What Will Being An Influencer Mean In 2021 And Beyond?

We set out to explore what's next for the world of fashion influencing and those who inhabit it.

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The moniker "influencer" is not one that comes without controversies. A quick Google search of the term, which hit mainstream consciousness in 2015, will pull up long-form thinkpieces, teardowns, and financial statements of these individuals who have leveraged their social media following into a business and identity. For many, influencers are often a subject of equal parts fascination and disdain, but in the fashion world, they've been a staple since long before influencing cemented itself on our cultural map.

The birth of fashion influencers came at the heels of reality stardom and, of course, the creation of blogging platforms and social media powerhouses such as Instagram and Twitter. But long gone are the days of extremely stylized editorial shots to accompany a WordPress blog; instead, fashion influencers today have optimized multiple social platforms, launched their own brands, and given exposure to new trends and designers.

"Anyone and everyone can become a fashion influencer, which is what makes it all the more difficult to truly exceed at."

If engagement is currency, then visibility is the engine that keeps the modern-day influencer afloat. But as cultural peaks have taught us, what is relevant one year is easily a relic in the next. NYLON set out to explore what's next for the world of fashion influencing and those who inhabit it. We talked to a range of experts on how the events of 2020 — a global health pandemic and a racial civil uprising — will shape the next generation of fashion influencers to come.


Fashion publicist, consultant, and co-founder of Black in Fashion Council

On influencing more than fashion:

"There's more space to influence people in conversations that are not specific to their day-to-day jobs, and influencers are definitely using their voice to leverage these conversations outside of just what to buy, what show to sit at, and what products are featured on their Instagram. They're using their platform to promote voting. They're using their platform to talk about eating clean. It's not just the one lane that it used to be. I like that influencers are using their voice more than ever and being consistent about what they're speaking about is really important to me. The fashion industry is changing, so there's going to be a lot more external influences that are going to be included in the conversation. I don't think it’s going to be exclusive for fashion moving forward."


Internet culture reporter for The New York Times

On the shift to video content:

"I wrote a piece last year called 'The Instagram Aesthetic Is Over'; it was just about how this hyper-curated, glamorous look on Instagram was really feeling out of touch to a lot of Gen-Z consumers. I think this whole pandemic has accelerated that; people still want aspirational content from fashionable people, but they want it to be more authentic. The fashion world is in a bit of a reckoning — as the old influencers lose relevance, these new influencers are coming up that are more of the moment. They're more accessible, they seem less precious about things, and they post in a more low-key or fluid style. If you look into the platforms that younger people use, they're more video-heavy. A lot of millennials built their careers on really beautiful photos that replicated this street style paparazzi look, and now people are creating these fashion videos in the style of fancams."


Fashion & Beauty Content Partnerships Lead at TikTok

On TikTok's role for fashion influencers:

"'Refreshing' would be the right word to describe the new wave of homegrown fashion TikTok creators. Our community embraces authenticity and are shifting away from highly stylized and staged photos to more authentic and enjoyable video content. What sets TikTok apart is the freedom to embrace Gen Z's quirkiness and their heightened creativity in fashion, whether it's about a self-made runway show, disproving fashion myths, or an amazing DIY project showcase. The fashion brands we see having the most success are those that embrace the creativity and authenticity in-app, as well as those that are giving creators the trust and freedom to create content their own way for their community."


Publicist at align PR (Clients include: Charli and Dixie D'Amelio)

On original and relatable content:

"If an influencer is able to create their own content (without a production crew), that's impressive and unique. There's an incredible amount of value in that. It’s this new wave of creators that are standing out, a lot of them being Gen Z, because they're willing to show the raw and real. It's no hair and makeup, no filter, no staging in the background. They make their content with their bed completely a mess and laundry all over the room and it becomes so much more relatable. [In the past], we've seen influencers and creators copying each other and running out of original content. So to see something different, to see something created differently that stands out, that's where you'll find the most attention directed."


Fashion commentator and YouTuber

On the necessity of understanding fashion:

"Having an understanding of the fashion industry, a genuine care for it, and being able to reference [a brand history] is the way to become 'the next "it" influencer.' Right now, there are 30 influencers on Instagram posting about the same Dior bag at the same time. Those are the status quo people. The cultural cache that the [influencer] industry relies on doesn't, to me, come from an actual love of the accessories, or the clothing, or the perfume, or the makeup. It comes from the imaginative fantasy world that we [associate] with a brand. But if you're actually able to discuss what a Dior shirt means and how it's a reference back to Christian Dior, you're adding a cultural weight. I think brands are now being a lot more receptive to the idea of influencers like me and other people who aren't just the cookie-cutter blogger taking the pictures with the new Dior bag."


Co-founder of 2BG, style director of BET

On whether influencers can truly get 'canceled':

"The reason influencers have any power at all is because they have a following. And if people continue to keep watching — keep following — they're going to retain their power. People love drama and messiness; it's almost like a double-edged sword that gives it more notoriety when someone messes up, and then they get called out by these accounts because everyone rushes to their Instagram Stories and their comments to see what's going on. And so it keeps them in business. When have we ever seen an influencer truly get canceled? That doesn't happen. [Callout] accounts mobilize these internet mobs to attack for a couple days and then they just kind of move on to the next thing."


Co-founder of 2BG, editor-turned-influencer

On unfollowing the influencer fantasy:

"Influencers sell the fantasy of the 'American dream' because society is rooted in capitalism. People who have things that you don't are seen as admirable. And that's just the way that it goes. But the more I look at luxury fashion and the way they operate, the less interesting it becomes to me, because so much of what draws us to luxury brands is the message that extends to others about our status. Oh, I can afford this and I'm worthy because I have a Prada bag, or I have this. And it's a way to seek validation from others and I don't want that kind of validation. I don't want you to think I'm worthy because I have these designer clothes. I want you to think I'm worthy because of who I am as a person."


HF Twitter Met Gala co-creator

On HF Twitter and new influencers:

"In a lot of ways, I think the [HF Twitter] community is starting to become disillusioned with the entire concept of an 'influencer.' It's starting to become obvious that the concept of 'celebrity' is inherently flawed; this was especially evident during the recent BLM protests. A lot of us were incredibly disappointed with the actions — and frequently, non-actions — of the people we had been following. As a fashion enthusiast, I think the best thing is to unfollow the influencers and start following the creatives of the industry, meaning the fashion writers, designers, editors, directors, stylists, etc. who make it all happen. When we engage with the people who are the real cogs of the fashion machine, it makes us feel more connected with the industry."


CEO and founder of Obviously

On the expansion of being a fashion influencer:

"Five years ago, a fashion influencer was the really attractive girl who could be a model; it was basically a photoshoot in Vogue, but on Instagram. But now, it's all about what fashion is to you, whether that's a focus on sustainability, DIY, or thrifting. For example, With Wendy is a DIY influencer and she made a really cool fake Prada bag out of dish sponges. They're deconstructing the idea of fashion and really making it personal to them. That's the interesting stuff — that's the thing your friends are going to share with their friends.There is definitely the stereotype of the Hot L.A. Girl who is posing against the Pink Wall, but the reality is there are just so many different types of people who love fashion and care about fashion. And the fashion world is recognizing them and seeing there's actually a lot of space for diverse voices, diverse perspectives, and diverse aesthetics and looks."

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