When Karly Ruesen and Savannah Sauriol launched their Instagram personas, it was to share their love for fashion and their individual, creative approaches to it. The two cousins from the Niagara region launched the Blonde Roast, an Instagram account, from sharing their favourite looks, to mixing and matching items from their closet in order to create a new and lasting impact. Their success led to their work being featured on other Instagram pages – Urban Planet, Boohoo and Pretty & co, to name a few.

Instagram influencers pepper the online landscape, many of them attached to talent agencies, who broker advertising contracts based on the size and type of the influencer’s audience. But with fast fashion and a buy-now culture of consumption, some Instagram influencers are looking to influence their audience to think twice about what they spend their money on.

Instagram influencers are defined as individuals who influence a large number of people about brands, experiences, wants, etc. They play a role in telling others about what they like and what they do not. According to a survey by Nielsen, a global measurement and data analytics company, 92 per cent of customers trust an influencer more than an advertisement or traditional celebrity endorsement.

According to Influencer Marketing Hub, a resource for influencers, agencies, and platforms, said that the fastest-growing online customer-acquisition method in 2017 was influencer marketing. 37 per cent of marketers surveyed are dedicating a budget for influencer marketing. The study shows that “for each dollar spent on influencer marketing, marketers see an average of $7.65 in earned media value returned.”

Ruesen and Sauriol have evolved their brand as they’ve grown. Over time, they’ve been exposed to a lot of information about the way the fashion industry functions and the negative impacts of fast fashion on the planet. But growing up they only shopped at places they could afford, such as Ardene, Urban Planet and Forever 21. They never fully understood the process of making clothes and what happens after they have been used and disposed of, until later.

They find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place, just like many fashion driven individuals their age. The dilemma lies in those aspiring Instagram influencers who want to be ahead of the fashion trends but cannot afford to spend a lot of money on their clothing. In addition to that, there is a fast turnover in fashion trends, and new and upcoming fashionistas cannot afford to keep purchasing such items. Sauriol said “I don’t think people understand that what they are wearing is affecting it [the environment].

Of course, being a brand ambassador can be ethically challenging. Urban Planet has recently scouted Sauriol to be a brand ambassador. She said, “the reason I support them is because they support me. They want to send me free stuff and with my financial situation right now I can’t really turn that down […] yeah, I do wish I could support a sustainability brand but sustainability brands haven’t reached out to me and it would be financially dumb for me to say no to Urban Planet because they are giving me free stuff to post a picture in, which I post pictures anyways.” The brand provides her to use a promo code that encourages others to buy clothes from them as well. Karly also says “it’s our world, it’s our generation, and our kids that we need to save now, and so it’s a confusion with anyone, […] I think it’s important if we have an open conversation to say ‘yes I did this but I was being mindful about it.’” She says this in the attempt to make others understand and communicate about the impact of fashion on the environment and on our lives.

Sauriol is aware of the implications that places like Urban Planet has on the environment but says it is hard for her to give up this opportunity. She is also a student at Ryerson University. As a fashion student she says, “I couldn’t sleep at night if I created things on this earth that killed it.”

However, she says financial pressure means she has to accept offers from places like Urban Planet.  Her solution is to pick up basic clothing from there, focusing on gathering clothes that fall under the long-lasting fashion trends such as plain coloured t-shirts, jeans, and blazers.

On the Blonde Roast, Ruesen and Sauriol are now both trying to influence others to wear more basic clothing and make them more fashionable. They have posted pictures where the same shirt is worn multiple ways to show their followers that fashion does not necessarily mean more new clothes, rather it means new ways to wear them.

Images of Karly Ruesen and Savannah Sauriol

Instagram, a social media platform, was the 2010 brainchild of Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. It is a photograph-sharing platform that is now a multi-billion-dollar industry with more than 500 million users and has many features within the app that help promote businesses and user activity. There have been many reports to suggest why companies are using Instagram as a place to promote their products and encouraging the use of influencers.

