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Sydney Carlson On Social Media, Style, And How Miley Cyrus Changed Her Life

The success of Carlson's Wildflower Cases involves a chance run-in at a restaurant bathroom

by Livia Lange

Sydney Carlson is undeniably cool. From her colorfully curated Instagram feed to her YouTube videos that make you feel like you're part of the party, she's made herself a must-follow. She's also funny as hell—a total breath of fresh air—which I learned when I sat down with the 22-year-old influencer and co-founder of the Instagram-famous Wildflower Cases to discuss all things life in the world of social media and how a bathroom run-in with Miley Cyrus changed everything.

What inspired you and your sister Devon to create Wildflower Cases?

I was in high school, and I really wanted a phone case for my birthday, but I couldn't find any that I really loved. And my mom was super creative... So, she came up with the idea to make her own phone case for me. She bought a clear one and put fabric in it and gave it to me—all my friends were freaking out—everyone just, like, loved it. Because there was nothing like that, yet.

We went to dinner one night, and my sister [Devon] and I got up to go to the bathroom, and Miley Cyrus walked out of the stall. My sister had been, like, obsessed with Miley, like, her whole life. So, she asked for a photo in the bathroom, and I took it, and I had the phone case on my phone and Miley was like, "Where did you get that? That's the coolest thing I've ever seen."

We told her our mom made it, and she asked if our mom was here, she wanted to meet her. So we went back to our table, with Miley behind us. Miley came back to our table and basically was just like, "I haven't seen anything like that. Do you have a business? You need to start one if you don't have one, this is so cool. I would love more cases."

My dad has a background in graphic design and marketing, so he told Miley we'll have a website by tonight. And we gave her all the cases we had off our phones; we were just like, "Take them! They're yours." My dad stayed up that night and made a website. On our way home from dinner, we got a notification that Miley tweeted a photo of the phone case. We didn't ask her to do anything. She just like tweeted it, posted it, and was like, "Thank you so much—I love this case." And everyone asked where it's from, and we just started replying the next day with the website. It just, like, happened out of nowhere. We were getting orders without any inventory, because no one knew we were gonna have a business. That was six years ago.

How did you come up with the name?

My mom came up with it. I remember I was sitting in math class or something the next day and my mom was texting me all these different names and I was like, "I don't know, I'm in class." And she just said "Wildflower," and we were all like, Yeah, that's perfect.

How do you think that social media is changing the game for companies like Wildflower?

I mean, it gave us a business. That story happened because [Miley] tweeted a photo of the cases. On the internet, on social media, that's how people found out about it. That's how everything is blowing up now. Now, whenever friends or anyone asks me business advice, I'm like, "Instagram, social media—that's your push now."

You've really created a community for your fans through your cases. Their ability to connect with you through something as simple as a mirror selfie is so special. How do you feel about having such a dedicated customer base?

It's crazy. I feel like, sometimes, I don't realize it still, because everyone I see photos of cases with is like a friend. Girls will send me photos, and I don't even think of it as a random person. I'm connected to all these people. Even when I see people on the streets and [they] have cases, it's like a cult. It's become, "Oh, you have a Wildflower case?" Everyone becomes friends because of it, and it's just a community.

You've done quite a few collaborations with other influencers, what inspires you to create a phone case with someone?

Mainly all of the collaborations we've done have been with a friend of ours that just happens to be a YouTuber. A lot of my friends now, I've met through social media, through Instagram. That's who I think of first to do a case with—one of my friends who happens to be a YouTuber, Instagram, whatever. It's just, like, super-easy and fun to work with my friends.

How involved are they in the process of creating the case?

They send over all their inspo, what they want it to look like, how they want it to be. And we mock up different things and send it back. Everyone's so involved in the process because you want it to feel like it's their own creation that you're putting out.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Honestly everywhere. When my sister and I really sit down to design cases, she'll show me her inspo, and it will be, like, a photo she took of some girl on the street wearing a pattern she liked. Or, like, in a grocery store. Just random things that you see around in day-to-day life. And friends, just surrounding yourself with cool people and living in L.A. and even traveling so much, I'm just always seeing and being inspired by different stuff.

How does your style influence the designs of the cases?

I feel like Devon and I are very different. Like, I wore a dress yesterday and posted a photo, and all the comments were like, "You look like Devon here, oh my god is this Devon?" Because I was, like, in a dress. We're very opposite in that sense. I'm always in sneakers and jeans and big hoops, and she's like, dresses and heels. But that's why it's perfect—because we're never thinking of the same ideas.

What do you like most about sharing your life online? Are there downsides?

There's definitely both. I feel like I've gotten more benefits lately being more open on social media, which also is harder to do. I've made such a strong community, in a way, of girls that I'll talk to every day that don't even seem like fans. I just feel connected to people online. It's definitely hard sharing so much of your life on the internet. Like when you go through something, everyone wants to know every detail or they feel like they get to know because they feel so involved in your life. I feel like I still live a life outside of social media, but I'm also more open than others. Now that I've been doing it for so long, I know how to manage and deal with it now.

You recently posted about your journey in the past year, what inspired you to be so open about that? What is your advice for people struggling with similar things?

I think what made me do it was finally getting to a good place, overall. You know on Snapchat, how it shows you "one year ago" what you posted? That's what made me do it. I was on Snapchat looking, and it was a video of myself a year ago, and I was like, Holy shit. I didn't even realize what was happening. Then I looked at myself and was like, Oh my god. I just started typing something for myself, and I was like, I'm actually gonna post this. I kept it in my notes for days before doing it because I was just, I don't know, I was scared to do it. I've never been that vulnerable on Instagram, and people take it so seriously sometimes that I was like, I just want to be real and not feel like I have to be someone I'm not on Instagram. I did it, and ever since then, the response was overwhelming. Every day I still get messages about it. People message me with their struggles, things they've gone through—you have no idea how similar experiences other people are having. I got texts from friends being like, "Oh my god." It was just crazy. But when you actually put yourself in that position, that's when you receive stuff that you would have never even gotten close to if you didn't make yourself so vulnerable. So it's just getting to that point of doing it, but I'm so glad I did, because now I feel even more connected to people online. It doesn't feel as fake to me, and I'm not as scared of Instagram anymore. Posting a perfect picture, looking perfect—I don't feel pressure as much on Instagram now.

Your Tumblr account has become a place for your fans to really connect with you over their struggles. You've clearly helped so many people to keep going, what made you want to create that space?

I've had my Tumblr for years, secretly. I never really posted about it, it was always just if people found it and messaged me I would talk to them, but it was never a public thing. I've been talking to people on there for years about struggles or mental things and life, stuff aside from social media—just like real stuff. When I posted that, I was like, well, I'm gonna use this now as an outlet to really talk to people. People can go on there anonymously, you don't have to show your name so it could be anyone messaging me. The messages I've gotten on there are paragraphs of people being like, "You've saved my life," "I've gotten out of the worst places because of you"—shit that I don't even realize is happening. I go on there every day, and it's always new messages. I wish I could meet those people in real life, but so many of them are anonymous. I love it, it keeps me sane in a way. It keeps me grounded.