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.
Photo Credit: afewgoodclicks.com
In 2016, Renee Wang sold her home in Bejing for $500,000 to fund her company, CastBox. Two months later, she landed her first investment. Just a half hour after hearing her pitch, she was offered one million dollars. By mid-2017, CastBox raised a total of $16 million in funding. CastBox's user numbers at that point? Seven million. Fast forward to today. Renee Wang of CastBox announces a $13.5 million Series B round of financing, bringing her funding total to a tidy $29 million. CastBox is now serving more than 15 million users.