As Coachella Gifting Suites Get Bigger, Why Aren't They Getting More Inclusive?
Brands are going the extra mile to dress festival-bound influencers — well, some of them at least.
It's a widely known fact that influencers get a ton of free stuff. Gifting or "seeding," as it's often called, is even more common around Los Angeles' "seasons," — no, not spring and summer, but awards, pilot and, of course, festival.
In the weeks leading up to weekend one of Coachella, hotels in West Hollywood are full of TikTokers and other creators wearing Neon Carnival wristbands and carrying around massive bags full of gifting suite loot.
These suites aren't new — they've been around since Paris Hilton was being photographed outside of Kitson. But in the past few years, it's become commonplace for select influencers and media to be invited into a showroom, decked-out hotel penthouse or even a multi-million dollar mansion to basically shop an agency's brands for free. The idea is that these people will wear the clothes (or makeup, accessories, etc.) and tag them on Instagram and TikTok, providing free content for the brands participating.
Adee Drexler, founder and CEO of Infinity Creative Agency (ICA), has been putting on "ICA House" since 2021 in big, experiential spaces. This year, ICA instead invited friends, influencers and media into its 20,000-square foot Downtown Los Angeles office and showroom. It was more pared down than previous off-site events, but not without rosé flowing and racks and racks of clothes and tables of beauty products.
"I think it was really important for people to see where the brands are housed, how we housed them, how they're displayed, and then having their rep there walking you through the brand," Drexler says of bringing the "house" indoors. "I think that although these houses are cool, not everything needs to be an event." Her VIP clients, she explains, like to come in and just get clothes without having to get their picture taken for a media blast.
ICA reps brands such as Quay, Betsey Johnson, Cult Gaia and Alo; each has a target list of who they'd love to dress. It's ICA's job to get the clothes in front of those people, and festival season has become an important time to make this happen.
"Fashion became such a big part of Coachella, so for a lot of the brands, those are moments for them to shine when they get those placements," Drexler says.
She and her team curate a list of influencers who have been working with the brand since it launched, new creators they want to help grow, supportive media and friends of the agency. Drexler is especially excited about new faces who sometimes even secure sponsored deals with brands they meet at the ICA showroom. Some brands, depending on budget, will have their own gifting suite separate from the event — for instance, Nasty Gal and Boohoo threw a gifting party at their showroom (complete with a bar and hair tinsel), while Cult Gaia had a VIP fitting event at its new retail store.
Lexi Pulling, CEO of Pull PR, planned both small showroom gifting suites and big "houses," depending on the individual brand. For example, Billini Shoes, Gooseberry Intimates and Lioness came together in a pretty, neutral showroom in DTLA, while Aussie e-tailer Showpo threw a party in the Hollywood Hills with an open bar, glam stations and lots of dresses.
Pulling invites select media, VIPs and influencers, though it varies depending on what the brand is looking for. "Most brands choose to invite influencers that both produce on-brand content and/or drive sales, and are open to creating organic event content," she says. "Depending on the brand, they will have specific influencers that have performed well for them in the past that they'd like to maintain the relationship with."
Seeing celebrities — especially reality stars, like "Vanderpump Rules'" Scheana Shay — isn't uncommon. It might seem strange that a wealthy celebrity would come to a gifting suite (especially for a non-luxury brand), but it's a media opportunity for them just like anything else.
"On the celebrity side, we're looking for VIPs who receive press that we can pitch for media coverage around the event and brand," Pulling says. "It's a great way to garner press for our clients along with social content."
Marketing and PR agency Walker Drawas also gets celebrity clients coming to pull items from Revolve, Steve Madden, Ray-Ban, Christopher Kane and more during their festival showroom gifting suite, ahead of Revolve Fest. TikToker Tinx (Christina Najjar) was there this year. Last year, Chloe and Halle Bailey came by to pick up clothes and sunnies.
At face value, it sounds like a pretty decent quid pro quo arrangement, especially for micro-influencers and up-and-comers. But it's far from a perfect system: Agencies can't invite everyone, so folks are bound to feel left out as images and hauls are shared on social media; editors and journalists without massive followings are sometimes relegated to certain sections of gifting suites, since not all brands see press as providing the same sort of ROI as influencers.
There's also the issue of size inclusivity — a big problem in the fashion industry as a whole. Not only do many of these gifting suites only carry straight sizes, some even max out at a size medium or 6/8. That leaves out a large group of influencers who are also going to Coachella and should have the same opportunities to pull looks.
Curve model and content creator Alex Michael May generally checks with brands to see what sizes it will carry before attending a gifting suite. "One event I was really excited about didn't have anything above a size 10-ish, although they were working with a retailer who carried up to 18/20-ish. That was really disappointing," she tells me.
It makes you wonder why an agency would choose to only gift certain sizes when others are available from the brand. Of course, some brands just don't even make upper sizing.
