The Ethics of Fashion Blogging: Navigating Conflicts of Interest


As fashion bloggers, we're a bit like small publishers or magazines. Unlike the average publishing house or magazine though, we often have to take on every single role ourselves – from writing to editing to advertising to PR. With so many hats (I often wear more than one in the same hour, much less the same day!) it can be hard to keep track of everything, and to make sure we're holding up our end of our ethical commitment to our readers. I truly believe that when breaches in ethics occur for most fashion bloggers, it's not due to malice or deliberate deception, but is a result of unawareness or of trying to handle too much at once. In this blog post, I'll talk about a common ethical issue almost every blogger will encounter at one point or another: the conflict of interest.

I truly believe that when breaches in ethics occur for most fashion bloggers, it's not due to malice or deliberate deception, but is a result of unawareness or of trying to handle too much at once…

What is a “Conflict of Interest?”

Simply put, a conflict of interest is a clash between a professional obligations (such as being honest with your readers) and personal interests (such as profiting, monetarily or otherwise, from a blog post). Please note: a conflict of interest isn't in and of itself a bad thing; they occur pretty regularly in all sorts of occupations. A conflict of interest becomes a problem, however, when a person ignores it and either 1) acts without acknowledging it or 2) acts in their own self-interests anyway…or what could be perceived by others as their own self-interests.

Conflicts of interest involving money are fairly easy to spot and watch out for, but when you're a fashion blogger, not everything you do involves the exchange of cash. Here's an example of a conflict of interest that may apply to more of us here:

A company says that they love your blog and invites you to an exclusive, upcoming event. You won't be paid, but they will provide a gift card for you to purchase a new outfit. In addition, all your food and beverages at the event will be comped, and you'll receive a gift bag at the end of the night. In exchange, the company would like for to write a blog post about the event.

Is there a conflict of interest here? Absolutely! Even though money never changed hands, you were given items of value: a invitation to an exclusive party, a new outfit, food and drink, and a gift bag. In your blog post about the event, it would be appropriate for you to mention that you were invited as a guest of the company and that you were provided with a gift card prior to the event…even if the invitation and gift card won't actually have any influence on your final blog post (Remember: it's important that even the perception of self-interest is avoided).

So how should you handle conflicts of interest when they arise?

There are three major ways.

  • Disclosure: Basically, this just means being up front about the conflict of interest. If you've received goods, services, or other items of value from a company, say so. It doesn't have to be anything long, complicated, or involved…a simple “XYZ company sent this item to me for review purposes” (or whatever wording feels comfortable to you) is enough.
  • Refusal: If a significant conflict of interest can't be avoided, then it may be wise to refuse an opportunity. For example, some bloggers don't feel comfortable writing reviews of products from their advertisers. It's not an issue with the product or the advertiser; it's simply that some bloggers feel the conflict of interest is too great for even a disclosure statement to mitigate (i.e. their readers wouldn't trust the review no matter what they said).
  • Recusal: This becomes important if you're asked to sit on a panel or judge a competition. If one of the contestants is an advertiser or a columnist or even a friend or family member, it would be best for you to not participate in judging that particular segment of the competition.

What kinds of conflicts of interest have you encountered on your blog and how do you handle them? Let's get a conversation going in the comments.

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7 Responses

  1. Eva Tornado

    Cora, you are absolutely right. To be honest with your readers is the best way to solve all potential troubles. Nice readers will understand all=) And eveil ones… We do not need them!=)))

  2. Leandri

    Honesty is always the best route to take. If you’re not being totally transparent with your readers then what’s the point in blogging in the first place?

  3. Katie

    I don’t understand bloggers who don’t advertise the fact that a post is a paid review. It’s not a bad thing, it’s not like people are going to think you’re a bad person because you received an item/money/something to gain from writing a review. In fact, not disclosing that fact makes you a bad person. A simple “Though everything I have said is of my own opinion, this is a sponsored post by XYZ” in not that hard to tack on the bottom of a post.

  4. CynthiaCM

    Re #1: At the vast majority of events, food is comped. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been to any fashion-related event (save for Fashion Week) where guests had to pay for food. Kind of given. And I think it also makes a difference when you’re pretty much “forced” to wear an outfit from the store/brand to the event. While I’m invited to tons of events and will almost always write about it within a few days, I’ve never been given an outfit to wear by a company in exchange for a blog post. And if I were and didn’t like the event, yes, I would not be too positive about it (I always try to say that something could have run better if_____. Because no events are ever perfect, after all).

  5. Barbara

    Wow. I am yet to encounter a conflict of interest but from all the examples before it does seem like I have almost being in one unknowingly but I got myself out of murky waters by disclosing that I had received products from the said brand. For me, it comes down to previous history (this doesn’t always work though). Brands ALWAYS send me products and pay because they know that whatever they do is not going to sway my review in their favour if 1. I don’t like their brand and 2. their product is not good.
    Infact, my last collaboration, I didn’t actually give the brand a high 5 all the way and I was wondering a bit if I hadn’t lost the relations hip but the brand owner said “that is exactly what I wanted as I know that you always say what you mean in favour of high quality and a desire for the brand owner to improve”.
    Disclosure is always key and I totally agree with staying out of it if it proves too messy for your readers.

    Lagos, Nigeria

  6. Laura

    I’ve been feeling this way! I never used to blog about beauty but this issue has meant that it’s been merged into my blog now, I wasn’t sure how I felt at first but luckily I do enjoy beauty as well and it’s starting to become a strong point of mine. It’s a very difficult situation, thank you for this post!

  7. Kylie

    I have never been approached by a brand offering an invite to event and given food and a goody bag in exchange for a post. Maybe its not a thing to do in the UK?

    I would feel a bit silly putting a disclosure saying I was invited to this event by X and they supplied me with food and a goody bag. Its pretty self explanatory with bloggers love of taking photos of food at events 🙂 . Also I would feel a bit cringy stating I received a goody bag. If I used something from the goody bag on my blog I would put it as a c/o.