues facing sustainable fashion, “it’s really depressing.” However, she encouraged people to focus on the positive and to find solutions. “We’re not going to change an entire system overnight, but there are small, important steps towards meaningful change,” she says.

For Thalita, encouraging people to wear second-hand clothing is a powerful message. To reach the mainstream, she says she focuses first on the quality and look of the product. “People need to be attracted to something first, but this doesn’t mean it has to be new, or that it has to be fast,” she says.

5) If You Don’t Like The Status Quo, Change It

Many in the audience noted that, as it stands, they still couldn’t see how influencers could push this message, especially when, at its core, sustainability is about consuming less. “We’re ruining the planet by consuming more and more resources, and with sustainable fashion as the second largest polluter, how can this sense of urgency be communicated?” one asked.

While a toxic river, or poverty stricken labourers, may not make for a pleasing picture, Instagram accounts such as grassroots movement Fashion Revolution, Emma Watson’s The Press Tour, or getredress, an NGO which promotes reduced textile waste, demonstrate how this message can be shared. Georgina also emphasised that all influencers aren’t necessarily on Instagram, and highlighted the value of good old fashioned blogging, and twitter too.

Starting A New Conversation

The True Fashion Collective, who organised this event, were motivated to do so by what they observe as a growing awareness of the rise of influencers, and the rampant consumerism fuelled by many of these platforms. So to round off the event, they posed a challenge: what can a creative campaign to promote these issues look like? A flow of creative ideas ensued.

Why not create a campaign focussed on influencers promoting their oldest piece of clothing and start a conversation from there?
Why not create an Instagram account documenting repaired old clothes instead of focussing on new ones?

While mainstream awareness of these issues won’t happen overnight, the message was clear. There’s a lot of untapped potential to transform influencers into agents of change through active partnerships, co-creation of ideas, and empowering them with knowledge.

As Zoe explains, “even if you don’t have an online audience, you still have the power to change the perceptions of your family and friends.” In that sense, it’s empowering to know, even at a small scale, we are all influencers too. As the wise Dr. Suess once said:

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
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