The top women innovating in the influencer economy
It’s not always easy to be a woman in today’s creator economy. Sometimes, it can feel a bit…crowded. After all, there are over 200 million creators in the world today, and according to ConvertKit, nearly two-thirds of them are women.
It’s easy to look around at all of the creators and believe that all of the “good” niches have been gobbled up by now. Of those creators who have already monetized their business, the numbers go up: about 77% are women.
So we dismiss ourselves from creator-friendly markets like style, fashion, or marketing and declare, before even starting: “looks like that niche is saturated.”
That’s a shame. Because no matter what you might think about saturation in the marketplace, there’s always room for you. And when you look at the wide range of innovating female creators, you’ll find you can’t always peg them into one specific niche. They each bring the special sauce of their personalities to the mix.
It doesn’t matter what the niche may be—anime/cosplay, sewing, athletics, funny characters, finding your home, or even making people smile. The top women in today’s creator economy don’t innovate because they were the first ones to discover their niche. They innovate by finding something unique about themselves to share. Let’s look at a few examples.
About Lena Lemon: Lena Lemon is hard to pigeonhole, but the Japanese creator and influencer is enthusiastic about anime, gaming, and cosplay. She’s built a large base of fans who share the same interests, but also invites people for behind-the-scenes looks at her photoshoots and invites them in for conversations on Twitch streams.
Initially, Lemon’s “market” was mainstream fashion. But she ironically found more popularity when she niched down and stuck to her main interests—gaming and anime. She gutted out the initial drop in followers and noticed that the followers who stuck around were more engaged than ever.
What makes her different: Lena avoided the pressure to stay mainstream and keep her appeal as broad as possible. She could have turned back when her follower counts dropped at first, but she didn’t. And for a long time after starting out on Instagram in 2016, she actively repressed her interests in anime, cosplay, and gaming. Now it’s what she’s known for.
How her story unfolded: Luna had a nine-to-five for years while building up her online audience. She was finally able to quit in August of 2021 to focus full-time on her work as a creator. And the opportunities are still breaking through: she recently signed with Shopify Rebellion as a content creator.
Funnily enough, that deal probably wouldn’t have been possible if Lena had never embraced her true interests. Shopify Rebellion is a crew of “scrappy misfits,” says Shopify. “Unexpected underdogs.” Every member of the Shopify Rebellion team is an “individual.” And that may not have applied to Lemon if she hadn’t turned her niche interests into a badge of honor. By embracing what makes her different, she’s found more opportunities than ever.
About Wendy Lui: “I studied business and chemical engineering,” says Wendy’s about page. “And now I make my own clothes on the internet.”
(Oh, sure. That old story.)
Naturally, when Wendy Lui was attending university and watching other popular North American Asian YouTubers/DIY crafters create how-to content, she could have assumed she didn’t have much to offer. But she knew one thing very well: sewing. She started showing off those skills and teaching the craft on her YouTube page.
What makes her different: A lot of people in the sewing/fashion space are all about the finished product. How does a piece look? What are the neat, straightforward “hacks” and shortcuts? But Wendy’s content embraces the struggle. In her initial YouTube videos, she would gloss over the hard parts of sewing. The temptation was to make it look effortless. But over time, she found out that sharing the struggle to achieve that “effortless” look was just as engaging. And it was far more relatable for beginners who were embracing sewing themselves.
How her story unfolded: An engineer at school, Wendy gravitated to DIY videos. And she tried to backward-engineer them, emulating what she’d seen. But she learned that her own special sauce was to embrace more of the struggle.
She’s also built up an impressive backlog of free DIY tutorials (take her blog post on cowl neck dresses, for example) which break things down for beginners. But she’s built up a following without having to present a picture-perfect, effortless image. Since building that audience, she’s expanded to offer her own shop of sewing supplies, studio equipment, and even journals. Though her content has made her more relatable, she’s made herself irreplaceable with a unique approach to her market.
About Aleeya Hutchins: When COVID-19 set in, Aleeya Hutchins was already accomplished, a Division-One athlete attending Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. Like so many creators, she turned to posting about her home life during the pandemic. For Aleeya, that meant lip sync and DIY hairstyle videos, just to share something while passing the time. But she wouldn’t limit herself to that market, because it left out a huge part of her story: the grit and determination it took to become a D1 athlete.
What makes her different: Hutchins posts positive, motivational content meant to inspire other athletes—but isn’t selling a “positive vibes only” approach. A quick glance at her YouTube channel, for example, is upfront with messages like: “Why the Wake Forest track girl quit track.” Her videos present a three-dimensional look at her life. Yes, that includes #fitnessmotivation and fitness tutorials. But it also includes talking about why she left the track life.
“When you’re being your true self and differentiate yourself,” says Hutchins, “people can sense it and you’ll attract a more genuine following.”
