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.
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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.
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.
Universally loved, and, (especially at this time of year) drunk merrily and in excess, wine is the answer to much if not all our prayers, on a regular basis.
The wine industry also happens to be home to some major female leaders, and it's become apparent, that the barriers to entry women face in almost every other industry don't apply here, as long as you've the work ethic and brains behind your operation.
"This is a people's business," says Delia Vader, CEO of Viader Wines, who's vehement about the gender neutrality of the wine industry, and hopeful for it's future, (even with the hefty factors of global warming, and recent wildfires, contending with the grape-producing vines).
Naturally, we were all too excited to sit down with five leaders in the industry working throughout the globe, that are innovating and shaping the future vintages from California to Italy and beyond. Below are five such women, ranging from vineyard to store owners, and one woman who's completely shifting the way we think about wine consumption.
Francesca Planeta, Wine Director, Planeta Wines
Francesca Planeta has been a rising star on the Sicilian wine scene for the last few years. Planeta is devoted not only to promoting her own vineyard, but promoting all the wines of Italy's largest island, which is most famous for the wonderful, Nero D'Avola.
Sicily's wine scene veritably boomed around Planeta as she was growing up. So when she finally began working on the Planeta Wines vineyard in her early twenties, she quickly learned the nuances of the land and the grapes she would ultimately come to produce. “I had begun to help out at the winery, using a graphics studio to create the logo and the first labels, and then I returned to Sicily, during the time of that first harvest. (This) was the moment when I decided that I would take on the challenge of working with the business that bore our family name."
Given that the business was family owned, Planeta did not encounter any barriers to entry because of her gender, but instead made sure that women are integral to the process on the vineyard. “Women have a fundamental role in our business," says the winemaker. “They are entrusted with many responsible positions; from wine making to directing exports and from the hotels to the entire marketing and communications office."
A worrying factor for both Planeta and the women at the vineyard however is global warming, something which has plagued wineries across the globe in recent years. Given that the taste and production of wine depends heavily on its “terroir" (or, surroundings), changes in environment are immediately a factor for anyone in the industry to consider when its coming to harvest season. “It generally seems to us that global warming presents not only a problem of warming in itself," she comments. “But in extremes of weather phenomena, with heavier rainfall – when it occurs, and rather longer periods of drought. (However), living and working in the centre of the Mediterranean gives us better conditions and the last twenty years have shown greater climatic stability."
Selling upwards of 2.3M bottles of wine a year, her chief markets (apart from Italy), are the United States, Germany, England, and Russia, followed by Canada, Switzerland and Japan. And she recommends that for the chillier months, if you're drinking a Sicilian wine, to go for Merlot, Syrah, or Burdese.
Delia Viader, CEO, Viader Wines
Argentinian-born Delia Viader was in the midst of an M.I.T degree, with three children at home, when an opportunity arose to purchase a vineyard in Napa Valley. “The timing was perfect for relocating my very young family," she says, who quickly got to grips with their new surroundings as their mother began constructing a powerhouse wine team to launch Viader Wines.
It hasn't always been easy for Viader and her team however. Before the financial crash of 2008, Viader was sold in every state throughout the U.S, and exported to 24 countries abroad. Since the crash, and an arsonist fire at a warehouse of theirs containing the entire 2003 vintage, they've changed their business model drastically. Now, they sell 90 percent of their collections direct-to-consumer, with the remaining 10 percent sent abroad or to the bigger markets of New York, California and Texas.
She has also become naturally concerned by the Californian wildfires of late, and their threat to both the vines, and the warehouses where the barrels are kept. “The biggest impact on our vineyard has been the change of weather pattern we have been experiencing for the past 35 years that we can speak of," says the CEO. “We are learning a lot about how resilient affected vines can be, and how wine made from those grapes needs to be processed to perhaps reshape stylistic performance of the resulting wine. The winegrowers as an industry will be learning a lot from this."
Learning and innovating are at the core of Viader's vineyards, where her son, Alan is championing new ways to irrigate their 92-acres of land, and fine tuning an understanding of “the exact optimal time to harvest at each vines' peak ripeness." And while she may be the CEO, she heavily depends on him for his expertise and blending capabilities. “I am the owner and CEO but I call myself the wine mother because I am the mother of the vines (I had them planted myself, my way); the mother of the wine (I 'created' our Cabernet-based wine to be highly influenced by the terroir with a high dose of Cab franc and remain, highly influential at the final assemblage-blend); and I am the mother of the winemaker, my son Alan Viader."
