The social media era has provided us with a new platform to stardom. Whether it be by accident, or a well thought out strategy, these influencers are out here making power moves. A few that have started from YouTube and Vine have made their way to roles on the small screen, the big screen and beyond. For my NYC people, remember when MTA ran the YouTube campaign, and they had influencers such at Bethany Mota and Michelle Phan wrapped around your train? Literally.
It was inspiring, innovating and effective, but as a person of color, you had to wonder, where are our people? Is there a lane for black and brown influencers in the digital space?
Jacques Bastien and his wife, Dahcia Lyons-Bastien, are here to create the space that our people need to get the recognition they deserve. The duo started the new multicultural marketing agency, SHADE, that aims to address the lack of diversity within the influencer marketplace. Being the first of its kind, SHADE is a management and talent agency ready to elevate black and brown creators, who lead as influencers, in the fashion, travel, wellness, lifestyle and technology industries.
“We started a company called Boogie, a marketing agency that works with companies to essentially help them capture the attention of young consumers like us,” Jacques shared. “Last year, while doing a lot of campaigns with clients, we realized that a lot of the influencers, especially those of color, would keep close relationships with us even after. They started asking us what can they do with their influence, how can they turn it into a full-time business. As time went on, we realized there is a real issue with the representation of influencers of color, and there's a lot of opportunities out there we see. We're often on the other side of opportunity. We deal with the budget from the client, handing it into the influencers, but we realize that other companies that are in the same position as us, often overlook black and brown influencers.” Jacques went on to explain that this void he saw missing for influencers of color gave him and his wife the motivation to provide the platform we were missing. The dynamic duo decided that everything they do was going to be something that helps improve the life of those in their community, whether that is trying to bring in jobs, or create tools and online resources that would help these influencers take a step in the right direction.
“For the rest of our lives, every decision we make will be, how do we improve the life of people of color,” Jacques said. Dahcia chimed in by adding, “Especially after some of the things we noticed when we were searching for influencers for client campaigns. We would Google top influencers in the beauty industry or hair care industry, and for the most part, those lists would not feature many people of color, unless we were specifically looking for natural hair or something very specific to the black community. Unfortunately, that really boxes us in, and I know we encountered a lot of beauty bloggers, fashion bloggers and lifestyle influencers that are of color, that are doing really amazing things, but they didn't make it on those lists. Not because they have smaller followings, but because, in general, the way society is and standards are set, most people were looking towards non-black.”
With this new found motivation, and utilizing the connections they've made over the years, they officially launched SHADE in October 2016. The name comes from our people being different shades of brown, and the company was built specifically as an influencer management agency for us, by us. They chose management over network or platform because they wanted to be there, almost hand-holding and educating the influencers, so that they can help turn their influence, into a full-time gig.
SHADE helps brands remain culturally relevant by collaborating with influencers who are truly connected to their target demographic. But what exactly does it mean to be an influencer, and how can one attain that status?
“It's not all about numbers,” Jacques explained. “It is important, especially the whole concept of the ratio of following to followers, just because it gives us a sense that people want to hear and see what this person has to say.” He went on to state that they challenged themselves to go above and beyond and really diversify their clientele. Their clients range from a dance group to estheticians, authors, chefs and a few other talents. All their clients have a tangible skill that they can teach others.
“It's really important for them to have substance in their content,” Dahcia said. “When we started, our inaugural influencers couldn't have less than 5k followers and that's due to research showing us that's the number when brands start looking, figuring out if you're valuable to the brand. At SHADE, people have reached out that may have low numbers, but are really driven.” SHADE’s clients have numbers that range from 5k followers to 25k+. “We've taken a lot of risk and investments in people that were below the minimum and now they're up there. We'll take that risk if we can see that there is a lot of potential in that influencer,” Jacques said.
With a bright future before them, SHADE wants to be the place that major companies come to find diverse influencers, for their different distribution channels, no matter the medium. One thing that is really important to them is that just because they manage black and brown influencers, doesn't mean they should be viewed less than their competitors. They want to compete with all the other fortune 500 companies in the same space. "One of the things we made sure we wanted to put out there is quality. The selection of people is key," Jacques explained. "One of the things we hope to do is show people, especially black millennials, whatever you're doing, whatever you're putting your stamp on, just because it's ours doesn't mean it can't be the best. Period."
The overall goal they're setting for black millennials is to show them that we're capable of accomplishing any and everything. "Black millennials are very multi-faceted. We're always finding a way to make an extra dollar, or diversify our skill set, and because of the access that this generation has to the internet, we have found ways to do that," Dahcia said. "We are the generation of slashes. With that in mind, a lot of black millennials are considering branding themselves online as influencers, and that's an amazing idea. We all have some type of influence in our communities, or space we're in. We're all a celebrity to somebody."
"We want to be able to teach them, people of color and people that look like us, that it is hard work that needs to be put in, but there is a standard that we need to set for ourselves. We're naturally built people. Mentally, we're just dope. The things we come up with are just dope. And I'm happy that in the landscape of things, we're already seeing this generation showing that we can be great. I do hope that we continue to do that," Jacques shared.
By the looks of it, they're headed in the right direction.
To receive more information about SHADE, you can visit Shade.co or follow them on Instagram.