These Influencers Are Challenging One Of The Largest Ambassador Marketing Companies To Show Receipts
When I think of an influencer, I think of hard-working individuals who produces fresh content tailor-made for their following. Everyone is an influencer in their own right so there are different types of influencers — Mega, Macro, Micro, and Nano. Within these varying categories, there is a myriad of opportunities for influencers to partner with brands of all kinds. But, let's be honest, the influencer space is predominantly white. This means that influencers of color have to work twice as hard for the same opportunities as white influencers. Imagine being an influencer of color and learning that your work is valued less than that of your white counterparts. Story of a black creative's life, right?
The 2020 revolution is forcing the world to stop and listen to black folks. Thanks to a pandemic within a pandemic, society is finally hearing the cries of black people. Granted, we have been saying "per my last email" to injustice for decades but we will take what we can get at this point. Unfortunately, injustices happen to us in all spaces. For that reason, heavyweight influencers like Aicha Balde and Marche Robinson created the #OpenFohr campaign.
In case you don't know about Fohr, let me learn you something. Fohr is a global influencer marketing platform for ambassadors and brands. The goal of the platform is to provide influencers with tools that help them create a cutting edge marketing strategy, leading them to partnerships and campaigns. Fohr proudly states, "We support influencers. We are nothing without our influencer community, and we act accordingly." And like many other companies, Fohr jumped on the trend to pause advertisements and post anti-racism resources amidst the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd. The gag is, they don't walk it like they talk it. For years, Black and Brown influencers have made it their business to share their grievances with being underpaid and there has not been any change.
That's where Aicha and Marche come in. We had the chance to dig deeper into this movement and what it means to these amazing women.
xoNecole: Tell us about yourself and how you became an influencer.
Aicha Balde: My name is Aissatou Balde but only my dad calls me Aissatou, everyone else knows me as Aicha. I am a West African-born full-time working mom and a Black content creator (@talesandturbans). My journey as a content creator started as an outlet to empower African [and] Muslim girls like me to do things that seemed impossible, such as juggling school, family, and work. Today, I pride myself in creating a space for open and difficult conversations about motherhood, identity, and life, along with the fun stuff like fashion, skincare, and food.
Marche Robinson: I'm Marche Robinson and I am an attorney and blogger (@marcherobinson) living in Raleigh, NC. I've been blogging since 2012. I graduated law school in 2010 and the market was very bad. There were not a lot of legal jobs. I took a contract role in Charlotte and at the time I had an inconsistent working schedule and needed something creative to fill the time. I started reading blogs and my friends and family told me I should start one. So, in August of 2012, I launched my blog and initially just shared fashion, beauty and décor images I found online.
Why did you start the OpenFohr movement?
Aicha & Marche: A group of eight Black content creators - Aissata Diallo, Denisse Myrick, Valerie Eguavoen, Yvette Corinne, Marche' Robinson, Nasteha Yusuf, and Nuni Yusuf, and I started #OpenFohr as a next step in a series of interventions against racism at Fohr. Over the past two years, we have complained, explained, consulted, and recommended solutions to Fohr, but our voices have been silenced with polished campaigns that convince the mainstream media that Fohr is a changemaker in the content creation space.
Agencies like Fohr have capitalized on the growing call for "diversity and inclusion" in the influencer industry without really making any changes to their exploitative and discriminatory practices. We created the OpenFohr campaign because we cannot allow people to keep exploiting the anti-racist narrative for profits. Over the past two weeks, as the Black Lives Matter movement took center stage in the public discourse, Fohr paused its advertising, posted protest resources, and even provided anti-racism resources on Instagram. Yet, many of the Black content creators who have worked with them are discriminated against and underpaid.
We also want people to know that this is about both racism and economic exploitation. Fohr boasts over 100,000 (majority-white) influencers on their online platform, yet only 4% (just over 4,000) content creators have ever had a contract with Fohr. They have created a platform that does not value influencers as people but sees them as a commodity to be sold to brands. It is impossible to address the issues we see at Fohr without addressing the culture of consumerism and exploitation perpetrated by the industry.
