This article is all business but a little personal and certainly overdue. We’ve all heard of all the awful things said about influencers. We are entitled, we are vapid, obnoxious and narcissistic. While all that all might be true, there is another side to this picture and that’s what we are going to discuss today. I’ve been itching to write this article for at least 6 months but kept talking myself out of it. The straw that broke the camel’s back was an email that I received earlier this week. The e-mail was from MML PR accusing me, without any proof mind you, of unlawfully selling their products online. The e-mail insinuated that if I didn’t take these items off there would be legal repercussions. The brands were Elizabeth Arden, Dermologica and Mary Kay. The keyword here is “ASSUME” as Merritt Loughran noted in her email herself. You know what they say, "when you make assumptions, you make an..." You know the rest.
As you all know, about a year ago I got into the beauty industry and started blogging about skincare and makeup. Alas, an influx of boxes. At first, it was delightful for a kid that grew up in a 3rd world country on a farm. Then it became too much and the definition of “be careful what you wish for." I felt such guilt for feeling overwhelmed. I was opening 20-30 boxes a day while all NEVER ever receiving a payment from these brands and often getting hounded to post tagging them ASAP. Yet, I’d open each box with enthusiasm with the hopes of something coming from it as promised by most of these brands/PR.
A quick back story to give you a perspective on why this article is imperative for the industry in general. About 5 years ago, I started working with a brand named ‘Strathberry’. It was pure bliss like any relationship in the beginning. However, perhaps around the 4th year, I started getting that “oh, I’m being used” feeling. Since my name is synonymous with the brand, my followers DEMANDED a collaboration. In which, Strathberry politely declined and I begrudgingly had to break the news to my #SBfamily. I still kept supporting the brand. To know me is to know, I do everything with passion and I mean, EVERYTHING. I carried their bags with pride and screamed to anyone who’d listen to purchase a Strathberry bag. In the industry, I was nicknamed “the Strathberry girl”. Then one day, they had an event right across the street from my house and conveniently forgot to invite me. My phone was blowing up from other bloggers asking me “why aren’t you here?” “Why aren’t you hosting this?" I was with my photographer and I simply collapsed in her arms and let out a cry I haven’t heard from myself in years. I cried and cried and cried. You might say, “but Niké, it's just a brand." No! No! They were family. I was devastated and humiliated. I still am. I compare the pain I feel to finding out your husband has a whole other family for 5 years on the side. It was a betrayal!
"My friends didn’t have anywhere to sit when they came over because every inch of my home was covered with boxes."
Fast forward to the present day. Every time I’d receive a PR box, I’d go “oh no,” then guilt, then, “oh no." It became a vicious cycle. My place became a madhouse. My landlord banned boxes from my front door because they were “hazards." My friends didn’t have anywhere to sit when they came over because well, every inch of my home was covered with boxes. Keep in mind, NONE and I mean NONE of these brands has ever given me a check AND certainly never even receive a thank-you note from MML PR. On a more vain note, my skin itself started reacting to the number of products I was putting on it. Imagine a #skinfluencer with bad skin. My skin just has had enough.
So, I started giving them to friends, families and my favorite shelter in Los Angeles. This is the same shelter that housed me when I was homeless just 4 years ago and I’m forever indebted to them. However, at one point, the director of the shelter simply asked me to stop bringing in gifts in such large quantities. It simply got too much for them as well and they were, in turn, throwing them away. She told me it was better if I sell them and donate the money.
On a less altruistic note, I started feeling such resentment for being in this predicament. I think of brands like Aldo, Nivea, Adidas, Four Seasons and so on who did the RIGHT THING in seeing my enthusiasm for their brands and invested in me almost right away. They made me feel like I was seen and I am worthy. I thought of the time when I promoted another skincare brand, ‘Biossance’ from the day they first launched with such fervor and they’ll tell me each time “we don’t have a budget but when we do, you’ll be the first to know." An acquaintance in the industry ended up doing a $3000 campaign for them whilst telling me “gosh it smells so bad, I threw it in the trash right away." Again, I cried because we all know there is no pain worse than unrequited love. What is it about me that isn’t good enough? I’ll ask.
"I thought I could give the proceeds of all these hundred and hundred of boxes to my favorite shelter and start tackling my debt simultaneously."
In the midst of all this, I made an important decision to start paying off my $200,000 debt from college, hospital bills and credit cards. I thought I could give the proceeds of all these hundred and hundred of boxes to my favorite shelter and start tackling my debt simultaneously. I was sitting in debt up to my eyeballs and throwing products in the trash every day. I’d think of all the children on my farm in Africa and think if I could get these to them. Instead, I knew I have to do what’s right for me here first and send money to the children I sponsor back home every month. This is why this is so surprising to me that Elizabeth Arden (Who I actually did one paid campaign with), a brand that works with the United Nations and claims to support women would support an email bullying me for donating to shelters, women, and children. This tells me these brands do NOT care about black children or women in Africa rather their wealth and assets. This is the same brand, I've dedicated years to promoting their Ceramide capsules. I don't think there is a single woman in my life who hasn't purchased it because of me. Talk less of my followers.
