Shereen Sikka Bharwani, Kayaan Contractor and Trishala Sikka of the popular blog, Love And Other Bugs, have been shooting at Girgaum Chowpatty and Walkeshwar since 6am. But their faces don’t betray any signs of fatigue when they meet us at a suburban coffee shop that afternoon. "There are times when we start shooting as early as 4.30am," Sikka, dressed in a pair of denims and a casual shirt, says. Between ideating, shooting, liaising with brands and meeting potential collaborators, no two workdays are alike for the trio, who receive over 50,000 unique visitors every month on their blog.
"Nike is flying me down for the 10K marathon in Bengaluru; I’m busy training for that. It’s a personal goal, and since we have good rapport and an ongoing association with Nike, they are helping me achieve it," shares Bharwani. "In fact, Shereen and I were featured in the Nike #BleedBlue campaign earlier this year, and we were the faces of a hoarding on Marine Drive. Being shot by the legendary Bharat Sikka on a rooftop in Chandni Chowk (Delhi) was so exciting," gushes Contractor. Nike features in a long (and growing) roster of brands this now-famous trio has collaborated with.
Kayaan Contractor and Shereen Sikka Bharwani of Love And Other Bugs. (Aloise Tiers/HT Photo)
And they aren’t the only ones making a splash on the blogging scene. For 22-year-old Masoom Minawala, the blogger behind Style Fiesta Diaries and the founder of fashion e-commerce portal, Style Fiesta, it’s all about "juggling two jobs". Backed by trendsetting posts on their blogs and a solid fan following, the Indian fashion blogger has indeed arrived. But are they just pretty young things playing dress up on blogs and Instagram accounts, or is there more to it than meets the eye? With followers swearing by their advice and brands chasing them for collaborations, they might just be the fashion industry's newest darlings. Right from roping in bloggers for capsule collections to dressing them up for events, brands are going out of their way to cash in on their popularity.
*Note: Miss Malini has 530k followers
Though the Indian blogosphere is still a work-in-progress, there were some early movers like High Heel Confidential (2007), MissMalini (2008), Love Struck Cow (2009) and Fashion Bombay (2009). Today, there are many more players in what’s fast becoming a burgeoning digital dynasty — think Surbhi Sethi of HeadTilt in Delhi; Rhea Gupte of FUSS in Goa; Ruhi Sheikh of Republic Of Chic in Bengaluru; Chikky Goenka of Style-O-Graph in Kolkata; Aayushi Bangur of Style Drive, Gia Kashyap of Gia Says That, Mitali Sagar and Summiyya Patni of House of MISU, Aanam M R Chashmawala of What When Wear and Scherezade Shroff, all in Mumbai, among others.
In less than a decade, they have successfully managed to displace the influencer marketing position that was so far dominated by celebrities to emerge as voices that shape the fashion choices of youngsters. "I think brands have realised that fashion bloggers wield a powerful influence over their followers. These are real girls who love fashion, live to shop and know how to make clothes work for their individual body types," says Amtosh Singh, business head at Stylista.com, an Indian e-commerce brand.
Scherzade Shroff's YouTube channel on DIY hair styles and makeup with 57.5K subscribers. Why brands are chasing them
This band of bloggers is making the most of their new-found influence by joining forces with fashion and lifestyle brands. Take House of MISU, for instance. The 26-year-old duo of Sagar and Patni conceptualised a pop-up store called Lé Box for south Mumbai event space, Ave 29, in October last year. They also hosted an Instagram contest for cosmetic brand Kiehl’s in May this year and recently curated a capsule summer collection for online accessory brand, Pipa+Bella.
In fact, capsule collections are now de rigueur for any blogger worth her selfie skills. Malini Agarwal of MissMalini launched a limited-edition collection of charm bracelets for Pipa+Bella last October, Anushka Moore of Bombay Bubble curated a special clothing line for Collezioni Moda, and Minawala collaborated with fellow blogger Bangur for a capsule accessory line for Style Fiesta.
Shivani Pandya, Pipa+Bella’s merchandising manager, says, "Our House of MISU and MissMalini collections got tremendous response." The brand’s marketing manager Palak Daga, adds, "Bloggers make a credible marketing channel; collaborating with them generates revenue and awareness." According to Singh, bloggers are the ideal target for fashion start-ups with limited marketing budgets. "They not only give us feedback but also promote us to their legion of followers. We can reach their highly engaged audience without spending a fortune," he says.
Vineet Gautam, country head of Bestseller India (Jack & Jones, Only and Vero Moda) shares Singh’s views and says that brand marketing has now evolved into content marketing with tailor-made communication. "Bloggers are trendsetters and allow us to engage with consumers by creating customised content and amplifying it amongst their followers," he explains. And if 18-year-old Ahmedabad-based fashion and jewellery design student Shimul Shah, an avid follower of Minawala’s Style Fiesta Diaries, is proof, this branding strategy is working. "Masoom’s blog and outfit posts on Instagram are a great source of inspiration. From styling everyday looks to shopping advice, I trust her leads," she says.
With their popularity showing no signs of waning, bloggers are making no bones about charging a tidy sum for their reach. "I’ve spent a lot of time and effort in building a highly engaged audience. So, if a brand wants to be at the receiving end of those eyeballs, there will be a cost involved," is Minawala’s no-holds-barred response. And while the top rung of Indian bloggers is finally starting to rake in the moolah, it has been a long journey to reach this stage of financial sustainability. In fact, Kashyap remembers a time when brands expected bloggers to work on a barter system, without bringing money into the equation. Agarwal explains, "When MissMalini started creating content for brands four years ago, this marketing form was new to India. Most budgets allocated to online marketing (which were small to begin with) were spent on banner ads. It is only now that brands have realised the importance of creating relevant content for their target group."
The big picture
While brands and girls-next-door are eager members of the blogger fan club, the fashion industry pundits haven’t yet made up their mind about them. Celebrity and fashion stylist Allia Al Rufai, who previously styled a handful of these bloggers for a campaign, is quick to tout them as driven, business-savvy and honest. But she also adds, "I don’t think India has had enough blogging success stories that are on par with international ones. The phenomenon is still nascent and the quality has a long way to go."
Designer Narendra Kumar agrees and goes on to add, "Most of the fashion bloggers in India are in their early twenties. They lack experience and credibility to truly forecast trends. They are still a small community with not enough gravitas. But as they mature, they are sure to grow into important voices of the industry." The popularity of these young bloggers notwithstanding, they are yet to reach a stage of nuanced fashion opinion and critique equivalent to that of fashion editors. It can also get tedious to be bombarded by the same collection on every blog and social media account, no matter how individualistically styled it is.
While several of these blogs started out as passion projects or simply as a hobby, one can’t discredit the valid fashion training or experience many of them bring to the table. For instance, Agarwal was previously the digital content head at Channel [V],
Masoom Minawala from Style Fiesta Diaries. Bharwani worked under Rhea Kapoor who is Sonam Kapoor’s stylist, Contractor assisted costume designer Niharika Khan, Kashyap worked as a fashion columnist with a leading newspaper, Sagar studied apparel merchandising and Patni has a background in jewellery design.
At the same time, one cannot ignore their dedicated fan following. Case in point is Shroff, whose group of followers known as ‘The Shroffers’ regularly write fan mails to her. Minawala is constantly showered with encouragement and praise from her army of loyalists. Bangur’s images on Instagram are peppered with comments by followers who are not only in awe of her beauty but also seek her fashion advice. In fact, a Mumbai-based designer friend was so inspired after meeting the House of MISU bloggers that she dropped everything and headed to the mall to buy a look similar to the one the duo was sporting. How’s that for influence?