This is perhaps a belated article – late by several years, in fact – yet with recent developments on this blog and within our denim hobby, I do feel that it is time that I examined the concept of “influencers”, from a denim hobbyist’s perspective.
It has been around 20 years since Japanese denim was mentioned on Internet forums, and almost 10 years since denim & associated lifestyles have been featured on modern social media platforms such as Instagram. During this time, the denim-geek community has grown in some unexpected ways, and certainly the activities of modern day “denim influencers” were not foreseen by early hobbyists at all.
A recap of sorts, if you will: Within our hobby at the moment, much marketing are being carried out through news aggregate websites, many of which began as basic blogs, being incorporated entities which hire staff and receive payment for marketing services. A handful of influencers, active on Instagram, usually with followers in the many tens of thousands, charge some hundreds of dollars for social media campaigns for brands. Some well known personalities are finding work as ‘consultants’ in the fashion industry. A larger group of micro- and nano-influencers within our hobby, rising from the algorithm of Facebook & Instagram, are now expecting discounts or even free products from brands and stores alike. This is the state of things, in 2019.
Don’t let the term put you off though. Influencers are social leaders, and leaders (in any hobby) have always existed. Human beings are social apes, and it just won’t do not to have leaders, and it is natural for all of us to desire influence over our peers. Just like in any part of culture and society, then, influencers in the denim hobby have always operated in our communities; modern day social media have just decentralised, and made more visible, the act of influencing. In the early days of this hobby, the influencers were brand founders, store owners and knowledgeable enthusiasts with insider connections. Now, with the right digital presentation and a reasonable camera, any body can take a crack at becoming a denim influencer.
Just like any other changes over time within the denim world, there are pros and cons to the recent developments in influencing. Despite recent backlashes against influencers in many circles and walks of life, I do feel like the current state of social media has benefited our hobby in many ways. The most obvious benefit, to me, is the sheer amount of attention (and new enthusiasts) that platforms such as Instagram & Reddit can now attract to the denim hobby – the traffic on modern media far outsize what traditional forums had achieved in the late 2000s. With the increase in leaders and influencers in our spheres, more people will be attracted to our hobby, and as the market for enthusiast denim grows, the industries that are behind Japanese denim will hopefully achieve more stability and longevity.
Secondly, more democratic and open platforms reduce gate-keeping in the hobby and allow the denim hobby to not only grow in number of participants, but also grow laterally in terms of styles & aesthetics. A higher number and visibility of influencers will increase the possible perspectives within our hobby – as the sphere of denim is widened, it will not only catch a greater audience but also allow different expressions/styles/brands within this hobby. More influencers could equal more diversity.
Finally, given that enthusiast denim had been extremely niche, the community had traditionally been held ransom by broader cycles of fashion, and was at risk of perishing should economic and fashion trends become suboptimal for high end clothing. Modern day influencing behaviour supercharges how quickly our community can keep up with evolving tastes and market conditions, ultimately increasing the survivability and longevity of our hobby. Whilst influencers do tend to colour and alter the nature of our hobby, these acts of changing ultimately confers viability. Things (including people) which do not adapt will only perish.
The rise of the modern denim influencer isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, however. I do have some criticisms regarding what I’ve observed in our denim world since 2016.
The most troubling aspect I must point out is the increasing sense of entitlement that some influencers (both real and wannabe) have developed. More and more I hear stories of people DEMANDING free products and services, and makers being pressured to provide same. This interaction is not purely one-sided, of course. Traditional Japanese denim makers mostly do not play this game, and yet for many new brands, the provision of free clothes to influencers form an important part of their marketing strategy. In this atmosphere of exchanging money or product for marketing, its a deep & slippery slope in terms of authenticity and expectations, making tenuous the integrity of the interactions between brands, shops and community influencers.
As someone who has been a denim geek for a few years, I have also observed that modern day influencers have diluted our hobby, both in terms of passion and boundaries. In my opinion, many of the current bloggers and influencers actually demonstrate very little knowledge about the denim and clothes which we care about. Many newbies also try and pass as experts after only a couple of years living the prescribed ‘lifestyle’. Whether this is the truth of the matter, or whether this modern day superficiality is due to the nature of new social media, is a matter of perspective, I suppose. I do worry though, that the denim hobby will become too diluted – dumbed down – because of how the influencers of today are choosing to do their influencing. Watching people take nice photos of a ‘rugged lifestyle’ is much too fake to add to my enjoyment of denim, but, many people seem to like it. I do wonder too, whether all the so-called interactions on modern media are worth much at all – how many people liking a photo actually care about denim? Is there any substance to these online communities or cliques we have built through new media?
