[By: MalayMail Contributer] [MalayMail Online] [Read More]
SINGAPORE, Oct 14 — Looking at Andrea Chong’s Instagram feed (@dreachong for those who are not familiar), you would be forgiven for thinking that her daily life must be filled with magical, beautifully lit moments — and that she swans about every day dressed in the trendiest of fashion and sky-high heels with perfectly coiffed hair and makeup. Certainly some of her day is exactly that, but there is a whole lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that most of her over 260,000 Instagram followers are not privy to.
The pretty 24-year-old daughter of a real estate agent and an air force engineer is one of Singapore’s top fashion bloggers and social-media mavens, and had deferred her Literature degree at Nanyang Technological University to concentrate full-time on her burgeoning career as a blogger and social-media influencer four years ago. Chong is the only Singaporean in the line-up of 10 international Digital Fashion Week Insiders, who will be lending social-media coverage and live reportage to the upcoming Singapore Fashion Week, happening from Oct 26 to 30 at the National Gallery Singapore.
A series of serendipitious events led her to this new-generation career path. A producer from a TV show by online video network Clicknetwork that Chong was a host on had suggested that she develop her social media presence, and that led to the founding of her blog and Instagram account. “I was a late bloomer in the blogging world, and Instagram really helped to boost numbers on my blog,” said Chong. “At that time, most of the more established bloggers and Instagrammers were lifestyle-focused, and I was one of the first here to focus on fashion and travel because that was what I was really interested in. I took OOTDs (“Outfit of the Day” posts) and took pictures of myself on my travels. The first two years were great (in terms of growth); nothing was really planned.”
The studio is her apartment
Many of the carefully styled flat-lay shots and OOTDs are taken in the three-bedroom HDB flat she shares with her parents and brother. The flat is also her home office, and it seems to be chock-a-bloc with Chong’s clothes, shoes and shoot props. A beautiful wooden dining table stands atop pretty rugs from Ikea, where she shoots some of her product pictures, while one of the walls boasts wallpaper with such a realistic white-brick print that we did a double-take. “Everything I buy (for the home) has to be ‘chio’ (beautiful) and Instagrammable because it also has to be functional (for my photography),” laughed Chong.
The walk-in-wardrobe in her master bedroom is overflowing with clothes and requires constant organisation and spring-cleaning by her personal assistant of seven months. There is a separate standing clothes rack that contains brand-sponsored or loaned items that are awaiting their OOTD moment. In fact, her bedroom somewhat resembles the photography studio of a fashion magazine. “There’s actually a lot of planning involved that people don’t see,” exclaimed Chong. “There’s the business side of it like proposals, and the client approval process, and sometimes we even act as advisers to the brands on what will work on social media and what won’t. Sometimes, it’s like I’m a one-person advertising agency; I am my own marketing, business development and public relations team.”
Chong uses a DSLR camera for most of her Instagram shots, and occasionally her iPhone camera “because sometimes it doesn’t work when the picture looks too polished”. The process of selecting, editing the photos (using apps such as Afterlight, Beautycam and Snapseed “mainly for technical stuff like colour correction”) and planning the layout of her Instagram feed takes up most of her day, alongside client meetings and events. And contrary to what you may think, Chong does not need much to get photo-ready. She does her make-up in 10 minutes flat and only brings one make-up pouch on her overseas trips.
One of the things that frustrates Chong is that “a lot of people don’t know how much hard work goes into what we do. My dad still says stuff to me like, ‘You are so lucky that you don’t have to work today’! Actually, (most influencers) don’t have proper holidays because we are working all the time. I know that my parents and boyfriend (who is a lawyer) don’t see this as a real job, but I get hurt when they say it to me”.
Snap(chat)ing out of it
Chong declines to reveal her income: “It’s sustainable and enough to hire people and pay the bills,” she demurred. Industry insiders estimate that top-tier social-media influencers here can earn a median-six-figure sum annually, thanks to brand-sponsored posts, endorsements and blog advertising. Aside from her assistant, Chong has a manager who helps her to reach out and negotiate with commercial partners and sponsors for her travels.
However, Chong sounds a warning for those aspiring to make it as professional bloggers and Instagrammers from the get-go. “I think that if you want to be a professional blogger or Instagrammer from the beginning, you won’t make it,” said Chong.
When we asked about influencers who have given the industry a bad name, Chong pointed out this stems from inauthenticity. “I try to stay authentic to my interests and passions. If you are posting stuff for the fame, people can tell. If you get too commercial, you get unfollowed; and if you are complacent, your followers don’t grow.”
Chong added that she keeps half of her Instagram posts unpaid, and the commercial work she accepts has to fit her identity. At the same time, she observes that the term “blogger” carries a lot of disdain in Singapore, although that is not the case in Australia or Europe, adding that she would like for influencers such as herself to be a “respected medium of advertising” by being paid for their time and effort.
And as for the ongoing debate on whether the future of social media influencers is shortlived, Chong offers a surprisingly realistic viewpoint. “I’m not blind to the fact that all this might be transitory; I’m aware that blogging or Instagramming is probably not going to be my life forever. But then there are always new social-media platforms, and I feel that I see more of the real world doing what I do than in university. I do see the merits of a degree — my boyfriend keeps telling me to go back to university, but for now, my career gives me more fulfilment.” — TODAY