In a world of increasingly elusive boundaries between the real and the digital, locating the roots of ‘influence’ is near impossible. Yet there is no denying that the rise of influencers such as TikTokers, who transcend brands’ bureaucratic red tape and carefully crafted campaigns, has irreversibly influenced fashion. Propelled forward by the pandemic, where our only contact with others was online, the trend towards TikTok and Instagram creators taking control of content and clout within fashion has accelerated. The privileging of personality and the eroding dominance of magazines as TikTok aesthetics steer trends has undoubtedly disrupted digital fashion. As part of the two-piece series Digital Disruptors, I spoke to TikTokers Olivia Neill, Lola Clark, Luiza Cordery, Janice Glimmer and ‘GlamByFlo’ about self-expression, the universal appeal of unfiltered authenticity and their role as digital disruptors shaking up the industry.

OLIVIA NEILL

Olivia Neill X Varsity edited by Levente KoroesINSTAGRAM / OLIVIA NEILL

Olivia Neill is a Northern Irish TikTok and Youtube star whose relatable and hilarious videos have earned her an incredible 1.1 million followers on TikTok and over 700,000 subscribers

I’d love to start off with how you became interested in content creating and fashion. Has social media and fashion always been how you’ve expressed yourself?

I started YouTube two years ago when I was 17, which was late compared to others but luckily I gained a following quickly. My work is now even across all social medias, but I sometimes steer clear of Instagram because I wasn’t drawn to it first and I feel more pressure there! With fashion, it has always been something I’ve loved but I think my style is basic… any trend out there, it ALL influences me. Last October there was a brown clothes trend and I swear my wardrobe had a hundred pieces of brown clothing... now it’s summer, I don’t know what to do!

Where do you get your biggest inspirations from for fashion?

I base everything I wear off social media and I never follow just one aesthetic one day I’ll look like a London girl and the next I’ll wear a white tea dress with crocs which means I shop too much. I went shopping yesterday and spent far too much money which is happening often now places are open… somebody needs to come stop me, please!

You recently launched your edit for Motel Rocks… it’s amazing you were able to do a ‘TikTok’ edit for such a cool brand! How did you find the experience?

90% of my clothes are from Motel because they make your body look incredible, so it was so fun seeing people tag me on TikTok or Instagram looking amazing in the clothes! Motel wanted to make it more realistic rather than shooting at a huge studio, which would have left me terrified. I spent two days walking around London with my friends who always take my best photos. It has been a DREAM and does not feel real at all!

Looking back over a year of lockdowns, some people relied on fashion for comfort, while others used it for confidence. How has your fashion changed over lockdown?

I either wore a hoodie and pyjama bottoms for days on end or I went crazy with my makeup and outfit for the daily walk. It was the highlight of my week because my friends and I would dress up SO much just for a walk, coffee and photos. In December I was out in a crop top… I probably got hypothermia, but it was SO worth it!

We are now coming out of lockdown and finally seeing people again. How are you finding this?

The first lockdown was amazing. I look back and want to go back to when it was so sunny and all I did was sleep, eat and make TikToks. The most recent lockdown was painful especially with it being winter so it is so good to be coming out of it… I can’t wait to sit inside a restaurant, crazy! Even though the weather isn’t cooperating, I will be out in little blazers and heels shivering, but I REFUSE to complain... I’m too happy.

LOLA CLARK

Lola Clark X Varsity edited by Levente KoroesINSTAGRAM / LLOLACLARK

Lola Clark or @scoobiezoobie as she is known on TikTok has amassed a huge following of 4.7 million on TikTok through her effortlessly cool style alongside her eclectic personality

How has digital fashion and TikTok been a positive force for you?

TikTok is such a fast-moving app, allowing you to know people from all over the world while exploring your identity through self-presentation. It teaches young people there is not just one type of fashion. A magazine doesn’t have a wide range whereas your TikTok ‘For You’ page shows you everything from cottage core, to goths, to even Witch TikTok, which I was on for a week!

What is something you’ve learnt from going viral on social media: was it exciting or did it put lots of pressure on you?

It changed my life overnight. I had 1000 followers before going viral so it was overwhelming, but it matured me. I realised petty stuff that goes on within friendship groups is not important. I’ve had so many doors opened for me which I’m very thankful for, but it still puts pressure on you when you realise how many eyes are on you!

You have such a distinctive style on your TikTok and Instagram. Where do you find inspiration?

