Op-ed: Who are NZ’s top fashion influencers and why do we care?

FashioNZ editor Phoebe Watt introduces the FNZ Creators Power List 2023, and examines the role of the influencer in Aotearoa’s fashion eco-system

Today we publish our FashioNZ Creators Power List

We chose the term ‘creators’ because this best describes the work that the six men and 24 women on this list, do. They receive gifted product, and usually a fee, and then they create content to promote the product to their online audiences. 

Another word for this is influencing, but to self-identify as an influencer in 2023 would be to relegate oneself to the corner of the Christmas party where they keep the recruiters and property managers and other guests no one wants to talk to.

You’d think an influencer by any other name would be as impermissible, but working and socialising amongst this cohort for several years and witnessing the influencer-to-content creator rebrand in real time has proven to me the power of euphemism.

Which begs the question – why is ‘influencer’ such a dirty word? Uninventive arguments include: it’s not a real job; it encourages overconsumption; it’s vain and self-promoting which is unacceptable in our country, where one must be humble and self-deprecating at all times. 

Influencer culture irks the general population (unofficial survey, sample size: every non-industry gathering I’ve ever attended). It very much irks traditional media, and fair enough. Their ad revenue has suffered greatly in the years since brands realised they’d get better cut-through working with younger, hungrier individuals with more agility, creativity, and audience reach. The result is shrinking editorial budgets at best and shuttering entire titles at worst – both scenarios I’ve experienced first-hand.

Another reason, as we’ve proposed previously at FashioNZ, is that some people just don’t like change. This was especially evident post-New Zealand Fashion Week, when attention turned from the perceived successes/failures of individual shows, to the success/failure of the event as a whole.

Amid widespread and well-deserved praise, criticism of NZFW centred largely on a ‘lack of buzz’. Comparisons were made to massively more-resourced overseas fashion weeks, where throngs of influencers and street style photographers descend on the big shows, generating excitement on the ground and seemingly endless social media content.

For once, the issue seemed to be the lack of influencers. This was debated in FashioNZ’s own Instagram comments, with pre-eminent Australian fashion critic and longtime NZFW attendee Patty Huntington coming in to bat for the event organisers, noting that although the event wasn’t “crawling with influencers”, those who were in attendance were “stupendously dressed…more than making up for the lack of volume”.

Addressing the other side of the argument – that runway shows aren’t won or lost based on influencer attendance and social media buzz – Huntington replied: “Tell that to Dior, which ‘won’ Paris Fashion Week in March, scoring US$42million in MIV (media impact value), the week’s most-downloaded and most-viewed designer collection.”

Fashion shows and other large scale activations are marketing tools that brands pour eye-watering amounts of money into. Of course then, they want measurable results. More-so than print media, for which readership numbers are really anyone’s guess, digital media is innately transparent. Google analytics don’t lie, and in this sense, influencer partnerships aren’t just a wiser investment than print partnerships for the reasons already stated (creativity; agility; audience engagement), they provide brands with a much more solid data set from which to springboard ideas for future campaigns.

It’s enough to give an influencer an ego – another thing Kiwis don’t really like.

But what can we say? The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

And so, our inaugural Power List celebrates 30 of the squeakiest wheels in NZ fashion, whose willingness to put their hands up and their necks out invariably greases the track for the whole industry, keeping the content fresh and the conversation moving.

We began compiling our Power List in October. Our selection process was informed in part by digital marketing insights provided by NZ digital growth agency Powerhouse – a team that has lended its expertise to this project and helped bring it to life over several weeks. 

We also consulted the many local fashion PR directors who facilitate multiple influencer campaigns on a daily basis and, most importantly, have all the metrics behind them.

We invited readers of FashioNZ to nominate their favourite content creators via our social media channels. The names of our 30 Power Listers came up repeatedly. We reached out to all of them – and the dozens more that were considered – and asked them to share some of their experiences, as well as what being a Kiwi fashion creator means to them. Their statements, which we publish today, factored into our final decision for which we deferred to our own expertise, because editors have egos, too.

Three categories emerged from this exercise:

The Vanguard represents Aotearoa’s most established and prolific content creators, with the utmost influence and engagement. The Artists represent the truest content creators – those who aren’t traditional ‘influencers’, but whose influence on the industry through their creative output is undeniable. 

The New Gen was the hardest and most exciting category to narrow down. Locally, the volume of young content creators coming through and rewriting the rulebook of modern media speaks to a global trend picked up in Business of Fashion‘s just-published State of Fashion report, which says that by the end of 2023, influencer revenue is forecast to reach US$21.1 billion, up from $16.4 billion in 2022. 

Despite this growth, the report warns that “consumers are showing signs of fatigue towards traditional influencer marketing”. Rather than a death knell for the influencer community, however, this is framed as an opportunity for the new guard to grab the market share or, perhaps, for the vanguard to adapt to what’s working best for brands and consumers. According to the report, this means content that is less polished and scripted, in favour of “quirkiness, humour and vulnerability”.

For once, these are characteristics that do come naturally to New Zealanders, which would suggest that our influencer economy is set to go from strength to strength.

If you care about our fashion industry, you should be happy about this. Because whether or not you’ve been influenced into a purchase recently, there are more of us who have, and these purchases are keeping the lights on at hundreds of local businesses that, throughout the pandemic, might have been on the brink of closing. 

As Power Lister Jess Molina wrote amid the post-NZFW melee: “Last week felt like we showed up for our local fashion and for our designers. The purpose wasn’t to be seen, but to tell a story through the clothes and to celebrate an industry that has been through it in the past few years.”

Call them influencers, content creators, or whatever you want. These people are specialists at what they do, with unique, non-traditional skill sets that are often self-taught and practised over countless hours. They are worthy of recognition. And through our Creators Power List 2023, we are excited to recognise them.

Find out who made the list here.

The FashioNZ Creators Power List 2023 was brought to life with the support of Powerhouse