A conversation with Chiara Ferragni: 'I don't need to get everybody's likes, but I need to get everybody's respect'
In a saturated world of social media entrepreneurs and fashion influencers, Chiara Ferragni is number one.
The Milan-native started her fashion blog, 'The Blonde Salad' in 2009 at just 23 years old and has since turned TBS into a full fledged media brand -- along with spearheading her eponymous clothing line, The Chiara Ferragni Collection. 18 million Instagram followers and ten years later, Ferragni has topped the Forbes list more times than we can count as the world's most powerful fashion influencer.
The 33-year-old fashion entrepreneur made headlines last year after her wedding generated a media impact value of $36 million and saw 67 million interactions on social media, proving to have more social influence than Meghan Markle's royal wedding, according to data from Launchmetrics.
Most recently, she teamed up with Amazon Studios to create a documentary about her life titled "Unposted," directed by Elisa Amoruso. The film goes behind the scenes of how Ferragni revolutionized the digital industry and pioneered thousands of females to quite literally follow her footsteps. (Watch it here)
In The Know's Laura Galvan caught up with Ferragni at the Bowery Hotel in Manhattan to talk about the documentary and why she says you have to respect her, even if you don't like her.
You started your blog in 2009 before the influencer industry even existed. Tell me a little bit about what motivated you to create TBS.
There was no such thing as the term 'influencer' at the time. You were either a blogger or a YouTuber. Since I was 16, I always tried to find ways to express myself through my photos. I was always taking a lot of selfies. I would always try to shoot my looks. I've always had this feeling that if I was wearing something and never took photos of that, that it would kind of be wasted. So, I always wanted to have an account of all the looks that I was wearing and even at the time, they were very simple looks but I was proud of them and always wanted to post them.
And then Flickr came, so that kind of became my first blog. Every day I would take photos and post them on Flickr. It would be about everything -- what I was doing with my friends, what I was wearing, where I was traveling to. It really was my visual diary of my life at the time. Then, I started to discover some personal style blogs. I remember one of the first ones was Fashion Toast by Rumi [Neely] who is now a friend of mine. She was living in San Diego and had that California vibe that I love so much. She would take cool photos in supermarkets sitting on the floor looking at magazines. It was a very fashion approach to everyday life and I loved it. I was like, "Oh maybe I should also start my own blog so I have platform where people can come to instead of posting on a bunch of different sites." I made the decision in the summer of 2009 and then in October I started The Blonde Salad.
Was building a company bigger than your blog always the plan?
I never had longterm plans. In the beginning, it was all about making the right decisions to stay relevant. I remember after I got my first job proposal, it was very scary because so many people wanted me to do television. Especially in Italy the first thing that makes you super famous is doing TV, but it was something that I really didn't want to do and I was never interested, so I said a lot of no's.
I was a student at 22-years-old and it was the first time someone was offering me big money and the idea of being super famous right away. It was very appealing but I was very scared. I said no because I wanted to be more international and do something more with fashion. I didn't want to become this trashy character in the fashion world...I had to think longterm. I [thought] I missed the chance of a lifetime but then it turned out to be the best decision. I focused on working with more fashion brands and started to plan a business around it. I built a team around with me with my ex-business partner and hired some of my best friends. It was amazing at the beginning to have people I can trust.
I think most people at 22 would have taken the check which is an example of your authenticity. Remaining authentic has been a huge part of your success story. The documentary showed raw and vulnerable sides to you, in what people would think is a perfect world. Why was it important to showcase those sides of you as well?
I want to showcase that more and more every day. I'm trying to do that more on social media as well. When anything bad happens or anything that makes me feel low, I always try to share it. I feel like on social media, you always get to see the best part of everybody's life and have this idea that everybody else is living a better life than you are. It can be very disturbing for people who watch a lot of other people's life. Just the idea that everyone's having a perfect life. So, I think it is important for someone with such a huge following like me to show the vulnerable side and show that nobody has a perfect life.
I am super happy and couldn't be more proud of my life right now, but at the same time I have moments where I feel sad or I fight with someone or didn't get a job I thought I would get. Those things happen to everybody, so it's important to understand that and we all go through phases in life. I wanted to portray that in the documentary and be as raw as possible and be 100 percent me.
What has been the most challenging part in terms of following your dreams?
