Tash Meys (22) and Kristina Webb (21) make a living out of the photo sharing app, Instagram. Their career didn’t exist until a few years ago. Between them, they now have about 2.7 million followers. To put it into perspective, John Key has 18,000. We caught up with Instagram influencers TASH and KRISTINA in a whirlwind three weeks before they moved to LA.
WORDS JENNY RUDD PHOTOS SHAWN ROLTON
The two girls have just finished collaborating on a project which came about directly from Kristina’s Instagram popularity: Color Me Inspired, a colouring book to bring the world to life: maps made up of flowers, sweet treats and beachy scenes. It is total 14-year-old-girl heaven, and the follow up to the hugely popular Color Me Creative. By the time this magazine is published, the two girls will have moved from the Bay of Plenty to Santa Monica, California, to keep building their already impressive careers.
Tash and Kristina prove what an exciting future our world has, as their Millennial Generation steps into the world of business.
Last year Tash hosted a brunch with Viv Conway (21), another Instagram entrepreneur, who sells sportswear she designs, manufactures and distributes on her own Instagram page, @vividsportswearofficial. They invited some friends, thinking it would be fun to hang out together, have a picnic, and use it as a photoshoot opportunity to get content for Instagram. Tash invited Kristina along; they had been going to Paula Knight’s art classes together since they were young, but this was the first time they’d stepped into friendship. Tash knew that Kristina worked in social media too, as Kristina’s @colour_me_creative brand was going well in America.
“Kristina told me she’d been commissioned to do a second book, but that she was considering turning it down, because the deadline was so tight. We chatted about ideas for the pages, and really hit it off together. A few days later Kristina offered me a contract to collaborate with her on Colour Me Inspired.”
It’s this easy blurring of lines between work and play, as well as looking for ways to blend their business interests to help each other wherever possible, which characterises the working ethos of the Millennials. They tend to enjoy working on social and environmental projects, and because of that, are less inclined to see personal wealth as a measure of their success.
Their Generation X parents were taught to play their business cards close to their chest. Information is power. Always keep a trump card up your sleeve to keep on top of office politics. The hard-nosed, shoulder-padded eighties-boardroom Gordon Gekko world is anathema to the Millennial. They have a different way of looking at the world of paid work. “Collaborate, don’t compete,” says Tash.
WHAT IS A MILLENNIAL?
A generation is a group of around 25 years. We have been naming these groups for a while, but not always with any consistency. They aren’t numbered. They get nicknames. And they are open to interpretation. Here’s UNO.’s take:
Baby Boomers: born late 40s to early 60s as a result of post-WWII cuddling. They love shiny stuff, cash and gadgets, and stability at work.
Generation X: born mid 60s to mid 70s. A bit disaffected, probably as a result of all the daycare they were thrown into whilst their parents were busy getting divorced. They spent their twenties scoffing drugs and dancing all night.
Millennials, also known as Generation Y: born early 80s to early 90s. Tash, Kristina and their mates. The children of the Baby Boomers. Here’s the best description of that age bracket by Harry Wallop, of The Telegraph: Unlike the generation before them, they are smarter, safer, more mature and want to change the world. Their pin-up is Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education campaigner, who survived being shot by the Taliban, and who became the world’s youngest ever Nobel Prize recipient.
They are the first generation of technology natives. They don’t like being sold to, and they aren’t massive fans of accumulating stuff. They don’t do drugs, they don’t drink, they smash back green smoothies, and only want to do business with ethically minded companies.
WHAT IS AN INFLUENCER?
An influencer is generally someone who has over 10,000 Instagram followers. Brands pay them to advertise their products, leveraging off the relationship the influencer has built with their followers.
It’s important for brands to choose the influencer carefully. For instance, Kristina might post a pic of her using Faber-Castell Pencils saying ‘I’m totally in love with these new pencils! They are perfect for colouring in details.’The internet has offered a level playing field for young people wanting to work online. No one asks you how many years of work experience you’ve had or what your grades were like at school. You just start doing it yourself. In fact, it is one of the few careers were being very young is beneficial.The brand would get their product in front of two and a half million people who love colouring in. They know it’s the perfect target market.
