IG: @classisinternal, 1.5M followers
You know you’ve made it when a casual Instagram post brings you face to face with the Kaiser. Last year, Russia-born, Toronto-bred, Los Angeles—based blogger and YouTuber Sonya Esman posted a pic of a Fendi purse and tagged the Italian label. This year, the house invited her to a VIP dinner, alongside first-name-only fashion giants like Anna, Rihanna and yes, Karl. “I was sitting at their table,” she says. “It’s crazy what can happen from one photo!” Esman, 20, jokes that she’s been around since “the early days” of YouTube. She was 11 when she posted her first video (it was about her Neopets). Her original passion was acting, but it was her fashionably unfussed style that gave her her big break.
In 2013, Esman flew to New York Fashion Week where, “nobody knew who I was” with just two invites in her pocket. Still, a killer outfit (black crop top, boyfriend jeans, tucker hat) got her noticed by street-style snappers, and the next day she was on the front page of Style.com. “That was a turning point for me. I realized it’s about being in the right place at the right time—and then you just go for it!” Today, she juggles a multi-platform brand, creating content for her blog, Class Is Internal, as well as Instagram and YouTube. But Esman says she prioritizes living first, posting second: “You can inspire people with the life you already have as opposed to making social media your life. I’m not someone who spends all day counting likes.”
IG: @xandervintage, 52.2K followers
Alanna Durkovich was 21, studying communications at Capilano University, when, “Surprise!” as she puts it, “I was pregnant.” She and her boyfriend initially settled on Xander as the name for their son, but ended up going with Noah when he was born. Being a new mom meant putting college on hold, but she soon felt a creative void and decided to open an online vintage shop, which she called Xander Vintage. She would occasionally model her wares on the site and she noticed that the pieces she wore—with her retro-cool, earth-mother, biker-babe vibes—sold the best. When fashion brands began reaching out, she realized “social media mogul” might actually be a career path and reinvented Xander Vintage as a style blog.
She grew her Instagram audience to 30,000 in her first year and signed with an agency so she could focus on the creative. Her most popular post often featured a new hair colour—her transition to sky blue got more than 6,000 likes. In fact, it’s her love of Froot Loops-inspired hues that makes Durkovich, now 25, a natural ambassador for a major hair colour brand. This winter, the partnership took her to L.A. to attend the GRAMMYs and walk the red carpet. “It was actually pretty chill,” she says. “There were women in gowns waiting in line for pretzels. I’ll never forget it!”
IG: @dajanarads, 63K followers
Dajana Rads was 20, studying at York University in Toronto, when she made the decidedly against-type decision to compete in the Miss Universe Canada Pageant (she made it to the top 12). Her look back then (heavy makeup, hair extensions, Disney princess dress, bling) bears little resemblance to the ultimate cool-chick vibe she has going today (sporty, sexy, streetwear), but ironically, she says, pageant life taught her the importance of developing her own voice. It also lead to her next gig as a reality-TVstarlet alongside fellow beauty queen Jenna Talackova, the B.C. trans women who sued Miss Universe for the right to compete. The show was called Brave New Girls, and followed Talackova and her besties as they tried to make it in L.A. It was, again, a valuable learning exercise, but not a long-term fit. “I realized I wasn’t comfortable having my whole life on display,” she says.
The curated nature of Instagram celebrity, it turns out, is a better fit. On her feed, the now-24-year-old model covers her laid-back West Coast style, her travel adventures (London, Amsterdam, St. Barts), plus the occasional motivational quote and food porn. “I think it’s important to mix it up—people are going to get sick of non-stop selfies,” she says. Case in point: she’s working on creating YouTube content with a few girlfriends. “I like that I can share my life,” she says. “I just don’t want to share everything.”
IG: @notyourstandard, 143K followers
When 85,000 people like a pic of you in your underwear, you’re officially Internet famous. Kayla Seah, 26, reached that status last year when she posted a sexy skivvy snap as a part of a brand’s Instagram campaign. They reposted it, and it was a landslide of likes from there. “I was with my sister when it happened,” she says, “We definitely freaked out a bit!”
While her turn as underwear model was unexpected, Seah always new she wanted a career in style. She studied fashion communications at Ryerson University in Toronto and then moved to New York to intern with the website StyleLikeU. She’d planned to open a boutique, but realized a blog would allow her to build a brand and work in fashion without the headache of retail. “I wanted to express my style but I didn’t want to be just another fashion blog,” she says, which is why NotYourStandard also covers travel, food, decor and now beauty. Seah recently landed an ambassador gig with a major makeup brand. “I think people appreciate that I’m not the typical blonde-haired, blue-eyed blogger,” she says of her half-Chinese, half-Italian roots. It’s another way Seah plans to carve our her own space in an increasingly crowded field. “I always joke that nobody understands Asian eyebrows. I think I should do some content on that.”
IG: @aniab, 110K followers
For Ania Boniecka, 29, success has hinged on knowing what she’s about (fashion, travel, beauty) and what she’s not: “I’m not a food blogger, I’m not a mommy blogger,” she says, noting that she sometimes gets approached by supermarkets for coverage. “Of course I would love free groceries for life, but that’s just not what I do.”
Boniecka moved to Calgary from Poland when she was 13 and started modelling in her early teens. Her parents insisted fashion wasn’t a stable career, so she studied accounting. She launched the AniaB blog as a creative outlet, but it was only when she started posting OOTDs that traffic spiked. Then in 2014, Instagram included her on a list of people to follow. “I was on a plane and when I landed, I had 10,000 new followers!” she says.
Today she’s parlayed her dreamy boho aesthetic into serious social media power (she once posted her new Moschino phone case, and within hours there was a queue outside the store where she bought it). Video is a big part of the plan for 2016, as is exploring new ways to stand out. In February she ditched New York Fashion Week early for the Magic Apparel trade show in Las Vegas, an industry event featuring contemporary and independent brands. “I love fashion week, but there are dozens of bloggers there. I want to bring my audience something unique.”
Photography: Norman Wong
Hair: Justin German, Pantene, P1M.ca
Makeup: Simone Otis, P1m.ca
Nails: Naomi Misu, Tips Nail Bar, P1M.ca
Styling: Corey Ng, P1M.ca
Editor: Nancy Won
Art director: Jed Tallo