I get my fashion inspiration from the 90s hip hop scene especially looking at women’s takes on male rapper’s outfits. Watching music videos of LL Cool J and Tupac or Pinterest boards of Gwen Stefani’s outfits really inspires me to wear looks that are so cool yet comfortable.

LUIZA CORDERY

Luiza Cordery X Varsity edited by Levente KoroesINSTAGRAM / LUIZACORDERY

Reigning queen of outfit videos, Luiza Cordery, or @lilstaryuh2.0 on TikTok, shows over 700,000 followers how to feel your most comfortable yet confident in chic oversized looks

Looking at your TikTok, you have a high following of over 700k followers: does this impact your content in any way?

There is an innate pressure because people are watching, and you know that. However, I’ve built an online community where I’ve laid it out flat for my followers that this began as a casual thing for me to express myself. I try not to single out my fashion when building a presence on the internet because there is more to me than the brands I wear. People are multi-faceted and there are lots of things I want to show the world which can’t be streamlined into TikTok.

“There is an innate pressure because people are watching, and you know that”

You mention it is difficult to represent yourself through one TikTok account, but you also have a Youtube channel and Instagram. On which platform do you feel you’re able to express yourself best?

Even on TikTok I’ve made ‘spam accounts’ where I’m able to organise content more according to my interests, aesthetics and inspirations. In terms of self-expression, Instagram feels the most polished which can aid real creativity, alike to Youtube as it needs so much editing! TikTok is a comfortable space in a different way because it is so instant with loads of niches and communities, so when you post you feel you’re posting for a curated audience. I love scrolling through TikTok as you have so many aesthetics at your fingertips.

How would you like your social media and fashion to inspire others?

In any way that it can: whether it is inspiring someone to use clothes as a tool to express themselves or to step outside their comfort zone. If I can inspire someone to dress in a way that makes them feel their best that’s amazing. Fashion can be people’s safe space. They can express an identity through clothing even when society doesn’t always welcome them.

JANICE GLIMMER

Janice Glimmer X Varsity edited by Levente KoroesINSTAGRAM / JANICEGLIMMER

The ethereal Janice Glimmer uses TikTok and Instagram to re-invent herself as anything from a New York City girl to a 1960s mod icon, and is loved by over 600,000 TikTok followers

How has fashion helped you explore and navigate your identity during a hyper-filtered social media age?

Style is a way to convey authenticity trends may come and go with fashion a constant force, but true style is internal. My fashion is deeply rooted in my identity and is something I inherited from my great-grandmother, my grandmother and my mother. My style really is a reflection of what inspired me and how I want to inspire others!

You mention your style is influenced by your family. Your most popular TikToks are often with your mother: what has she taught you about expressing yourself through fashion?

My mother is my ultimate icon. She has taught me to embrace my individuality and introduced me to vintage films, thrifting and old Hollywood stars, which have all inspired my fashion. We always ask each other for advice on fashion and have so much fun together. She’s my best friend, stylist and mentor in one!

Your biggest social media platform is TikTok with nearly 650,000 followers… why do you think young people are increasingly drawn to TikTok for fashion inspiration, rather than traditional magazines?

A traditional magazine or campaign is unnatural when you consider the makeup artists, stylists, photographers, models, endless poses and editing for one photo… then we’re told that is how everyday woman look! TikTok is more open about how real people look, act and dress every day. Anyone can start an account to express themselves.

Compared to when ideals were confined to magazines, there are many influencers, aesthetics and trends on social media. Have you found this a liberating change, or overwhelming?

I love that the fashion industry has become more inclusive… it is wonderful that so many aesthetics and a kaleidoscope of styles are embraced. I think it can feel overwhelming to some, but if you have a good understanding of your style then you’re able to navigate through different aesthetics to find which ones work for you. With fashion you can invent yourself every day!

GLAMBYFLO

GlamByFlo X Varsity edited by Levente KoroesINSTAGRAM / GLAMBYFLO

Flo Robertson, or GlamByFlo as she is known, shows passion for unlimited creative expression through makeup to 1.4 million followers on TikTok, while playing with fashion on Instagram and Youtube

How has makeup helped you to express your identity despite filters imposing artificial ‘digital’ makeup and altering the appearance of skin texture?

Filters developed so quickly and to such an extent that they are often so subtle you can’t tell people are using them. This can be disempowering for young people, thinking there is something wrong with them, so content creators have a responsibility to be open and honest about editing photos!

Do you find makeup to be a powerful thing and if so, why?