Left to Right: Aicha Balde, Marche Robinson
Photos Courtesy of Aicha Balde & Marche Robinson
"We want people to know that this is about both racism and economic exploitation. Fohr boasts over 100,000 (majority-white) influencers on their online platform, yet only 4% (just over 4,000) content creators have ever had a contract with Fohr. They have created a platform that does not value influencers as people but sees them as a commodity to be sold to brands. It is impossible to address the issues we see at Fohr without addressing the culture of consumerism and exploitation perpetrated by the industry."
What does it mean to be a Black influencer?
Aicha: To be a Black influencer means showing up in spaces where you may not be wanted and still doing it for girls who look like you. I learned the hard way that brands tend to gravitate more towards bloggers that fit the standard of beauty. For a long time, I thought, "Blogging isn't for me because I don't look 'the part'." Even photographers have blatantly told me that they don't know how to edit my skin tone, completely unwilling to learn and unable to even recommend an alternative contact. The biggest challenge of being so diverse in this business is finding people who can understand you and won't crush your confidence. I blog to remind myself and others that we are good enough; our diversity is an asset, not a drawback.
Marche: When I first started out, being a Black influencer meant filling a void. Fashion magazines and sites rarely shared Black women. They still have a very long way to go so I still feel this way. I feel like influencing is a way to share fashion, beauty, etc with women who can relate to me. It's not easy for Black women to open a magazine and see a woman like them sharing their story or their favorite products. If it were not for Black influencers, there would not be as much representation.
When you learned of the influencer pay gap, how did you feel?
Aicha: These issues are not new. Black bloggers have been discussing our unfair treatment in the Influential Marketing world for years, but to no avail. What finally broke the camel's back was the fact that Fohr had the audacity to use the #BlackLivesMatter issue to their advantage despite their repertoire of exploiting us. When I say us, I don't just mean Black content creators. This includes their Black employees who cannot speak out about their treatment for fear of being ostracized.
Marche: Honestly, I was not surprised. Pay gaps are present in every industry unfortunately. I've been in the position where I was drastically underpaid than my legal colleagues in certain jobs even though I had the same or more experience. It's unfortunate because I think that we've become accustomed to being undervalued. I also feel like there is this veil of secrecy that prevents you from discussing your pay, so you can sometimes feel like you have negotiated the best rate when you didn't.
Left to Right: Aicha Balde, Marche Robinson
Photos Courtesy of Aicha Balde & Marche Robinson
"Pay gaps are present in every industry unfortunately. I've been in the position where I was drastically underpaid than my legal colleagues in certain jobs even though I had the same or more experience. It's unfortunate because I think that we've become accustomed to being undervalued. I also feel like there is this veil of secrecy that prevents you from discussing your pay, so you can sometimes feel like you have negotiated the best rate when you didn't."
What are your demands of Fohr?
Aicha & Marche: Fohr must stop treating this movement as a PR nightmare to hide from and instead, face it as the call to accountability of their actions and inactions over the years. You cannot have an entitled and unaware homogenous-white staff leading an organization and expect to get it right. You will always miss the mark because there's no one to say otherwise. Lack of diversity is how you end up taking advantage of Black creators and complain when you get called out. Fohr needs an independent outside party to look at their structure and provide constructive criticism. Most importantly, Fohr needs an HR department. You cannot fairly police yourself. We know that, so let's change that.
Why do you think it's important for Fohr to show their authentic commitment to Black influencers?
Aicha: I personally don't think Fohr is capable of being authentic to their Black influencers. This was never something that was on their agenda. As I said, this conversation has been going on for over two years but nothing has changed. The creation of The Fohr Freshman Class was a result of Fohr getting called out for lack of diversity, and yet they still failed us. It is essential for authentic commitments to happen because Black content creators are as deserving of our space in this sphere as much as anyone else. We are here and we matter.
Marche: Fohr should show authentic commitment because they have consistently held themselves out to be supportive of diversity and leader in the influencer marketing industry. How can you hold yourself out to be so groundbreaking when you lack diversity within your organizing and with the bloggers you hire for campaigns? I think there is this tendency for people to say, "Oh that's just the industry," but that doesn't make it right. People should be paid adequately for the service they provide.
