Social media content creators apparently have a money-saving trick for the shoes they model in viral posts, and some of them are sharing their secret with the masses.
The trick involves masking the soles of shoes with painter’s tape for short-term wear, so buyers can return them, get a refund and keep the photos and videos they captured during their at-home or studio production.
Jalen-Juwan Nelson, a former stylist from Toronto who shifted his business to fashion marketing and teaching aspiring influencers how to monetize fashion content, is one of the few social media personalities who have been open about the method.
"I learned it from the greats," Nelson told FOX Business during a phone interview.
A video of Nelson showing the buy, tape, wear and return method has gone viral on Instagram and TikTok, where he shared it under his "Lick My Fashion" accounts, and users on both platforms apparently have strong feelings on his trick.
Some have argued that Nelson’s buy-and-return method could hurt businesses, especially smaller ones, or encourage stores to change their return policies.
Nelson said he does not fully agree with those concerns because the technique mainly benefits stylists, influencers and other creatives in the fashion field.
Mainstream shoppers who do not model or create content for a living are less likely to make the tape on their shoe soles last if they wear it for long periods, he said.
"On a positive note, the brand is getting free exposure."
Nelson added that there is also a higher chance of a purchased pair of shoes getting scuffed when worn for a personal outing rather than a controlled setting, such as a professional photo or video set.
"People will spend more than they have and then go broke to create content," Nelson said. "I’m giving [up-and-coming stylists and creators] a hack where they can save money."
Nelson added that the buy-and-return shoe method is a gatekept industry secret that is used by professionals, and he is happy to shed light since he thinks it can help stylists and content creators who are early in their career or people who want to work in creative directing.
While Nelson acknowledges he used the buy-and-return method early in his career, he said he rarely does it now because he has established himself and fashion brands are willing to work with him, and even send free product.
He told FOX Business he does not think his "content day" hack should be done forever, but it could level the playing field for aspiring stylists and content creators who don’t have the funding to compete with wealthier or better-connected peers.
"A lot of people in the comments say that these brands care. Some of these brands just don’t care. They truly don’t," said Nelson, who noted that it’s mostly fast fashion companies that place less importance on item returns.
"I’ve worked with a lot of these places. They know how it goes and view it as marketing," he said.
Luxury designer brands and stores that offer employees a sales commission are much more likely to care and monitor habitual returns, according to Nelson.
Nelson said he has never purchased shoes from a family-owned or small business with the intention of returning them, and he does not recommend his followers do this either.
‘’Some stores have an exchange-only policy, so they’re not ever losing money. They win," said Nelson.
Nelson noted that while not all people will agree with the buy-and-return shoe method for content creation days, he thinks it is not too different from how stylists dress celebrities and up-and-coming models.
"Celebrities do it all the time. They go into showrooms and pull things," said Nelson. "The only reason why we don’t criticize them is because in our heads we think they’re rich, so they buy it."
He added, "A lot of the stuff that they wear, they’re not going to wear it again. They don’t buy it. Like for the MET Gala, they’re only wearing that one time, so why would they keep it?"
What do other stylists think?
Not all fashion stylists agree with Nelson’s content day hack being promoted to the masses.
Stylists form relationships with brands
Kim Appelt, a celebrity fashion stylist and author who works with celebrity clients in New York City and Toronto, confirmed to FOX Business that documenting shoe returns "has become a big trend" on social media among influencers and content creators.
"On a positive note, the brand is getting free exposure that they might otherwise have to pay the influencer for, but on the negative side this can strain a retailer's operational efficiency," she said.
"The logistics of processing returns, restocking and potentially dealing with damaged merchandise can be costly and time-consuming," Appelt went on.
While fashion stylists have long employed the taping of shoe soles to minimize evidence of wear in professional production, Appelt said stylists usually operate with "transparency" compared to the buy and return method social media personalities and everyday shoppers use.
"Fashion stylists often have a relationship with the brands and send out a request for the shoes. The brands will send stock from head office, so there is less strain on stores," she explained. "With full transparency the brand can also make an informed decision if there is enough exposure or benefit for them to lend."
Returned shoes could go to waste
Erin Houston, a Philadelphia-based fashion stylist and co-founder of Wearwell, a sustainable women’s clothing marketplace told FOX Business that shoppers should keep in mind that shoe returns could pose an environmental problem.
"If it becomes more common for regular shoppers, businesses will have more returns of products that likely cannot be resold, and the majority of retailers and e-commerce companies do not responsibly donate or recycle their unsellable goods," she said.
Houston continued, "This type of behavior will lead to many more pairs of shoes going straight to landfill, which can take up to 200 years to decompose."
Social media users are split on the topic
Nelson’s shoe hack video has been reshared by other popular fashion accounts, and social media users have been divided on the ethics of buying shoes with the intention of returning them.
Social media users have debated the topic on Instagram and TikTok.
"This has been the emerging fashion photographers secret since the '90s," one Instagram user wrote.
"I [used] to do this for photo shoots," one TikTok user admitted.
"If people don't think that all these big fashion influencers are doing this, y'all silly," another Instagram user shared.
"[This is] exactly why you shouldn't envy people online because you have no idea what's going on behind cameras," another Instagram user wrote.
"A lot of boutiques and department stores will do style consignment if you just inquire," another Instagram user reasoned.
"This is a good way to build a relationship with the business instead of being a pain."