All About Money: Budgeting, Buying, and Ethical Influencing

The author of Goblin Shark

Settle in, guys. This is going to be a long one.

Last week, I posted a photo on my Instagram account with this caption:

Yes, I wore this shirt two days in a row. Yes, I wear these pants at least twice a week. Yes, I sometimes wish I had more clothes, but I’m also pretty content with where my wardrobe is at right now. If you look through my feed and wonder if I’m just wearing the same five outfits over and over again, well, yeah, I totally am. I’m a chronic outfit repeater. I’m most comfortable in my personal uniforms. 
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Sometimes I feel left out as a blogger because I can’t afford to keep up. I watch the people around me unboxing this and that, every day a new try-on in stories, and I am filled with envy. Where is that money even coming from? Ethical fashion is not cheap, and I see some people bringing home a new garment (or more!) every week. How much does that cost? It’s not polite to talk about money, but I’ve found that’s only true if you’re talking to someone who grew up with it. People who didn’t grow up with money talk about money all the time. So I wonder about other people’s money. I wonder if I should be swiping my credit card more often so that I can keep up (sometimes I do but I’m not proud of those moments). And then I have to put my phone down and remember what’s actually important in my life. 
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My wardrobe is important, but it’s not the most important. I will buy and acquire new things, but slowly, very slowly. This slowness is the unglamorous side of slow fashion. The excruciating slowness of watching everyone else around you get what you want. So I’m going to be restricting my time on social media from now on, giving my petty jealous lizard brain a break. I’ll still be around, but only in measured, scheduled intervals of the day. I’ll catch you kids later this evening.

This hit home for so many of you. I’ve never had a conversation explode so quickly in the comments. It was, and continues to be, an amazing discussion. A lot of you agreed with me that Instagram gives us unrealistic expectations for ourselves and our wardrobes, and lots of you pointed out that the influencers who do most of the posting I describe above are often gifted the products that they’re showing off. You called out the fake minimalists from the real minimalists. You admitted that your own relationship with clothing and money needs some repairing. It was fascinating, and I really wanted to give it some space on the blog to explore a little more.

Obviously I can’t cover everything to do with money and consumption and ethical fashion and influencer marketing, but I can give you a little slice of how I experience it, and I invite you to share your own perspective in the comments below.

Okay. Ready? Here we go.

Why I Advocate for Expensive Clothing

This might seem like a weird place to start this post. Was I not just talking about how watching people spend tons of money on new clothes all the time makes me feel bad? I was, and it does, but it’s also important to point out that the price of the individual garments is not the problem, and that in general, our clothing should cost a lot more than we’re used to. I used to be the kind of person who bragged about the low, low price of something whenever someone complimented me. To “cute shoes!” I always responded with “Thanks! They were only four dollars at Gap!” or whatever I paid for them on clearance at whatever big name retailer. Sound familiar? I was so confident at that time in my life that the most moral thing I could do was be frugal. Buying clothing as cheaply as I possibly could was a source of personal pride, and I announced it whenever I got the chance.

I cringe now when I think about that time, and I flinch a little internally when I hear other people do it. Until I got into ethical fashion, I didn’t realize the true cost of those cheap clothes: human rights and the planet. If you buy cheap clothing, it was cheap because the person who made it didn’t make a living wage, probably didn’t even get a bathroom break, and maybe was even a child or a person trafficked into forced labor. Maybe the chemical runoff from the garment factory pollutes their only source of drinking water. Is that nine dollar dress from Amazon really worth it once you know that?

The shirt I was wearing in that Instagram post costs $140. Old me would have laughed at that price, bought the H&M version instead for $15, and been proud of herself for getting such a bargain. New me knows that $140 is a fair price to pay for a garment that uses high quality materials, is beautifully constructed, and was made by a person who was paid fairly for their work.

