Culture 10 April 2017
Influencers have the ability via Instagram, Facebook and YouTube to determine what you buy, where you buy it, and why you should buy it. To make a living from merely influencing, you are deigned to drive consumerism via your page. You are a new medium of advertisement - a gallery of small real-time ads or a video with product placement, and if you're big enough you can become as sought after as prime time ad placements in Times Square.
SWAAY recently visited the historically beautiful Beacon Hill in Boston to talk to a blogging couple about 'micro-influencing,' rewriting the Instagram rules, and how they're on the brink of abandoning their entire life here in the U.S to pursue full-time travel blogging.
Created by Anna Lisa Falzone and her boyfriend Porter Grieve, @recesscity, which began in Ireland and has been based in Boston for the past year, will be packing up and embarking on a journey across the world that will cost its founding team exactly… nothing.
"When you're in a business where you're constantly interacting, and, in some ways, helping to propel the realization of other people's dreams, you've got to stop and think hard about whose dream you want to see fulfilled, and, more importantly, whose you don't."
- Anna Falzone
The account was born out of Falzone's penchants for travel and photography. Having spent a year sailing in the Caribbean, and studying in both Ireland and Switzerland, she had a wealth of experience with which to begin a blog.
In the beginning and to grow her audience, @recesscity - based then in Dublin - would play with fun flat lays, punny captions, and flamboyant editing before becoming the moody minimalist account we know today. Falzone launched her blog at the beginning of her final year in university, and recorded her time abroad. The following grew quickly on both platforms and before long she had a decision to make about the future of the brand and what direction it might take. Having finished her time at Trinity College in Dublin, she would return home to her home town to begin working with brands on her first sponsored content.
What began as an art project - an expression of creativity, quickly developed into a business opportunity, and instead of taking a job after her English Literature degree, Falzone determined she would pursue Instagram and blogging full time.
Unconventional as it might have seemed, she was resolved to prove her content would stand up to the best of those in the lifestyle category, and with the help of her photographically-inclined boyfriend, Porter, it quickly did.
“I wanted to see if the shared love my boyfriend and I have for photography, minimalist style & travel could help us connect with people; positively impact the social media sphere; and simultaneously create the kind of freedom we both felt our lives could never really be our own without."
Having originally cast the potential sponsor net far and wide in the beginning of @recesscity, Falzone and Grieve have now narrowed down the brands they will work with and curated a set list of ethical and environmentally friendly companies that will set the standard for future partners.
It's most certainly the road not taken by many on the Instagram circuit, given the delicate nature of making money through one's photos. Making a living on posts and branded content means influencers, a lot of the time, cannot afford the luxury of choosing who to work with, but the minds behind @recesscity are steadfast in their resolve - ethical, or nothing.
“Encouraging consumerism isn't always rewarding," she says. For Falzone, her partners, which she painstakingly hand picks, are integral to her brand. Among her new favorites is Australian hat company, Will & Bear, which will be featured in the duo's year of travel. The brand was picked in part because for each hat sold, ten trees are planted by the company. Another brand to be featured by @recesscity next year is Soko, an accessory brand that provides fair trade wages and jobs for women in developing third world countries. For their part, Allbirds and Vere Verto are also on the couple's short list, chosen for their ethical manufacturing of goods in home countries.
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"When you wear an item of clothing you're wearing the realization of someone else's dreams. That's a powerful notion, particularly when you become a liaison for promoting that dream."
It's an incredible journey the pair have ahead and nothing short of astounding that it's all paid for. How did they do it? It's simple really. They stuck strictly to their aesthetic; they got creative; and most importantly - they were bold.