Furthermore, most influencers straddle the line between hobbyist and marketer. In a hobby which values identity and authenticity, how are we to view this confusion in roles? For the influencers who have built themselves into a brand and charge professional fees for content creation and advertisement, are they even hobbyists any more? Are they still us? Should we trust them?
With all that’s been written, this has been an opportunity to reflect on my own participation in the denim world, and this Indigoshrimp blog. This blog has featured sponsored products since its early years, and many of my reviews had been written with not just objective examination in mind, but also a genuine desire to promote products, brands or makers which I personally liked. A combination of sponsorship and community participation means that I can never achieve the level of objectivity which professional reviewers might, theoretically, be able to obtain… yet our hobby is still much too small for such an industry to exist, as they do now, online, for hobbies such as video games or cars. I think, too, my desire to be liked by the community and to integrate myself more with the industry also cloud my objectivity…perhaps, this is unavoidable where ‘I’ am the blog?
Unfortunately, the growth of this blog has meant that, even as a non-monetised website, I am faced with a new set of ethical dilemmas which were non-issues even two or three years ago. There had been a couple of opportunities arising since 2016 for me to monetise this blog – actually make money off the writings here – but I have chosen not to, for my own enjoyment of this hobby. Monetised or not, however, what I have realised is that ‘Indigoshrimp’ has now become a brand of sorts (albeit a very small one), and my persona within our circles has, in retrospect, been one of a minor influencer for some years. This blog now has relationships with certain brands, makers and shops, and you’d have noticed that some of my recent reviews have served as marketing material for product launches. Given all of this, which were certainly unintended when I began blogging in 2008, I feel like increased transparency is now necessary, even if this blog is not an influencer device by modern standards.
Going forward, all sponsored reviews will feature a sponsorship statement up-front, before any other words are written, rather than being embedded within the articles, as had been my habit. I will also make more effort in clearing the backlog of non-sponsored reviews, which is around 24 months long. However, I will continue to accept and prioritise sponsored reviews from brands or makers who I want to support – rest assured, I will always give my honest opinion on this blog. My word is my reputation in this hobby, after all. Also, I will never accept any monetary payment for any type of writing or advertising here on Indigoshrimp. I do not consider myself anywhere popular enough to be an influencer, and there is no intention for this – denim is a hobby for me – first and foremost I’m a denim enthusiast.
This blog aside, I wonder to where the current influencer phenomenon will lead us. There is increasing backlash against how some Instagram influencers are behaving, and after a decade of intense digital intrusion into our lives, many of us are yearning for more authentic ways of connecting with our hobbies (and each other). Yet, the next decade will bring more advanced technologies – imagine how the process of influencing will be different in the denim world, in 2030, with the increased integration of virtual reality, social media and everyday life. Following this line of thinking, I do fear that the coming years will bring an intensification of the intrusiveness of social media, and participation in the social aspects of our hobby will be increasingly effortful and detrimental to our mental health. Everything is always on; we’re always missing out on something; there are always guys with jeans that we want parading around with a glass of whiskey in their hands…could this influencing process ultimately become toxic to our hobby and burn people out?
Finally, from one hobbyist to another, I would ask you to consider how much of our denim hobby should be about our jeans, and how much of it should be about our online life? At the end of the day, does participation in platforms such as Instagram add or subtract from your experience of denim? As obsessive and pedantic guys, how much do you trust people who merely pose and type out pop-psychology in their posts? Why do you engage with influencers? Why do you want to be an influencer?
I will conclude this article by acknowledging, again, that influencers have always existed in our denim hobby and that influencing will continue to be an unavoidable phenomenon. The changes in the quality and quantity of influencers with modern social media have created pitfalls and opportunities for us as members of the denim diaspora, and these changes will continue to evolve as new technologies emerge. Regardless of how we feel about influencers, what is left for us to decide is how we engage in this influencing process and how we adapt to a brave new online world.