"It's unfortunate to have to dig and see if events we're invited to are actually for us, but that's the reality still in many cases," May says.
She worries there's been a pattern lately where size inclusivity seems to be going backwards. "The pendulum swung curvy for a moment, but our bodies are not a fad," she says. "With all the buzz around 'heroine-chic,' '90s fashion, diet injectables and less inclusive fashion weeks of late, I wonder about the emphasis on expanding size ranges and focusing on inclusivity."
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Coachella gifting suites are just one example of certain bodies being overlooked by the broader fashion influencer marketing ecosystem. Revolve in particular has received backlash for a lack of size and skin-tone diversity among its social channels and famous influencer trips, even going back as far as 2018, when #RevolveSoWhite was going viral. The retailer seems to have internalized some of that feedback: At this year's Revolve Festival, there seemed to be a slight shift in direction, with more plus-size attendees than I've seen in the past, including Kristine Thompson, Ella Arletta, Alexa Jay and Ella Halikas. There was also a Revolve influencer gifting suite on the first day of Coachella (Friday), where I was told there was some upper sizing, including TikToker Remi Bader's collaboration with the retailer, which runs from XXS to 4X.
But what about progress at other showrooms and gifting suites?
Drexler says she asks her brands at ICA to send all the sizes they have available for suites, though sometimes they have more of some sizes in stock to send than others. She admits that "it's something I do think we all need to work on," but influencers at the suite can ask to order a size they don't see for delivery. (FWIW, I did see some plus-size options at ICA's event.)
RappAround PR founder Melissa Rappaport — who also hosts a gifting suite for media, influencers and stylists — says she works with her brands to stock their full size range, including JMP The Label and Skinnytees. ORTTU, "a gender-fluid collection for those who are not afraid to express their individuality or play with their self-identity through clothing," she says, is also available.
I went to a handful of gifting suites pre-Coachella and didn't see much, if anything, over a size 10/12 or XL. When I inquired about more size options for this story, I was told by one rep that her size 12 co-worker "squeezes into" the largest size. Most reps weren't really aware of what sizes would even be available.
Because of this, TikToker Naomi Hearts, a plus-size Latinx creator, doesn't bother going to gifting suites, even though she was attending Coachella as a guest of a beauty brand. "I don't think [the fashion industry] necessarily 100% takes plus-size content creators seriously," she says. "There's always a lack of representation."
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Naomi notes that there's even a distinction between herself and more palatable plus-size creators, ones that wear a size 18 and under. "They try to keep it, if anything, to smaller fats, because I wear a [size] 3-4X," she says.
Last year, she went to a fashion gifting suite at VidCon for a brand that stocks her size online, but the suite only carried up to a large. "They were like, 'You can take accessories,'" she recalls.
Naomi buys a lot of the clothes she wears to events from inclusive retailers like The Plus Bus, a plus-size consignment store in Los Angeles. She also has brand deals with Forever 21, Pretty Little Thing and Fabletics.
She wishes plus-friendly brands would host their own gifting suites, but understands many don't have the budgets and their styles might not line up with Coachella's typical nearly-naked aesthetic, like the more classic Eloquii. Still, there are companies like ASOS and Torrid whose trendy clothes would fit right in.
Of course, plenty of plus-size creators aren't even given the opportunity to attend gifting suites that don't offer their size — or other Coachella events and trips, for that matter.
"I don't think there are enough plus-sized influencers getting invited to these things," Naomi says. She was pleasantly surprised to get a VIP weekend invite, even if it came from a beauty — not fashion — brand. But it required a lot of planning to get the perfect ‘fits.
"As plus-size people, we already know that we're going to have to work twice as hard just to get it together," she says. "Because we have to look harder. We have to look for it in advance. We have to plan for it. We already know going into these suites that there's a 90% chance you're not going to find an outfit."
Some may argue that not everything is for everybody. But if influencers are being invited to the suites and then not able to shop them, it creates the opposite of a good relationship. Brands are also missing out: Coachella is huge for driving spring and summer sales, and plus-size shoppers are seeing all the Instagram posts and TikToks that straight-size shoppers are. As we should all know by now, the average size for a woman in the United States is a size 16.
At this point, festival season is an established shopping opportunity, so why isn't it getting more inclusive? Most influencers I spoke with said they would love to see a showroom filled with plus-size brands so they could shop freely like everyone else. I think it would be nice for companies who don't represent any plus-size brands to collaborate with a few and have their pieces available at the suite. Showrooms do this all the time with beauty brands — SolaWave, for instance, was available at the Walker Drawas suite even though it isn't a client. It's a way to get the product into the right hands. Plus, that way, we can all shop together.
Gifting suites won't be slowing down anytime soon, so creators are hoping the tide turns back around and the push for inclusivity ramps back up. May can't wait to see "the representation this year from curvy Coachella goers," she says. "We get creative, and that's worth celebrating."
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