Jemimah James Wei Shares How She Became One Of The Biggest Fashion Influencers In Singapore
In an exclusive interview, Singapore-based social media star, Jemimah James Wei shares what it is like to be an influencer and her tips on becoming one
With an enviable Instagram following of over 68.3K and counting, Jemimah James Wei is one of the most influential social media stars in Singapore. She drives a sizeable number of followers to brands and products not only through her fresh and relatable content, but also through her captivating words.
Incidentally, this young millennial didn't set out to build a career in social media. Jemimah James Wei began her career as a host, and also worked as a copywriter and a social media strategist. Thus, being an influencer was a natural progression for Wei, not a planned one.
Today, the 26-year-old is considered one of the foremost voices in fashion and beauty verticals. All because of her carefully curated content and innovative call to action posts.
And that's why we at HerStyleAsia are celebrating this brilliant mind in our special #NoFilter feature. In an exclusive tete-e-tete with this social media influencer we find out how she did it; and how social media can be a game changer for millennials trying to work out their career choices.
How Jemimah James Wei Became One Of The Biggest Influencers
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HSA: Jemimah, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Wei: I'm born and raised in Singapore, and followed quite a traditional academic path cumulating in my completing my Masters degree early this year. I've always been a writer, and I know that's endgame for me, but I'm very much a work in progress on that front still. But in the meanwhile I've worked as a copywriter and social media strategist at Havas Media for three years, hosted for Clicknetwork TV for five, and taught in NTU for one, so I always joke that I'm a professional millennial.
HSA: How did you end up choosing social media as a career?
Wei: Actually I started as a host for ClicknetworkTV when I was twenty one, and that coincided with the social media boom. It's always been something that complements my other work - hosting, academia, writing - and I see it as very much a natural arm of the other work that I do, though I think that's got to do with the fact that like any millennial I'm always involved in about a zillion different endeavours at once anyway.
HSA: How did you family respond when you told them of your career choice?
Wei: I think my parents were super amused because I got into a lot of trouble in school for being talkative, and somehow made a living of it by becoming a host. Actually, a lot of my ex school teachers find this hilarious whenever we have alumni gatherings as well!
"Social Media Can Be Totally Transformative In So Many Areas Of Life"
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HSA: What are your thoughts on the power of social media?
Wei: It's great, but not as great as the smell of freshly brewed coffee against the crisp morning air. In other words, it's no reality replacement, but it is pretty dope entertainment.
HSA: Do you think this is a good career choice?
Wei: I think social media is so important and it can be totally transformative in so many areas of life. But whether or not it can be a good career choice depends on the person engaging with it. There's no clear trajectory for any freelancer, and how meaningful the work is really depends on individual definition and effort.
HSA: Can somebody really be their 'real self' on social media?
Wei: I think what you mean is - can someone be their authentic self? I'm very dicey on the topic of what it means to be real, because this seems to now represent a total unfiltered live stream of thought, and the truth is, even in day to day interactions theres a social code that governs our behaviour, and just because someone is polite or knows to think before they speak doesn't mean they're not real, it just means they have EQ.
I definitely don't think theres anything wrong with being a more reserved private person and presenting a curated version of yourself to the world online, and this is a totally separate thing from being inauthentic, which is a distinction I think we're largely missing in the debate today.
And as participants in the social media landscape, I think this has to be complemented with a general awareness not to take the world at face value, and to acknowledge that of course people project a version of themselves online.
HSA: How do you deal with negative criticism online? Does it affect you?
Wei: It used to, when I was much younger, but I've had five years to grow a thick skin! Ha. Now it very very rarely bothers me, unless it's someone pointing out something that's totally true that I've completely missed, in which case I think I should be listening and trying to grow from it anyway.
If it's purely about tone or opinion, I find it a little bit narcissistic to focus on the fact that someone else doesn't like me, because of course they're entitled to their feelings - and I shouldn't be charting my life against the popularity index of the masses anyway. Easier said than done, but still.
HSA: Do you see the landscape of social media becoming more inclusive and accepting?
Wei: I definitely feel hopeful about it. Social media is just an amplification platform at the end of the day. And, it's driven by the intention of its users.
This broadening of awareness has led to more intentional efforts to be inclusive, but that's only the first step. People still have to take that effort offline into their daily lives.
