A lot has changed since I first started Shoegazing almost ten years ago, things that both makes it easier and more difficult to run a niche blog like this. Here’s a reflection covering things like how to keep integrity, on handling threats of being sued, on finding topics to write about, and much more.
First sort of a disclaimer or warning for “sensitive” readers. This article will be all in navel-gazing, and I will pat my own back quite a bit, even if I’ll also be more critical towards myself in cases as well. Focus will be on how this sphere with online quality shoe coverage in various ways and my thoughts on this, views on how I work today on various matters, but also some outbursts into neighbouring topics. And note, this is my personal view on things, I can still have understanding of other views, even in cases I don’t agree with them. Starting off with one of the more difficult areas, which is integrity.
If you look at the online influencer world and various expert websites, youtubers or strong forum members within shoes and menswear in general, there has been a massive change over the past 5-7 years or so. The numbers of people doing this is way more today (which also has the backside that the amount of persons with less knowledge spreading info like they know what they talk about are way more, making it more difficult for people to know what is correct and not), and the amount of money spent and free products given from companies is in turn way more. Unfortunately, the openness and clear information when this is the case has not gone in the right direction – quite the opposite. It’s often very difficult for readers, viewers and followers to know when things stated about products are totally unbiased and fully honest, or when the content producer has gotten paid from the brand or been given stuff for free. This despite most countries having recommendations and regulations on how any type of sponsored posts should be marked, especially on social media.
The current trend seems to be arguments like “the company didn’t pay me specifically for this post/video/article so I don’t see it as sponsored content”, even if the mentioned recommendations and regulations in most cases clearly goes against this. In the menswear sphere there’s plenty examples of this, sites who have advertisers getting coverage in both articles and social media where it’s only rare exceptions that it’s mentioned that the content covers a company paying the content creator, or some of the larger shoe youtubers who I know for a fact charge thousands of dollars for brands to be featured, without ever mentioning this to the viewers.
I can understand content creators want to earn money on their work, and can get why smaller players are happy to get free shoes and stuff like that, but it is indeed problematic when it’s all a blur to followers/viewers/readers of what is what. As I’ve written before here on Shoegazing, my personal situation being employed by the shoe and shoe care retailer Skolyx is a bit complicated in a way, although I try to be as open as I can about this fact, I of course do promote our stuff in a way I’m sure some find annoying, even if the feedback I get is that I do it in a good and open way (and hopefully most would have seen by now that I do highlight and praise many direct competitors to Skolyx brands). Otherwise, as I write on the About section here on the blog, the only way companies can pay to be featured on the blog is in banners on the site or in my newsletter, or ads in the podcast. I do not accept any type of paid content on Shoegazing or in my other channels (there’s a huge amount of companies contacting me, usually through agents, and usually to in various ways get in affiliate or sponsored links, since this also is so important for SEO to have relatively large sites like this link to ones website. I decline all), when I get shoes for free for reviews I state that this is the case, and the companies never have any influence over what I write (with a Bachelor degree in journalism from university and working as a journalist for many years, this is highly important to me). Many think I should monetise more on Shoegazing and don’t be afraid to be a “sell-out”, but I’m not in it for money, and I hope that both credibility, usability for visitors (for example, who like to have their reading interfered by constant Google ads?) and me doing things out of interest and not out of profit will be beneficial in the long run.
When it comes to shoes that I review or do buyer’s guides about, it could be good to know that I’m rather selective here. I get contacted by a large numbers of brands every year asking if I want to receive a pair for review, or just want to give me shoes to test (obviously with the hope of me writing about them or at least featuring them on my Instagram etc.). I say no thanks to almost all of these enquires, either because it’s footwear that don’t have the quality or style I’m interested in, because it’s brands that are already well-known meaning that I don’t think I can add much by covering it, or simply because I have too many shoes lined-up to write about that I don’t feel I have time for it (also, I of course never review shoes from brands that Skolyx work with, no point in doing reviews when you are completely biased). And I have never, not a single time in the almost ten years that I’ve run Shoegazing, contacted a company and asked for free or discounted shoes. It’s my view that if I’m not prepared to pay full price for something, why should I expect my readers to be prepared to do it? With that said, it has happened that I have been given discounts or sometimes even a pair for free when I’ve approached as a customer, and I don’t say no thanks to this. If I’d be really serious, I guess I should turn this down and still pay full, but, well, I’m not. If I was after free shoes though, I would not have been going all in on Japanese bespoke shoes, those familiar with Japan know that in their culture one basically always charge the set prices, all customers are treated the same way.
