Monday, 27 February 2017

The natural brand that's changed my mind about soap

Bars of soap get a really bad rap in the beauty world. Traditional soap can be drying, and no one likes that weird residue that gets left behind when you rinse off the lather. But when natural soap company Sabai Soaps got in touch and asked me to review their bars* - made using cruelty free, vegan, organic ingredients - I took a chance and gave it a go.

The first thing that struck me when I unwrapped the (beautifully wrapped) package was the amazing citrus smell. The main essential oil in the bar I was kindly sent to review is from the mangosteen fruit. It sounded so exotic that I had to Google it, but it turns out this stuff is great for calming the skin, especially if you suffer from inflammation or a condition like eczema. The soap also contains Rice Bran Oil to hydrate and protect against ageing and olive oil for additional moisture.

I was pleased to find out that Sabai is both an affordable brand and an ethical one - the bar I was sent retails at £5.95 and given how often I've used it so far is going to last me a good 6-8 weeks at least. With no harsh chemicals the soap is as kind on the skin as it is on the environment, and with my sensitive skin and allergies that's very good news! Inspired by Thai soaps and the small family businesses that make them, the word 'Sabai' literally translates from Thai as 'happy'. The company also support a range of charities across the world, so bring happiness not just to your skin, but to disadvantaged families and children too.

I've been using the soap for almost two weeks now as I wanted to give you guys a thorough, honest review and I can safely say I've never loved a soap this much! As I said before, the scent is amazing, but the real benefit for me is how clean and fresh and soft my skin feels after washing. A little goes a long way, as the natural oils give the lather a moisturising feel. After continuous use I'd say my skin is not only much softer but brighter, and my foundation seems to sit better on my skin. I've noticed a reduction in redness around my spottier areas like my cheeks too.

If you've been put off soap in the past then I'd definitely suggest indulging in one of Sabai's bars as a natural and non-drying alternative to gel cleansers - they'd also be lovely as a gift and can be purchased in sets. I can't wait to try some more.

*Items in this post were kindly sent to me for review purposes, but all opinions are honest and completely my own. I will only share products on my blog that I would purchase for myself.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Is the blogging industry immoral?

Grab a cuppa and strap in guys, because this is a long one...

I'm a smallish blogger who's never really been interested in making a career of it, just sharing some of my life and flexing my writing muscles for those who want to have a read. I came onto the scene in 2014, about two years too late to have hitched a ride on the wave that took a select group of YouTubers and bloggers to relative fame and allowed them to carve a pretty substantial living out of what started for them as a similar hobby. But much of the money in being online is made through product placement, sponsorship and advertising.

A couple of weeks ago I read this article by Katie from Scarphelia, a blogger I had amired over the years who has decided to hang up the keyboard so to speak. She speaks from first hand experience about her discomfort with this side of blogging, and how the creative industry is being taken advantage of and reshaped by huge corporations that want access to its loyal following. 

The green-eyed monster

I don't begrudge any content creator for earning a living this way whatsover - I'm an avid consumer of their content, ravenous for the next Instagram story, lookbook video or editorial to be posted. Like a lot of people, I like the pseudo-friendliness of it all. I feel like the person talking to the camera could be my real life mate and is talking just to me, allowing me to live vicariously through their glam lifestyle. I often wish it could be me pouting into my Canon G7 x over brunch in Shoreditch, but alas, that's not quite me.

That's the real clincher. As influencers hit the big time and their personal pay packet grows, their lifestyle changes at an accelerated pace. Jetting off to the Maldives, showing off skincare hauls that cost more than my monthly paycheck, shopping exclusively at designer stores in swanky areas of London rather than the Primarni and H&M of their career's infancy. Meanwhile most of us are still stuck here in the same place, still watching, and starting to feel a touch of the green-eyed monster within.