Think about John Key and his 18,000 people on Instagram. Tash and Kristina could get in front of the equivalent population of nearly the whole North Island just by posting one photo. Wouldn’t a politician love that targeted reach?
@TASTEFULLYTASH She posts pictures of impossibly delicious food (all made and styled herself), her art, and all things to do with wellness. She also runs a number of other accounts on behalf of businesses, who have seen hers, and pay her to make the same success of their own.
“Ever since I got my first camera at 11 years old, my friends and I have played ‘photoshoots,’ taking it in turns to be the photographer and model, going on adventures and finding cool locations to shoot. We’d then hugely over-edit them in photoshop and post our work on Bebo. It was a surprise to be asked to do the photos for a fellow student’s birthday party but it went well and I did a couple more after that including a twenty-first. I’ve taken photos for a website and recorded a wedding video. Even though it was a bit scary taking on these things at the beginning, I learnt so much from each one and since then have made a point of taking on every opportunity that comes my way.”
Tash is an absolute bundle of energy and drive, her brain zipping off in all directions. She has the ability to create her own opportunities, and the character to be grateful for them. A sharp marketing brain is matched by her creative ability as an artist and photographer. Looking through the global window of Instagram has afforded some huge opportunities, which Tash is grasping with both hands.
“I switched my degree from psychology to consumer food science after getting sick from eating processed foods in my first year, doing some research into nutrition, and becoming fascinated.
“Taking photographs of food for my Instagram page has enabled me to exercise my artistic skills; decorating smoothie bowls and creating a food photograph is similar in my eyes to painting a canvas. It’s all about the layers, the different textures and the colours. Since I have now built my Instagram to a level of followers where I am considered an influencer in my industry of health and wellness, I can start to branch out and include art, lifestyle and typography. It’s interesting how when I left school I decided not to go down the art route, but everything I do seems to come back to it.”
TEACHING OLD DOGS NEW TRICKS
It’s down to Tash’s collaborative nature, as well as her ambition and well-placed confidence, that along with one of her clients, whose Instagram page she and Viv Conway run, she organised an Instagram workshop. They invited media agencies to come and learn about Instagram and what it could do for their clients. It was impressive to watch a twenty-two year old hold court with all the creative industry experts, most of whom were about twenty years her senior, explaining how the algorithms in this social media platform work.
In fact when we approached Tash about featuring her, she immediately did some research on us, and asked why we didn’t have an Instagram page, then pitched to us to let her and Viv launch and run it for us.
The range of work Tash is being offered is quite astonishing: brands pay to feature their products on @tastefullytash; she has been approached to manage social media for an Australian celebrity; she gets professional photography commissions; she was invited to collaborate on Kristina’s book; and she manages Instagram accounts for several clients in New Zealand, Australia and now America, where she has moved to. Santa Monica is the health and wellness capital of the world. Tash has placed herself right in the centre of it. As far as Millennials go, Tash Meys leads the field.
@COLOUR_ME_CREATIVE Kristina has been sketching, drawing and painting since her early teens and posting her art online to a huge community of followers: 1.9 million, who clearly adore her. Her art is encouraging of others; there are plenty of positive affirmations dotted about, such as anti-bullying messages. She started on Tumblr, and has moved to Instagram. Kristina has hundreds of fan pages copying her art and reposting originals.
“On my seventeenth birthday, I was in Michigan on a student exchange programme. My host family bought me an iPhone, which I had wanted for so long! Purely to start using Instagram. As I looked around, learning how to use the app, I was surprised to find one of my drawings – the back of a girl holding her ponytail to the side – on an account with a large following. I commented with ‘thank you for posting my drawing.’ The picture was reposted with a credit to me. Within a few days, I had 16,000 followers.”