Absolutely. Makeup is an incredibly potent form of art. You can wake up in the morning feeling awful yet transform your day through the process of painting something onto your face. You are constructing your identity for others to visibly see.

Looking at your TikTok, you have a very high following do you feel pressure to continuously keep up with beauty trends to maintain this?

There are some days when I am not respecting my boundaries by clocking off from social media at a certain time and so I become wrapped up in trends. Unlike a nine to five office day job, you never leave the office when you work in digital beauty and fashion. Everyone online appears to be working all the time as people rarely show their breaks, but you HAVE to create set times to shut off and distance yourself from social media.

On Self-Confidence

When you leave the house in an outfit you’ve styled, how do you want to feel in yourself?

Luiza Cordery: When I’m dressed up in something I’m proud of having styled, there’s an overwhelming sense of self-assurance that comes with that. Many people who feel marginalised and shut down most of the time are able to feel themselves wearing a specific outfit. You should always respect what others wear to show off their identity and hope your style is respected too!

“Many people who feel marginalised and shut down most of the time are able to feel themselves wearing a specific outfit”

Lola Clark: You can always tell by the way someone is walking whether they’re happy within themselves, so I want younger people to see me in an outfit I’ve styled and notice my confidence. Seeing someone looking comfortable in themselves is so cool and it really impacts your day when strangers come up to compliment your outfit. We need to do that more often!

Janice Glimmer: I’m naturally a pretty shy person, yet when I leave the house in an outfit I really love, I feel I can do anything… it’s a magical feeling. Wearing an outfit I’ve styled that I feel amazing in, I want to be SEEN. I feel invigorated and happy… I am ME.

What advice would you give to your younger self about dressing for you and how to navigate the digital fashion industry?

Olivia Neill: I wish I could tell myself if I wore what I wanted to, everyone would think that was so cool, but I was so scared of people judging. In school I would never put up an Instagram just of me because I thought everyone would think ‘who does she think she is’. With social media, it’s a scary place but if you’re dealing with hate you need to just block accounts. That block button is a GOD send.

Lola Clark: I would tell myself to put lots of energy into expressing myself as this kind of opportunity is so rare. When I’m older I want to look back at how I’ve digitally portrayed myself and see someone who is wholly me!

Luiza Cordery: I’d tell my younger self that nobody cares as much as you do. You need to understand that people attacking how you look is about how THEY feel in themselves! Social media can have the power to negatively impact how you feel about yourself which is dangerous. But if you work on a balance between online expression and authentic in person experiences you can ground yourself so you escape the social media bubble


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Mountain View

Should the fashion industry welcome TikTok?

GlambyFlo: You need to know your core values before entering the digital beauty and fashion industries. Knowing which aspects of yourself need to stay the same throughout your career is so important because there are going to be many trends pulling you in different directions. I would tell my younger self to remember online life and reality are often opposed: many people are struggling behind their perfect Instagram feed!

On Disrupting Digital Fashion

Looking to the future, what do you want to be disrupted and challenged within the digital fashion industry?

Olivia Neill: We need to be more sustainable, especially with influencers promoting spending thousands of pounds on clothes at a time. We definitely need education on buying sustainably aside from Instagram infographics because that’s the only way people will take sustainability seriously! I need a tutorial for how to use EBAY so maybe we could start with that…

Lola Clark: The divide between menswear and womenswear should go! Some people have been socialised into rejecting men wearing women’s clothes and women wearing men’s clothes due to toxic masculinity. It’s an element of hate that is always in the comments section and needs to be discarded from the fashion industry!

Luiza Cordery: There is so much toxicity within digital fashion as people expect others to fit certain moulds. This strips people of their right to express themselves freely and authentically through clothing. If we removed such judgement, the fashion industry’s potential to aid identity expression could be realised!

“As an influencer, I am a model, photographer, stylist, photo editor, video editor, marketer, and writer… I am my own CEO”

Janice Glimmer: My biggest wish is for influencers to be given more respect. As an influencer, I am a model, photographer, stylist, photo editor, video editor, marketer, and writer… I am my own CEO. Each project requires hours and hours, if not days, of work. Influencers are the new wave of marketing professionals responsible for reaching out to millions of people… we should be taken seriously!

GlambyFlo: I want the idea that there is one fixed look for beauty to disappear. It’s great to see many people advocating for diversity, but we have a lot further to go to disrupt beauty ideals falsely seen as attainable yet not possible for many.