To say I lust over the lifestyles of these people is an understatement. I often compare my less-than-chic flat filled with second hand furnishings and budget beauty cabinet to those of the people I used to identify with. It doesn't feel great - in fact it feels like for some reason I'm just not good enough - and yet I can't stop watching. I feel like I've gotten to know these people over time, so I don't want to let that go. But I also feel like true authenticity has left the building, at least in some cases.

To #ad or not to #ad?

The advent of sponsored content (or more, the need to disclose it), has really pushed these feelings of unease to the forefront of late. Without even considering the amount of placements that may not be being disclosed, my feeds are rife with '#ad' and '#sponsored', usually accompanied by influencers gushing about a brand or product that they don't usually mention in their day-to-day organic content. In black and white terms, they're capitalising on you being a tiny bit jealous of them, on wanting what they have and to look they way they look. This kind of content has turned user generated material into a cash cow for brands whose traditional methods of advertising are beginning to fail them.

If I'm honest, I don't like feeling as though I'm being sold too, like I'm playing into a brand's hand if I click through and buy into these blatant advertisements. I worry that those not too clued up on blogging and vlogging and how sponsorship works may not even notice the disclosure in the post/video title. I miss the old days of only seeing online personalities sharing stuff they really love and recommend as opposed to showing me the stuff they've been paid thousands to feature. The excitement in their eyes when they've found a new product they want to share, as opposed to some overpriced skincare they're not really that crazy about. 

That's not to say that these influencers are deliberately deceiving us or sitting at home laughing as they through piles of cash around, watching the clicks roll in - far from it. No doubt if you follow some of the bigger online personalities on social media you've seen them fretting about how best to disclose their paid brand collabs to us, sometimes even apologising for them. Even affiliate links, whereby the influencer receives a cut of the sale if you click through and buy something, are disclosed prominently these days.

The thing is, I get it. Most of us get it. These guys are only able to produce top-notch organic content for us to consume and enjoy because of the sponsorships, advertising deals, merch stores and brand ambassador contracts that pay for them to do so. And good on them for taking the opportunity to fund a career they love. I would do the same in their position.

The rise of the 'micro influencer' 

One thing I've found as this stuff becomes even more common is the not so subtle shade that gets thrown at influencers for doing these things - unfollowed, called out as being immoral or dishonest, left with a slew of bitchy comments on their post or video. How dare these people try and make money in order to sustain their lifestyles while they create the content their audience hungrily demand? They can't win.

And then there's the hypocrisy of it all. As someone with a blog of my own I get a rush of endorphins when I spy an email from a brand in my inbox. And I'm not the only one. I've been approached by everyone from big brands like Thornton's to small Etsy sellers, and on the surface it provides a decent ego massage. It doesn't always feel right, and I always think twice before agreeing to review or feature something. I will even go back to someone having tried their product if I didn't get on with it, and I will never post content written by somebody else, because I could never, ever lie and convince you guys to purchase something that I myself thought was shit, no matter who the brand is.

Look deeper though and it reveals a seismic shift in the way retailers are placing influencer content. Big bloggers that do big sponsorships on the regular are holding less and less traction with consumers. The trust that grew their followings to begin with is withering. Sponsored posts and ad placements typically get far less engagement from an audience and I'd even go as far as to say certain endorsements have put me off of those that I follow before. Like I said, nobody likes knowing they're being sold to. So brands are looking to smaller bloggers (so-called 'micro influencers') more and more.

Why? The answer is simple. Smaller bloggers typically get higher rates of engagement from their followers, and with their sponsored content less frequent and less tightly controlled, tends to feel more organic and generate more trust. Small bloggers rarely feel ballsy enough to demand a fee and often agree to committing SEO faux-pas like using follow links for fear of losing out on the collaboration to somebody else who's willing. It's an easy win for the budding PRs of the world.

Where do I stand?

