The Rise of the Fashion Influencer

2018, the year of the influencer. Fashion is one of the fastest growing influencer niches, and now more than ever, more and more fashion powerhouse brands have began aligning themselves with these very influencers. This restructure of values, efforts, and investments is partly due to the growing power of the consumer. Consumers, now more than ever, are becoming increasingly smarter and more skeptical. Take me as an example. I’d undoubtably turn to Aimee Song, (@songofstyle, 4.7 million followers), for her denim staples over the voice of any denim brand itself.

But then I started to think— why is that? Why do I trust these influencers over the renowned designers themselves? It all boils down to authenticity. I like to think I’m quite good at discerning genuinity, so when I find those gems who share authentically, I am loyally committed to them and their word. Before I ramble about my favorite Instagram accounts, I want to touch upon where this commitment derived from. Let’s take it back to ninth grade.

It’s 2013. Alison’s bopping to Justin Bieber, studying Biology with Ms. Scott, and counting down the days until the next Kendall and Kylie Jenner meet and greet. In the middle of the year, my best friend Jack decided he wanted to start a fashion blog. Out of nowhere, he went from an aspiring zoologist to a trendsetting, boundary pushing, aspiring fashion influencer. For the majority of his life, he thought he’d end up in South Africa dedicating his life to studying the behavior of endangered amphibians and reptiles. Little did he know he’d stumble on his newfound passion whilst mindlessly scrolling Instagram.

In 2013, Instagram was just on the rise. Influencers were starting to get their feet wet in the vastly diverse space. Instagrammers were in the beginning stages of developing their personal brand, the potential of fashion influencing as a full-time career seemed was slim, and the concept of street-style blogging seemed foreign and obsolete. Instagram at the time was nothing more than a photo sharing app, where people simply shared candid moments of their week and occasionally engaged with one another. At the time, I thought of it as nothing more than another social media platform to add my friends on. Jack, moving against the current, started on Instagram with an intention; he wanted to have a voice on a platform and be at the frontline. After consistently posting on Instagram and engaging with a newfound audience, Jack’s personal brand grew immensely. This organic growth was so unique, as his success was due to his resilience, tenacity, and authenticity. Things then were uncomplicated; he didn’t have a publicist feeding him expert insight or a digital media agency tracking his engagement analytics. It was all Jack. My best friend was a self-made overnight influencer and seeing the joy it gave him peaked my own interest. Thank you Jack for pursuing a hustle that propelled me to discover my passions. The landscape of 2019 is very different than it was in 2013. The fashion world, with respect to digital media, has become a saturated space of street style micro-influencers rising to recognition, big names sitting alongside the editors of Vogue at New York Fashion Week, and style bloggers sharing for the sake of sharing. Although the size of their following may garner them credibility, I’ve found loyalty in the smallest of influencers, which speaks volumes about the true value of the influencer.

Last Summer, I was afforded the opportunity to take on the role of the coveted influencer. I stumbled upon an application, on Instagram ironically enough, to work for Abercrombie & Fitch. Accepting without knowing the full scope of my responsibilities, I discovered that I was hired as a Brand Market Agent for their new ambassador pilot program. This role required that I curate on-brand content for my Instagram feed, drive awareness during their key promotional campaigns, and essentially use my micro-micro-micro Instagram account as a platform to reach out to my niched audience. In the beginning, I didn’t think much about my imminent impact. I thought “This is awesome. I get free clothes and get paid to post pictures wearing them!” It wasn’t until I took part in a major brand campaign that I understood the power of my position. Abercrombie & Fitch was the official sponsor of the Made in America music festival— otherwise known as the Coachella of Philly. Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj and Post Malone were headlining and Diplo, Khalid, and Zedd were just a few artists accompanying them. This concert was a huge deal. It was one of Abercrombie’s first events featuring their brand ambassadors at the forefront. Weeks leading up to the big weekend, all of the agents were consistently posting hype/countdown content for the festival. Everything from Instagram stories featuring “shop with me for the festival” to a carefully-curated row of images providing an exclusive sneak peek into the festival were included.

Now uniquely positioned as the content creator, I began to understand the value that influencers bring to not only events like these but brands as big and renowned as Abercrombie & Fitch. Impressions skyrocketed, hype was bolstered, and engagement soared; it was unbelievable. It’s crazy to think that years ago, design powerhouses rarely relied on anyone outside the company to market, build awareness, or shift perceptions on their products. Now, we live in a world where the most successful companies heavily depend on the loyalty cultivated by these outside sources.

After working alongside Abercrombie, I gained a deeper understanding of the role of fashion influencers. Taking part in meetings and conference calls with the heads of the company, I was able to hear firsthand the necessity of not only building authentic relationships with these influencers but also adeptly valuing the relationships these influencers have attuned with their audiences. Although I’d never consider myself a fashion influencer, I scratched the surface of the influencer side of things just enough to peak an interest. Curious about the business aspect of fashion-influencing as well, I want to further explore what differentiates a true maven of influence and affluence from an ordinary aspirant. How does one gain that prominence and prestige? Is the space too saturated now to make way for those that are just starting out? How have these influencers had a quantifiable impact on the industry? “Bloggers” from Bryanboy, Chriselle Lim, and Chiara Ferragni, can all be spotted sitting front row; this new Establishment is the front row.

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