Why I'm No Longer Accepting Free Clothes or Paid Collabs

It’s hard to believe that eight months have passed since my last blog post. I didn’t make a conscious decision to take a break from blogging, but a career change and “real life” pulling me away from this platform turned out to be just what I needed to take a big step back and reevaluate the purpose of Selflessly Styled.

I announced on Instagram last month that I am no longer accepting freebies or paid collaborations for the rest of 2019, and now it’s time to talk about why.

But first, to the brands I’ve collaborated with in the past: Thank you. Truly, thank you so much for partnering with me. Thank you for the work that you’re doing to make the fashion industry a better place. If you ever need recommendations of bloggers to work with, I would be thrilled to put you in touch some who will represent you wonderfully. Keep up the good work. Keep pushing forward towards an inclusive, sustainable, fair future. I am cheering you on!

There are many different angles to look at this and different areas might not interest everyone, so I’ve broken down this massive blog post into the following sections:

  1. How it all started

  2. Sustainability

  3. Diversity

  4. Creativity + Honesty

  5. What’s Next

Selflessly Styled | Sustainable + Ethical Fashion Blogger

1. How it all started

When I started blogging a few years ago, I didn’t intend for this to be a style blog. I was passionate about ethical fashion and wanted to create a resource for other consumers to learn about the issues corrupting this industry.

I was pretty clueless about the business of blogging.

It wasn’t long before a sustainable/ethical brand reached out to me and offered to send me a free bag in exchange for a review on my blog. I was freaking FLATTERED. I remember eagerly going to the post office to retrieve my freebie and announcing to my husband, “Well, I’ve made it.”

And it kept happening.

Brands who aligned with my mission increasingly filled my inbox and DM’s offering to send products my way, and I myself reached out to a few to partner with. Soon I started charging money for collaborations, and within a couple years I was considering trying to make Selflessly Styled my actual job.

Don’t get me wrong, I kept extremely high standards for the brands that I would collaborate with, and I turned down loads of pitches from companies that haven’t proven themselves to have ethical business practices, but even with all the “no thank you’s” that I typed, I still found myself with a steady stream of new clothes to wear.

With limited time to blog, most of my posts started to center around brand deals.

Early this year, I started asking myself, “What would my work look like if I hadn’t started accepting products?” - while I’ll never know the answer to that in hindsight, I can find out what my work will look like from this point onward as I stop that stream of freebies.

I’m making space to spend more time researching, to be more honest, bold, and to think outside the box without the pressure of knowing that page views convert to dollars.

2. Sustainability

This sentiment has been expressed by many before me, but it’s worth stating again: We cannot consume our way to a healthier planet.

When I first got into blogging, I was solely focused on “ethical” fashion (workers’ rights) and didn’t understand the havoc that the industry is wreaking on our environment (…which then harms people). This is an important distinction to make because purchasing lots of ethically made garments and promoting conscious consumerism DOES help with the first issue. If our ONLY concern is the fair pay of garment workers and supporting Fair Trade businesses, then our personal budget is the only cap on what we feel good about purchasing.

However, once we accept the intersectionality of sustainability and ethics, things get more complicated. While I want to champion and support businesses that are creating economic opportunity and safe working conditions, I must acknowledge the negative environmental implications of continuous consumerism even if the items are “ethically/sustainably made.”

So, should we only shop secondhand but not support the small businesses who are trying to make a difference? Do we keep buying from companies who align with our values, but just try to cut back on the amount of purchases? When we can’t afford that option, do we purchase from “unethical” companies but just try to make our clothes last as long as possible? This is something everyone has to sort through for themselves, and there is not one right solution.

I’m still processing this as a consumer, but as a blogger and content creator, I’ve recognized that my “why” for this platform has changed:

When I started Selflessly Styled, there weren’t a lot of resources for consumers to find ethical/sustainable brands to support. My brand directory and reviews were helpful. Now, with the increased awareness and trendiness of sustainable fashion, there are literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of bloggers providing resources like this.

I no longer think that Selflessly Styled is filling a gap or need in that way.

What I do see a need for is more content to inspire true contentment (not just aesthetic minimalism) … content that is raw and honest and free of affiliate links. There’s nothing wrong with affiliate links or authentic paid collaborations, but I am simply saying that I think we have plenty of content in that vein, and I am ready to shift my energy elsewhere.

3. Diversity

The sustainable fashion space has been dominated by thin white women for years. Remember when I mentioned how quickly brands reached out to me with products and payments? That isn’t the case for everyone. It’s come to my attention that women of color who create BETTER and more consistent content than I do are often overlooked by brands for paid collaborations. Women who wear larger sizes aren’t even considered for many campaigns because the clothes only fit (from what I’ve seen) up to a US size 14 by the majority of sustainable brands.

What I said earlier about the space not needing more bloggers promoting new products because there are plenty of people doing that… well, frankly, that only applies to thin white women like myself. We don’t need more “Ellies” modeling clothes. The space DOES benefit from brand reviews and product suggestions by women who break the stereotype of the “thin white minimalist fashion blogger.” Movers and shakers like Marielle, Deb, Sally and Shannon (and so many more) are creating the type of content that needs more attention in this space.

And, if you’re a white thin minimalist blogger reading this and feeling attacked… I’m not attacking you. I’m not saying our work isn’t worthwhile, it probably is doing a lot of good! I’m just saying that there are a LOT of us, and that it’s time for the spotlight to shine on another side of sustainable fashion. Especially considering the intersectionality of sustainability and issues of race.

4. CreativitY + Honesty

“Don’t bite the hand that feeds.” It’s tough to share the good, the bad, and the ugly about brands when they’re paying you. Not impossible, but really tough.

I’m inspired by those like Aja Barber and Whitney Bauck who have never gone the “paid blogger” route but have instead poured their efforts into researching and educating this community in powerful ways. I’m inspired by Hannah Theisen for calling it like it is in her recent post after a hiatus from blogging.

I’m inspired by the countless artists on and off social media who create, not to gain likes or brand deals, but simply to put their art into the world and cause someone to feel something.

I’m privileged to be in a life position where I can work full-time and don’t have to rely on this blog for income, and I’m excited to see where this platform goes when I remove the business aspect of blogging.

5. What’s Next

Will I still talk about brands? Yep! I just won’t be getting paid or free clothes from it.

Is this forever? For now, I’ve committed to the end of 2019 and then I’ll reevaluate.

What about stuff other than clothes? With my husband’s work and both of us being in the world of social media and PR, we often get invited to free dinners, trips, etc. together. To be totally transparent, I’ve already agreed to partner with him for a project in September that we’re getting paid for. The firm line I’ve set for myself from now until 2020 is not to accept material items or payment specifically for my work around Selflessly Styled.

Affiliate Links: There are still affiliate links on my blog from older posts, but I will not be adding any new ones.

Sustainable + Ethical Fashion

Phew that was a lot. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I would love to continue the conversation and hear your thoughts or answer any questions you may have.

If you’re a blogger, especially one with another source of income, I hope this post doesn’t make you feel guilty but rather inspires you to know that you can take a step back and that you don’t have to model your platform after the traditional blogger model like I have up until now. Your influence doesn’t have to be associated with purchases; you can pave your own way even if it means making sacrifices.

And, please know, if you decide to keep blogging and partnering with brands that are making the world a better place, I am cheering you on!

This is simply what’s right for me, and if it gives you something to think about, awesome. There’s room for all different sorts of ways to make the world a better place!