I have loved fashion for as long as I can remember because fashion is synonymous with creativity at its peak. Through every generation, the fashion industry remains the finest meld of the best creative minds and my younger self came to this conclusion poring over glossy pages of Ebony and GQ Magazines in the 90s. For instance, I could tell from looking at the male model on the fitness page (with the dreamy eyes and rock-hard abs) and the unusually thin (sorry, toned) woman hanging at his elbow that a lot of work had gone into the creation of that perfect picture. From the fashion designers past the glam crew down to the photographers and graphic designers to mention but a few, the art of fashion as far as I know remains the core of creativity.
Delving more deeply into fashion as an adult and running my own fashion startup has given me a much clearer lens to ensure a closer examination of this industry. Now, as with every other human enterprise, I could discern a few contentious matters; a few parts that could be improved to create a better version of the whole picture. For instance, issues of over-inflated pricing and unfair treatment of employees seemed manageable because as far as I could see, they could be fixed by individual brands and did not really affect the society per se.
I didn’t realise how wrong this hasty conclusion was until Jennifer Nini and Eco Warrior Princess came along. I became increasingly involved in the sustainable fashion community and now, I view fashion from a wider clearer lens. From child labour to the toll on the environment, I came to realise that the whole picture was actually bigger than I had thought and those seemingly superficial issues had huge impacts on the society at large.
When the opportunity to attend the GTBANK Fashion Weekend on assignment came knocking, I saw it as a chance to look at the Nigerian and African fashion industry through this clearer lens and so I seized the moment.
Guests at the fashion show could easily be classified into various groups. The first was the crew who scurried around with a feigned air of importance because maybe they had already prevented the next world war and no one knew it. The second group was for the models, fashion designers and the rest of their team who were in a world of their own, clearly destined for a higher purpose. Next comes the vendors, there to sell their wares and miniature designs. Also, in this group were family members, friends and customers, in attendance to provide emotional support or to patronize them. The fourth group included media, photographers (both professional or amateur) and fashion bloggers. Each of these groups had a purpose, a reason for being present but there was a fifth group that was impossible to miss.
These were the gaily ones, dressed as colorfully as peacocks and strutting up and down with absolutely no purpose that I could discern. Many questions later, it dawned on me that these were the influencers and the perceived Instagram Royalty of Lagos and by extension, Nigerian fashion. Right about this point, I began to realise how this burgeoning fashion influencer culture has gone terribly wrong.
Put simply, the biggest problem with this culture is that the influencer has become the anxiety next door. Back in the day, when the pressures of fashion came from magazines and TV screens, it was much easier to put up a mental barrier. You could more easily dispel your insecurities by reminding yourself that it was a model’s job to look thin anyway (at least, as portrayed by the fashion industry). Besides, there was probably a lot of Photoshop involved in making that skin look extra glossy and her eyes extra glassy.
With the influencer culture, though, that barrier has broken down because the brands they represent prefer to sell us the impression that their influencers are not your typical models. Their posts are supposedly mirroring a normal daily routine (could not possibly be ads, could they?) because he/she is just your average boy/girl next door with the perfect lighting in all the pictures. He/she could well be your colleague, your classmate or even a neighbor.
The effect is that the pressure is driven closer to home and anxiety rents a house right next door. Why aren’t you as slim as she is? How is it only you who never gets a selfie right while he always poses with the coolest clothes, and inserts the deepest quotes? How is she able to post photos in the best locations or at the biggest hotels wrapped up in those fluffy towel robes? She isn’t a model and you know it because she lives just down the road.
If only you knew.
Walking through the crowds at the GTBANK Fashion Weekend, I wished that more and more people could see the amount of shameless posturing and plasticity behind those seemingly casual pictures with the perfect lighting. With a camera around my neck, I became the target of “influencers”, whose looks and stares practically begged you to notice them and take their pictures. It was all very dispiriting, sadder than I could ever say.'The biggest problem with the influencer culture is that the influencer has become the anxiety next door. Back in the day, when the pressures of fashion came from magazines and TV screens, it was much easier to put up a mental barrier...'Click To Tweet
Now you could view these influencers as the villains; purveyors of anxiety out to shove their choices down our throats but after spending time at one of Africa’s largest fashion events, my stance on this has softened even more. So many of them are a manifestation of a deeper ailment; the ills of a generation addicted to attention and validation; a society that equates success with noise. From individuals and brands, organisations and institutions, down to schools and churches, we have made social media the scale that determines our authenticity and value. With such a system in place, influencers such as those I met were bound to come in eventually.
If there are any villains in this system, I’d argue for it to be the fashion brands. As I touched on in a recent piece, the influencer culture is quite simply a form of advertising and customer acquisition. It was practically created by these brands to further their interests in getting into the heads (and subsequently pockets of their target audience) and the influencers, as influential as they may deem themselves to be, are just tools in that regard.
It is very important to understand the societal context here. Social media is currently society’s most powerful tool to promote ideas, concepts, goods and services, businesses and now ‘personal brands.’ Whether we accept it or not, recognition and validation in that virtual sphere have become a very concrete factor in our daily existence. What the fashion brands offer is basically millennial utopia; the impression that the individual has achieved greatness in this ‘popularity race’ we all seem to run from time to time. Pair this with some money and it becomes the perfect life, neatly tied with ribbon.
Our culture today is maddeningly focused on unrealistic and obsessive expectations: look happier, look healthier, look wealthier, look the best. Smile brighter than the rest. Look perfect each morning as you go to your amazingly fulfilling job where you spend your days doing all the incredible stuff you dreamt of as a child, arm-in-arm with the best boss in the world. And while you’re at it, let the whole world know it’s what you’re doing.
We all want to be seen. But the question is, at what cost?'Influencer culture today is maddeningly focused on unrealistic and obsessive expectations: look happier, look healthier, look wealthier, look the best. Smile brighter than the rest... and while you're at it, let the whole world know what you're doing...'Click To Tweet
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