It's perhaps a huge benefit to any entering this industry that nothing is written in stone. “Almost every brand I've worked with has had an entirely different set of criteria, found our rates reasonable, laughable, or negotiable, and seemed as though they're saying what they think sounds right, rather than what they know to be true," she says. When they travel, they will stay exclusively in hotels that fit within the aesthetic of their account, and their mission. She is resolute that there will be no compromises in her future when working with brands who aren't aligned with @recesscity's ethical mission. Looking back at the beginning of her branded collaborations, however, Falzone acknowledges she wasn't always true to her mission. “I was losing myself on the slippery slope of sacrificing my blog's identity in the hopes for exposure through brand collaborations I wasn't passionate about," she says. “Even if you're being well compensated, don't work with anyone out of fear that passing up will somehow slam shut that already small window of opportunity to 'make it.' Stick to your guns."
Casting their sights over Europe to begin - @recesscity will be journeying to the isles of Santorini, Mykonos, Crete and Folegandros, and will then venture up along the Italian coast before a brief respite in Croatia's capital - finishing up in a chilly Scandinavia come November.
The jump from home-grown brand - the safety net of the familiar - to an indefinite travel arrangement is not, however, without risks.
"When we took a step back and really thought about what we wanted to be doing, it was still photographing and still incorporating our love for minimalist style, but we wanted to serve a humanitarian purpose, and we wanted travel to take center stage," says Falzone.
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Despite her growing success, Falzone admits there are lingering fears in the "influencer industry." What happens if the audience doesn't grow? What if the brands falter in their support?
These are the constant worries that full-time bloggers experience, especially those in the 'micro-influencer' category who are just getting their footing in this fledgling industry. Furthermore, this is especially difficult for those growing their brand organically, rather than paying for Instagram 'farms' or follow counts. It's numbers that brands are interested in for the most part, so for those growing through the quality of their content, are most challenged in terms of turning a profit.
"What we want is to portray minimalist, ethical fashion as the backdrop for pursuing a lifestyle of consistent, conscientious purpose."
- Anna Falzone
This is, after all, the first generation of the Instagram sensation.
'Micro-influencing,' which typically includes those accounts with between 20K and 70K followers in a specific niche, is a term they use with trepidation. On one hand fun, exciting, and perhaps the most engaging aspect of Instagram currently, but on the other, difficult to navigate without guidance.
“There are no hard and fast rules to this industry," says Falzone. So for now, the pair will write its own rulebook, blindly. There are no 'how-to's' when weaving your way through the blogging stratosphere. Sure, there are strategies, hacks, life-lines, but how do you achieve that pinnacle of success, your ultimate goal ? Nobody really can tell them. Nobody really knows.
Falzone and Grieve tell SWAAY they are prepared for every eventuality or outcome that may emerge from this trip around the world, sink or swim. For now they are focused on finding fulfillment in the potential this trip could have to open consumer's eyes to the ethical fashion industry. The wanderer's lifestyle – with its dually terrifying and exciting elements and the incredible photography it reaps, certainly draws millions of eyes on today's social platforms. If a fraction of those find @recesscity's ethical mindset an asset rather than a drawback, we're certain you'll be seeing more of these twenty-somethings in the months ahead.
"There are no good men out there," yet another woman my age declared. At 50, I was freshly divorced after two decades of marriage and motherhood. My unhappy marriage had shattered my faith in men and romantic relationships. Based on my ex-husband's opinion of my sexual appeal, I was afraid my naked body would cause future lovers to run screaming from the room. Rather gleefully, I announced to my girlfriends that I was done with men, and sex, forever.
For the first year, I got tangled in my sheets alone every night, overjoyed to have the bed and my body to myself. I felt liberated by divorce—free to be me, skip showering, and make dinner for one. But it bothered me when women decried the scarcity of men, because I'd known so many good ones—college boyfriends, my brother, my best friend from business school, etc. The first of many naked truths gradually crept up on me: I was not going to find my juju again through self-help and yoga. The feminist in me didn't want to admit it, but going for too long without men was akin to starvation.
I didn't want another husband. But I needed men, a lot of them.