I think the most important thing to remember about social media is that it's ultimately a complementary tool. It isn't and cannot be your end-all, it wasn't designed to function that way.
What's the point of social media being more inclusive and accepting if it stays as a purely online change? The responsibility to take that offline is on us, the humans behind the usernames.
How Can Millennials Draw The Line Between Minting Money And Followers' Trust
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HSA: Social media is also a great tool to share information. So when you endorse a product, what's your vision? Does money matter?
Wei: Of course money matters. I'm very perplexed as to why we feel the need to keep pretending that social media advertisements are not, at the base line, a transaction.
Obviously you have to believe in who or what you're endorsing, but this is not a rule that applies only to social media, it applies to agents who represent actors, writers, musicians, it applies to ad agencies, it applies to basically anyone who doesn't work in a complete vacuum.
I would never ask a manager or agent of mine to work for free just because they believe in what I have to offer. I certainly don't see any advertising agencies representing clients for free because they believe in their product. Integrity and getting paid are not mutually exclusive, and they must work in tandem, because we need money to do very basic things like live and eat and function in the world.
HSA: There is ongoing debate on social media about the balance between trust and money making. What's your take on it?
Wei: I understand the fatigue, and I think it's because there's such immense saturation of content being flung in our faces every single day on every single app that at some point, you're like, is this really amazing or are you just being paid to say so?
But I think we really don't give the consumer enough credit in these debates. I mean, come on. People have the autonomy and ability to make smart decisions.
If I see someone post a photo of a massage chair, for example, I'm not about to rush off and buy it immediately. I'd go and look for reviews online, think about whether it's worth it, maybe try it out in stores first if I have the chance. There are so many things that go into a purchasing decision.
And part of that autonomy as a consumer - material or online - is the total capacity for an independent decision to just unfollow someone if you don't trust their recommendations or enjoy their content anymore! It's like switching the radio channel if you no longer trust the DJ's taste in music.
HSA: If an influencer endorses many products for money, where should they draw the line?
Wei: I'm not about to police the behaviour of others, but personally it really depends on what my realistic ability is to thoroughly try out the products I'm considering for endorsement, and also how interested I am in that genre of products.
HSA: What kind of following do you have- demographically? Do you receive messages from them about how much you've influenced their purchasing power?
Wei: Five years ago when I first got on Instagram I had mainly 18-24 year olds, and now it's majority 25-34 year olds, so it feels like we've all kind of grown up together. And yes, I do get messages from readers who give me feedback on things they've bought on my recommendation.
The best ones are when they tag me in pictures of books I've recommended and send me their recommendations too because I really feel like my community understands my reading tastes (just by virtue of us basically being one big online book club) and their book reccos to me tend to be quite solid!
HSA: What's your message to those who think influencers go on free trips and it isn't really benefiting the consumers? What's your take on this recent social media debate?
Wei: I wasn't aware there was a social media debate around this. Honestly - for trips, I don't think the consumer comes into play in the decision making process at all. It is to me a hundred percent a tourism board decision, based off a marketing directive to create awareness or shape a certain tourism image about their country.
And in return, I think the tourism boards are looking for images they can use, that can populate a certain image of their destination to the masses.
For consumers, it's like browsing a magazine on their phones and scrolling through beautiful pictures. I don't think consumers expect to get a life enriching lesson from consuming content like that. So to me it's a pretty even match of expectations and reality.
Jemimah James Wei On Her Icons And Advice To Aspiring Millennial Influencers
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HSA: Do you have any social media idols?
Wei: I totally adore Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche - staggeringly talented author, Beyonce's inspiration, Dior's muse.. Her Instagram account is run by her nieces and I think it's fantastic.
And I've been following Roxane Gay since her tumblr days (I think it's been 8 years now). I'm hooked onto her every word, be it on Twitter, Instagram, or wherever she's dishing opinions online.
I actually love Twitter the most. Although it's no longer cool to say that. And the twitter account of journalist Pandora Sykes brings me a lot of joy.
HSA: How can girls become more self-aware and learn to love themselves?
Wei: Stop worrying about being likeable and you'll find you suddenly have a lot more time on your hands to get so much more done!
HSA: What message would you like to share with your followers, about life and body positivity in general?
Wei: Read lots, read widely, make good friends, and learn to appreciate contrary opinions.