For our monthly Influencer Spotlight Interview, I chatted with Chris Rhodes while on a press trip in Belize a few weeks ago. Chris is a YouTuber, activist, and small business owner from Austin, TX — who also happens to be transgender. In addition to all of the above, Chris runs the clothing brand FLAVNT Streetwear with his twin sister (where they give 15% of all sales to fundraising partnerships to help trans people afford gender-affirming surgeries.) When Chris isn’t working at FLAVNT, he spends his time making informational videos for the LGBTQ community, finding ways to give back, and being the example he wished he could have looked up to as a young queer person. I so enjoyed my time chatting with Chris and wanted to pass along some of the takeaways from our time together. Here’s what he had to say!
WH: Let’s start at the beginning: how did your influencer journey begin?
CR: Honestly? Fairly accidentally. I gained a following on social media by sharing my personal journey, specifically my transition, online — starting out on tumblr and youtube and then transitioning (no pun intended) over to Instagram in the last couple years as instagram blew up. I have been lucky enough to have a supportive base and very invested followers who have always shown a lot of interest in brands that I like and places that I go and basically anything I care to share with them. About a year ago when I started dating Shelby (who is a professional at all this instagram stuff) she is the one who posed the question to me why I wasn’t utilizing my platform with more brand partnerships and she helped me learn how to market myself and build relationships with brands. You can thank her for the decrease in mirror selfies that used to grace my feed regularly. haha!
WH: Ha! Thanks, Shelby 😉 With the decrease in mirror selfies, what has been your strategy to stand out in today’s saturated market?
CR: Challenging the idea of what an influencer looks like, and also in turn what a man looks like, has been something I try to bring to the forefront a lot. In a lot of influencer spaces I am the only dude there, and I am almost guaranteed to the be the only trans person in those spaces (as in many spaces in the world to be honest) — so I try to use that unique world view to my advantage. Additionally my entire social media has been based on transparency, sharing my journey and life in it’s entirety unapologetically, I think this comes across to brands a lot when they approach me for partnerships, they know what’s going to be coming from me will always be authentic.
WH: I love that. Speaking of a saturated market, what would you say to anyone who may be looking to break into influencer marketing but is feeling overwhelmed by all the competition. Is it too late to start?
CR: I don’t think it’s ever too late to start, but it should be considered that we don’t know the longevity of platforms like Instagram or Facebook. IF you’re interested in being an influencer, or as I prefer to call it a content creator, you should make sure to have your own avenues on which to operate as well that you control — a blog, a website, a podcast, etc. But aside from that bit of advice, find what you like and post those things. Don’t worry about creating content for others, because if you do what makes you happy and are passionate about it then people will follow. That’s not to say don’t care what your feed looks like, and don’t be afraid to look to people and brands that you admire for inspiration, but if you post what you love and enjoy then that will come through to your audience.
WH: You’ve collaborated with loads of different brands over the years. Which partnerships have been your favorite to execute?
CR: I love clothes, anyone who has seen my closet knows this. I’ve really enjoyed working with small brands that realize they could reach a demographic of LGBTQ individuals they might not have thought to market to before, and help those brands grow. Aside from that, I love traveling, so the two partnerships I have had thus far with travel companies have been incredible for me — if I could travel somewhere new every month I would, and being able to do that in conjunction with brands has been a dream.
WH: I’m with you on the travel! What are some of the attributes you believe make for the most successful partnerships between brands and influencers?
CR: I look at content creation very similarly to how I view graphic design, the way designers are the bridge between a brand and a consumer, so are content creators — it comes down to effective communication, good matches in an audience and the product/service promoted, and a trust of said audience in the creator to back brands they believe in.
WH: What advice would you give to brands who are new to working with influencers?
CR: Trust influencers to create authentic content without too much string pulling — and believe in the power of social media marketing, which is some of our most effective advertising nowadays. It’s also important for brands to know the worth of the influence of creators they are approaching, it is hard work to create content, to cultivate an audience and maintain that reach and trust, and to balance sponsored content with their own creative processes.
WH: You do a great job of using your platform for advocacy. How did that start?
CR: Seeing as I built my social media around sharing my truth, and my main source of income is running a small philanthropic clothing brand, speaking up and providing a platform for self expression, advocacy, and community has always been close to my heart. Now that I get to form relationships with brands and that my content has more reach I make a point to partner with brands whenever possible that would benefit my audience and be a resource whenever applicable, I choose to uplift brands and organizations that give back because there’s so much more to life than just consumption — and individuals can make a huge difference in speaking up about the things that matter, and making changes, taking action, and holding companies and other people and themselves accountable.
WH: I love your positive outlook! Taking a bit of a turn from that, what would you say are some of the most difficult variables to navigate in this industry?
CR: As I said above, my audience is very interested in my life but they are very wary of sponsored content. I’ve had an incredible amount of pushback on any hashtag ads — though they enjoy the content I put out, on a free platform, people don’t often view sponsored content as a way for creators to make a living. It’s been a hard situation to navigate that sensitivity but also stand up for the right to make a living doing something I enjoy. Additionally, I am very picky about the brands I choose to work with, I won’t compromise my morals to work with brands that don’t support my community, and being a very out trans person I am sure that turns of some brands that might approach me otherwise.
WH: What has been the most rewarding?
CR: The most rewarding part of being an influencer/content creator is being able to do something I enjoy (taking photos + writing + creating relationships with brands/also my audience) as part of my livelihood.
WH: Do you have any predictions or observations about where you see influencer marketing heading?
CR: We can never be sure in today’s age what app might be around the corner, or the way trends are heading. We have seen a rise in the micro influencer, in brands appreciating smaller tight-knit followings in a specific niche that can be marketed to. I think I hope more than predict that we will continue to see this grow, and to see even more influencers of all genders, races, cultures, sexualities, body types, etc. succeeding and not just tokenized.
Find and Follow Chris:
Website: See The Stars Ablaze
YouTube: See The Stars Ablaze