The universe signaled its approval by sending Mr. Blue Eyes to me at an airport. He was 29 and perhaps the sexiest man I'd ever kissed. Being with him convinced me, pretty decisively, that men were going to heal me, even though men had destroyed me many times before. I became the female incarnation of a divorced, clichéd older man: I bought a sports car, revamped my wardrobe, and took younger lovers. "I want five boyfriends," I told my best friend KC after that first tryst ended. "Sweet, cute, smart, nice. Enough that I won't get too attached to one." My message from the frontlines of divorce at 50 is that to restore your confidence as a woman, especially in the wake of a crushing breakup, try dating outside your comfort zone, expanding your dating pool to include partners you might never have considered before. It may not be the recipe for a lasting union, but in terms of rebuilding your self-esteem, it can work wonders.
The first thing I noticed—and liked—about dating younger men is that they didn't want to marry me or make babies with me. And I didn't want that either. Frankly, I didn't even want them to spend the night. Since I'd been 11, I'd been taught to seek out and value men who wanted commitment. To my surprise, I found it refreshing, even more authentic, to be valued not for my potential as a mate, but instead for my body, intelligence, life-experience and sexuality.
And the sex! I quickly realized that—warning, blanket stereotype coming—men under 40 are more straightforward and adventurous than older men, maybe since they were raised with the Internet. You hear so often about the scourge of crude, sexist online pornography; and I agree that the depersonalization of women as sexual playthings is deeply destructive to all genders. However, from sexting to foreplay, I found younger men uniquely enthusiastic about getting naked and enjoying sex. Every younger man found my most erotic zones faster than any man my age ever had, with a lack of hesitation men over 50 seemed unable to fathom.
Also, about my big fear of getting naked in front of a younger man? Completely unfounded. I started to shake when Airport Boy took off my sundress in our hotel room. Had he ever seen a woman my age nude? How could I stand to be skin-to-skin with a body far more perfect than mine? I had given birth to eight-pound, full-fucking-term babies. I'd nursed them, too, and at times by breasts looked (from my view at least) like wet paper towels. "You have a spectacular body," he told me instead, running his hand over the cellulite on my stomach that I despised. That night I learned that younger men who seek older women accept our physical flaws—they don't expect perfection in someone 20 years their senior. These men taught me to see my body through a positive, decidedly male lens, to focus on the pretty parts (and we all have them) rather than the flaws that we all have too, whether you're 19, 29 or 59.
I even found the pillow talk lighter, easier and more intellectually stimulating, because a younger man's world view differs so vastly from the pressures of my 20-something kids, annual colonoscopies, 401K balance and mortgage payments. They have simple financial problems, like "Can I borrow a few quarters for the parking meter outside?" or "Do you have any advice on consolidating my student loans?"
Everything feels simpler with younger men. Men under 40 seem less threatened by assertive women; they grew up with them. They like cheap beer instead of expensive wine. They don't snore (as much). Leftovers a 55-year-old would scoff at look good to them. Their erections NEVER last more than four hours. Their hard-ons end the old-fashioned way and 45 minutes later they are ready for more.
But what I enjoy most about younger men is not the sex, or the cliché that they make me feel young again—because they don't. Younger men make me feel old, and to my delight, I like that. I feel valuable around younger men, precisely because I am wiser and more experienced in life, love and between the sheets.
I know I'll never end up with one for good. The naked truth is we don't have enough in common to last. One recently put it exactly right when he told me, "I love this, but there's always gonna be a glass ceiling between us." That lack of permanence, the improbability of commitment and "forever," doesn't mean I can't pick up a tip or two about self-esteem, and enjoy the magic of human connection with younger men. And vice versa. The experience can enrich us both, making us better partners for people our own ages down the road.
*My viewpoint is from the perspective of a heterosexual woman, because I am one. But change the gender identification and/or sexual orientation to whatever works for you and let me know if the same advice holds true. Thank you.