Three streetwear influencers from different continents share their experiences hustling on the ‘gram and tell Angela Waters how the game is changing, which rules are different for girls and boys, and what career longevity looks like as influencers grow up.
For some Instagram is social media, for other’s it’s a job. But in order to mix business with pleasure influencers not only have to be fresh, but authentic — we have to believe that a person’s grid is the window into their world. But as more 'grammers go pro and algorithms change, that is proving to be a tall order.
“Instagram is trying to monetize with promoted post, which has put so much pressure on what people post,” Jiawa Liu, better known as @beigerenegade, told Highsnobiety. Playing the Instagram game since pretty much its inception, Liu has seen the platform evolve.
“Before this people felt free to post something whether it gets likes or not. There is so much pressure that we are more likely to see things that people understand are already popular. This is why girls are tending towards bikini content or really made up faces or plastic surgery,” the Australian blogger said.
One of the most dangerous things for an influencer is to be outed as fraud — in any sense of the word. While many influencers find that their comments and messages are overwhelmingly positive and even “too nice” at times, Liu has found people opening anonymous accounts to discredit her. “They say I Photoshop myself, that I am fake, bought my followers, or what I show is not my real life,” Liu said.
According to Michael Camargo of @upscale_vandal, who became a streetwear influencer as a byproduct of his work with musicians like Pharrell, the main difference between a spokesmodel and an influencer is authenticity. While a model can afford to play a role to make a product look cool, if you do not believe an influencer actually uses the product, they are a waste of marketing money.
“People know out of the gate when people are just using hashtags, links and promotions in their social media to create a business — people don’t buy into that,” the New Yorker told Highsnobiety. “Fit tea is the prime example of the wrong way to use an influencer. They are just using the number of followers and likes of an influencer to choose a girl to post.”
But even beyond slinging unrelated products for quick cash, influencers have to learn to say no to things that they would not wear for free, while at the same time, not working for free.
Anni Bolika of @llifeisapigsty credits her success as a full-time influencer to knowing when to say no. She recently refused a Superdry collaboration because it was not her style.
“I don’t like the brand at all so I said ‘Sorry I can’t do this’,” the Cologne-based influencer told Highsnobiety. “It is difficult to get jobs that pay money when so many people work for free, but I only accept offers from brands I would really like to wear and I don’t work for product.”
Boys Get Sneakers, Girls Get Sports Bras
When it comes to streetwear, male and female influencers have different struggles. According to Bolika, girls have an easier time building a following in the streetwear scene. “There are still a lot less girls who do streetwear and I think it is harder for a male influencer to be famous,” she said. “Girls are more active on Facebook and Instagram, commenting and returning likes.”
Aside from good social media manners, women also have another edge when collecting followers. “Guys are also following the girls because they think they are cute or that they have a hard style. I think guys have to work harder to build a following,” Bolika added.
But this can be a blessing and curse for women in streetwear. Camargo, who consults with brands like PUMA and adidas on their influencer collaborations, says sneaker companies do not necessarily want sexy girls.
“When companies see a pretty girl, they don’t want her to sell sneakers; they want her to sell gym clothes,” Camargo said. “From a first-person perspective, it is really the number one priority for every streetwear company to identify important female influencers, because there are so few of them that can walk the balance between culturally relevant and having the right audience.”
While he believes that there are a lot of female influencers with style who could be anchors for a product, it is difficult to sell the overtly sexual influencers.
Liu says that the number of female and male influencers in Australia is more balanced than in the U.S. and Europe, which leads to less of a divide between what kinds of jobs influencers are getting and how they portray themselves. “I do notice that the American influencers are quite sexual compared to the Australian group,” she said. “There are so many more female influencers than male and there are so many more opportunities for female influencers.”
Growing up on the 'Gram
While the ‘gram is often thought of as a young persons arena, influencers with millions of followers are not getting any younger, which is changing the game. “It’s generational,” Liu said. “When I started it was at the beginning of insta-famous. We were the millennials of today and now the really big ones, like Chiara Ferragni, are having babies. We would not consider them grassroots anymore — they have transferred to celebrity.”
Maturing as an influencer means branching out into different mediums. While younger influencers are building up brands through blogs and Instagram, established faces, like Liu, are working with magazines like Vogue Australia to broaden their audiences and diversify their skill sets. “A lot of people that were around when I started are not around anymore, because they were not able to adapt to the changing tastes,” Liu added.
There is a large difference in the way brands work with people like Liu and Camargo with followers in excess of 100k, and Bolika who is at the 40k point.
“There is a divide between the kind of influencer I am and the other streetwear influencers,” Camargo said. “My highest rated pictures might get 2 to 3k likes but then you look at younger kids they may have half the followers and get triple the amount of likes I get. My followers may not be the double tap crowd but other influencers and celebrities are looking at my feed. I know because I sit in brand meetings or I go on eBay and 90% of the pictures they are selling the shoe with are from my feed.”
Liu attributes the higher engagement some of the newer and less-followed accounts have to the fact that their followers are recent and more active. The number of new faces and the changing algorithm may make it near impossible for the newer generation of streetwear influencers to exceed 100k followers, but it is not necessarily a bad thing.
“It is still possible to get your own little market share. People are more interested in micro-influencers now — they are relevant in a way that those huge influencers cannot be,” she said.
Although many accounts have gotten better with time, the industry is still age-conscious. Influencers older than millennials can be shy about revealing their age, because job security depends entirely on whether or not you are seen as relevant.
Next up; meet the man training models and actors at NYC's most Instagrammed gym.