So, after that painful dissection of a medium that has grown from an organic, underground creative movement into a fully-fledged industrial advertising machine, where do I actually stand? I really don't know. Will I stop posting about PR samples or placed products completely? Absolutely not. But I will always ensure I present them to you in the most honest way I possibly can. I urge other creators to do the same. Will I stop engaging with influencers who post '#ad' posts? Of course not. At least they're open about it rather than actively pulling the wool over my eyes. The organic content that I love is still out there being produced, so if a sponsorship or two has to happen for that to be paid for, then that's something I can live with, and even support.

I've been wanting to write this post for a while, if only to throw the topic out into the open and see what my readers and blogging peers, in my little internet bubble, think. Let me know your views in the comments below.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

5 simple (and easy) ways you can save more money

I don't know about you, but these days it feels like I bleed money! Rent, bills, petrol, council tax, food shopping - it all adds up, and that's before we even get to the fun stuff. We're currently trying to save for a house, and although we're now the bulk of the way there, I'm getting real tired of seeing my bank balance trickle down each month as standing orders an direct debits fly out at an alarming rate.

I've recently taken a different approach to managing my money though, and it's already paying off. Before I'd spend the weeks leading up to pay day ignoring my dwindling funds and praying I wouldn't hit the dreaded overdraft, dreading the bill if I used the credit card on something without thinking. Now I'm keeping a much closer eye on things, and while it's definitely a case of spending some time forming better habits, I thought I'd share my top tips so far.


Now, I'm not the type to spend hundreds of pounds each month on clothes and makeup, just the odd budget purchase here and there, so that's not much of an issue. If you do want to make a big but non-essential purchase I'd suggest keeping a little money back each pay day for a couple of months rather than blowing your credit card limit. Then you'll be sure you really want it, too. You don't have to scrimp and deprive yourself of everything to save money, you just have to think your purchases through a bit more.

Our household has some unavoidable expenses (rent where we live is expensive and I have a long commute to work in the car), but we also spend wisely in other areas. We've got a Netflix subscription rather than an expensive TV package, buy second-hand PS4 games and don't mind heading to the local Wetherspoon now and again over a swanky wine bar. If you feel like you're spending a lot, have a look and see where you can make compromises. Even changing where you do your food shop could make a big difference. Take it from Waitrose to Aldi and you could save a pretty penny.

Use loyalty cards and reward bank accounts

I have so many loyalty cards and points cards that I always manage to forget to use. I had a look back over them and reorganised my purse, and put the ones I use the most in easy to reach card slots. These days there are loyalty cards and points programmes for everything from supermarkets and coffee shops to swimming pools and sandwich vans so it's worth asking when you shop somewhere new for the first time. 

My Tesco Clubcard and Boots Advantage card are the two that probably pay off the most Some programmes allow you to trade in reward points for boosted vouchers for the cinema, restaurants, attractions and more. These days even bank accounts provide cashback on your direct debits and certain transactions, so don't forget to look at those too.

Hoard your change

I definitely don't use cash as much as I used too, but when I do I regularly swipe the change from my purse and throw anything smaller than 50p into a jar. You can quickly build up 20 quid or more and take it to the bank to change up. Have a good rummage in old purses, under the bed, drawers and pockets too - we found £15 in our flat just while tidying up, and plan to spend it on a treat since we didn't expect to find it!

Use things up completely before rebuying them

I've become more guilty of this since I got into beauty blogging a bit more, but having multiple cleansers, perfumes, shower gels etc just for the sake of it is a bit unecessary. I'm instead trying to teach myself to resist the urge to try the latest new thing I saw on Instagram and use up the products I've actually got before splashing out on new ones. A quick look through your drawers and cabinets could reveal some bad habits. I've put spares and unopened alternatives into a box in the spare room, and I'll shop the stash I've created before buying anything else.

Monitor your habits

Although I've tried to make a note of what I'm buying and hold on to receipts, there are always things you forget to write down or pay for with coins and have no record of. I recently discovered a super helpful app called On Trees that gives you a combined view across all your accounts (including credit cards and ISAs) and allows you to categorise and set budgets on everything going in and out.

