In my former life, as editor of a men’s lifestyle magazine, part of the job description involved trips to fashion week in Milan.
When I started in 2009 the invitees were mainly industry insiders, journalists and fashion students who queued for hours for a spot in the standing area at the back of the room. We writers, meanwhile, would carry SLR cameras and notebooks, to scribble our thoughts on the collection, which would be written into columns for the next day’s web stories and newspaper columns.
Over the next ten years everything changed. First came the bloggers, who were doing pretty much the same job as journalists, but on their own platforms. And then two huge, era-defining changes happened: Instagram was launched in 2010 and phone cameras started to improve.
Within a couple of years the front rows were full of ‘influencers’, who took lots of pictures and wrote nothing down. Their job was not to offer opinions on the new collection – if indeed they had any – but simply to share an experience with their audience.
And for a time the brands loved it, mainly because these influencers – relying on invites and free clothes – would never say anything remotely disparaging about their sponsors.
Huda Kattan shows that it is possible to achieve success with a phone and a social media account. But it takes much more than these basic tools to build a sustainable business”
Times are changing again. A recent story on the Business on Fashion website asks the question: “Has Fashion Week’s Influencer Bubble Finally Burst?”
It notes that, although there is still a flood of requests for invites by people calling themselves “influencers”, many of the professionals in this field are no longer attending because it doesn’t make financial sense. There are better uses of their time than being ‘seen’ in Milan or Paris. In other words, many of the ones seeking front-row tickets are not the pros who make money for their efforts.
And they are not alone. According to a German study, 96.5 percent of YouTubers don’t make enough annual ad revenue to reach the US federal poverty line.
As Highsnobiety notes, “To put that into perspective, if you flip burgers at McDonald’s, you can expect to make $5,000 more per year."
Of course there are some astonishing success stories. Gaming stars DanTDM, VanossGaming and Mark Fischbach all make millions every year for their efforts. So does Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide. Celebrities such as Selena Gomez and Kylie Jenner also top the rankings.
But these are outliers. The business of influencing, as Arabian Business has previously reported, is maturing into an industry like any other, where normal rules apply. There are regulations over the transparency of sponsored posts. In the UAE, influencers must now have visas and trade licenses.
No wonder these legitimate businesses can’t afford to show off at fashion week with no financial return.
To be clear, brands still seek influencers who have an engaged audience, genuine expertise and a unique perspective on their subject.
And there are others, such as our cover subject this week, Huda Kattan, who redefine the parameters of what is achievable in the industry. Her TV series, Huda Boss, attracted millions on Facebook Watch. Ranked Number 37 on Forbes’s America’s Richest Self-Made Women list, Kattan is worth $500m, and has a fan base of 27 million Instagram followers and 2.5 million YouTube subscribers.
Kattan has achieved these numbers because she is very good at her job – namely, instructing people how best to enhance their appearance – and has built a business around this talent, which has taken dedication and astute decision making.
What she has not done is engage in a race to the bottom, as Logan Paul and KSI have done by trading insults and blows at their recent publicity-seeking boxing match. And she has also stuck to the brief of what she does best – female beauty advice and products.
Huda Kattan shows that it is possible to achieve success with a phone and a social media account. But it takes much more than these basic tools to build a sustainable business of any substance.
Fashion wannabies and selfie-obsessives take note: this is not a game.
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