How I Budget for Clothes

Lot’s of you asked me about this, and I have a disappointing answer: I don’t really budget for clothes. This isn’t a clothing specific problem. We don’t budget particularly well at all. It’s one of those things that we used to do, and then it got away from us, and now we just sort of eyeball the bank account and hope for the best. What, did you actually think I had this all figured out?

It typically goes something like this: I either identify a gap in my current wardrobe or I see something online that I absolutely love. Usually, for me to begin to pursue a purchase, those two things need to happen together. Once I’ve got my sights set on a specific item, I obsessively research reviews of it and try to imagine it with every other item in my closet. I try to sit with that wanting feeling for a few weeks, if I can. If I still want it after that much time, I consult the bank account, consult the husband (because we keep ALL of our money together, and thus, all financial decisions are joint decisions), and then buy it. The more expensive something is, the more time I spend agonizing over whether or not to buy it, and the more money builds up in my bank account to pay for it.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “well, that’s stupid.” YOU ARE RIGHT. I know this is less like budgeting and more like an extended anxiety spiral that occasionally ends with me buying a new shirt. It’s not perfect. But it does keep me buying things fairly infrequently (I probably get one new item once every month to month-and-a-half) and it keeps me from racking up debt. We don’t have a lot of money, so that’s the pace I’m working with to create a wardrobe that I love with pieces that are made ethically.

But I Am Still A Petty Lizard Person

It’s good that my salary and other expenses keep me consuming at a slow pace, because honestly, if I won the lottery today, I’d go on an ethical fashion shopping spree in a second. I want all the beautiful things that all the other Instagrammers have. I want to keep up, to feel like I’m a part of this thing, and to finally feel happy with my wardrobe. It pains me to look at those beautiful wardrobes and know that mine will take years to get to the same place. As much as my blog is about minimalism and ethical consumption, it is primarily about my being so fucking fed up with hating my clothes that I set out on a determined mission to get better ones.

It is about me buying things.

I buy things slowly because I think slow consumption is an important part of ethical fashion, but I also buy things slowly because I am broke and have no other choice. If I had a lot more money all of a sudden, I honestly can’t tell you if I’d have the will power to continue to live my values this way. It takes work to want not.

Ethical Influencing

Alright. The elephant in the room. I don’t always have to buy all my ethical fashion pieces. Sometimes, I get things for free. That $140 shirt from the picture? I didn’t pay for it. It was gifted to me by the company that made it with the expectation that I would wear it in photos that I post to my growing and engaged social media following. I accepted the gift. I posted the photos. I used the requisite hashtags.

And you know what? I feel so awesome about it. It feels incredible that my hard work is starting to pay off. The hours that I spend writing and editing and giving such big parts of myself to this blog and to Instagram are finally earning the gains I always hoped they would. Of course this is a fun hobby, but it was always meant to be more than that. I wanted a side hustle that brought me joy, and I found one.

It also feels incredible to get such a beautiful new garment for what feels like free. It’s obviously not free – I didn’t pay for it with money, but money is not my only resource nor the only thing of value that I have to offer. I’m learning that my work is worth something, and that relationships with brands that I love can be symbiotic. I can help connect them with their ideal audience, and in return, I get an additional vehicle for building the wardrobe that I want.

Lastly, and most importantly, it feels incredible to connect women with brands that speak to their values. Influencing can feel like icky business. We get paid to convince people to buy stuff, to convince them that they can be as cool/beautiful/fun/whatever as we are if they just buy this thing we are laughing over in a well-lit professional photograph. Most of the time, that is pretty icky, but there’s something special happening in the ethical fashion space that isn’t happening in other influencer markets. Women are turning away from fast fashion and using their dollars to support small, sustainable businesses instead.

