Social media is overwhelming to say the least. Candid moments are now staged photo shoots and a potentially lucrative pay day if you can make your life look like “#Goals”. It can be hard to separate who’s using the platform for the perks and who’s using it for a purpose.
For Fennella Like Whoa, social media is apart of her purpose. Long before the fashion blogger and entrepreneur found Instagram, she was customizing layouts on her MySpace page and replying to requests on Facebook. FYI: She’s reached her “friend limit” on Facebook so in order to stay connected with Fennella, you’ll have to follow her on Instagram where she’s diligently worked to amass over 10,000 followers, which is no easy feat.
I first began following Fennella when the Sierra Leonean model published a stunning photo in a gold dress and a black afro that broke the internet. The way my curiosity is set up, I then went to Fennella’s well curated website where I learned that she has a line of wigs and she enjoys Creative Directing photo shoots.
I also went through some of her YouTube videos where you can see how the recent alumna of Spelman College has tried different vlogging trends (i.e. makeup tutorials, “outfit of the day” lookbooks, “day in the life” videos, cooking tutorials and more) in striving to figure out what works best for her brand.
What I admire about Fennella is her persistency. From her first YouTube video in 2011, Fennella’s esthetics and production values have grown tremendously. Her personality has always been vivacious but now her style is impeccable, her content is well curated and competitive.
She has tunnel vision as it pertains to making a name for herself in the fashion industry where oftentimes there are few, if any, women of color–particularly dark skin women, in the audience or on the runways. A firm believer that there are no coincidences, only confirmations, I highly suggest you watch Fennella’s vlog on how she navigated her first New York Fashion Week. The video is less about fashion and more about being resourceful enough to get something done, by any means necessary.
My interview with Fennella exceeded my expectations. Outside of dropping gems, it reiterated that for her, social media and fashion blogging isn’t a hobby, it’s her life. “A year from now I will be one of the most influential creatives in fashion. Mark my words” said Fennella in a March 10, 2016 post on Instagram. And within the last year she’s been featured on Vogue, Elle, Refinery 29 and Buzzfeed in addition to landing sponsored partnerships with Kraft, Sephora, Clinique and Makeup Forever. Needless to say, the 25-year-old puts action behind her ambitions. If you’re striving to make a career out of social media and blogging, keep reading as Fennella has been so gracious to share how she’s strategically become a highly sought after fashion and beauty Influencer.
Zon D’Amour: Was there a particular age and/or turning point in your life when you truly felt beautiful?
Fennella Like Whoa: It’s interesting because there wasn’t necessarily a “boom” shift, it’s been gradual. Usually when I dress up, people would tell me that I was pretty but when I started to model, I think people started to focus not only on what I was wearing but, ‘what does she look like?’ When I shaved my head, there was more focus on my face and that’s when I started to be more cognizant the fact that I was actually beautiful. People can tell you that you’re pretty all day but oftentimes people that model still struggle with their confidence. I think getting to a place of beauty is an ongoing process. I’m at the point now where I’ve realized that [beauty] is not defined by what I wear, it’s defined by how I feel about myself.
“…A sacrifice I had to make is being misunderstood…”
ZD: Can you specify what work goes into being a fashion influencer who’s amassed over 10,000 followers on Instagram?
FLW: There’s so much power in collaboration and sometimes creatives can forget that. If you had a team with a makeup artist, photographer, stylist and models, you’re more likely to be tagged on someone else’s page. You don’t want your face to only be on your Instagram page, your face should be on pages for African women, dark skin women, people with natural hair, makeup inspiration pages, etc.
And if you want to get paid, you need to initially create the content for free. If you want to work with Louis Vuitton or Gucci, you need to get one of those bags, even if you have to borrow it and create an editorial or a blog post. When brands see that you’re incorporating their product into your content and it looks good for free, there’s a question of ‘what if we gave her a $1,000 to do this? What would it look like?’ Create what you know your followers want to see. If you can’t nourish and engage your 1K followers, you shouldn’t be asking God for 10K.
After I was featured in ELLE Magazine (Elle Decoration South Africa), I did a post thanking my followers because I felt like it was something we had accomplished together. You have to make your following feel connected to your success. When you focus on building a community, people will see that you value them and they’ll be encouraged to buy your product or show your page to someone else which is how I’ve secured brand deals without having a large following.