A study done by Dana Rebecca Designs, a jewelry company based in Chicago, Illinois, reported on the Retail Dive, a leading industry publication, that out of the 2,000 Instagram users who were surveyed, 85 per cent reported following style, fashion, or lifestyle focused pages. It also said that 72 per cent of people made fashion decisions after seeing something on Instagram.

Gartner, a platform that reports on the latest business and technology news, reported that “84 per cent of millennials say user generated content from strangers has at least some influence on what they buy.” This shows the power that social media has on its users and the actions that occur according to what content they follow.

According to statistics about Instagram from Hootsuite, which is a social media management platform, users ‘like’ 4.2 billion posts per day, 500 million people use Stories every day, and users under the age of 25 use Instagram for at least 32 minutes a day. Furthermore, Hootsuite also analyzes the business insights of Instagram and states that; 75 per cent of users take action on the app, 70 per cent are more likely to buy via mobile, and 60 per cent of users discover products on Instagram.

Relevance, is a content promotion news and insights company, said “new social media survey data seems to suggest that we are being subtly or subconsciously influenced to change our set views on specific subjects by social media content.”

In other words, Instagram has become a very easy and convenient place to attract new customers. Users are introduced to various businesses and create a more interactive consumer culture by showing users what they need and want, thus enhancing purchasing action. But, after being approached with so much information and advertising there is only so much information a user can gather. This is where Instagram influencers play a role in our consumer culture.

The Medium, an online publishing platform, published a piece by Jelle Fastenau, about the impact of influencers and brands on social media users. Here they said, “the idea behind this promotion method is that by relaying a message to a handful of influencers, they will promote it to their immense networks. Creating a quick and effective approach to reaching a wide audience.” In return the influencer is either paid or is receiving promotional materials to talk or post about the products.

Source: The Medium.

The Medium also mentions that one of the main reasons that Instagram influencers are so important is because they are relatable. They are still seen as people who are down to earth and ‘normal’ that their followers are able to relate to them and trust the information that is being given to them.

Kathleen Ellie is the founder of an environmentally friendly fashion influencer page on Instagram called Conscious N Chic. Ellie worked in the fashion industry in New York. She relates very closely to her followers because she shows them her life through a normal lens, making her one of them.

Ellie cannot fully pinpoint the moment she realized the fashion industry was doing a lot of wrong. But she remembers a moment where she received a package in the mail. When she opened the package, a thought crossed her mind, she said she immediately began to wonder about where this item was made and had a feeling it was not in very ethical circumstances. This thought never left her mind and she then started to research the different kinds of production and manufacturing processes involved in making clothes. That is when Conscious N Chic began.

Ellie likes to inspire people to live a greener lifestyle through the changes they could make to their wardrobes. Some of her recommendations include; buying classic pieces that will not go out of style, taking an inventory on what you already own, and wearing what fits your lifestyle and not what the trend is telling you to wear.  However, her platform discusses other ways of living a greener lifestyle. She shows her followers better ways to eat, dress, as well as think, in order to live sustainably. She said sustainability comes to those who learn more about it. Therefore, through her platform she shares the learnings that she gathers every day and tells others about how they could make these simple changes too.

Her voice is heard in many places, whether that is on online platforms or in person, Ellie enjoys promoting her efforts everywhere she can. In an interview she had with Bustle, a global media company, Ellie said, “when I first began writing and speaking about sustainability and ethical living, I was stepping into uncharted territory […] it wasn’t as widespread as it is now. That didn’t deter me from continuing to raise awareness, challenge the norm and provide support to people and brands wanting to engage in these important issues.”

More importantly, Ellie promotes her content on Instagram. The reason Instagram is the place for her is because it is a natural way of passage. She was on Facebook and Twitter but then the social media world shifted towards Instagram. That’s when she found an opportunity to keep spreading the messages that she has been telling through the form of photographs because that is the new way to deliver content to followers.

Images of Kathleen Ellie

Lyst, a fashion search engine, stated that Instagram has developed to become one of the most powerful tools for fashion, setting trends, and boosting sales. They also said, “a 47% increase in shoppers looking for items that have ethical and style credentials with terms such as ‘vegan leather’ and ‘organic cotton.’”