Looking at the advertisers on Shoegazing, I do occasionally write about many of these when it comes to topics where they are of interest or suitable. However, it’s never as part of the advertisement deal, and I don’t use any campaign links or affiliate links in the articles on the blog. Can people trust me writing objectively about advertisers then? It’s a complicated thing, cause I’m sure I’m affected in some ways in not wanting to bash on those who pay me, at the same time when I write critical about things I usually do it without mentioning any brands or companies. I mostly feel it’s not necessary to point fingers directly, and unlike some others I don’t see a self-purpose in being overly critical, it doesn’t make me more credible. The difficult thing is that in todays day and age, brands paying a content creator definitely expect positive things to be said about them, and when this isn’t the case they often react strongly. In fact, a previous advertiser threatened to sue me when I said a negative thing about them, and they quickly withdraw their advertisement.
Companies threatening to sue is, sadly, another thing that has become more common. It has happened to me several times. Instead of taking it constructively and actually change what I criticise, or a least reach out and have a talk about it, the immediate action nowadays seem to be to go to attack, demand immediate withdrawal of the negative content and often threaten with legal actions (in one case something I had said was wrong, which of course is more of an issue and this part was corrected straight away, yet one still can think that it would be better ways to go about it than immediately threaten to sue). Now, no one has actually went forward with these threats, and I can’t really say that I’ve been too nervous about it, since I work according to journalistic procedures and know where potential lines are drawn, but it’s of course not pleasurable experiences. In a way, I think I’ve done worse things on for example forums or social media, where I have a tendency to sometimes end up in rather heated discussions on things. I’d like to think it’s because I do care about this industry for real and have some strong yet sound opinions, but I also know that sometimes I get carried away and that in writing things can come out more harsh than intended. This likely has hurt the view of me and in turn Shoegazing for some in some cases, which of course isn’t a positive thing.
Looking at the actual work with the blog, for me, the most difficult part is friendship. I’ve been involved in this industry for many years now, hosted events with loads of shoe companies participating, travelled a lot and visited stores, factories and workshops, and met a lot of great persons, some of whom I consider good friends today. It’s a lovely thing about running this blog and organising the super trunk shows and world championship contents and similar. However, of course it clashes with my journalistic integrity. I’m definitely affected by friendship, and in cases probably become biased even if I try not to. Especially since I have indeed lost some friends after writing critical, even if my experience is that in most cases people can see my point of view and even if irritated can leave it behind after a while and continue have a relationship.
Another given challenge after posting two articles a week for almost ten years (first three only in Swedish, since 2015 in both Swedish and English) is to continue to find new, interesting content to write about. When you’ve written 900+ articles, you’ve covered quite a lot of topics already. Then, today I have a much greater possibility to gather content, both since Shoegazing is known so folks from the industry and you readers give me tips on things to cover, and most of the money I make on advertisements and all I so kindly receive from the Patreons supporting me, goes to travels to gather more content. This far, in total, I’ve been to over 50 factories, workshops and tanneries on three continents, not including stores, cobblers, shoe fairs etc. I’ve done shoemaking courses, sat together for weeks with bespoke makers making shoes, spent long days in shoe factories, and so on. This results in reports, interviews, podcast episodes and of course huge amounts of photos, but also to a large extent is what gives me knowledge which I can continue to share here. It’s also indeed the blog that have made it possible for me to have an everyday job in the industry, with Skolyx, and through this job I also continue to learn, I develop products with our factories and get an insider insight to an even larger extent.
I definitely know more about shoes today than I did five years ago, and much much, more than I did when I started the blog. One of my bad consciences is that I know that there are some misinformation still up on Shoegazing, mainly from old articles, things I’ve learned is wrong later on, even if I go back and change things I’m sure there’s still errors there. Another thing I can feel bad about is that with more knowledge, I tend to write a bit less accessible for newcomers to the quality shoe world. I try to think about this, but definitely could get better at it and it’s something I intend to work on going forward. Cause the aim with Shoegazing is not only to educate shoe nerds, also bring in new people and make the interest for this fine industry grow. Today Shoegazing reaches almost 50 000 unique visitors a month, most come to the English site which is growing year by year, and on Instagram I currently have 134 000 followers. It’s a privilege and honour that so many people think what I do is worth following, and I hope to continue doing this for many more years. Thank you for your support, I couldn’t and wouldn’t do this without you!
What are your thoughts on the above? What is your experience of this sphere with bloggers/influencers/youtubers, do you find most credible or the opposite? What do you think I could do better? Share in the comments section below.