Left to Right: Aicha Balde, Marche Robinson
Photos Courtesy of Aicha Balde & Marche Robinson
"It is essential for authentic commitments to happen because Black content creators are as deserving of our space in this sphere as much as anyone else. We are here and we matter."
What advice do you have for other influencers struggling to create?
Aicha: Do things that come naturally to you and that revolve around your day-to-day life. Reach out to another sister to have a creativity party and get ideas flowing. Most of my Insta family will tell you that my DMs are always open, whether it's for help, a listening ear, or to celebrate each other: I'm here for you, sis.
Marche: So many influencers have had to pivot during quarantine and now with the current movements. I think that you have to share what you are passionate about. When you do what you love it comes naturally. I actually started a TikTok account and it's been fun to create content in a new way and it has resonated a lot with my social media followers. I think this is a great time to step back and think of a new way to create and share what you love.
To keep up with the #OpenFohr movement, follow them on Instagram @openfohr. And follow Marche and Aicha on Instagram @talesandturbans and @marcherobinson.
Feature Image Courtesy of Aicha Balde & Marche Robinson
Joce Blake is a womanist who loves fashion, Beyonce and Hot Cheetos. The sophistiratchet enthusiast is based in Brooklyn, NY but has southern belle roots as she was born and raised in Memphis, TN. Keep up with her on Instagram @joce_blake and on Twitter @SaraJessicaBee.
Unapologetically, Chlöe: The R&B Star On Finding Love, Self-Acceptance & Boldly Using Her Voice
On set inside of a mid-city Los Angeles studio, it’s all eyes on Chlöe. She slightly shifts her body against a dark backdrop amidst camera clicks and whirs, giving a seductive pout here, and piercing eye contact there. Her chocolate locs are adorned with a few jewels that she requested to spice up the look, and on her shoulders rests a jeweled piece that she asked to be turned around to better showcase her neck (“I feel a bit old,” she said of the original direction). Her shapely figure is tucked into a strapless bodysuit with a deep v-neck that complements her décolletage.
Though subtle, her quiet wardrobe directives give the air of a woman who’s been here before, and certainly knows what she’s doing. At 24 years young, she’s a “Bossy” chick in training— one who’s politely unapologetic and learning the power of her own voice.
“I'm hesitant sometimes to truly speak my mind and speak up for myself and what I believe,” she later confessed to me a couple of weeks after the photoshoot. “It's always scary for me, but now I'm realizing that I have to, in order to gain respect as a Black woman— a young Black woman— who's still navigating who she is. And you know, I'm realizing that closed mouths don't get fed. And if I keep my mouth shut just because I'm afraid of what people's opinions of me will be or turn into, then that's not any way to live.”
For Chlöe, the journey into womanhood is about embracing who she is, without succumbing to the perceptions of what others think of her. From the waist up she’s everything you’d imagine. A gorgeous goddess with the kind of sex appeal that some work hard to embrace but fail to exude. But unbeknownst to anyone not on set, her bottom half is covered by a white robe, surprising coming from the girl who boasts “'Cause my booty so big, Lord, have mercy” on her first hit single “Have Mercy.”
But that’s the beauty of Chlöe. There’s more to her than meets the eye. More than what a few sensual photos sprinkled throughout an Instagram feed could ever tell you. Just like the photo-framing illusion of her portrayed from the waist up, what we know about the songstress is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
Some hours later Chlöe leans back in a high chair as her locs are transformed from a formal updo to a seemingly Basquiat-inspired one. It’s pure art, and at her request, no wigs are a part of the day’s ensemble. She’s fully embracing her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t always a socially accepted one.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, (Mableton, to be exact) Chlöe began to explore the foundation of her self-image. At an early age she and her younger sister, Halle, demonstrated a vocal prowess and knack for being in front of the camera that caught their parents’ attention. Soon after, they were sent on a parade of local talent shows and auditions, and eventually broke into the digital space with song covers on YouTube.
