The Price Tag of Success

Barriers to entry in several industries

Street Style NYC

I scroll through my Instagram feed and see photo after photo from famous fashion bloggers that boast hefty followings in the millions. These fashion bloggers typically have a personal brand and perhaps a niche in fashion, makeup, travel, etc. What they are selling is a personal brand.

Take Chiara Ferragni for example. She has her own website at this point and from what I can tell, her life consists of buying cool clothes, taking model worthy photos, and jet-setting to yet another exotic corner of the world.

So I was curious, how does this girl afford to do this as her livelihood? Like this is her CAREER. She has to finance all of this somehow.

I looked into it and it would seem that revenue comes in several forms:

Sponsored Content: Brand pays the blogger for certain content, often to wear and promote their products.

Affiliate links: Links to products that the blogger is wearing. Bloggers get paid based on clicks or a percentage of total sales made from their posts.

Marketing Campaigns: A company’s marketing team executes a campaign that lives on the company’s site, which is then promoted and shared on a blogger’s platform.

Classes: Blogger can teach things like how to apply makeup and fashion trends through seminars, paid online classes or one-on-one sessions.

That’s all good and well, but why is that she gets to do this whereas I, or the thousands, maybe millions, of girls who are also interested in fashion and travel can’t? Is it simply a matter of choice?

What’s stopping me from going out there tomorrow and becoming a fashion blogger?

It’s not that easy. You can’t start reaping in revenue until you’ve built up a decent follower base and brands start paying attention to your social influence. I can think of two major barriers to entry.

For one, you have to look good. If all you are posting is photos of you day after day, you have to be fairly attractive.

Fashion Blogger Instagram Photos

But perhaps more importantly, you need to have money. You have to have a lot of cash lying around to spend on that initial investment towards clothes, airfare, networking events, etc. You have to build up a portfolio of content before anyone will start following you, and to do that, you need to buy a lot of things.

Unfortunately, not every fashion obsessed girl is going to have the looks, the money, and the connections to make the cut. Those forever 21 tops and H&M jeans aren’t going to work.

The fashion industry in general is one notorious for its cattiness, low pay, and emphasis on who you know. While the movie Devil Wears Prada certainly might be an overdone exaggeration of what goes on within the likes of Vogue, Versace, and Bottega Veneta, it doesn’t stray all that far from the truth.

Interns and entry-level workers toil away with little to no pay on busy work, unpacking and tagging dress after dress, fetching whatever is needed for the next photoshoot, or attending to administrative tasks needed by higher-ups. The prospects of ascending to a better role are difficult and you have to get by based on who you know, because the truth is, a lot of people can do what you do and want it just as bad.

Because of scant pay and the fact that fashion capitals like New York or Paris have such high cost of living, anyone whose parents can’t support them for a year or two are going to have to look elsewhere for a job. They simply can’t afford to spend two years getting paid next to nothing while forking out $20 for a decent meal and paying an arm and a leg for rent.

And god forbid you actually get an interview with a major fashion company and have to go out and purchase this season’s clothing to make sure you look like you’re on top of the latest trends.

It’s not just fashion that has a high socioeconomic barrier to entry though. At least two other industries get criticized and raises eyebrows for their exploitative practices and occasional nepotism.

Actors in LA face similar barriers and are also easily mistreated by the industry. Exchanging money for the prospect of employment is illegal in CA, but actors still pay around $1500 an year to attend these “workshops” where they network with casting directors under the pretense of it being an educational engagement. Sounds a lot like unpaid internships for school credit.

In defense of the casting side of things, according to an article in The Hollywood Reporter, “a generic small role can yield 3,000 digital submissions in several hours, everyone is seeking ways to handle the deluge.”

And so if you want to stick out in a hoard of 3,000 hungry people, you better attend one these workshops to become visible. As Chris Manno at Frontline Management says:

“It’s become common to call a casting director and tell them the client came to see you at a workshop. They paid to come see you.”

Yikes. Is that what it takes to make it? Paying your way to the top?

Honestly it makes sense. It’s the same rationale behind people paying to attend conferences, job fairs, educational programs (past covering the costs to put on these events). I mean, it’s sort of the reason people pay to go to college even. Call it what you want, but it’s a way of ensuring you meet the right people, and it comes at a price tag. Often a big one.

It’s the same thing with advertising. Again we are talking comparably low pay in high cost cities because it’s the norm and you have to struggle before you can have a chance of rising to the top. That’s if you’re lucky enough to score an entry-level job right out of college.

A lot of advertising agencies require you do an internship first. Read this as “we’ll pay you as little as we can for as long as we can without any risk on our end until you prove yourself worthy.”

The pay you would get for the internship or job often isn’t adequate to meet the cost of living in the location the company is based. And once again, who is coughing up the difference? Probably your middle class to wealthy background of a family.

It doesn’t seem right. Shouldn’t whoever have the most talent rise to the top instead of whoever is the most wealthy?

But it’s not so much that these people aren’t talented, because they are. It’s just that A LOT of people are talented, and money helps to give certain people the extra support they need to jumpstart success in industries like fashion, acting, and advertising.

The barriers to entry to fields like finance, computer science, and engineering might be sheer technical intelligence. And the barriers to these more artistic fields exist just happens to be availability of resources and training with a bit of innate creativity mixed in.

Sure, you can be successful in X industry, but first, it’ll cost you $XXX,XXX.

In theory, anyone who’s a creative genius will see success before the rest. But that’s just in theory, and everyday we are faced with reality.

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