Thursday, December 9, 2010

Friends - Bloggers - Shoppers - Be Informed.

I recently read this post on the brilliant Huzzah Vintage blog, about the 'free labor' performed by Mod Cloth's customers. It's touchy subject, but as someone who is an advocate for human and worker's rights. I see so much truth in what the post argues. Here is an excerpt, but please read the post and watch the clip...

"Perhaps not surprisingly, this complimentary customer labor is cloaked in a rhetoric of 'fashion democratization.' Customers are flattered into believing that they are a contributing member of an exclusive sartorial collective, and that the free work they do for the site is somehow different, somehow less exploitative than that which paid focus group participants do for major retailers like Gap Inc. and Zara parent company Inditex. The reality, of course, is that the only thing different about Modcloth's strategy is that it is cheaper and has the value-added benefit of promoting much deeper engagement with the brand and website (something the company perhaps learned from its young, start-up savvy investors). Like so many Americans today, Modcloth customer-laborers are working harder and harder for less and less. As far as we can tell, this is not a model of democracy, but a capitalist's filthy wet dream."

This issue has been the topic of many other blog posts as well. I think it's just easier to see when the company is as large and ever present as MC.

As a blogger I've( and perhaps you too, if you have a blog) been contacted to advertise/promote things in this space without any sort of compensation. Which okay, I may do if I am contacted by a product/service that I truly support. To date I've only done that for one service - SMASHION. But, I do write about clothing and products that I like all the time - and no, I'm not sponsored, I just like those things and wish to share about them. That being said I have been contacted by companies wanting me to review their products and services without any sort of compensation for my time. I also feel that were I to review something I wouldn't normally use or buy - I'd be compromising my principles. Also, people should be compensated for their work. Just because something is fun, doesn't mean it doesn't require a certain set of skills and time.

(I've seen this a lot on job-postings as of late as well - where they are looking for social media/blogger interns requiring a whole slew of skills and set hours - and they don't pay. But, don't get me started on that - there are a bunch of laws related to this that really anger me.)

But, anyway- I want to know how you, blog amigos, feel about this.


  1. Hah! I think you know my feelings, despite the one coat I tried to order from them (returned - too big!). I've posted about this a few times before, which you can see here: http://jesseanneo.blogspot.com/search?q=modcloth

    But, excerpts!

    "Also I get a kick out of how they generated immediate blog loyalty by naming their dresses after bloggers -- it was really an ingenious way to get tons of free advertising! Flattery will get you everywhere. I am super impressed by their marketing skills (including the "Be the Buyer" stuff). Not that it's ever swayed me to buy anything from them, but I can appreciate a good marketing team."


    "I can admit flattering bloggers by naming dresses after them was a savvy ad move (oh, the low overhead on advertising and glowing reviews!). Same with their Be the Buyer. But I just can't make myself buy stuff from there, despite thinking it's cute, despite looking at the site. It is is that feeling that they're incredibly smart with their advertising and instead of it feeling like community, it feels so much like "cool hunting" advertising to me, even if the people who own it are just.like.us. It's nothing against them personally, clearly, but it sets off my "being sold to" alarm.

    Is that insane? Is the "wolf in sheep's clothing" feeling just because they did start out as a small vintage-selling site and now they're...what they are? Is it because they're using advertising that's inventive and "close to home"? Is it because I can never tell if someone just likes them or are being sponsored by them or getting free clothes from them? (And the gushing - that's a whole other issue. I like a lot of brands, stores, etc. and sometimes I'll mention them in a positive way but I'm sometimes taken back by how much gushing goes on about this kind of stuff? Maybe it's just the way I'm reading into it since it's written out?)

    It initially seemed strange to me that I would pick out and resist something like Modcloth but not call out something like Urban Outfitters or the like. But the line with UO is very clear. They are not "like me", they are not a small vintage-selling Etsy store I'd normally support and that's clear. I think I have feelings of unease when it's not clear?"


    I'm not sure what swayed me re that one coat, but vegan coats are a weakness, and I did couch it as "Deal with the Devil" when I posted about it!

    That said, it's not like I can't tell they're maximizing free labor; I think it's fairly obvious. But (without having watched the video bc I'm short on time and it's an hour?!) I also sort of think the people who do it and are compromised by it are kind of stupid? Is that awful? I just think you have to know how much your time is worth and apply it to what matches your values.

