On Sunday, Dallas photographer Marrica Evans posted on Instagram a photo questioning the inclusiveness of rewardStyle's annual conference.
The Dallas-based company, founded by fashion blogger Amber Venz Box, partners with bloggers, influencers and brands, allowing influencers to monetize their social media posts.
Using rewardStyle, a blogger or influencer can link his or her outfits on a blog or social media account. From there, fans can shop the outfits, and in return, the influencer receives part of the sale. RewardStyle's LiketoKnow.it app also allows fans to shop participating bloggers' outfits through a screenshot or simple like, and the blogger or influencer gets a portion of the sale.
Some people are able to make a living off the system. All parties must apply and get accepted before using the platform.
Each year, rewardStyle hosts #rSthecon, a three-day, invitation-only conference where the top 200 bloggers and influencers in the country gather to network with brands and other influencers and learn more about growing their brands.
Even though Evans has not been to #rSthecon, she says a conversation about rewardStyle's exclusion began offline among minority bloggers and photographers.
"A lot of people are afraid to say something because that's how they make their livelihood," she says.
Evans applied for and was accepted into the rewardStyle platform but says she stopped using it because of its unfairness.
When Evans posted the Instragram comment about the conference Sunday, blogger Lauren Kay commented that rewardStyle invites the top 200 influencers who use the app based on performance and sales.
"That has absolutely nothing to do with appearance, race, or gender," she wrote.
But Evans says even if that's the case, why should the influencers who are doing well be the only ones who have access to the information?
"So to me, these people are already in the top 200 and excel in your company," Evans says. "Wouldn't you think that the information you're giving, they already know? I would think that info would help somebody that's trying to excel in their business as well."
But at the root of it, she says that's not the issue.
"The problem is we see these pictures every year online of this big conference that basically takes over downtown, and I see these girls, whether it's in my community — I see plus-size women, minority women — but every year, the same women get invited, and they all look the same to me."
She says the hoards of women remind her of a sorority that's not inclusive to everyone.
Requests for comment from rewardStyle via email and phone went unanswered.
I was drifting off to sleep tonight when my friend Sevi sent me a link to an Instagram post published by a local blogger/woman of color, @flauntyourfro, whose work I greatly admire. It brought to light an issue that has been eating away at me for the past two years. I thought leaving my career in the influencer marketing industry would absolve me of my own complacent contributions to its exclusionary structures, but there is guilt in omission and remaining silent on the topic of inequity. Influencer marketing is incredibly powerful. But as any comic book fan knows, with great power comes great responsibility. It's easy for people in power to justify exclusive spaces/events by saying they are reserved for the most successful (and thus, deserving), but it's not enough to look at who is invited to the table. What factors contributed to this success and which opportunities to be inclusive were missed along the way? Who has been empowered by years of promotion and support, given opportunities to shine/earn money on platforms with enormous reach, introduced to brands for high-paying campaigns? Who had the financial independence to jumpstart their blogging career by hiring professional photographers, web-designers, and buy new products to hawk on aforementioned platforms? I've been blogging for nearly a decade, but can't continue to do so responsibly without fully acknowledging my participation in a system that rewards privilege. Tonight was the wake-up call I needed to remove the custom field I had created in my theme to house my "shopping widgets" and take the final step off of the carousel. I fully expect to lose followers, friends even... by voicing an unpopular opinion. That the money you earn from a platform whose values do not reflect your own is not worth the cost of your morality.
Stephanie Drenka, a Dallas blogger, joined Evans on Instagram and said the issue has been "eating away at me for the past two years."
"I've been blogging for nearly a decade, but can't continue to do so responsibly without fully acknowledging my participation in a system that rewards privilege," she wrote Sunday night on Instagram.
When Dallas, Austin, and Houston come together. | As stated in my previous post, this will be my last year shooting during #rsthecon. I will miss seeing some of my favorite blogger and photog friends from all over during this time of year. I have a list of reasons why but I'm glad to share my top 2. 1. Overwhelming experience. Some photogs love to do full day of shoots but girl, I can't handle that. Lol It takes a lot out of you and sometimes people will forget that you need food and rest too. 2. Exclusivity. Why invite the top 200 performers when the smaller blogs can benefit from this the most? Everyone should have a fair shot at learning. Including women and men of all shapes, sizes, ages and colors. When you hear people say they only go to hang out with their friends because they learn the same thing every year. Then why the same people? Why not pick 200 people at random like how they do it in jury duty lol just sayin. #equality
Angie Garcia, a Dallas-based photographer who attended this year's conference, said on Instagram that it would be her last year to attend.
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"Why invite the top 200 performers when the smaller blogs can benefit from this the most," she wrote. "Everyone should have a fair shot at learning. Including women and men of all shapes, sizes, ages and colors."
Garcia declined to be interviewed, saying she was frustrated that the Dallas Observer's guide to fashion bloggers didn't feature diversity.
But Evans doesn't blame anyone for that.
"I can understand where you got that information because that's all that's being showcased to you guys," she says. "But they're not the only ones that are here in the city."