If it wasn’t for influencers, I never would have discovered all the wonderful brands that are working hard to change the way fashion is produced and the way we consume it. I never would have heard of Everlane (the “gateway” ethical brand, as I like to think of it), Nisolo, Vetta, Tradlands, Elizabeth Suzann, Sevilla Smith, Bill & Jay, GLDN, and so many others that are producing clothes, shoes, and jewelry in ways that honor people and the planet, and should be the norm. I am so grateful to those women, those influencers, who helped me learn that I don’t have to get dressed by an endless, exhausting, and unsatisfying cycle of fast fashion. If part of my role in this space is that I get to do that for other women, then I’m at peace with treading into influencer waters.

So in the coming weeks, you’ll be seeing more posts here and on Instagram where I’ve decided to collaborate with a brand. I want you to know that I only partner with brands that I truly love and believe in, and when you hear me gushing endlessly about this shirt or that coat, it’s because I really, really mean it. I rarely say bad things about clothes that are given to me for free because I am very choosy about what I accept in the first place. I reject more offers for collaboration than I accept, and in several cases, I reached out to the brand first because I was so crazy about them. I want to use this space to connect women with brands that help them achieve a happier, healthier relationship with their wardrobes, just like other influencers did for me. I’m not asking anyone to buy anything they don’t need, but if it helps you, and it helps a small maker, I hope you’ll consider supporting me.

I know that this was a lot of stuff, and I’m really interested to hear your thoughts. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

-gs

11 thoughts on “All About Money: Budgeting, Buying, and Ethical Influencing

  1. I am very much a proponent of investing in your wardrobe- continually buying new clothing is exhausting, hard on your wallet, and awful for the planet. I have a quarterly clothing budget and I keep a running list of holes in my wardrobe and “wishlist” items, and I balance those carefully. It has really eliminated those “I guess this is okay” items, and keeps my budget in check! I have a post on setting your style budget, for anyone who is interested: https://anhistorianabouttown.com/2018/07/20/how-to-set-your-style-budget/

    I will admit, I can’t do the castle wardrobe. I tried it once- I got incredibly bored with my clothing, and even though I invested $450+ in 5 of the 10 items, everything wore through so much faster being worn 2-4 times a week. For anyone who likes to change up their wardrobe though, I think capsules are a great idea!

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    1. That was an interesting read! I definitely prefer to choose the item before I set the budget. I find that if I set a clothing budget of X dollars for X amount of time, I’m much more likely to settle for something I don’t like as much that fits the predetermined budget, instead of just saving for the thing I actually want. If the coat I really want is $500 dollars, but there’s only $200 in the clothing budget this month/quarter/whatever, my inclination is to wait, wait, wait, until I have the $500 and just buy the expensive coat. It means skipping out on other purchases, maybe leaving gaps in my wardrobe for longer than I’d like, but it’s what works for me and my personal priorities!

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      1. I have a few “big ticket” items like winter coat and winter boots that aren’t included, because I live in the middle of Canada and they aren’t optional haha. I will often carry over one quarter’s budget to the next to make larger purchases! For me, the budget is the bottom line, though- I could want the $2300 McQueen skirt buuuut realistically I can’t have it. With enough research and investigation I can usually find a piece that I do love that works for me, but it can take a lot of digging! If I went piece first and then set my budget, I would have to set my quarterly budget somewhere around $800 CAD, and until my student loans are paid off, I can’t 😥 (However, I do plan on treating myself when I have them paid off in 2 1/2 years, 3 years early! That wool plaid skirt is MINE)

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  2. Oh this is very good. I love that you write about your work having value, and that it doesn’t have to be cash value. I’m very interested in the ways that women’s unpaid labor keeps the world moving (and often supports men’s paid work). I’m pleased that you’ve given us a glimpse of the work of an influencer. I think it’s easy to write off that work as trivial or even non-existent because it’s 1) about fashion, which when associated with women, society tells us is fun, frivolous, and totally insipid, and 2) so often invisible because, at least on my Instagram feed, its rarely discussed.

    However! The retail value of that shirt ($140) is not the same as the actual cost of the shirt for the company. I think that this is something that merits discussion – are influencers being appeased with gifted items when what they really need is money to live on? Giving away one or ten shirts is no biggie to an established company, and in return, those companies are outsourcing their marketing…are they paying the true cost of what that marketing is worth or are they exploiting women’s labor?

