Marketing via social media and blogs – with the use of “real” people (vs. paid models for example) – is prolific in the sewing world (and fashion, beauty, and a lot of other industries). To the point where the odd discussion about whether this kind of work should be paid in cash, as opposed to in-kind, seems to be becoming commonplace.
As someone who works with sewing companies and is semi-regularly approached for “collaborations”, I wanted to write my ideas on this. Back in 2018 I went to a talk by a new (now defunct) agency which aimed to improve the blogger/brand relationship. The feeling I got from that was generally speaking we should work more towards payment because bloggers were using their PR work to make a living. Alas, in 2021 there is no universal agreement on standard practice for blogger / Instagrammer marketing. It really is down to you as to what you want to do and are happy with.
By the way, related to this is what is considered advertising and transparency around “gifting”, I wrote about that here. Ever since I spoke to @thecamdenstitch about it, I’ve been in the camp that a gift is not a gift unless nothing is expected in return. And whilst every country has different specifications, the rules have the same purpose: your audience must know when you are posting an ad. Don’t want to do disclose? Then in my opinoin, don’t take the product in the first place!
Types of blogger / instagrammer marketing in sewing
Typically a blogger / instagrammer is given a product as part of a collaboration, asked to make something and then post about it. Examples:
- Fabric stores give fabric to individuals in exchange for posts on an individual’s channels, or on the website of the individual or fabric store
- Pattern companies give patterns to individuals for giveaways or because they launched new products
I call this payment “in-kind”. So the blogger/Instagrammer receives a product in exchange for publicity, without payment in cash. Pattern testers often put up posts of their test makes for the pattern they received to test. That is a different matter, I’ll come back to that later.
Why is payment usually in kind rather than cash?
I have some theories around this. The first theory is that a majority of bloggers/instagrammers who do advertising work don’t do it as their main source of income. In which case, receiving products is like a bonus that your hobby costs less than it otherwise would. I know a grand total of 2 full time bloggers/instagrammers that sustain themselves with this kind of marketing income (I am not one of them). Of course, there will be more, but having been around sewing and IG a fair bit I don’t think it is a “normal” thing in sewing.
My second theory is that a lot of the social media marketing we see is for smaller sewing businesses. A lot of bloggers/instagrammers know the owners or staff of these businesses personally, and want to support them. So it can feel like a nice favour. Also, it is entirely possible they actually can’t afford to pay.
For example, there can be a lot of cost in running a pattern brand. The actual pattern drawing is the fastest part. Grading, instructions, sampling, testing, marketing. And if you do paper patterns, then it’s even more work. Preparation for the home sewing market is hugely time-consuming, the market is already saturated. I’d bet that making a pattern ready to sell could take as long or even longer than getting ready to manufacture ready to wear.
Also if you think of the relative low cost of a sewing pattern, you can imagine the volumes you need to sell to make a sustainable business model. Assuming it is a business that people use to pay their staff and bills (rather than just their side hobby). If you want to know more about costs, you can read the Just Patterns income report here where Delphine outlines the financial realities of being an indie pattern brand.
Thirdly, everyone likes to have recognition for a job well done. Whilst the idea of chasing internet popularity is something often shaken off as being a bit of a silly goal (maybe because we’re scared of not achieving popularity?) we generally like to have likes and comments, right? And be reposted and given air time makes us feel validated. This kind of opportunity is exactly what working with these companies can do. Combined with product that didn’t cost any money, often that’s enough.
By the way: I think internet popularity is a perfectly valid goal. As long as you are clear on what it would bring you. Is it so you get approached by companies and feel validated that your skills are good enough that they want you as an ambassador? Or is it because you yourself have a product to sell that you want to promote to others? Do you really just want product that you don’t fork out money for? Etc.
If we combine the points above + the ready availability of volunteers who are hobbyists, it doesn’t feel to me that there much of an incentive for businesses to pay monies for this kind of marketing.
Should marketing in sewing be paid in cash rather than in kind?
This is the big question. Discussions around payment in monies for blogger/instagrammer advertising has been around for years. We’re still not at the stage yet where everyone gets paid cash for the advertising they do.
Whether that is right or not right is something you can decide for your situation. For the moment, my main consideration: is being a blogger/instagrammer your job, or do you want it to be?
Is it a job?
If you think your work is worth more than payment in-kind and this is your job, then in my mind you need to ask to be paid for your work. Especially because this is not like being a fashion blogger. It takes a lot longer to be making content if you have to actually make the thing yourself. That’s before you even think about photos. Whether you get the cash payment that you want is another matter. It depends on whether the brand thinks that exposure via your channels is worth paying for. If you have 100 followers and a brand new blog, it’s probably unlikely. For brands to pay, they’d have to be certain that they would actually get some kind of return, i.e. sales conversions from your posts. Else there’s no point, right?
Are you a hobbyist?
If making and posting stuff to your channels is your hobby, then payment in kind might be absolutely fine for you! The key word here is voluntary. No one is forcing you to do this. You do it because you love the product that is on offer and you like the company. You volunteer because you are fine with the parameters that are set by the company that is giving you the product. There is an acceptance that there is no monetary compensation for your time to make the thing (maybe you get paid in patterns, fabric, or a shop voucher).
Don’t get me wrong, I love it when brands say “this is a paid job” and I get to send invoices for my work. But the jobs I have that pay actual money are for technical editing and tutorial work, not as a blogger. But I also accept that a lot of brands don’t have the money to pay. Particularly if they are just starting out (see above points on this).
What do brands usually ask for?
I think the parameters are usually pretty reasonable. That is, for me as a volunteer for whom blogger marketing is not my main income. For example:
- Participate once a year
- No pressure to make something on a regular basis if I don’t want to
- Timeframe to sew works with my sewing plans / timetable
- No contract to sign, no hidden costs to pay, no ramifications if you can’t make the agreed deadlines.
Thus: if I like something, I can choose, it fits in with my sewing plans and I have time to do it, I like the brand … then I’m good to go.
However, there have been other cases I’ve heard of where companies apply more comprehensive rules. Such as requiring you to purchase things from them on a regular basis. That totally wouldn’t work for me, but for others it might be fine.
Pattern testing and pattern promotion
To me, these are not the same thing, but they often come hand in hand. We’ve all seen the posts: “I made this as part of a pattern test and it’s great!” But testing is actually providing feedback on fit, design, and instructions (and you don’t necessarily make the final pattern). The primary function of testing is not marketing – it’s just convenient to use it for marketing purposes. And unless something turned out really badly, I suggest you’re likely to have something nice to say if you had input into the process.
I asked around a few friends why they like to test and their comments were: they like a free pattern; they like having previews of patterns; they like having some input into the design process; it helps them sew better because they get to ask questions.
There seems more of a trend where pattern testers are paid a stipend. This covers things like fabric and printing, and maybe time. This is a good thing – I think that this incentivises testers to provide constructive feedback. But whether the amount is good enough is for you to determine.
So there we have it. In the absence of any consensus on cash payment, I think we have to decide what’s right for our own situation. And whether it’s something we are happy to be involved in it. No right or wrong!
Till next time,