Amber Fillerup Clark has always been a few steps ahead of the influencer curve. She didn’t start out to be a content provider — her original site, created in 2010, was a vehicle to update people back home in Utah while she volunteered at an orphanage in Fiji.
Upon her return, she started blogging about fashion and style — especially hair — under the handle Barefoot Blonde. Her big break was a sponsored campaign with Tresemmé that put her on the list of some of the most sought after influencers. She now has a following exceeding 1.3 million on her personal Instagram account (@amberfillerup), nearly 100,000 on her brand’s Instagram (@barefootblondehair), 16 million-plus views on YouTube and is widely considered the “Queen of Instagrammable Hair.”
As the generation weaned on tutorials grew up, so did Clark’s social postings. She was among the first of the blogger-moms with the birth of her two children, Rosie and Atticus.
Two years ago, she was on the vanguard of the movement of tastemakers expanding into products with the launch of her premium line of clip-in hair extensions, Barefoot Blonde Hair, which sold out within 72 hours of presale. It is estimated that her first-year sales eclipsed $1 million.
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But like all start-ups, Clark hit some bumps in the road. In order to direct effort into building her extension business, she had to pull back from her tutorials and posts. Now, she’s clicking on all cylinders and launching her latest hair extension collections, the BFB Fill-Ins, for added thickness and volume without the length, and The Up for full volume updos. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she recently released a limited-edition collection of Fill-Ins in Rose Gold with all proceeds going to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Here Clark talks how she became the Queen of Instagrammable hair despite thin tresses, why she had to pull back from tutorials and how being an influencer has changed.
WWD: Bring us up to date on your hair extensions and why that was a business so important to you.
Amber Fillerup Clark: I always knew I wanted to do something with hair extensions. I loved doing braids, but I couldn’t get my hair to grow past a certain point. I started wearing extensions when I was 15, mostly for added volume, as my hair is thinner at the ends, especially as it grows long. I wanted to re-create the looks on runways, but as a poor college student, I didn’t want to spend $50 to get the rings with the color samples. With my line, I wanted to create something accessible.
We [she and her husband, David] launched it two years ago with no team. We were in over our heads. We had two kids and I was trying to produce content for both blogs [Barefoot Blonde and Barefoot Blonde Hair]. It was trial and error. We tested the hair with friends, who we asked to swim in it and curl it to make sure it all held up before we launched. Since then we’ve built a team and moved to Arizona to have a warehouse for in-house fulfillment and quality control. Now we’ve just launched our third hair extension product, the BFB Up.
We’re trying to tap into a market that had found extensions too intimidating or that they took too much time.
WWD: Your sales are all direct-to-consumer. Any plans for a store?
A.F.C.: Right now, direct-to-consumer is best because we can communicate with our customers. We offer a “Home Try-On Kit,” which gives customers a free trial experience where they can pick three to five colors to sample, in order to find their perfect shade. The Home Try-On Kit was designed to make the hair-buying experience far less intimidating than ever before, and we have moved over 10,000 units of home try-on kits to customers since launching last year. The kits have also cut down on returns and exchanges and have helped people feel more confident with their purchase. Another huge initiative of Barefoot Blonde Hair is that we also make sure customers get the right education on how to properly use, maintain and preserve for longer product use.
WWD: How has social media evolved since you started?
A.F.C. My blog Barefoot Blonde started as an online journal and I never planned for it to get to where it is. I always want it to reflect where I am in life…and now that I have kids, it has evolved into lifestyle. I get busy and post less. People were asking for hair tutorials, but I had to prioritize what is most important and that’s spending time with my kids.
The changes in Instagram algorithms have affected everyone. At one point I was growing 100,000 followers a month, and then the algorithms hit.…I’m still growing but the pace is so much slower. There are so many bloggers today. But I think it is great that there is literally someone for everyone. I don’t think it is too crowded, but it has changed.
WWD: What’s your beauty routine?
A.F.C.: I take 10 minutes to do hair and makeup and my husband can vouch for that. On most days, unless I have a shoot, I throw on foundation, a little blush, a couple coats of mascara and I do my brows. If I’m doing a shoot, I might add highlighter or take an extra minute to blend the foundation. I would rather have good hair than makeup.
WWD: Ever turn down a campaign?
A.F.C. I’ve said no to a bunch of campaigns. As soon as you become ‘inauthentic,’ you lose everything you’ve worked for, in the long run. So, I say no if I don’t use the product. We try to make our paid posts very natural and fun to look at digitally. I hope my readers don’t feel I am constantly bombarding them. We try to keep a good ratio between organic and paid not coming across like everything is paid. With my readers, I’ve always been honest.
WWD: What are your go-to platforms? Is there anything new?
A.F.C.: I don’t know if I would dabble in anything new until it was established. When IGTV came I said, “Oh great, another new one to keep up with.” But I do love Instagram Stories and I have them on in the background while I’m on the treadmill or doing makeup. And I love Pinterest. I go to Twitter for a good laugh.
WWD: Anything too personal for you?
A.F.C.: I’ve gone back and forth on this. I’m the type of person if you ask me how was your birth, I’m going to tell you all the details. Sometimes it is hard for me to remember I have a big audience and I have to catch myself not to share too much. It is hard when you are building a home and I want to show it, but I value my privacy, too. At the end of the day, you have to go with your gut feelings.