What is Viader most likely to be drinking at this moment? “I am very susceptible to a vibrant Pinot Noir from Burgundy most times," she says. “But my choice really depends on two variables: the food I am going to have and the company, the people I am going to share that bottle of wine with. I love harmony in the wine, the food pairing and the conviviality that springs from sharing a great wine."
Julia Jackson, Propietor, Jackson Family Wines
As one of the largest family-run wine groups in the U.S, The Jackson Family has garnered quite a name for itself. Leading the way within the group is Julia Jackson, daughter of mother Barbara Banke and Jess Jackson who built the group up from the ground, which is now worth an estimated $2.3 billion.
Today, their portfolio boasts wines from 52 wineries throughout the world, and integral to that is building relationships from within and amalgamating abroad. For Jackson, that means working in almost every facet of the business in order to cover all the projects she wishes to pursue. “I wear a few hats in my family business," she comments. “I'm spearheading my first acquisition project in another country, (and) I work with our international sales team to be one of the faces for Jackson Family Wines." On top of this, she's also involved with the group's environmental and philanthropic efforts, which, given the wildfire situation in California, will be work much needed in the years to come. “All my philanthropic efforts are focused around our environment and I created a charitable program that gives grants to women within the eco-space through our Santa Maria based winery Cambria."
Jackson's favorite wine at this time of the year? Gran Moraine from Willamette Valley Oregon.
Hortense Bernard, General Manager, Millesima Wines
Hortense Bernard was working with global industry leaders Moet Hennessy Diageo in Paris as a brand manager before she made her big move to the U.S. Now, she stands as one of the youngest female General Managers in the world of a large international firm, atop the Millesima USA group.
Millesima, a leading retailer in Europe, who branched into he U.S in 2006, owns upwards of 2.5M bottles of fine wine that are housed in the company's cellars in Bordeaux, France, (which is also the largest AOC vineyard in the country).
Bernard, who had her first glass of wine at eight years old, works primarily with direct-to-consumer retail and educating the U.S market about Bordeaux wines from their shop on the Upper East Side here in New York. "My goal is to educate as much as I can," she says. "In store, we speak about Bordeaux, and try to explain (because Bordeaux wine can be really complex), the wine."
"When I arrived here, I didn't know anything about American consumption," she laughs. "So it took me quite a bit to learn about it and understand how Americans see wines, and what they mean when the ask for a Chardonnay."
On top of chatting with customers, Bernard plays host to a lot of cultural events throughout the city, accompanying her wines whenever there might be a chance to express the history and significance of the wine for both France, and the industry at large.
So naturally, when asked what she'll be drinking on the celebratory occasions of December, it will be a big full-bodied Bordeaux " because that always takes me back (home)."
Marian Leitner, Founder, Archer Roose
Once it dawned on Marian Leitner that Millennials were drinking more wine than beer, she saw an opportunity to modernise the way we purchase, consume and enjoy wine.
"In the U.S, you actually pay more for the shipping and the packaging than you do for the wine itself," says Leitner. "So I started to ask why and learn more about the alternative packaging market."
Branching away from bottles, Leitner looked to packaging wine in every way beer is packaged - from cans and kegs, and then also, in boxes.
"You have to separate consumers into two buckets - the super high-end collectors, who make up less than 1 percent of the population, and then you have people who are drinking, "value" wines. And then the rest of America are basically beer drinkers."
Upon the realization that Millennial wine drinkers are more than beer drinkers, she also came to understand that they're also very brand-loyal. Brands that represent qualities and values they share, are the ones they're consuming the most. "So we decided to leverage the alternative packaging movement (which is keg, can and box), to cut through all the noise of the bottles in the wine store, and really connect with consumers." In doing so, she launched the company, Archer Roose Wines.
This move means, that apart from the ultra-hip way the wine is presented, you're also economizing. One box of Archer Roose wine contains the equivalent of 4 regular bottles. And inevitably, the kegs contain a huge volume.
Wine kegger, anyone?