    So I do wonder what the individual responsibility is here, too, on top of their savvy marketing!

  2. YEs! actually I should have asked you if I could link your posts too!

    I too have to marvel attheir marketing smarts and yes I do find myself looking at their site - and in the earlier days i did buy a few things from them-

    you're right though there is individual responsibility there as well.

    Whats sad is that this style of doing business is becoming more and more widespread because of blogs and other social networking sites. I get if you put ad buttons on your site - that's clear it's an ad- you're probablly getting some sort of compensation. It's the other stuff that's blurry.

    I actually really like that you clearly label your product reviews as un-sponsored on your posts- if you don't mind I may start doing the same.

  3. We like seeing clothes on fellow bloggers. We like hearing what they have to say. We like seeing how they style things. I will admit to buying things I might not have just because I saw another blogger wearing it.

    Reading anonymous customer reviews of clothing is a complete waste of time, because for every person who says "these shoes were so uncomfortable, I had to return them!" there is another person who will regale their comfort.

    But bloggers, we know. Their style their taste -- we often look to people who are similar to ourselves and when they review something, you know how to interpret it for yourself.

    I have to say, ModCloth was pretty smart to see this, to implant themselves into fashion bloggers minds and create this huge brand worship.
    I used to like ModCloth; while I've never purchased anything from them I did like to look and read those elaborate descriptions.

    But I feel like their attempts to get closer to their customers have failed on me, and only made me feel like the one kid in the class who didn't get invited to the party. Because it became annoying to see them showering other bloggers with free stuff and constantly having to read about how great ModCloth is; and I suppose there is a touch of jealousy mixed in, (what? you wouldn't want a dress named after you?) all of which have inspired me to not shop there, rather than gushing with the rest of them.

  4. @ Lyddie - I agree when a blogger I read and trust talks about a product I listen. Personal opinion and word of mouth advertising is nothing new- it's just the non- transparency of most of it is bit sketchy. Like if someone is being sponsored by a company then yeah they're obligated to say they like something - I'd rather have an honest opinion. I do realize that bloggers may very well be sponsored by a product they stand behind and that's great - but please tell the reader you're sponsored.

    I guess what is really bothersome is that larger companies reach out to bloggers / customers to advertise for them for free.

  5. wow! thank you kindly for the shout-out (and for the work you do on behalf of Labor ~ as a former UE Local 896 steward, I know this is not always the most glamorous work).

    I'm glad to learn that I'm not the only one making this particular critique of Modcloth. It's quite shocking that they've been able to fly under the radar of so many incisive discussions about faux empowerment through interactivity, because they've really re-written the book on it. That most people do not immediately recognize this--or care to accept it once it has been pointed out to them--really speaks to the efficacy of the company's marketing and spin. I suppose, though, that no one wants to fancy herself a cultural dupe or industry pawn.

    You raise a related point that has really been ruffling my feathers as of late. Like you, I am contacted at least once per week by large online retailers interested in sponsoring giveaways on my blog (presumably because they've seen the success that my small business sponsors and friends have had with such promotion on my site). Initially, I declined because I did not want my small business partners to have to compete with big businesses for attention on my site, but when A CSN representative contacted me recently with such a proposition, I decided to respond by requesting a $50 promotion fee. In addition to the labor involved in crafting a blog post and properly promoting a giveaway, I felt that CSN ought to pay for the privilege of leveraging the readership I'd worked incredibly hard to build and maintain over the last two years. They, of course, never responded, and within a matter of days I started seeing the proposed CSN giveaway on blogs listed in my blog roll. This really opened my eyes to the fact that such partnerships are not at all mutually beneficial but entirely parasitic (with the blogger as host and retailer as parasite). Imagine NBC or Bust or even your local Penny Saver newspaper running an ad for a NIke contest for absolutely no compensation! Bullocks!

  6. I don't necessarily agree that companies are being parasitic in using blogs to promote. Not naming names (and yours certainly isn't one) but some bloggers (dare I say a majority) appear to love promoting anything and everything, so long as they are getting their free bauble or ugly dress or shoes or whatever. So of course they're going to keep using that method - clearly it works!

