Why Alexis Ren is rethinking what it means to be an influencer

Alexis Ren
Alexis Ren

Tune into We Should Talk every Thursday, where In The Know’s Gibson Johns interviews celebrities and influencers and shares his thoughts on big cultural moments. Subscribe to We Should Talk here.

It’s hard to believe that Alexis Ren is already a decade into her career but, at the age of 23, the multi-hyphenate star continues to come into her own ten years after being discovered behind a Brandy Melville store.

Ren, who is perhaps best known for being Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s 2018 Rookie of the Year and a successful run on “Dancing With the Stars,” has never been one to remain stagnant, though, and her most recent career pivot proves as much. For the latest episode of In The Know’s “We Should Talk,” the model tells Gibson Johns about her latest venture, Future Prosperity, a new retailer platform that aims to end our addiction to plastic.

While the business, which was born out of a wild chance encounter with a neighbor during the pandemic, may seem like a curveball for many casual observers of the star, for Ren, it’s an opportunity for her to make sure that, as someone who is often labeled an influencer, she can influence her millions of followers in a positive way. The revelation was born out of her asking herself the question, what even is influence?

“I was kind of just like, ‘Our environment should be protected.’ I started reading a lot about two years ago, and I just started to ask the question, what does influence actually mean? Why does it matter if it’s not going to leave something behind that can better the world?” Ren told In The Know. “That’s my perception of what influence is: Leaving a path and a legacy, whatever it is. I strapped on my backpack and went up that hike and, for me — and this is just my perspective — there are a lot of things going on in the world, as we know, but if we don’t have fresh air to breathe and food to eat, we can’t argue about these other semantics. That’s a priority for me.”

Listen to our full interview with Alexis Ren for the latest episode of “We Should Talk” below, and keep scrolling for more highlights from what she told In The Know:

Alexis Ren on not being taken seriously as an influencer: “When social media came along, I was so wrapped up in that old path [of modeling] that I was taken off guard. It scared me, because suddenly I was pigeonholed really quickly, and it did help so much, but it also held me back. When I first came up, I think it was Forbes that called me an influencer, and I was like, ‘What is that? What is an influencer?’ From there, I felt outcast in the modeling industry because people didn’t know what to think of me. […] Everyone wanted to take advantage of whatever was circling me, but then no one respected it. I definitely felt sad. I didn’t feel like I had the place in the industry that I wanted to be in, but it was actually so beneficial because that’s when I realized that it was like, ‘We want people with a voice, we want actual influence, we want these girls in the modeling industry to speak up.'”

Alexis Ren on the impact of her mother’s death on her: “When the fame hit, I already had a good sense of self. I was like, ‘It’s fine, I can handle this.’ And then my mom died. That’s when my seventeen year old self retracted back in. That’s when I started deeply looking for outside sources to validate me. I was only seeing myself as the avatar online. I couldn’t look at myself as a human being, as a whole person with essence. It was scary. I was constantly looking for mother’s acceptance everywhere. I was like the little duck in every scenario. […] It led to bullying getting the best of my online, definitely, [and] it led to a really intense eating disorder that I talked publicly about.”

Alexis Ren on the Sports Illustrated and Dancing With the Stars labels following her over the years: “They don’t necessarily haunt me. It’s just more like, ‘Yes, and all of this!’ It’s also the story, right? I always find that the story of why I go do this or go into acting or started modeling, that’s truly the essence of it. For me, in Sports Illustrated and getting attached to that title, I love that. I thought when I was younger that Sports Illustrated was it. And then I wanted to dig deep into what that meant on the intellectual side […] Once I got Sports Illustrated, in my head I was like, ‘K, I did it, and I just want to move onto something else. How can I transfer to the next level?’ And then what would happen is that my audience wasn’t ready for that to happen.”

Alexis Ren on entering the oftentimes exclusive sustainability industry when she co-founded Future Prosperity: “The space isn’t that inviting. When I started looking into the sustainability space, I didn’t know where to go first. I was scared to speak up. It’s small, exclusive and it didn’t feel welcome. This needs to be fun, and we need to make it funny and real and have real conversations with people who aren’t in the sustainability space who want to come into the space, but are so scared to get shamed. Even I got shamed. I’m like, ‘We have to do better!'”

Watch our full interview for “We Should Talk” with Alexis Ren below:

Subscribe to “We Should Talk” here, and find out more about Alexis Ren’s new venture, Future Prosperity, here.

If you enjoyed this article, check out In The Know’s recent interview with fellow influencer Emma Chamberlain.

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