Earlier this year, Valerie Eguavoen, a plus-size blogger and activist, came across an Instagram story from Revolve, the multibrand e-commerce site, that featured a cadre of influencers who were in Hawaii partaking in a trip sponsored by hair-care brand Ouai. Eguavoen, whose Instagram handle is @onacurve, noticed the lack of diversity among the influencers and decided to address it on her own platform.
Aimee Song, one of the influencers who was on the trip, responded to Eguavoen via Instagram stating: “Sometimes I wonder if it’s just that there aren’t many ‘known’ influencers that are POC [people of color] or if it’s merely that the POC don’t get the same opportunities as white people.” Eguavoen responded with a list of black and Latin influencers whom she felt could have easily worked within Revolve’s aesthetic.
Eguavoen, whose message was amplified by Diet Prada, shed light on an issue that’s prevalent within influencer marketing but rarely spoken about publicly.
Ernest James is very familiar with brand and influencer interactions — he helped foster these partnerships while working at LaForce and the APA PR. According to James, oftentimes brands didn’t purposely choose to not work with women of color, but it wasn’t something they thought about until he mentioned it. That is why he decided to launch Noire Mgmt, an agency dedicated to helping influencers of color and offering public relations services for black small business owners.
“Black women in the United States who work full time are paid 63 cents to a dollar. Working full-time women who aren’t black make 80 cents to the dollar,” James said. “I felt like we are at such a pivotal point and I wanted to use Noire Mgmt to give them a fair shot and a voice at the table.”
The Noire Mgmt roster includes Kéla Walker (@kelawalker) a TV producer, personality and lifestyle expert; Genese Jamilah (@idontdoclubs), founder of I Don’t Do Clubs, an events business; Shardé Green (@saint.glam) owner of Saint Glam, a nail shop in the Bronx, N.Y.; Rondel Holder (@soulsociety) a travel influencer; Michelle Hope (@mhsexpert) an author and sexologist, and Tiffany Battle (@tiffanymbattle) a fashion blogger from The Werk Place.
Walker, who has 61,000 followers on Instagram, is considered a microinfluencer with strong engagement. She has never worked with an agent but built a relationship with James over the year when he pitched her to brands. Walker has previously partnered with companies including Coca-Cola, JetBlue, Macy’s and Procter & Gamble, but she’s hoping by joining Noire Mgmt she will be able to expand this list and create more holistic collaborations.
“I feel like we are on the lower end of the totem pole. Certain brands just want to send you product, but for a girl who doesn’t look like me, they will send her product and offer her a check,” Walker said. “I also want to work for a wider variety of brands, not just brands who solely target women of color. A lot of the times we are relegated to working with black hair-care brands, but there needs to be diversity across the board.”
In addition to partnering brands with multicultural influencers, James is hoping to help brands communicate with this influential demographic in an authentic way. He cited a 2016 Nielsen Report that stated 73 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 67 percent of Hispanics believe that African-Americans influence mainstream culture. James is also interested in building his clients’ brands beyond a digital platform, whether that’s live events or product and retail collaborations similar to Arielle Charnas’ recent tie up with Nordstrom on a Something Navy assortment, which was brokered by Digital Brand Architects, an influencer agency that was founded a few years ago.
“I think a lot of influencers are banking on the Internet forever, but these digital platforms change so often,” James said. “How do you brand yourself if you don’t have Internet access? Would we know who you are? So live events and product extensions are important for the future of all influencers.”