My oldest daughter, Cassie, is a fan of social media fashion darling Bethany Mota. At 18, Bethany has turned her “fashion hauls” – shop and show purchases on YouTube – into a lucrative career, with nearly 5 million YouTube fans, 2.5 million Instagram followers, 1 million Twitter followers, etc. She has such a devoted following of teenage girls that Aeropostale invited her to design a line of clothes for the store. She’s touring the country right now, promoting her spring collection.
Bethany sent out a tweet last Friday announcing that she’d be at the Aeropostale store in King of Prussia Mall the next day from 10am-noon. Since King of Prussia is only about an hour away, Cassie begged me to take her. We crawled out of bed at the crack of dawn and headed north.
What awaited us was a sight to behold.
Nearly 10,000 teenage girls waiting in a line that snaked around the entire top floor of King of Prussia Mall, the second largest mall in the country (after Mall of America in Minneapolis). We came through the entrance closest to the Aeropostale store, and walked for twenty minutes to the end of the line on the other side of the mall. It was unreal. Those standing in line around us were from Pennsylvannia, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware. When one woman walked by with her two daughters holding Aeropostale bags – which meant they’d already seen Bethany – I stopped her and asked her what time they’d gotten there to stand in line. “Four AM,” was her response.
We stood in line for 3.5 hours and didn’t even get close. There were just too many people. When word spread that Bethany was leaving, many of the girls broke line and tried to rush the Aeropostale store, hoping for a glimpse. It was frightening. The dozen or so security guards managed to contain everyone, but it took effort. I can’t imagine the crowds for better-known celebrities. Telling one teenage girl she can’t have something she wants is bad enough; telling thousands “No” is a nightmare.
But I did learn A LOT from the experience.
First, Media is Changing.
The woman in line in front of me said, “I can’t believe how many people are here! It’s not like Bethany’s even a real celebrity.”
But she is. She’s an online celebrity. She’s well known to the under 20 crowd, who can go weeks without watching TV but holler if the Internet goes down for instant. Generation Z are “digital natives” – they grew up with the Internet – and have little use for “old school” media like books, newspapers, or TV. They can get any information they need just by looking online, so they do. It’s their first stop.
Secondly, Celebrity is Changing.
Stars used to come from television, film, music, and the arts. They still do, but today, a growing number also come from the Internet. Blogs, Videos, Pictures, Tweets – there are darlings on every platform. And they don’t even have to leave home. Bethany Moto found fame and fortune by making videos at home – just like dozens of other bloggers and YouTubers. They don’t have to go the exhausting tour route in order to get famous; they do it after they’re famous, to connect with their fans. Nothing like sending out one tweet and having 10,000 people show up.
Finally, Influence is Changing.
Tastemakers used to exert their influence by “trickle down” – rich and famous got things first, then everyone copied them. These days, “the masses” vote for what they like by following their favorite online personalities – and companies have taken note. They’re going straight to these online celebrities with their perfect target markets and getting THEM to endorse their stuff. Aeropostale has been struggling in recent years, but they believe Bethany Mota can help turn things around. From what I saw at the mall last week, I’d say they’re on the right track.
So why am I sharing all of this with you?
I’m a sucker for people who make a difference. Bethany Mota was 13 and on summer break when she started making fashion videos in her bedroom. She’d been bullied and made fun of, so her YouTube videos were her way of dealing with it. They quickly caught on, and now, just five years later, she has the kind of fame, fortune, and influence that others only dream about. Yet she remains down-to-earth and relatable, and is a worthy role model for her teen audience.
It’s heartwarming to see.
Diana Pemberton-Sikes is an image consultant and author of Wardrobe Magic, an ebook that shows women how to dress well whatever their age, shape, size, or budget. Download Wardrobe Magic right here.