This shows that users and fashion consumers are trying to understand more about sustainable fashion and ways to be a part of the larger movement. Thus, the Instagram influencer culture of sustainable fashion is booming as many influencers begin to appear in people’s searches.

Moreover, talking about sustainability and a greener planet is not new information to the world. This has been an issue for a long time. There have been many programs that are trying to promote a greener lifestyle. These include but are not limited to stopping the use of straws, save the turtles campaign, eliminating the use of plastic bags, being eco-friendlier when food shopping… Here in Canada, Candice Batista started a hub for those who want to learn about adopting an eco-friendly lifestyle by using sources that are available to them. The Eco Hub “is a website that connects conscious consumers to brands and companies that care about people and the planet.” Batista promotes green ways of living from fashion, to kitchen appliances, and many more. She uses Instagram as a way to promote her website and the content that she tries to produce often.

Batista has been an environmental journalist for over 15 years. “Being an environmentalist is in my blood. I grew up in South Africa and had a really deep appreciation for animals and wildlife, very early on. I was doing projects and things with school being a steward of the earth,” she said. When she moved to Canada, she realized the processes of mass production and consumption that North Americans encounter.

As an environmental journalist she knows a lot about the strains that we place on the planet. Therefore, Batista wanted to create a place where North Americans could learn more about sustainability but also become accustomed to this change in their lifestyles. She has also changed her own lifestyle to be more environmentally friendly.

Batista says it’s really simple to change one’s lifestyle to be eco-friendlier, all we need to do is go back to how things used to be before convenience was our main priority. In other words, people in the olden days lived life with more simplicity. People purchased or used items on demand rather than buying because they wanted something. This placed less pressure on the environment and mass production was not yet developed.

Images of Candice Batista

Verena Erin is the founder of My Green Closet. Erin is from Edmonton, Canada and has been living in Germany for the past few years. When she was studying fashion design, she realized the negative implications that fashion has on the environment. Erin’s platform caters to a wide audience and she presents information in a very personal way that connects her with her followers. She tries to create content that is easy to follow and relatable, keeping her audiences motivated and allowing them to make a positive change in their lives.

Erin said, “Fashion is about garments that people feel good wearing and feel good about owning.” Her platform is a place where she talks to her followers about ways to positively change their lives through creating content related to eco-friendly and ethical fashion, capsule wardrobes, natural beauty, minimalism, the fashion industry, and living greener generally.

Erin understands the power that fashion has on people, giving them the ability to feel and look a specific way. Her philosophy is to show people that slow fashion can also help them feel that same way. She said, “I hope to help people look, and more importantly, feel amazing without sacrificing their ethical and environmental values.”

Erin is a sustainable fashion influencer on platforms such as; Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. She is an active user that is constantly trying to promote an eco-friendly lifestyle for her followers. Erin said she enjoys sharing her journey with others and finds words of encouragement from her followers who have told her they were able to change their lives because of the information that she is exerting into the world. This is why she keeps developing her platform. She has a workbook called Quit Fast Fashion that helps others become more sustainable consumers. Erin tells her audiences about the various ways that they could become more eco-conscious. Some suggestions include, choosing the right brands, slowing down shopping processes, and the magic of natural dyes.

Erin said, “I like being able to engage with the slow fashion/conscious living community on Instagram, but honestly, the main reason is because it’s a platform you’re “supposed” to be on as a blogger or YouTube and it’s a way to share the content I’m working on.” Erin said in her experience Instagram has had its pros and cons. She likes to see her follower’s engagement and the ability to find others that are part of the movement as well, allowing her to quickly find inspiration. However, she said that the focus on aesthetic and “perfect” photos is an issue that can take away from the message she is trying to send across. She finds it more beneficial to create blogs rather than use Instagram because it keeps the content of the message focused. However, Instagram is where a lot of activity occurs, so she finds it difficult to leave it behind.

The idea of spreading messages through an image-based platform could be seen as difficult for many but it is a place to share ideas and spread messages through a creative outlet. This is why it is important to keep track of the influencers who you follow in order to know the kinds of messages that are receiving through the swipe of a finger.

Images of Verena Erin