It was during these early years that Chlöe first learned that the entertainment industry could be unforgiving to those who didn’t fit a particular beauty standard. Despite the then three-year-old snagging a role as the younger version of Beyoncé’s character, Lilly, in Fighting Temptations, casting agents requested that her natural locs be exchanged for more Eurocentric tresses. Ironic, considering that growing up Chlöe saw her hair as no different than that of her peers. “I remember specifically in pre-K we had to do self-portraits and I drew myself with a regular straight ponytail, like how I would put my locs in a ponytail,” she says. “I just never saw myself any different.”
Chlöe would also learn the true meaning of a phrase that would later become an affirmation posted on her bedroom mirror: “Don’t Let the World Dim Your Light.” After attempting to wear wigs to fit in, the Bailey sisters instead chose to rock their locs with pride, which undoubtedly cost them casting roles. Yet they would have the last laugh when making headlines as the “Teen Dreadlocked Duo” who landed a million-dollar contract with Parkwood Entertainment, and the coveted opportunity to be groomed under the tutelage of a world-renowned superstar.
Credit: Derek Blanks
While that could be the end of a beautiful fairytale of self-empowerment, the reality is that it’s just the beginning of the story of her evolution. For most girls, the transition into womanhood takes place in the comfort of their own worlds, often limited to the number of people they allow to have access to them. But for Chlöe, it’s happening in front of millions of critiquing eyes just waiting for an opportunity to either uplift or dissect her through unwarranted commentary.
Many in her position wouldn’t be able to take that kind of pressure. But Chlöe is handling it with grace. “I feel like all of us as humans, we have the right to interpret things how we want,” she says. “I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
Chlöe isn’t the first artist to receive criticism for her carnal content, and she certainly won’t be the last. In 2010, Ciara writhed and rode her way to banishment on BET when the then 24-year-old released her video for “Ride.” In 2006, 25-year-old Beyoncé received backlash for “Déjà Vu."
"I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
So much so that over 5,000 fans signed an online petition demanding that her label re-shoot the video because it was “too sexual.” Even 27-year-old Janet didn’t escape critical headlines when she shed her image of innocence for a more risqué appearance with the 1993 release of janet.
It’s almost as if public reproach is a rite of passage for young Black women R&B singers on the road to stardom. Good girls seemingly “go bad” whenever they embrace the depths of their femininity, and fans only like you on top figuratively. But Chlöe has learned not to bow down to other people’s opinions, but to boss up and control the narrative. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. If sex appeal is her weapon, she wields it well.
On set, Chlöe exudes the energy of Aphrodite in an apple red, off-shoulder dress with a sexy high split. In between shots, she mouths the lyrics to Yebba’s “Boomerang” as it echoes throughout the space in steady repetition at my recommendation. The hour grows late, yet Chlöe is heating things up as eyes stare in deep mesmerization of the girl on fire.
Credit: Derek Blanks
Through music, she explores the depths of her being, a journey that seems to be, at its foundation, rooted in self-discovery. Whereas their debut album The Kids Are Alright (2018) boasts a young Chloe x Halle empowering their generation to embrace who they are while finding their place in the world, their second album Ungodly Hour (2020) shows the Bailey sisters shedding the veil of innocence for a more unapologetic bravado.
What fans looked forward to seeing is who Chlöe shows herself to be on her debut solo album In Pieces. In an interview with PEOPLE, she confesses that releasing her first project without her sister was “scary.” "It was a moment of self-doubt where I was like, 'Can I do this without my sister?’”
Chlöe has never been shy about sharing her insecurities or her vulnerabilities, all of which are laced throughout the 14-track album. “I want people to have fun when they listen to it and to just realize that they're not alone and it's okay to be vulnerable and raw and open because none of us are perfect; we're all far from it. And I think it's healing when we all admit to that instead of putting up a facade.”
The gift of time has given the self-professed “big lover girl” more encounters with romance and heartbreak. Love songs once sung for their beautiful riffs and melodies become more than just abstract lyrics and are replaced by real-life experiences, which she tells me is definitely in the music.