The most challenging part was probably at the beginning just really trusting myself against anybody else. After I got my first wave of success, I was getting so many more hater comments than before. I was 22 and a lot of them were coming from people in the fashion industry. I would see them saying bad things in front of me at events and I was this 22-year-old girl that didn't even know what she was doing or why she was invited to these fashion events. I felt like an outsider and they made me feel worse. It was hard at the time to believe in myself and believe that I was doing was valuable. I think sometimes you doubt yourself but then sometimes you embrace yourself and who you are and what you want to do.
You can like or not like my style or what I do but, I'm doing something great. I'm giving jobs to so many other people, I'm building my own empire, so you have to at least respect me. I remember in January 2013, I woke up one morning and was like "f*** everybody." It was like a revelation to me. People can say whatever. They don't all need to like me -- I don't expect that from people at all -- but they have to at least respect me, because what I am doing is powerful and has given so many jobs to other people my age. (I was 24 at the time.) I don't need to get everybody's likes, but I need to get everybody's respect.
[Realizing that] put me in such a different mood and different attitude and I started being more self-confident in everything I was doing.
You literally did pave the way for thousands of other women. What advice do you have for females running their own businesses?
I would say as women we always tend to not look at what we want to do, but we always sacrifice ourselves in situations. Of course, you have to compromise something especially when you are older and want to create a family and stuff, but you never have to compromise too much. I'm in a very positive situation but I worked hard for it and I think people have to understand that you can be a mom, a wife and have a good relationship with your friends and at the same time be a business woman.
It takes a lot of time and a lot of work and there are days where your business is going to be more important and there are days where family is more important. At the end of the day, your family is always more important but there are days you have to compromise your family time and focus more on your business. It's important to tell women that it is possible. If you feel like you don't only want to be a mother but also want to be a business woman and have a job that makes you feel powerful, just go after it because anything is possible.
What's a common misconception a lot of people have about influencers?
It's not only about taking photos of yourself. There is so much work behind that. It is a business. For me, I do so many different things. I have a brand, I consult, I am the face of a lot of brands. There's many different jobs and it's about having a business mind and being creative at the same time. It requires a lot of work and and sacrifice. I have the job of my dreams and would never want to do anything else, but still it's really hard in some ways. It has its up and downs like any other job. If you want to pursue that, do it for sure, but it's not as easy as it looks. Yes, there is an amazing glamorous side which is awesome, but there's also a lot of hard work behind it.
Let's talk about your wedding. You showed a glimpse of it in the documentary. Data has showed that the media impact of your wedding was valued at nearly $40M. Is it overwhelming to think about the influence your wedding had over the Royal Wedding?
I expected it to be powerful but not as powerful as it was. I was receiving so many offers from television broadcasters. They wanted to do a live of the wedding, but I never wanted to do that because I wanted everybody to be able to post whatever they wanted. My husband and I (Chiara is married to Italian pop-star, Fedez) both live on social media. We are who we are because of the internet and social media, so we wanted everyone to use their social media and tell their own side of the story of something so moving and an important stage of their life.
It was the best decision ever because it shows the new media is much more important than the old kind of media. It was amazing and very revolutionary. I didn't think it would have such a big impact. It was the wedding of my dreams and then seeing all of the engagement was even better.
Where do you see the future of fashion heading? How will the influencer evolve with this?
I think big influencers will become more and more business women. All of the influencers that I love following and that am inspired by are the ones that are business women and trying new ventures. Some people have clothing brands, others have makeup brands, some are doing television -- but it just depends, you have to not just focus on only the influencer part. You also have to have your own thing going on and another identity because most influencers who started at my time, if they didn't evolve then they kind of disappeared in a way.
You have to always think, "What's next in my life? What's next in my business? What do I want to do next?" and always try to do something that has never been done before. For me, it was like 'okay, no one else in my field has tried this and I want to try to do that.' When I did my brand, nobody had a brand. When I did [the lecture at Harvard], no one had done that before. And the documentary...so when I think about my future I want to do something that hasn't really been done by any other influencer or digital native. I want to try to make history in my own way in that field and pave the way for others to do as much as I'm doing.
You are only in your early thirties, but what do you want to be remembered by?
That's a tough question. I just want people to think of me and smile and good thoughts come to their mind. I want them to think "she's cool, she's a business woman and she's got the balls. She created something that has never been done before."