My photo shoots last year showed me the potential that my brand has. This year I’m trying to do a shoot a week either video content for Fenella Like Woah, Like Woah Wigs or for my upcoming online store but every week I’m trying to create something. A huge part of what people don’t see if you don’t know me and you’re just watching me through Instagram, it looks like, ‘wow, she’s always creating, that’s so cool’ but the end of 2017, I was planning and gathering for what I wanted to create in 2018. I was just ordering clothes, building a list of makeup artists that would want to work with me as well as reaching out to people with my idea and asking them how much they charge; I spend a lot of time negotiating. If I hadn’t made the end of 2017 a planning and gathering phase, then I wouldn’t be able to create as consistently as I do now. People think you just create but if you don’t plan and gather first, you’re going to have holes in your brand because you’re moving without a strategy.
“…[beauty] is not defined by what I wear, it’s defined by how i feel about myself…”
ZD: What sacrifices have you made to grow your brand?
FLW: I’ve sacrificed comfort. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to be in certain spaces at Fashion Week where people might have more access than me and everyone else is white and I’m the only black girl in the room. I’d wonder, ‘how do I get an invite to this show?’ and ‘do I belong in this room?’ Being in this industry, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable for a period of time and work up until you get access to what you want. Last year, I would do my own makeup and I would ask a Spelman sister to record the BTS (behind the scenes) of my shoot and I’d edit it myself. Now that I actually have so much flexible income, I was able to pay someone to shoot and edit my last video for Like Woah Wigs.
I can struggle with perfectionism but I also have the gift of being resourceful so I focus more on being excellent using whatever I have. There was a time that I didn’t have much money and whenever I did get money I would invest it back into my brand. I had a new apartment with an air mattress as opposed to a bed because I needed to get a ring light. I could decorate my room but I chose to get clothes for an editorial shoot or pay for the plane ticket to go to New York for Fashion Week. There was a point in my life where I was broke and it was actually a blessing because it stretched my creativity so much. That was the thing that took my creativity to another level.
When I would turn down invitations to hang out on the weekend so that I could pick up more waitressing shifts or work on my blog and my wig line, people would say, ‘You can’t be serious…that’s not a real thing you have to do?’ But if they have to study for their GMAT or MCAT, that’s a valid excuse. So I had to let go of people who I felt like were holding me back because they didn’t see the results of what I was doing. When I did that, my brand started to take off. After I was featured in Vogue and ELLE and more people started wearing my wigs, that’s when my friends and family began to better understand what I’ve been working on. So a sacrifice I had to make was being misunderstood.
“…I have the gift of being resourceful so I focus more on being excellent using whatever I have…”
ZD: I’m sure you’ve had either up and coming bloggers or maybe even your peers tell you that they’re getting impatient with their lack of results after a few months or even a year of blogging. Do you think a lack of discipline or a lack of confidence can be attributed to someone not progressing as an influencer in the fashion and beauty industry?
FLW: First of all, I don’t know anyone who’s been blogging longer than me. If you want to get technical, I’ve been blogging since I was 12, I’m now 25–that’s 13 years and I’m still not known as a “top black blogger”. So if I don’t feel like I have results, then people who’ve only been doing this for six months to a year have nothing to say. I remember having a talk with God about how I was blogging before Aimee Song (fashion blogger and creator of “Song Of Style”) as well as a lot of others in this space but they’re blowing up! So why is it taking me so long?’ I feel like God’s reply was, ‘you’ve blogged once in five months!’
At first I was just publishing poetry and it wasn’t even every single day. God showed me that even though I felt like I had been doing this for what seemed like a long time, I had to be honest with myself, I wasn’t doing it consistently. Two people can be blogging for five years, but one person may only publish content once a month, meanwhile the other person is writing for at least an hour a day so who’s been at it longer? If you’re creating content for at least an hour a day, after 12 days, you’ve done more than some people do in a year.
While attending my first New York Fashion Week, I realized that the top fashion bloggers treat this like a 9 to 5, their brand is their life and that’s what it’s starting to become for me as well. I advise others to really sit down and study your field. Figure out what the hell are these other people really doing before you decide that it’s what you want to do. Top bloggers have a team that includes a publicist, they have photographers that understand composition and they know about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) which I only learned about a few months ago.