In her single “Pray It Away,” for example, she contemplates going to God for healing instead of going at her ex-lover for revenge for his infidelities. “With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable,” she says. “I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
Has Chlöe been in love? That still remains to be said. Of course, she’s been linked to a few potential baes, but dating in the digital age isn’t as easy as a double tap or drop of a heart-eyes emoji. It requires a level of trust and vulnerability that’s hard to earn, and easy to mishandle. To let her guard down means to potentially set herself up for disappointment. “It’s difficult dating right now, honestly, because you really have to kind of keep your guard up and pay attention to who's really there for you. And you know, I'm such an affectionate person and I love hard.
"So when I meet the one person that I really, really am into, it's hard for me to see any others and I get attached pretty easily. And you know, I don't know, it's…it's a scary thing.”
Credit: Derek Blanks
“With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable. I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
While broken hearts yield good music (queue Adele), what’s in Chlöe’s prayer is the desire to be happy. What does that look like? Well, she’s still figuring that out herself. “Honestly, I'm the type of person who I don't truly learn unless I experience it. So it's like I can view and watch my parents and watch the loving relationships that I see in my life and be like, ‘Oh, I want that. I would love to have that.’ But then I also have to experience [love] on my own and see what my flaws or my faults might be or see what my good things about myself are. I feel like it's really all about self-reflection. And even though our base is our family and that's our foundation, we are still our own individuals and we have to find out specifically the things about ourselves that may be different from what we saw from our parents when we were growing up.”
Her ideal beau, she tells me, is someone she can feel safe to be her fun, goofy self with, but who also gives her the space to be the boss chick chasing her dreams. A man who understands that just because the world compliments her doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear those words from his lips or feel it in his touch. A bonus if he shows up on set after a long hard day of work with vegan cinnamon rolls. You know, the basic necessities. “I like whoever I'm with to constantly tell me they love me and that I look beautiful because I do the same. I am a very mushy person, and if I see something or you look good, I will never shy away from saying it out loud. And I want whoever I'm with to do the same, be very vocal. Tell me that you love me. Tell me what you love about me because I'm doing the same for you because that's just the person I am.”
Until she meets her match she’s married to the game, and for now, that seems to be perfect matrimony.
Credit: Derek Blanks
On stage at the 2021 American Music Awards, Chlöe solidified her position as a force to be reckoned with. It was a full-circle moment. In 2012, bright-eyed and baby-faced Chloe and Halle would walk onto the set of The Ellen Degeneres Show and blow the audience away as they bellowed out their future mentor’s song. Ellen would present the sisters with tickets to attend the AMAs, assuring them that they would be back and had a promising future. Nine years later, Chlöe descends from the sky cloaked in a snow-white cape and matching midriff-baring bodysuit for her debut performance. It’s the first time she’s graced the stage of the very award show that she was once an audience member of.
As she shakes and shimmies and boom kack kacks out her eight counts, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Just like her VMA performance a couple of months prior, and the many more stages she’ll continue to grace, she brings an energy that has earned her comparisons to the beloved Queen Bey herself. An honorable statement, considering few R&B songstresses are getting accolades for their entertainment capabilities. It’s on these very stages, in front of hundreds of astonished eyes and millions more glued to their televisions at home, that she tells me she feels most sexy. Powerful, even.
But off stage, it’s a different story.
It’s more than just the commentary about her image and media-flamed rumors that get to her. Mentally, she’s in competition with herself. The desire to be the best burns at the back of her mind with every performance, every production, and every time she steps into the booth. Before, she could share the weight of this burden with her sister. Being a part of a duo meant she could turn to Halle for quiet confirmation and encouragement without a word being exchanged. But lately stepping on the stage means stepping out on her own. And despite being a breathtaking, five-time Grammy-nominated star, Chlöe doesn’t escape the reality that sometimes we can be our own worst critics.
Over the last year, she’s been coming to terms with who she is on her own while overcoming the fear of failing to become who she’s destined to be. While the world waits to see how Chlöe wins, the real triumph is in every day that she chooses herself and continues to walk in her purpose. “I don't really have anything all figured out, honestly. But what I try to do, a lot of prayer. I talk to God more and I just try to do things that calm my mind down and just breathe.”
