The Merrell twins Vanessa and Veronica are all about positivity — and their new clothing label is no exception.
Their cheeriness in a phone interview last week was near-boundless. But the college-aged pair were more somber in describing how they were bullied from elementary school through high school. The YouTube stars’ venture into fashion aims to be a confidence-building brand. Pronounced like true image, the pair’s True Img line features styles designed to abide by school dress codes and meant to encourage shoppers to dress as themselves, and subsequently gain confidence. The brand name is also derivative of the meaning of Veronica’s name – true image. Its butterfly motif is rooted in Vanessa’s name in Greek. It will launch Tuesday exclusively on trueimg.com.
The identical twins started making silly videos as 16-year-olds in their Kansas City, Mo., house. Fast-forward five years and they are burgeoning entrepreneurs and budding actresses with 3.4 million YouTube followers. Three years in the making, the fashion line is something the pair has always had on their wish list. Their fashion interest dates back to childhood when, like many girls and boys, they styled Barbie dolls. More recently, some of their followers have been trying to push them into the fashion pool by encouraging them to create a collection. Through YouTube and its other social platforms, the pair’s built-in audience of eight million was a selling point for their vertical branding partner Instaco.
As for their appeal, Veronica Merrell said, “Vanessa and I are very relatable. We’re in college so we can relate to our viewers very well, unlike other YouTubers who aren’t pursuing a higher education. We do livestreams and are just on a very personal level.” One studies screenwriting and the other focuses on television production.
Reflexively finishing each other’s sentences or adding one-liners as they often do, Vanessa Merrell said, “Our channel is very family-friendly so any age can watch it. We are just ourselves on our channel. That’s the most important thing and that’s what our viewers love about it.”
They often are sent funny memes and video edits of themselves by fans via social media, though weirdo mailed packages like the 8-foot-long gummy snake one admirer sent aren’t as amusing. A call to the police could have been in order, but they took a more creative route. “We should have [laughing.] No, it came to our post office box, not our house, so that’s good. We ended up making a video with it because we didn’t know what to do with it. We didn’t want to eat it. So we made a fake movie trailer called, ‘The Giant Snake’,” the twins said.
“Internet Crush,” “Valentine’s Day” and their years-old “Smoothie Challenge” video are among their most popular ones. Fans still get a kick out of watching them guzzle A-1 steak sauce with chocolate and other unlikely combinations. In person, many fans tell the twins how much they have helped them cope emotionally, and often in battling anxiety, depression, phobias and bullying. They said those moments make them realize, “Yes, this is my purpose to make others happy, to inspire them and to bring positive light to people,” Veronica Merrell said.
Their own operation is also family-run. “Both of our parents work for us now. We’ve been blessed enough to give them opportunities,” said Veronica Merrell. Once while making one of their “silly home videos,” their editor-video producer father Paul offered to help them by making “a quote-unqoute good video” and uploading it to YouTube. They have been working together ever since.
Over time, they pleaded and convinced their mother to quit her school district job to help organize their increasingly overbooked schedules, handle e-mails and “help us be sane.”
“Never did we think this would happen. We thought we were going to make silly videos on YouTube just for fun,” Veronica Merrell said. “We never knew that through our videos we could change people’s lives. That’s the best part about what we do – to inspire them to keep going, to not give up and to be confident.”
Selective about what they wanted from an apparel partner, the Merrells decided on Instaco, which they feel has a good handle on the social media space given its track record with influencer Jenn Im’s Eggie collection. The sisters’ owns wardrobes are true to many 21-year-olds – Hollister, Forever 21, H&M, Zara and Boohoo. Asian web sites are another favorite resource for Vanessa Merrell.
Matching sets such as a polo tennis one are expected to be bestsellers in their junior line, they said. All of the styles are designed to be school-appropriate, “so no one will get in trouble wearing our clothes,” Vanessa Merrell said. As the name suggests, the idea is that shoppers will dress as their true selves instead of choosing trendy styles that may make them feel self-conscious or unsteady. Followers have been DMing asking them to move up the release date and asking that prices be affordable. (Everything retails for $70 or under.)
On the topic of bullying, the twins said jealousy is the main reason many can be mean. “It was very hard. Girls would pull my hair, spread rumors about me, step on my foot on purpose, accuse me of cheating, when I wasn’t, for getting good grades. In high school, a girl almost ran over us on purpose,” Veronica Merrell said, before her sister chimed in, “I think she was just a trying to scare us.] “We still see bullying today even with this girl love movement. So many girls are trying to support other girls, but there are still girls who are very insecure and jealous. It’s very sad, but we’re getting there. That’s why we think girls should spread love and positivity.”
“To handle it, girls just have to be strong and kill them with kindness. I know it’s such a cheesy saying, but that’s how we did it. We didn’t give anyone reason to bully us, so when they did, there was no point. We would laugh with them and make fun of ourselves,” Vanessa Merrell said. “Being the bigger person is the best thing to do.”
Veronica Merrell added, “At the end of the day, you want to know you did the right thing no matter what other people did.”