Sitting cross-legged on the floor of her spare bedroom, Bridgette Kelleher seamlessly swipes through her iPhone. The chaotic stack of large plastic containers surrounding her near resembles skyscrapers. She is swallowed in a sea of Moroccan print bathers and Australia post satchels.
“I posted this yesterday and I’ve already got 20 orders for it,” Kelleher says as she thrusts her phone forward. An image of a plump, peach like bottom wrapped in a bright pair of bikinis appears on her screen.
This wouldn’t be the usual image that springs to mind when imagining what a highly successful swim brand’s HQ looks like. Some would expect a buzzing, concrete studio with heel-clad interns, or maybe that’s a little too Devil Wears Prada? Either way, it’s not the picturesque office we’re all thinking of. But for this generation of brands, it doesn’t matter. No, I’m not talking about Gen Y; I’m talking about Gen I. Generation Instagram.
We all use it, we all love it and we all hate it. The addictive little scroll through our friends photos; selfies, sunsets, breakfast bowls, workout regimes, you name it and it’s been posted. At first glance it’s simply a narcissists dream, validation for those who want it. But too many times have we seen long illuminated legs, perfect lean arms and glowing skin covered (barely) by a black dress, or painted red lips surrounding a perfect white smile. Too many times have we gone out and bought the black dress and the red lipstick (even the teeth whitener) after we saw it.
Here’s where designer and owner of Amore & Sorvete Swimwear, Bridgette Kelleher, comes in.
“When I first launched Amore & Sorvete most of my sales came from wholesaling to stores. I had agents in 3 states in Australia that would set me up with stores and then they were taking a cut from that. Online was only going so-so at that stage,” she coos.
“I caught on to Instagram and sent out bikinis to girls with a heap of followers, then the online sales started to boom and I dropped my agents pretty quickly.”
In May of 2014, Kelleher received an email from one Jessie James-Decker, suggesting they team up to do a collaborated swim line. Apparently, Decker had purchased a pair of Amore & Sorvete’s swim a couple of years earlier and fell in love with the brands girly prints and cheeky cut bottoms. Although the name didn’t set off any alarms to Perth born Kelleher, to many of America’s country music fans it would have set of alarms, 2.4 million alarms to be precise.
“After I got the email I went onto her Instagram and saw she had over 2 million followers and thought, this is going to be big”.
She was right. After releasing their line earlier this year Amore and Sorvete sold over 1,500 pairs on pre-sale alone, they did $80,000 in sales in their first 8 hours and almost $500,000 in sales revenue within 5 months. All this was possible simply through Instagram promotion, no write-ups, no marketing, no billboards or magazine ads. The photos of sun kissed blondes lying by lavish pools in their bikinis on both Jessie and Amore and Sorvete’s Instagram page were advertisement enough.
On the other end of the spectrum it’s not just brands cashing in. Models; It’s a hard word to define now days. Originally they were the girls in the magazines, in the hair ad on TV and on the runway in New York. Now everyone is having a turn. Tash Oakley, Devin Brugman, Sahara Ray and Mimi Lashiry. All became household names simply by (having a great body) and posting about it. Now they’re living cost free. Imagine; flights: free, hotel: free, outfit: free, food: free, and on top, paid to do post about it.
Aussie sweetheart Tahnee Atkinson can vouch for this, she won Australia’s Next Top Model in 2009, so one would assume that’s enough model credit. She’s sitting at a juice bar in Bondi. Her hair pulled back in a low pony, an oversize jumper, leopard pattern running shorts, their brands recognisable, and a Givenchy shoulder bag sitting by her feet. Her iPhone placed within close range and her hand almost instinctively buzzing over it. She’s been seated for about 20 minutes and already interrupted at least five times by wanderers who seem to know her. On a couple of occasions, it was awkward. “I’m so bad at remembering names,” she says in her defence.
Since winning the title of Australia’s Next Top Model, Atkinson has worked on campaigns with brands such as David Jones, Myer, The Upside and Bra’s n things. Although she stresses she has no interest in being ‘insta famous’, with a following of 90,000 people it’s hard to see how she doesn’t cave.
“Instagram isn’t really that important to me, but sometimes it’s good to get a little extra pocket money from posts…and free clothes of course,” she giggles. Claiming on average $1,000 from brands to upload a picture wearing their product, she’s probably got a fair few yellow notes rattling around in her pocket.
“It hasn’t really affected my work all that much but I know the industry is changing because of it. My good friend Jordan [Barrett] is a model and there have been times when another model got a campaign purely because he had more followers than Jordan. I suppose there’s just a little bit more competition out there and a bit more pressure to promote yourself”.
It seems the fashion industry has seen a big change since the Instagram buzz set off. Socialites and Instagram queens now have a strong presence in the competitive modelling world. Kendall Jenner walked for Chanel and more recently Gigi Hadid earned her wings for the upcoming 2015 Victoria’s Secret show. While some are embracing the idea, many claim it’s unfair. Who are these girls and what happened to icons like Moss, Banks, Campbell and Schieffer?
Almost a month ago now, Hadid, known for her busty body, posted a letter fighting back at criticism for her easy slide into the modelling industry.
“I’m a hard worker that’s confident in myself, one that came at a time where the fashion industry was ready for a change. I’m just doing my job. I represent a body image that wasn’t accepted in high fashion before, and I’m very lucky to be supported by the designers, stylists, and editors that I am,” Hadid wrote in her post.
In recent days, it was Essena O’Neill that drew our attention to the negative effects of social media. The 18-year-old Instagram ‘celebrity’ with half a million followers ‘quit’ social media, deleting almost 2,000 photos and editing captions on the few left, describing the lengths she went to for the perfect photo; taking over 100 photos, not eating one, editing and filtering.
“I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life behind addicted to social media, social approval, social status, and my physical appearance. [Social media] is contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes and validation, in views success in followers. Its perfectly orchestrated self-absorbed judgement.” O’Neill wrote in her post on October 27.
Within hours, the world was praising O’Neill. But even this move sparked backlash, with close friends calling her out claiming it’s just a publicity stunt to promote herself even further. When does it end?
Who’s to blame in all this? It’s a hard pill to swallow. Are we the innocent followers succumbed to constant endorsement, or are we the evil critics holding ‘likes’ over young girls with self-esteem issues? Are brands simply taking advantage of a platform that’s transformed businesses, or are they carefully constructing every image we see in order to make profits? It’s all a bit confusing. In the words of The Kinks, “it’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world” and it seems Instagram has mixed, muddled, shaken and torn through the fashion industry.
Originally published here