    I don’t bring this up to demonize anyone. I do think that the ethical fashion community/businesses are NOT the bad guys, here. However, when big corporations weird a lot of power, and are doing their best to create a hyper-competitive environment and dominate the market….some of that competitive atmosphere is going to be taken for granted when folks start new businesses.

    So huzzah! for making your labor visible, and huzzah! for being clear that your labor has value!

    Finally, you mentioned that talking about money makes many people uncomfortable, and even though gifted garments aren’t cash money, I still think it’s pretty radical to be utterly transparent about how much you are paid, in any form. I wonder if this is what makes us feel a little piqued about the influencer thing – that it’s often unclear what percentage of the photo was gifted and how much revenue they are making for posting any given thing. I’ve heard that it can be exceptionally lucrative, but I have NO idea who on my feed is being paid and who’s not. So in a way, I don’t know when I’m being marketed to and when I’m not. Thats uncomfortable.

    OK IM DONE. Sorry for the extremely long comment but this topic is adjacent to my graduate work so I’m v. interested. I hope that it all reads as polite and inquisitive and not combative. Thanks for the great post!

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    1. First of all, thank you so much for this thoughtful comment, and second of all, please don’t ever apologize for such a significant contribution to this discussion! You make so many great points here – especially about influencing being primarily women’s work and therefore not really taken seriously in the grand scheme of work/careers.

      To your point about companies taking advantage of influencers by not paying them what they’re worth: yes, that absolutely happens, and it is a bad practice. I’m personally at the point in my influencing career where my sphere of influence is pretty small, and so I’d say my work is fairly compensated by a product-for-post agreement. As I grow, and I hope that I will, the cost for my services will grow with me, and you bet I’ll be very clear about my rates and what I expect in return for my labor. Sometimes that might mean a beautiful product, but most of the time it will probably also mean a paycheck.

      I really don’t know how most influencers pay for their lives on influencing alone (because, as you’ve said, that tends to be a very opaque process) but I know that I hope to earn the majority of the money that I make from this project not from sponsorships or affiliate links (although I do hope to make some $$ there) but by creating and selling a quality product that will add value to people’s lives. I’m not there yet, but that’s the real dream.

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  3. Oh my goodness, I love this post! I’m very new to learning about sustainable fashion. I used to brand nonstop about how I “got this top for x amount.” It seems so foolish looking back and thinking that I was proud of the fact that I spent little to no money on a garment. This post was such a great reality check.

    xo Logan
    https://peculiarporter.com

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  4. I get most of my clothes from thrift stores. To me, this is ethical shopping no matter where the clothing originally came from. I’m contributing to a solution to the “fast fashion” epidemic by buying clothes that others no longer want, but are still in good condition. When we continuously buy from stores that go from producing one trendy item to the next, we are telling stores (with our money) that it is okay to keep popping out millions of clothing items at a time. As thift stores prove, most of these items are soon tossed in favor of something new. Sometimes this is just because people’s bodies change and their tastes change, but it’s also because the fast fashion culture tells us to “keep up with the latest”. Buying from a thirft store is like recycling, giving clothes a second chance at life! Thrifting is a great way to develop your own personal style and find pieces that used to be common, but are now unique. It’s lots of fun, and it’s wallet-friendly! My body is always fluctuating, so I can get a nice pair of jeans for cheap and if they don’t fit as well after a while I can donate them and continue the cycle.
    As an added bonus, most thrift stores are linked to nonprofits and/or serve the community in some way, so you can probably find one that supports a cause that resonates with you!

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  5. What a nice articles! It feels good that someone asked those questions I have been wondering about. I also tend to think that even if you buy from ethical brands, making a purchase a week is not AMA sustainable approach.
    I love your work, keep it up! You’re absolutely right to be proud of what you did 😊

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