    I try not to read pure fashion blogs, primarily for the reason mentioned above. Of course we all know we are being marketed to, but for some reason the way it is slipped into blogs these days really turns me off much more than say, a magazine ad.

    And Modcloth is the worst! One day I hope to open ANY web page without one of their ads being right in my face, but I think I'm gonna have to let that dream die.

  7. A follow up note:

    I think the great thing about blogs like yours and others like it is that we get to see real people working with real clothing budgets. It is inspiring to see how you stylish ladies mix the high/low and use vintage in your wardrobes.

    It is not so inspiring to see outfits pieced together with freebies from stores and designers. Most of that stuff is out of reach to gals on a limited budget and frankly, there is nothing unique or creative about it.

    Jesse's point about the gushing is spot on, too. I appreciate a good product review as much as anyone and I want to trust the source, but most of the time it is pretty hard to do.

  8. The only time I bought anything from ModCloth was when I won $100 gift certificate there from Daddy Likey. It took me months to spend it because so much of their stuff seemed too young or faux-vintage in a really cheap looking way. It's the same reason I've never shopped at F21, H&M, or UO. It all just seems fake and contrived and ripped off. (We're going to put peter pan collars on EVERYTHING! Clogs are the only shoes we stock right now!) I don't really read any of the "big" blogs any more because it seems like everything on their outfit list is c/o (um, ok, we're supposed to know that's courtesy of, but it still seems like a sneaky way of getting around the fact that you don't want to say "THIS WAS GIVEN TO ME FOR FREE SO I CAN MAKE YOU WANT TO BUY IT.") And now it's more than just ModCloth, which I guess is good in a way- that legitimate designers are realizing that bloggers can be as powerful as Vogue, but I don't want to see your FREE Coach bag and jacket and boots and free $800 designer dress. That is not relevant to me or my life.

    I also got really disillusioned when a rather large and profitable blog posted a DIY that I had done on my wardrobe_remix page only a few days later on her blog without any mention of mine... and they were EERILY similar. I don't know FOR SURE that she saw it and decided to poach it because she figured I'm pretty unknown and no one would notice, and I know with the vastness of the information on the internet, there may have already been a DIY out for a similar project prior to mine, but the timing just seemed too perfect... I guess that gets into a whole 'nother issue though...

  9. @Future lint you bring up very good points. And on the topic of 'poaching' er plagiarizing -it's a very very blurry issue when it come to blogs and internet sites - and one that is really worth exploring from a blogger's perspective.

  10. I meant to post on this earlier but I've been falling behind on my commenting.
    I like the points that everyone brings up here (Kim, you are hilarious. Christine- that sucks). I appreciate LaFille's perspective as a someone who work does advocacy for labor rights.
    I do believe that there is an element of fashion democratization that is happening with style/fashion blogs, but a lot of it is getting co-opted (and willingly!) by corporations. Which makes sense, since many bloggers engage in this activity not only as a hobby but with a hope for earning some kind of compensation.
    I think that MOdCloth and other companies (We Love Colors? Shabby Apple) are exploitative, but not in a unique way. Rather than higher of full time, salaried worker with benefits and security, the corporations are farming out promotion work for free to "contract" workers in exchange for free stuff and maybe advertising dollars (but not that much, as I've heard that MC likes to spread thin and frequently). Bloggers may think they're coming out on top, but since most of them have other paid work, they are subsidizing the costs of these corporations' publicity activities. Most employment relationships are exploitative, but perhaps this is more concerning because many of the targets are very young and unexperienced in the work force, and there is such a large number out there that seek freebies and ad revenue.
    It'll be interesting to see how this is all analyzed in the future. I wish posts like this got featured on IFB, not tired repeated posts like "Great booties for under $50!" or "5 ways to improve your blog."

  11. I just circled back to this post because after seeing another Modcloth ad, I was reminded of it and wanted to see what the comments were!

    I have to second Rad's comment about IFB's links. Sometimes I find things I enjoy but when they had "How to Host (Another) Clothing Swap" (which you can find 100+ iterations of online, and probably also within the IFB previous links), I got a little depresso. I do wish some of the stuff they pick would be more aware or even "smarter". It's surprising because I think Jennine Jacobs is a very smart lady and often creates articles/tools about this very topic - I just think a lot of the Links editors have very different priorities/outlooks.

  12. Annnnd - there's more?