To whom much is given, much will be required. She’s been chosen to walk this path for a reason. Once she fully embraces that everything she’s meant to be is already inside of her, she’ll be an unstoppable force. “My grandma, Elizabeth, she just passed away and my middle name is her [first] name. So I feel like I truly have a responsibility to live up to her legacy that she's left on this earth. I hope I can do that.”
There’s no doubt that she will. With a role in The Fighting Temptations at three years old, a million-dollar record deal, a main role on five seasons of Grown-ish, five Grammy nominations, a number one solo record in Urban and Rhythmic Radio, a debut solo album, and starring roles in recently released movies Praise Thisand Swarm (just to name a few), Chlöe’s certainly already made her mark, and she’s just getting started.
Photographer & Creative Director: Derek Blanks
Executive Producer: Necole Kane
Co-Executive Producer: EJ Jamele
Producer: Erica Turnbull
Digitech: Chris Keller
DP: Alex Nikishin
Gaffer: Simeon Mihaylov
Photo Assistant: Chris Paschal
2nd Photo Assistant: Tyler Umprey
Features Editor: Kiah McBride
Special Projects: Tyeal Howell
Hair: Malcolm Marquez
Makeup: Yolonda Frederick
Fashion Styling: Ashley Sean Thomas
For More: Cover Story: Issa Rae Comes Full Circle
The Gina Vs. The Jheri Curl: Are Perms Having A Comeback?
When it comes to beauty trends, everything comes full circle, and perms are no exception. If you weren't around to experience perms the first time the hairstyle was cool, then the modern version might blow your mind! But before discussing what a GinaCurl is, you have to understand the Jheri curl and what a standard perm is.
A perm is short for permanent wave and is a process that uses chemicals and heat to change the texture of the hair to a curl or wave. Perms work by altering the structure of the hair thermally or chemically and setting the curl pattern and texture. This differs slightly from what we in the Black community have referred to as "perms" growing up, which were formally called relaxers, but the word "perm" could be used to describe the chemical treatment interchangeably.
Similar to perms that are known for creating permanent waves in straight hair, perms for Black hair involved the chemical process of straightening curly hair by breaking the bonds of the hair shaft. In this article, we are focusing on perms that create permanent waves in the hair, not the perms we sometimes call relaxers.
The Jheri Curl
Though originally created by Jheri Redding, an Irish-American hairdresser in the 1970s of Nexxus and Redken fame, the Jheri curl that we've come to associate with was adapted by Comer Cottrell, a Black entrepreneur. Their at-home Curly Kits were specifically created for Black hair and would lay the groundwork for the popular style to be more accessible to everyday people and not just celebs like Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie.
The standard Jheri curl that comes to mind whenever a perm is mentioned requires a two-part application. This consists of a softener or rearranging cream to loosen the hair, followed by perm rods and a solution to neutralize and set the curls. Just like with any process that chemically alters the hair, proper care and technique are needed so as not to damage your hair during the process.
However, as a low-maintenance hairstyle, once the process is done, Jheri curls can be maintained pretty simply and effectively through the daily use of a curl activator.
Reply to @wholistichut I recommend it. It’s really helped my hair grow and made maintenance of my hair easier #ginacurl #curlyperm #curlyhair
The GinaCurl, similar to the Jheri curl, has an emphasis on loosening tighter curl patterns. Unlike other perms and relaxers, the GinaCurl is believed to be a gentler and less damaging approach to chemically altering the hair for manageability. The GinaCurl created by Gina Rivera restructures the hair molecules to reduce frizz, making the hair manageable, soft, and moisture balanced.
Per their official website, Rivera's modern take on a perm includes a 3-step process:
- Step one is a chemical that breaks down the protein chains in the hair to allow a new shape.
- Step two is applying perm rods for the desired curl size and pattern, applying heat for oxidation, and rearranging the hair's protein bonds.
- Step three is neutralizing the hair and permanently setting the hair in its new shape.
Where the Jheri curl requires maintenance every 6-8 weeks, the GinaCurl can be done every 6 months.
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