I was a little concerned about logging into all of my accounts via an app, but it's secured with a passcode and directly integrated with most major online banking providers, so it's definitely the best option out there. It means I can keep an eye on how many times I've been to Costa, as well as how much I've managed to save. I used to avoid logging into my bank accounts because I couldn't be bothered to download and set up multiple apps, but this was a doddle. I use it every day and couldn't recommend it more!

Do you have any top tips for saving extra money?

Saturday, 4 February 2017

My (spoiler free) review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - #Keepthesecrets

The weekend before last I FINALLY went to see the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! It feels like I was waiting forever to actually go since buying the tickets, and that's probably because it was. I'm pretty sure it was over a year between getting them and actually going, but once it came round I began to get properly excited.

I managed to go the entire time between the play's premiere and seeing it myself without seeing a single spoiler. I knew who the cast was of course, as it was announced to the world, but I didn't buy the script, and luckily most fans that had the privilege of seeing it before me kept their lips sealed.

I'll be doing the same thing, too. If you're a fanatic about any book, film or TV series you'll probably know how it feels to have a juicy twist spoiled for you, but I've got to hand it to J.K. Rowling and co for bringing in their #KeeptheSecrets hashtag. At the interval they even handed out badges with it written on, to encourage people not to go out into the world and spoil the play for others. I do however want to talk about how much I loved it, and how it's totally worth going to see it even if you have to wait.

The Theatre

Our seats weren't very expensive, so we were very high up, and I found myself leaning over just a little at times to make sure I had a full view of what was going on, but we weren't so far up we couldn't see things, and I hardly noticed it really. We paid £15 per person per performance, and saw both 'parts' of the play on the one Sunday. I think you do have the option of splitting it across evenings but as we're not from London I didn't fancy two trips.

That meant that this was an event of stamina! The two parts are an hour and a half EACH including a 15 minute interval per part. There was a 2 hour gap in the middle where we were able to go out and get some dinner (The Palace Theatre is close to Leicester Square), returning at 6.30pm to the same seats for the second part. The boys struggled with 5 hours in theatre seating as the leg room is limited, and towards the end I did lose feeling in my toes. BUT.... it was worth it!

The Story

I'm not going to give away ANY plot lines here as I don't want to ruin it for anyone still waiting to see it, but the play picks up where that cheesy '20 Years Later' scene at the end of Deathly Hallows leaves us. There's a lot of focus around Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny's kids, but don't worry - there's plenty of stage time for our original favourites.

The story itself is every bit as magical as in the novels. I'm so glad that Rowling herself was involved in writing it, with every word uttered on stage oozing with her style. It gets pretty dark too, with a strong moral thread throughout, as well as some comic relief. 

The Cast

I had no expectations of what the acting would be like, although I was struggling beforehand to get my head around the fact that the golden trio were all grown up and I wouldn't be staring at Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. I have to say though that the actors chosen to portray them as older did an amazing job of bringing through the characters from their teens. Even down to small gestures and tone of voice, I really did see Harry, Ron and Hermione in them.

There were a lot of young actors involved too, who were all fabulous. I want to give a particular shout out to Anthony Boyle who plays Scorpius Malfoy - He had the audience in creases of laughter one minute and put tears in my eyes the next.

The Set and Special Effects

I wasn't sure if seeing a Harry Potter production in a theatre setting would be a bit 'meh' in the visual department after experiencing years of digital magic in the films, but there was some real trickery afoot that I can't even mention without giving away a few too many details. Basically I have no idea how they did half of the stuff, it blew my mind. The set designs also had just the right Harry Potter feel and there was some very clever use of props. As a lifelong fan the attention to detail was a delight to behold.

All in all I found the play well worth the wait, and if we were ever treated to a follow-up, I'd be there like a shot!

© kelly anne rist

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