The Mary Kay products were from a friend who sells Mary Kay and was going to throw them out and I suggested to sell them for her. The Dermologica products, to be honest, I CANNOT tell you till today where I got them from BUT they certainly were NOT from MML PR!
Since we are doing so much ”assuming." Ms. Loughran, whilst your privilege has permitted you a beautiful life that includes a successful business and a head start for your future generations to come, some of us have to play catch up. This year was the first time in six years, I didn't go to sleep every night eating ramen noodles. When I started paying off my hospital bills from the lifelong illness I've battled (I'll open up about that when the time is right). I went to my landlord to ask for an extension on a measly $1600 rent. She, an older lady with the sweetest soul said to me, ”Niké, you are sitting on wealth, I just don't understand why aren't you using this to your advantage. With tears running down my face and my head bowed, all I could do was nod my head back and forth, telling myself and her “I can’t sell them."
"However, there's no way in hell any one person can get through all of the PR we receive. I still have at least over 3000 items laying around my place as we speak."
I am going to tell you why influencers NEED to sell products and then I am going to tell you how to avoid SLAVING away for a brand for years while they (scam) pay you in “products”.
-We receive so many boxes and I am incredibly grateful for them. However, there's no way in hell any one person can get through all of the PR we receive. I still have at least over 3000 items laying around my place as we speak.
- In my humble opinion, once we’ve fulfilled our contractual obligation to the company why shouldn't we get rid of it however we see fit?
- Sure, you can give to friends and family but how many can you give away? I mean some collections are a whole shade range of foundation and concealers. P.S: this is really bad for the planet. That's another article for another day.
-Most shelters won’t take them. MOST! And guess what? We wish it was possible but we CANNOT take the products to our landlords and asked them to take the products in lieu of our rent. We simply can’t. Therefore, it’s a way of income for all the work we do for the brands.
-It's only against the law if the blogger has signed a contract with the company saying they wouldn't sell the products they were given. I’ve asked brands to stop sending PR Boxes at this point but guess what? There is still a box at my door at least once a day.
-Call it “tacky," I call it business. These are not actual gifts from the brands. They are simply fees for which the brands expect to get something beneficial to them in return. They didn't just give gifts out of kindness and generosity of their hearts. Therefore you can spend YOUR FEE however you see fit. I also think this mentality of not “selling something you got for free” is VERY classist, elitist and certainly privileged.
With all that said, how do you avoid brands/PR from taking advantage of you?
1. Build your confidence My lack of confidence was my biggest problem in the beginning. As a woman and an ethnic one at that, I thought I should know my place. Build yourself up! Tell yourself, you are an amazing blogger and if a brand values you, they’ll simply want to invest in you WITH A CHECK or at least an experience!
2. Set strong boundaries
This year has been all about setting boundaries. In all my interpersonal relationships, but especially with brands. Trust me, they’ll push and push because MOST BRANDS NEVER WANT TO PAY. You have to just keep sending those rate sheets until they get the point.
3. Say “No” More Often
Saying No often has saved me from so much. When I first started getting recognized by these brands, I was just happy to be recognized. So, I’ll say yes to any and EVERYTHING. “Niké, jump!” And I’ll respond “how high?” I was working 2 jobs, driving Lyft and going to school full-time with NO MONEY to my name. I had absolutely zero respect for myself. Now, “no” and “what's the budget?” are my two favorite sentences. I have essentially “Harriet Tubman” myself from the plantation so to speak!
"If you are interested in donating products to Shelters, below are the lists of my favorite shelters in Los Angeles for battered women and children."
In the spirit of turning something negative into positive, If you are interested in donating products to Shelters, below are the lists of my favorite shelters in Los Angeles for battered women and children. Please DO make sure you either have enough for ALL the women there and please make sure they are sealed and NOT expired. These are women just like you who are perhaps experiencing a series of UNFORTUNATE events. I was once one of them 4 years ago. I also would be putting the rest of the products I have at home on my POSHMARK to sell and donating in the next month or so.
1.The Dream Center
2. Children of the Night Los Angeles
4. Downtown Women’s Center.
Incredibly grateful to all the women who volunteer their time and effort to create a safe home for these women and children.
It’s been a rough week. However, I know my faith in God is just being tested. I’ve had a rough life and I know it won’t stop now especially with visibility because God gives his hardest battles to His strongest soldiers. However, I’ll ALWAYS stand up for myself with both my feet firmly on the ground. My whole life, I’ve always been the David to the Goliaths but we all know how that story ends. So don’t worry SB, I’ll put up a fight as always and I’ll come out unscathed. Ms. Loughran, I know you think of me as just a roach you are going to step on, destroy, then throw in the trash. However, sometimes when you squint hard enough, that roach is a tarantula. Hopefully one day, there is a Union to protect influencers. I know we aren’t a likable group of people but today, I AM STANDING UP FOR ALL OF US. Always, remember things aren't always as they seem. It's easy to feel envious of influencers but I promise you all that glitz and glam does not translate to a successful life. With love and light, thanks so much for reading and see you next Friday.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Thank you, God.