My ten plus years of blogging were basically pointless because I wasn’t using SEO so no one could find me. That’s a gem that I wish I would have known ten years ago; that when your content is valuable, Google can find you and rank you. [For example] there were times when I would blog about ‘Spelman & Morehouse Homecoming Outfits’ and I would have high traffic because people were searching for that. They’re not searching for a blog post titled, ‘Pretty day, pretty girl in Atlanta’. But a post titled, “Three Steps To Building Your Brand In The New Year’ where you’ve incorporated your fashion–people search for those things.
You need to know if your field is evolving, you can’t create content in 2018 the way you were doing in 2009. You have to change your strategy from 2016 to 2018 because in the last few years, influencers have become the new celebrities. You can’t use old methods for a new industry. Blogging is one of the best jobs you can do if you have a lot of skills because you can be your own Creative Director, stylist, makeup artist and editor; you can do all these different things.
And don’t underestimate the [time and financial] commitment to the trade you’re in. All my money goes towards my bills, my skin and my brand. I know someone will say, “What? Your Skin?” Yes, because my image is my brand, I have to look good. So self care is important, facials, chemical peels and manicures because I believe when you feel good internally, you exude that outwardly. If you want to be an influencer and you’re getting paid to be yourself, you have to be your best self and sometimes I don’t think people take that into consideration.
I have a friend who’s a male blogger and he said that there are white guys who create content that isn’t as good as his but their following grows like crazy because they’re white. Similarly, if you’re a black girl and you want to get into fashion, you have to have tough skin because brands may reject you and they may offer you less than your counterparts because you’re black so when you’re studying this industry that’s also something you need to be aware of.
I’ll be relaunching my blog soon and I know there will be people that think this is something new but it’s not. I just took time off to study more so that I could be better. New York is three hours ahead of California but California isn’t behind New York. Just like we’re all in different time zones, we’re all running our own race. So you can’t look at someone else and compare your progress or lack thereof.
“…my image is my brand, I have to look good…”
ZD: Many of the platforms that we can’t live without including Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are barely ten-years-old so it’s understandable that many people can’t fathom someone sitting at home and making a living from social media but it’s happening everyday. Based on social media now being a viable source of income, how have your career goals changed and how have you maintained confidence in your vision even when your friends and family weren’t on board?
FLW: I started blogging and using social media because I felt like it was my only safe space to really express myself and create my own reality without judgement. I was bullied a lot when I was younger and I felt like I could be myself on Myspace.I was always switching up my layout, doing photo shoots on my phone, editing music and adding my poetry to my page. I knew after school I could go there and be myself. So I’ve always been passionate about social media; I’ve had life changing and life saving experiences through social media. After I graduated from Spelman, God started to show me that finding Myspace, Facebook or Instagram wasn’t random, it’s a part of my calling. Regardless of the friction and spiritual warfare, when you find out something is apart of your purpose, it’s easier to stick to it through the hard times.
There are so many stories that I have of people that I added on Facebook in high school who are now celebrities and/or influencers. I don’t think it’s random that we’ve all ended up within the same field. A girl that commented on my prom photo that she liked my hair now does Solange’s braids as well as Beyonce’s famous, “Lemonade Braids”. These things might seem small or random but I think it’s God saying that I’m suppose to work within social media.
“…I had to let go of people who I felt like were holding me back because they didn’t see the results of what I was doing…”
I know people may think it’s weird or crazy that influencers get paid to post on Instagram but it’s just another form of marketing and advertising. There was a time when I was struggling with feeling valued because Africans really value being a doctor or a lawyer. There are even some millennials that think this isn’t a real career but a ‘get rich quick’ or a ‘get famous quick’ thing but there’s so much work that goes into blogging and social media. So when God said, ‘this is your calling’ no matter what friction I get, I’m still sticking to it. An influencer I connected with years ago on Facebook once said, ‘…When you’re consistent, you’re bound to get recognition’ and that’s so true. People look at me and want my results and sometimes I look at others who have only been doing this for a year or two and I compare my progress but their success might only last five years while mine might last for decades, who knows? But sometimes things don’t happen as fast as you want it to because God needs to work on some things internally so that you can have more longevity. I look back on all the different things throughout my journey that have helped me with my blog. Before I thought I just had all these different random talents from the gift of public speaking, doing hair, makeup and even editing videos. people knew I was a Jack Of All Trades but what did I really know how to do? But now I understand all these skills work together and have helped me to grow my brand. I’m at a point now where I can see how all of my God given gifts help each other and it’s just easier to do things when you really know what you’re called to do.
“…sometimes things don’t happen as fast as you want it to because God needs to work on some things internally so that you can have more longevity…”