Why I decided to go from being an 'influencer' to a community-supported writer
Questioning the relationship between sustainability and the centralization of power
Since I turned on paid subscriptions here on Substack, I wanted to share with you my thought process behind why I decided to move away from being an ‘influencer’—sponsored primarily by brands—to become more of an independent writer. I’m still working on it, and Substack will hopefully help me get there!
I started out five years ago in this ‘sustainability’ space as a social media creative and blogger, making a bulk of my income sharing about eco-conscious brands that paid me to talk about them. I had always been selective, of course, making sure that the brands I worked to promote were aligned with my values. So I was genuinely stoked to be able to do what I loved as a creative while applying that towards everything wellness and sustainability-related—my biggest passions.
But as my understanding of ‘sustainability’ deepened, I realized that the path I embarked on would eventually lead me to a place where I would not feel aligned, where my messages would be compromised.
Here’s my journey through my past decade or so in a nutshell: After first learning about the iron triangle in an environmental policy course at university, I concluded that conscious consumerism was the most direct way we can realize a sustainable future. So that’s what I focused on in my initial blogger years. But then I started to see how our systemic injustices predetermine access and ‘choice’, and I started to see how our extractive economic system, allowing for the centralization of power globally, has been a key driver of land degradation, biodiversity loss, exploited labor, artificially cheapened ‘resources’, and in the end, overconsumption.
With my ever-deepening learnings, I started to feel the misalignment between having a growing platform that is entirely reliant on brand sponsorships and using it to promote sustainability (which I now believe must include decentralizing power and regionalizing our systems).
I'd always prioritized championing smaller-scale, independent brands. But for various reasons, this approach is largely incompatible with the blogger business model as platforms scale.
You see, the larger a media platform gets, the less that smaller, independent brands are able to afford advertising through them. This means that bigger platforms become increasingly dependent on the sponsorships of larger, corporate-run, VC-backed companies—or ones already privileged with expendable financial resources to invest disproportionately in their marketing efforts. This also means that already advantaged brands—such as those owned by the multinational corporations that drive over-extraction and exploitation globally—will always have greater access to larger media platforms, press features, and ‘endorsements’, accelerating their abilities to sell more and further monopolize power.
This trajectory creates a symbiosis between 1) large influencers and media outlets that have set up their business model to depend on brand sponsorships, and 2) the already most advantaged (often exploitative) companies.
When their mutualism leads to further centralization of power, the interests of consumers and producers on opposite ends inevitably get overlooked:
Everyday people, genuinely wanting to support planetary healing, end up having a skewed understanding of what it will really take—with corporations buying their ways and infiltrating their voices into most media spaces. Even with praiseworthy missions at heart, these capitalistic forces often end up greenwashing and diluting the meaning of sustainability, profiteering off of it while convincing people that they are the pioneers and innovators of ‘eco-XYZ’. Descriptions like “this is a sustainable jacket” or “this was made fully sustainably” are hugely problematic, leading to people thinking we can either buy our ways to that end goal or that this is an individualistic pursuit (e.g., ‘sustainable living’).
Farmers, farmworkers, manufacturing workers, etc. create the real value of what consumers pay for but disproportionately get the least pay—if they are not outright exploited for their labor. Unethical and hazardous labor practices are rampant across ‘green’ industries as well. The centralization of power and wealth comes in large part from devaluing the labor of the working class across the globe. As wealth disparity widens, more and more people will become reliant on cheap food and cheap goods—things made possible only through the exploitation of other marginalized peoples and ecological ‘resources’. It’s a vicious cycle.
With these realizations, I grew increasingly uneasy about locking myself into relying on brand sponsorships, in fear of where it would lead me—when one day my platform would grow too large for the smaller brands I wish to work with, and I’d be forced to say yes to the sponsorship of larger companies that I really would not otherwise recommend.
I’ll admit that I’ve worked with two to three ‘eco’ brands owned by multinational parent corporations that I was against, and I regret that. But they paid the bills I needed to pay at the time, and in all honesty, I thought supporting these brands to sell more products may signal to their parent companies that they needed to invest in sustainability more. So that’s how I justified it. But in the end, these corporations are still soulless, money-sucking machines that do not really value their workers or our collective wellbeing, and giving them more power only enables them to exploit, extract, and monopolize even more.
With this said, I know that most socially-driven bloggers, especially ones with smaller platforms and BIPOC and those already disadvantaged by our systemic injustices, are doing their best to navigate the given system. Many of my friends in this space are also challenging the status quo of how the influencer world works in their own ways, and I respect and commend them in doing so.
‘Ethical purity’ and grounds for moral superiority are not my motivations at all; I’m simply guided by my conscience and the vision to realize true abundance and holistic wellness for all—including our Earth of which we are one part.
While my North Star has not changed, building a fully independent platform here on Substack will give me the necessary space to freely evolve my thinking, writing, and critiques—as I continue to deepen and expand my learnings.
If this speaks to you, I invite you to become a Subscriber of this fully reader-funded platform today! (If you’ve already signed up, thank you, thank you!)
You’ll get a mix of the following, more or less through weekly dispatches:
Open commentaries on everything sustainability-related. From my takes on recent events, documentaries, reports, articles, etc., nothing will be off-limits! You’ll get a diversity of content not limited to any category.
Honest recommendations of conscious brands and products (and my full list of favorites and go-to’s across different categories). If I’ve tried something that sucks, I’ll let you know. If something totally changed my life, I’ll let you know, too. Whatever I share here, it won’t be because I have a financial incentive to.
#AskMeAnything and community discussion threads. Have questions about anything pertaining to sustainability? Need suggestions or advice? Want my opinion on XYZ? I’ll host AMAs and community discussions every month or so.
Educational pieces highlighting often-sidelined topics. From the dark sides of ‘green energy’, how philanthrocapitalism works, what Big Green is, why we need to look at water as a verb and not a noun to understand ‘water conservation’, to the ties between language diversity and ecological diversity, I’ll take you through a variety of interesting topics that will help us understand sustainability more holistically.
Private podcasts. I’ll also share occasional private audio podcasts that will be more casual—with some personal updates, sometimes catching up with friends in this space, or even having chats with Subscribers.
Thank you for your support! xx kamea