As I type this, there are 9 brand new pairs of Filas sitting in my apartment: 95s, 96s, KJ7s, Stackhouse Spaghettis and a bunch of other ones that I don't even know how to identify. Those are just the ones I kept.
Does he play basketball for a 1999 AAU team? Is he trying to out-rvre VFILES? Perhaps he's a substitute teacher? These are just a few of the questions that may be running through your head right now, reader. All fair. But the real reason I'm balls deep in deadstock Ital high-tops has nothing to do with any of that. No, it's a fair bit weirder.
You see, I used to be an #influencer. D-list at best, sure, and struggle to the core, but an #influencer nonetheless. I got free clothes. I loved it. I genuinely appreciated it. I also realized something: The system is screwed up. Wasteful. Broken.
Sending stuff to the influence class in the hopes that they'll wear it and get street styled, or Instagram it, or—GASP!—write about it? Not. Fucking. Worth It.
In theory, this open-ended quid pro quo economy keeps the Wordpressers well-stocked with with duck canvas/contrast plackets/whatever, and the producers of those things well-stocked with coverage. It's a glorious system that's been so flagrantly institutionalized at style sites, it wouldn't even qualify as a threat to "journalistic integrity," assuming, of course, that the people who ran said sites cared about that. They (mostly) don't, and the system (mostly) fails.
But before we get any further along, let me take you back to the beginning. Back to the wireless keyboard, filled to the brim Feedly and borrowed DSLR. Back to the moment I kicked off my fugazi tastemaking career in earnest.
Once upon a time, I edited a men's style site. It wasn't this one, and it wasn't Hypebeast. It's not even around any more—we'll get to that in a moment—but during the time it graced the Internet, it covered all the bases. Streetwear! Americana workwear! Hashtag menswear! Things people in Japan wear, generally! I wrote about it all and I like to think I wrote about it well.
And just like that, Filas began to mysteriously arrive in the mail. It's customary for gifts to be packed with an accompanying press release or, barring that, the business card of the sender: some gentle (or not-so-gentle) reminder that the brand would "really love to know your thoughts." But as high-top after pillowy high-top was anonymously delivered to my door, I shrugged at the the idea of an incognito sender.
Not my problem, I figured. The game is the game.
Did I blog because I got free shit? Or did I get free shit because I blogged? Who was I, anyway?
See, I didn't ask for this. Many bloggers and editors will milk relationships, demanding present-day hook-ups in exchange for the vague promise of future coverage. They are "cultivating relationships," or something. I always thought requesting free shit was tacky, especially if I had no intention of writing about it. But my flimsy morality clause didn't matter. Even unsolicited, the free shit came pouring in.
You already know about the Filas, but the list goes on. Selvedge denim? Have some. OCBDs? Have six. Oh, we sent you the wrong size? Give it to someone, we'll send you another. Stuff came from brands you've heard of and others stuff came from total left-fielders. My closet is a graveyard of Kickstarted and not-Kickstarted labels, overflowing with totally modern (read: totally unremarkable) takes on traditional classics. So, even if you're not getting the "good stuff," the game is fucking great for He Who Makes Taste.
If you're reading this on a desktop buried deep within the sweaty, sample-packed, fun-but-not-really-fun-at-all confines of a PR or marketing office, however, the game is not so fucking great for you. Your day is spent mailing sweaters to people like me, or following up to make sure people like me received that sweater, or just checking in to see if people like me need any other info about the sweater for "potential inclusion in your next round-up ;)."
Will he write about it? Did he even read my pitch about it? Who is he, anyway?
That's the rub, the crux, the big question. Did I blog because I got free shit? Or did I get free shit because I blogged? Who was I, anyway?
The answer is easy: I was nobody. Irrelevance? I has it. I was no fucking #influencer, you guys. I could barely influence my own lazy ass to go to the gym. I had 200 Instagram followers, 500 Twitter followers and some piping-hot takes on last night's episode of Veep. That's about it. My rampant self-esteem issues aside, I can honestly say I offered nothing to brands beyond a warm body and an appreciative attitude. If I owned a clothing company, even I wouldn't want me to be seen in my clothes. In this vast, post-Tumblr wasteland of content creation, I'm just another overweight, tattoo-less white dude with a MacBook Air and a mailing address. So why, in the name of Eiknarf himself, was I getting free shit?
Well, because the system is broken. Sure, it might occasionally land product in the laps of "real" tastemakers (if such a thing exists), but a broken clock is right twice a day, after all. Taking a wide view of this back-alley barter economy, though, it's hard to see it for anything other than what it is: a farce, a money pit, a tautological equilibrium where brands fling favors at bloggers who are known for being cool because they're known for being cool. Seeding is "The Emperor's New Clothes" masquerading as a marketing strategy.
I don't run that style site any more. It went the way of mastermind and Nom de Guerre a while back, except, unlike those mythic labels, no one heralded its passing. Rest in power, or whatever. So, I took a new gig. Most of my former benefactors got wise to this fact, struck me from their spreadsheets and stopped sending me their wares. I wasn't mad. The game is the game, after all. What was once a couple packages a week dwindled to a mere trickle. With minimal remorse, I watched my already dubious #influence vanish.
These days, the spate of swag has all but about ceased. My current beat (food & drink at Thrillist) is far enough out of the style sphere that the occasional beer koozie is as close as I come to free apparel. I'm a citizen now. But every month or so, I get an email from our office manager alerting me to a package with my name on it at the front desk. As I step forward to claim my prize, I grin like a fucking moron because I already know what's inside.
FILAS. I'm still getting goddamned Filas. To this day, I still don't know who they're from. I hope I never find out.