Posting new drawings daily, Kristina’s following swelled. She produced a wide range of art: a series of Starbucks coffee cups, drawn on and decorated with tiny plastic jewels, sketches of celebrities, and she would randomly surprise her fans by doing a portrait of them after they hashtagged #drawmekristina. Celebrities like Tyra Banks, Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande noticed her art, and commissions started to roll in from big names.
AGENT FOR INFLUENCERS
Kristina’s mum, Janette, knew that Kristina needed an agent. “It was becoming increasingly difficult to know how to negotiate with some of the bigger companies like YouTube and Disney, both of whom had offered Kristina commissions. I was in America with Rochelle, my older daughter, who now manages most of Kristina’s business affairs. We orchestrated a meeting with one of the top agents in the industry, who signed Kristina up on her first interview.”
One of her commissions came from YouTube, who asked her to create a piece of art to recap on the 100 most popular trends of the year. “After watching every single video, I mapped them all out, and finally managed to get about 75 of them into the drawing. YouTube then sent out the artwork as a thank you to everyone who participated.”
Interviewing Kristina in her apartment in the Mount, with her mum making toast in the background, it’s hard to fathom the sheer scale of her success. It seems there are a combination of factors at play: adopting the platform early (four years ago Instagram was in relative infancy); posting daily; responding to her followers in a heartfelt way; and being passionate about adhering to her own creative vision. The other element is the attainability of Kristina’s success. Her art is very much of a current style. Her fans are able to copy her drawings, and feel they have something to aim for. What sets Kristina apart from the field isn’t anything particularly new – it’s old fashioned practice, determination, and hard work.
In 2014 her agent in Los Angeles suggested a book. He had a contact at Harper Collins. Kristina had to produce a 50 page proposal. Janette explains “She went above and beyond, decorating every page of the proposal and giving much more detail than requested. That’s totally indicative of Kristina’s working style and commitment.”
Her first book, Color Me Creative, was a huge hit with tweenies and young teens. The first half is an autobiography (written in the same friendly, personal tone she uses when chatting with her followers on Instagram); the second half is full of creative challenges for her fans to complete inside the book. This was accompanied by a long book tour and the recording of 15 videos in Miami (there are icons in the book to scan with your phone, which unlock short videos of Kristina). On the book tour, mothers of these young teens thanked her personally for not swearing on her page, or posting photos of herself drinking alcohol.
For all her global success, Los Angeles agents, published books, and commissions from the world’s biggest names, all Kristina really wants to do is be left to her own devices with a bundle of coloured pencils, her Bose speaker, some paper and her iPhone.
Digital content creation. It sounds complicated, but it really means taking pictures of beautiful things, which you make or curate, ready to put on social media channels like Instagram.
In the old days, photographers were like demi-gods. Swanning onto shoots, dressed in black polo necks with a team skittering along behind them who responded to demands “I need 12 swans sprayed gold, NOW!” They charged a fortune for their creative genius. With digital cameras, that’s all changed. If you want to have a go, set up an Instagram account, and start posting pics!
IMPROVE YOUR ART SKILLS WITH PAPAMOA-BASED ARTIST PAULA KNIGHT
“Tash first started coming to me when she was just seven, and Kristina as a young teenager.
“They both had a strong desire to listen and learn. To me, they are the best kind of students and I loved showing them how to improve their work. We would go over and add details to portraits and hair, developing shade and colour and finely tuning their abilities until they both developed into confident artists.
“I remember when Kristina was working on a school art project and a trail of purple glitter followed her everywhere. Kristina came and went as she went to the USA, but at one point she was attending both my kids’ and adults’ classes, her desire to learn was so great.”
[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text” background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”left” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid”]
HAVE A LOOK AT SOME OF THE GREAT LOCAL INSTAGRAM ACCOUNTS, AND START ENGAGING
UNO. INSTAGRAM PAGE
Viv and Tash have been running it. Fancy yourself as a photographer? Post pics with #unomagnz and we’ll feature the best!
Do the art challenges in Colour MeCreative, and hashtag them #cmcbook and #unomagnz.