I love writing reviews. Every week, I write a review on Eat, Sleep, Denim about a different pair of jeans. It's a great way to get content useful content about fashion on your site, while still interjecting your own personal flavor to it. The thing about reviews that's different from posting gifted items, is that the purpose of writing the review is to give your honest opinion (good and bad) about the product, while posting gifted products don't necessarily even have to include any information other than a credit to the brand.
While getting freebies is nice, it's not always optimal for reviewing product.
While getting freebies is nice, it's not always optimal for reviewing product. My friends always think that getting free product is a huge perk of my job, and it is, but free product isn't really “free.” When you aren't shelling out money, you do have to give love to the brand– good if you really love the product, not so good if you have issues with the product. Even the best intentions can cause an awkward situation; I've never successfully been able to publish the flaws of gifted items without catching grief from the publicist.
The other problem with relying on gifted items for reviews, is that more often than not, the brands that everyone wants to know about rarely give products for review. In in the Elle August Issue, Joe Zee noted that fashion bloggers get “free designer duds” which kind of upset me, until I realized it was kind of true. I mean, do you see Celine or Proenza Schouler doling out products to fashion bloggers? Heck, even J. Crew doesn't gift!
So, how do you get your hands on products for review?
Buy The Product
You can always start off by buying the product, or by reviewing items you already own. Really review them. Discuss the fit, the make of the fabric, the designer. Everything you think your readers will care about. If you own the product, you can say whatever you like about it without dealing with the brand. Some bloggers use this method to start building affiliate income off their reviews to make the investment worthwhile. I personally feel that products purchased with my own money generate the most thought out reviews. Mostly because I've agonized over whether I should buy the piece. Then again, usually if I bought it, I REALLY love it.
Buy and Return Items
If you want to style your product for a shoot, but don't have the deepest pockets in the world, or don't want to end up with 200 pairs of jeans in your closet. Buying and returning items also can work well for your blog. That way you can add in unique content (your unique photos) to your site to set your review apart. Buying items yourself also keeps a level of authenticity to your blog, in my experience, I wouldn't buy something even with the intention of returning it, if I didn't really love it, or was genuinely curious about it. Also, I have to have the money in the bank to float, so my budget for reviews often matches the budget for my wardrobe. If I can't float the money for Chanel, my wardrobe isn't luxury fashion.
Clarification: The places I buy/return with I have an agreement with. Personally I like it, in case I decide to keep an item it does not affect the impartiality of the review.
Work Out a Deal with Retailers
When I first started out, I made friends with several local retailers, who may have utilized shelving for shops, who would welcome me to their store so I can test out clothes and style them for my blog. This can work at all levels of blogging, and many retailers are happy to do this (provided you're not asking for free product all the time). Some retailers even have product programs for bloggers. While some bloggers may think this type of work should be done for money… remember this is EDITORIAL work you are doing for your readers, NOT promotional work you are doing for the brand.
Check It Out at the Store
Even experienced bloggers will pop into a store to get a first hand look at a product before writing about it. If you just need to take a look, test it out, maybe snap a pic or two, just head down to the store. This method has probably the least amount of commitment and relationship building to manage.
If you're lucky enough to be located near a showroom or a brand HQ, this is a great option. The only problem being the showrooms don't have the same products that are in the stores. So you will probably have to work months ahead of schedule, or your readers don't mind reading about items they can't buy for months. Either way, visiting showrooms is a great way to get first looks at items and a chance to let your readers know what to look out for.
Requesting samples is how traditional media gets clothes for their photo shoots and reviews, and rarely can they keep the samples. You can request samples for review, many times samples are in sample sizes so unless that happens to be your size doing a proper review this way may not always be an option. Luckily I am “sample size” in the denim world so it's proven to be a great way to test out brands and styles I may not have access to because they're not on the market yet.
What other ways do you get products for review?