New Economic Realities   //   April 26, 2024

How platforms like Detoure are tackling the excess of influencer gifting culture

As a fashion and beauty influencer with more than 100,000 Instagram followers, Karsen Kimball receives multiple packages a day. Some are brands from she works with. Others are unsolicited gifts from companies hoping to catch her eye. And though the swag sounds glamorous, the reality is a bit overwhelming.

“There’s only so much you can hold onto for yourself,” she said. “With the amount of stuff we accumulate, there’s no way to possibly keep it all.”

But once a month, Kimball packages up about five to six bags of clothing to send off to Detoure, which is a resale marketplace that sources directly from influencers. Founded by Meghan Russell in March 2021, Detoure aims to re-home the trendy gifted items or barely worn pieces from more than 200 influencers’ closets. After seeing nearly 200% year-over-year revenue growth and operating about 50 pop-up events, Detoure officially opened its first brick-and-mortar store this month in Los Angeles’s Melrose Avenue, a hub for fashion and resale.

“We saw how excited people were to thrift in person, you can try on the clothes and see them,” Russell said. “Melrose is a big thrifting area in Los Angeles, especially for young people, and I think it’s the perfect location.”

Detoure is part of a crop of companies that have sprouted up to help influencers make money off of selling their goods, including Reliked, Relovely and Basic Space. Influencer gifting has become fairly ubiquitous as a marketing strategy but it can be considered wasteful because of the amount of product involved that may never get used — or worse, thrown away. Some influencers — including Kimball — have spent hours bringing their gifted goods to resale stores in person or listing items on Poshmark. But the resale marketplaces take out some of the work and can help an influencer pad their income stream.

Russell said she was inspired to start Detoure to cut down on fashion waste. In addition to having a glut of clothing sent to them, Russell said many influencers won’t re-wear their outfits after they’ve been worn.

“I thought, ‘People follow you to dress like you, why is there not a service that allows people to thrift directly from influencers’ closets?’ The other option is to just to buy the product brand new and contribute to even more waste.”

For shoppers, the appeal of Detoure is the opportunity to score on-trend items in new or barely used condition that are priced at about 40% to 70% of the retail price — while supporting their favorite creator at the same time. Detoure’s stable of influencers get a closet link that they can share with their followers; this drives a majority of the traffic and sales.

Once an item sells Detoure takes a cut of the sale price based on a predetermined amount negotiated with the influencer, who receives the remainder in a monthly payout.

Other than resale sites, influencers have found other ways to handle the excess of inventory. Sienna Santer, a content creator and strategist with influencer agency Buttermilk, said that she’ll often run giveaways for her followers with products she receives — especially when there are multiples. Not only is it helpful to give away something that she may not get through all of herself, but it’s simply fun to spread the love, Santer said. “The community can feel like they share in the success of the creator.”

But she also sees a space in the market for sites like Detoure, saying they can help fans connect with their favorite creators.

“It’s a great concept,” she said. “It would be so much more fun to shop something my favorite creator had worn, rather than buy it completely new … it’s an amazing way to give back to your community.”

For their part, some brands are also becoming more conscious of how to cut down the waste in gifting. That includes being more selective about who they send products to, or ensuring those products have their own circularity. Taylor Lamb, svp of brand marketing with apparel and accessories brand Cleobella, said the company has pioneered a “Conscious Content” box to shift away from giving out its products. The company sends an assortment to micro-influencers who can try out the products, style them and keep an item. Then they send it on to another influencer, leaving a note in the box as they pass it on.

“So many influencers are sent tons of products from brands, and they might not like anything, or they get such an influx that it’s wasteful,” Lamb said. “We want to create a program where we could provide the product and they could create the content they wanted, but it doesn’t end up in waste.”

Buttermilk’s Santer said companies are increasingly becoming more selective about gifting in the hopes of driving a long-term relationship with creators. Many companies want to gift items to creators that they’ve worked with in the past to celebrate a milestone — like an engagement or birthday. Still, others continue to send items cold in the hopes of getting some PR.

Kimball was the first influencer to sign up to work with Detoure ahead of the launch in early 2021. She used to sell items at in-person consignment stores or on Poshmark. But working with Detoure has given her back about three to four hours a day that she doesn’t have to spend photographing, packing and selling.

Now, Kimball says she earns about $1,500 to $2,000 a month — a steady stream of income that can help supplement her livelihood between contracts. And while some may decry influencers selling items they are given for free, Kimball said it’s part of the way influencers make a living.

“We’re contracted workers. There are some months where you won’t make a dime, and some months where you make a ton of money,” she said. “We don’t have consistent income, and we do have to find other sources for slower months.”

That bodes well for platforms like Detoure, which could see expansion to future areas. Russell said she recently expanded to host more events in New York City and has hired former interns on full-time. So far, she’s hit about 30,000 individual item sales.

“We’re just starting out, and hopefully we’ll expand and grow,” she said.