Ellie Hughes isn’t a fan of the term “influencer,” even though she knows she’s one by most measures.
On Instagram, Hughes has 10,400 followers, a number that places her squarely in the realm of “micro-influencer”—one step above “nano-influencer,” which influencer-intelligence platform Klear defines as having between 500 and 5,000 followers, but roughly 20,000 influencers short of “power influencer.”
The Portland, Ore. resident began blogging—and influencing—in 2016 after deciding to purchase only ethically produced clothing. For three years, she chronicled her discovery and support of brands such as Everlane, Nisolo and Vetta to present to her readers a “better way to buy” without supporting exploited labor, landfill waste or air and water pollution. Soon, companies were sending her free products in the mail, which gave her a thrill. She started working with some of them directly to create sponsored posts, which paid her for her efforts—also exciting. Affiliate links, which rewarded her whenever someone made a purchase on her recommendation, trickled in more cash. In time, Hughes was making enough that she flirted with the idea of turning her blog Selflessly Styled into her full-time job.
But earlier this year, Hughes experienced a minor crisis of self. She realized these advertorials were the only content she had time to make. Hawking new products, she says, “quickly took over,” which meant less time educating her audience about the unsavory underbelly of the fashion supply chain. With household consumption accounting for 72 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, it dawned on her how unsustainable promoting continuous consumption was, no matter how “conscious” or “ethical.”
So in August, Hughes made another pivot, this time to reject all free clothes and paid collaborations. “I just needed to evaluate what my work look like If I had nothing to gain from it financially,” she says. She was thinking of the bigger picture, too. “When you’re promoting new stuff all the time, I think it sets the standard for the average consumer that they continually need to accumulate,” she adds.