Recent controversies on Instagram and beyond have highlighted issues in the rapidly growing space.

Photo: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Photo: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Son de Flor, a line of cotton, wool and linen dresses from Lithuania, traffics in the kind of twee, Baltic fairy-tale aesthetic that has become an Instagram genre unto itself.

The brand is especially beloved by women who espouse the virtues of organic fabrics and slow lifestyles. In one of Son de Flor’s Instagram posts, a redhead in a smock dress ploughs her sturdy black boots through the snow as a pony trails behind; in another, a pair of sisters with matching Peter Pan collars perch on a bicycle in the middle of fallow farmland. You can almost feel a chill descend. Everything is so hygge you could die. And, until recently, the people featured were exclusively white.

This was a problem for some of Son de Flor’s fans, who, sometime in January, left comments appealing for some degree of racial diversity. This wasn’t an unreasonable request; Son de Flor, though based in a country where more than 84 percent is native Lithuanian (read: white), is an international-facing brand that populates its Instagram posts with the Japanese symbols for “snow” and “forest girl.”

But Son de Flor glossed over this feedback with statements that amounted to “We love everyone, we just feature our friends,” according to someone who witnessed what happened before comments were scrubbed. (Son de Flor did not respond to requests for an interview.) The situation attracted the attention of people who, even if they were not avowed white supremacists themselves, used language that echoed white-supremacist ideology. Not all were subtle about it: A white mommy-vlogger who styles herself “Wife with a Purpose” launched a tirade on YouTube pronouncing the commotion ridiculous and averring that “it’s O.K. to be white.”

My source, who is Black and asked not to be named because of safety concerns, says the deluge of racially charged invectives she and other commenters of color received prompted them to set their Instagram accounts to private. Son de Flor has since apologized, unequivocally, and included among its recent posts shots of a Black model and one Japanese customer. But the episode cast a pall over a community already struggling over questions about whiteness, power and diversity in the space.

Like any other platform with a billion users worldwide, Instagram has managed to self-organize into a loose assemblage of tribes that revolve around shared interests. Ethical fashion, appearing at the junctions of minimalism, social justice and sustainability, is one of them. But ethical fashion Instagrammers also often fit a similar mold: female, young, lithe and white — perhaps, as some have suggested to me, because young, lithe white women are likelier to have the time, money and resources to hone their online personas and cultivate a following. That, and the benefit of implicit bias.

“As a woman of color, I cannot tell you the number of times that I would love to vent my fury the way white people are allowed to, but I know that if I show even 50 percent of how upset I am I’ll be perceived as the angry Latina,” says Robledo, who is of Mexican, Colombian and European descent and identifies as mestiza. “My heart really went out to these women. They played by the rules, stated their case politely and still were vilified.”

Despite her public bravado, it’s clear that the events of the past few months have taken their toll. She wonders if the tight-knit ethical fashion community in New York is beginning to shun her. She’s lost thousands of dollars worth of paid collaborations from Ecocult. It’s gotten to the point that she worries people are “looking at her weird.”

“I’m like very paranoid now about who knows what happened and what people think of me, and whether people think I’m racist,” she says. “And it is affecting my career. So for these people to say that they have no power and they have no responsibility for anything that happens after they put out a call-out, that’s bullshit. And they know it, too.” Her voice falls: “They know it.”

So why not just apologize? Sincerely, authentically and emphatically apologize?

“The apology that would satisfy them, I don’t know if it exists. Or if it does, it follows a certain script that I really disagree with, which is ‘I was wrong, I’m racist, thank you to this group of women for enlightening me’ and then tagging them and sending them more followers and engagement,” she says. “There’s really not much I can say at this point that’s not going to be deliberately twisted and taken out of context.”

She agrees she’s made some missteps, including not employing better de-escalation techniques. But Wicker also says she has never disagreed with the idea of racial diversity in the fashion industry and, in fact, wants to see more people of color thrive. It’s the strong-arm tactics of her antagonists that she takes issue with, and the fact that social media is a flawed conduit for rigorous discourse.

“Am I racist in the sense that I absorbed the messages that society has given me around white skin being better? Yeah, probably. I’ve benefited a lot from all of the privileges. I have all of them. Good education, white skin, I’m healthy, able-bodied. All of that,” she says, adding that she tries to “spend” her privilege, through the content she creates, to uplift people of color. “I’ve done my best to educate myself.”

And yet a number of people say that Wicker’s actions on Instagram not only fomented harm in a very visceral way, but they continue to hurt, especially because she is the frequent arbiter of what is and isn’t ethical. One of them is Aditi Mayer (@aditimayer), a writer and photographer of Indian origin who lives Los Angeles. After Wicker’s call-out, Mayer direct-messaged her to ask her why she was telling people to block women of color. “As someone who has for very long been at the forefront of sustainable bloggers, [Wicker] holds a lot of power,” Mayer says. “And for women of color, our identity is inherently politicized whether we like it or not.”

Much has been written lately about “white fragility,” a term coined in 2011 by diversity trainer, social-justice educator and author Robin DiAngelo, who is white, to describe the tear-streaked defensiveness white people have when their insulated ideas of race are challenged. Blocking people of color so you don’t have to be held accountable is an “act of silencing” and erasure that, when performed without context, is a “form of violence in itself,” Mayer says.

The truth is there are no easy answers and certainly no satisfying ones. And the issues raised on social media are just a microcosm of what women of color experience in the everyday world. “Hear me when I say that this is not Instagram drama,” Shepherd, the former Minimalist Wardrobe contributor, writes on her blog. “This is a deeply woven racial issue that has been stitched into the fabric of our country and sewn into the ethical fashion industry.”

Mayer points out that ethical fashion exists to “look at larger systems of power,” yet it’s often rooted a kind of white saviorism where when “you have this distinct binary of a Black or brown woman being the producer and then a white woman consuming it.” Céline Semaan, the Bierut-born founder of the brand Slow Factory, has written about why understanding sustainability means coming to grips with its links with colonialism. And Pakistani-American Ayesha Barenblat, founder of the nonprofit Remake, wonders why all-white panels are such a ubiquitous sight at sustainability conferences “even though the people and communities most impacted by fashion’s decisions are people of color.”

For ex-Instagrammer Stella, the conflicts involving Son de Flor, Wicker and even the knitting community, where a white woman recently drew ire for describing India in culturally imperialistic terms, are manifestations of broader tensions currently playing out across a fractured United States.

“For me, [all of this has] exposed the depth of collective trauma that people of color experience, but also the depth of sort of political trauma that this whole country is experiencing under the Trump regime,” she says. “And I think all of those things play into each other and make us feel like we’re incapable of reconciliation.”


Social media and Content Management

Adeniran Olubayo is a Creative, Skilled and accomplished Content Writer with diverse knowledge of writing contents for various websites. Adeniran Olubayo has the ability to generate content in a clear and precise manner. Also has an exceptional written and verbal communication skills, Extensive Knowledge of Google keyword research tools & Ability to write content according to clients’ requirements.

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