The RewardStyle Conference Has a Diversity Problem

Two weeks ago a mass of fashion and lifestyle bloggers from around the world landed in Dallas, Texas to attend RewardStyle‘s annual conference. If you’re not familiar with the conference, it’s a weekend where bloggers attend keynote speakers, panel discussions, and classes to learn more about the RewardStyle platform and how to more meaningfully use it to leverage their following and earn higher revenue. They also have the opportunity to meet with brands and build relationships with other bloggers.

The conference is a great opportunity for bloggers to learn how to grow their business and make connections they would otherwise miss out on. But the conference seems to be attended by predominately thin, white bloggers.

In April, as photos of the conference started appearing under the #rStheCon hashtag (the hashtag used to document the conference), blogger Blake Von D called out the lack of diversity on her Instagram stories. Searching through the hashtag, it’s a struggle to find more than a handful of women of color or plus-sized women who attended the conference.

According to several bloggers, RewardStyle invites the top 200 “publishers” (or clients using RewardStyle tools to create income) to the conference. So it could be said that thin, white bloggers make more money using the company’s tools and are therefore invited at a higher rate. Although this might be true across the blogging industry in general given the history of excluding women of color and plus-sized women from fashion imagery, this line of thinking falls apart when you take a closer look at the guest list.

Many high-profile bloggers who would certainly be among the top 200 publishers did not attend the conference including super bloggers Wendy Nguyen, Rachel Parcell, and Blair Eadie. Highly popular bloggers don’t seem to be accepting invitations to the conference any longer, so wouldn’t that mean more room for bloggers who aren’t making as much revenue and don’t fit the traditional “fashion blogger” mold?

In fact the conference seems to be more focused on smaller bloggers and micro influencers in the 20K-200K follower range. Although follower count does not necessarily indicate sales, it seems strange that there were only a handful of diverse bloggers who hit the metrics RewardStyle looked for when extending invitations.

Angie Garcia, a Dallas-area photographer who has shot bloggers at the conference for the last 3 years said on her Instagram that she won’t be shooting next year because of the conference’s “exclusivity”. She says “everyone should have a fair shot at learning. Including women and men of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors.”

RewardStyle has not responded to our request for a comment on the issue and has not publicly disclosed how they choose bloggers to invite to the conference.

The exclusivity of the RewardStyle conference speaks to a larger conversation about diversity in the blogosphere. In January of this year, the online retailer Revolve hosted a press trip featuring exclusively white (or fair skinned) influencers. The Instagram community spoke up leaving over 33K comments on a photo of the group with many users condemning Revolve’s lack of diversity in regards to race and body type.

Blake Von D has a thorough write up of the incident on her blog, including the response she received from Revolve when pushed on the matter of diversity. Other bloggers have responded, as well: Valerie Eguavoen of the blog On a Curve created the website and Instagram account You Belong Now, which features bloggers of color and other diverse influencers as a way of addressing concerns of diversity in the blogging community.

But bloggers can only do so much to change the industry on their own and too often the work of calling out companies for preferential treatment of white bloggers is left to bloggers of color. Companies like RewardStyle and Revolve have a huge impact on who succeeds financially in the blogging world and by excluding diverse bloggers they disempower diverse voices and representations of beauty.

(Top photo by Angie Garcia, center photo from @RewardStyleHQ, bottom photo from @Revolve)

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