Sunday, September 21, 2014

Free Labor, Freelancing, and Free Stuff

The rewards of blogging can be a long time coming. It's been close to two and a half years since I started Urban Fieldnotes. At times it felt like no one was reading it. At times it felt like a complete waste of time. In terms of yielding valuable ethnographic data, sure, it's been a real benefit. I've learned an enormous amount from blogging, tangible and practical stuff based in direct experience. But in terms of yielding all that other stuff — the golden goodies of blogging: free stuff, career opportunities, invites to major fashion events — not so much. Up until recently the sum total of swag I had received from the blog was a couple of Aphillyated t-shirts and a Members Only jacket. All that is beginning to change.

Friday afternoon I attended the soft opening for Goorin Bros Hats on Walnut Street. I was invited in to meet Ben Goorin, CEO and fourth generation milliner. I got a complimentary, handmade American heritage fedora, a real beauty, all because of this little blog I've been doing the last couple of years. I'm an influencer now, you see. When I wear a hat it matters. Others follow suit. Or at least so some poor soul at Goorin Bros thought. Poor Goorin Bros are now out over a hundred bucks in merchandise. I love my hat, though! INSERT SUBTLE MARKETING LANGUAGE IMPLORING YOU TO SHOP AT GOORIN BROS HERE.

The night before that I attended TechStyles, a conversation on the intersection of fashion and technology moderated by MenStylePro's Sabir M. Peele. Man, that guy gets around! And he always looks sharp (probably, in part, because of all the free clothes he gets — maybe I ought to be a personal style blogger). The most recent winner of Project Runway, Dom Streater, was one of the panelists. I was on the VIP list, which meant I got to participate in a watchmaking workshop with the founder of Analog Watches, a local company that makes timepieces out of wood, marble and other natural materials. Now I have this cool wooden timepiece to hang around my neck. Why? Because I blog, dude. Haven't you been paying attention?

To keep the theme running, two nights before that (Tuesday) I attended the kick-off party for the Philadelphia Collection. Free food, open bar. The mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, officiated. Apparently, he does he not have more pressing matters to attend to. This is the kind of shit I do now. These are the kinds of things I go to. And that's only the invites I've accepted. During this past New York Fashion Week, for instance, I was invited to two shows (I know, I know, that's nothing by fashion blogger standards) and three Style360 parties (one hosted by Serena Williams, one by Carmen Electra, and one by Kristin Cavallari — VICE Magazine, incidentally, rated that last party the very worst one of Fashion Week, so I'm not super sad about skipping it). I've even gotten a few invites for shows at Paris Fashion Week. Thanks, guys, but I think I'm going to have to hold off until someone finances my tickets over there. 

I swear, this is not intended as a humble brag. Once again, by fashion blogger standards none of this is all that impressive. It is, rather, to suggest that blogging is the kind of free labor one has to keep up for quite a long time in order to see things begin to happen. One has to be able to support oneself in some other way for years before blogging pays off. And that tells you something about who can afford to be a blogger. My colleague at Temple University, Brooke Duffy, calls the kind of labor bloggers do "aspirational labor," and the term seems quite apt. We blog and blog and blog, spending valuable time and resources for months and months, all in aspiration for some vague and indeterminate stuff to begin to happen, and then slowly, when we've practically given up, it does. Or it doesn't. Either way, an enormous amount of labor was expended. 

And labor begets labor. The reward for hard work, they say, is more hard work. Want proof? Now, apparently, I am freelancing. WTF? Freelancing? I have a job already, a good job. And yet I have somehow found myself as a freelance street style photographer as well. I have shot for Racked Philly and Racked National, and as of yesterday, for Refinery29. Not for the money, mind you. The money's not that good. I'm freelancing because that's what street style bloggers do — to build their portfolios, to expand their audience, to make money off what they enjoy doing — and this research requires me to do what street style bloggers do. So I am. It's an interesting experience, I must say, and my admiration for freelancers is going up all the time. I'm glad I don't need to support myself this way. Cuz, dude, it would take a lot of freelance photography gigs to match my professor salary. Every once in a while, talking to my various new friends who shoot for Elle, W, or Marie Claire, I fantasize about leaving academia for a more glamorous career in the fashion industry. And then I remember what I've learned about what it's like to work in the fashion industry: lots and lots of free labor and freelancing in the hopes that something someday will come of it. I'm much better off as an anthropologist. Still, I gotta admit, the mounting swag is nice. Maybe I'll stick out this blogging thing a bit longer. 

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