How her story unfolded: Hutchins had some encouragement along the way. She credits Maggie Vessy and her mother (and star track athlete) Florence Griffith Joyner for inspiring the way Hutchins brought her personality to the track. And Hutchins has taken the same approach to building a following online. She’s equal parts confidence and honesty. Motivation is part of the special sauce, but it’s not the only ingredient. The result is a unique influencer who appeals to track athletes—but just about anyone who knows what it means to struggle and overcome.
About Spencer Barbosa: Spencer’s love for content creation started young. Really young. She was just nine years old when she started making her first music videos with siblings. By high school, she became more serious about finding traction on TikTok, posting all sorts of fun and random videos until she found what dazzled her young (and highly engaged) audience.
What makes her different: “Women are not your competition,” she says in one video. And it’s something of an anthem: Barbosa’s content is all about tuning out negativity, which can be refreshing in a digital world where engagement flourishes when there’s drama.
Barbosa’s content is full of positive, uplifting reframes of everyday life. “You don’t have to earn food,” she says in one video. Or: “if you’re feeling down, take a shower and imagine the bad washing off your body.” Spencer Barbosa succeeds in a world of trolls and online haters—but she doesn’t engage with them. Given that Spencer is as young as many of the people in her audience, it shows another side of Gen Z: resilience.
How her story unfolded: Initially, Barbosa’s instincts were to post fun content—music videos and the like. That’s what was working on social media. But though she was consistently uploading videos to YouTube, she found her true calling on TikTok, especially during the lockdowns.
Something about Barbosa’s positivity and wisdom-beyond-her-years clicked with the youthful audience. And the advice she gives reflects her experience. “Just start,” she says. “Even if people tell you your work is cringey, even if you are scared you might fail, and even if you don’t know what you’re doing—just start.” She’s started well. But her 8 million followers on TikTok suggest she’s gotten past those early, cringey levels.
About Caitlin Reilly: You’ve probably seen one of Caitlin Reilly’s impressions before. If you haven’t, you’ve definitely seen one of the characters she’s lampooning. The New Yorker once called her the “Funniest Wasp Mom on TikTok”:
Among her sharply observed characters were “Girl who is ‘not like other girls’ ”—a dude’s lady who insists, a bit too proudly, that she prefers “Star Wars” to rom coms. There was “Lounge singer in every hotel bar,” who masks her bitterness in schmaltz. There was a recurring character, the cheerily entitled, passive-aggressive “WASP mom,” elbowing her way through a Starbucks, an Olive Garden, and her son’s Zoom class.
What makes her different: Like Hutchins, Reilly started out doing something else. She wasn’t so much into comedy; she saw herself as a “serious musical-theatre ingénue who could do drama,” she told the New Yorker. The acting chops are obvious, even in her impressions.
But it wasn’t her musical-theater ingénue that was resonating with people. She’d land comedic roles. Once, an acting teacher consoled her: she did have some great comic timing, after all. Maybe she should lean into it.
How her story unfolded: After ten years of obscurity—she called herself a “poor, struggling actor that nobody cared about,” she turned to the Internet and gained instant traction. A video called “The co-worker you hate during a Zoom meeting” got a million views within a day.
She’s achieved her dream: she plays roles for which she is famous. She’s even on Cameo. But the old, straightforward path of auditioning and landing the dream role simply wasn’t going to be her ticket to fame. She’s built her own career—one where the opportunities are now seeking her out.
About Janea Brown: The funny thing is that while you can’t put Janea Brown in a box, a lot of her content is about just that: finding and building a home. She’ll post content about cool places to live and DIY content about interior decor. But it isn’t about building only dream homes. She also checks out tiny living spaces. She chronicles her own journey in finding a home. She talks about how to stay organized.
What makes her different: Janea Brown is big on a healthy lifestyle and mindset. And typically, creators in this space love to talk about fitness, career self-esteem, makeup DIY, and even personal branding. Janea Brown takes a different route. She loves emphasizing interior design, but she’s just as happy showing off the Valentine’s Day treat she got her mom. She’ll talk about big-picture struggles in finding a home in a new place, but she’ll also treat you to a bag review. As a creator, Janea Brown has no problem presenting you with who she is—the total package.
How her story unfolded: Janea Brown had a lot of experience blogging but started to find her voice as a creator during quarantine. Over time, she invited people into her personal life. Though she has a strong DIY blogging background, she invited her followers to share her journey in finding a place in LA as she moved from Brooklyn.
In contrast to Lena Lemon, who found freedom in her quirks, Janea is perfectly happy to tell big stories. Her content includes stories about life in her 30s, as well as highlighting the travel adventures she’s now taking.
There’s no “secret” to the sauce
A market is only saturated if you plan on being the kind of creator who repeats the same old stuff. For women like Janea Brown and Wendy Lui, who exactly is the competition? “Sewing,” for example, might seem “saturated” to some. Yet you can’t find Wendy Lui anywhere else—you won’t get the same angle, the same mix of personality and content, the same precise niche.
After all, that’s why people embrace creators. They’re mini-celebrities, bringing personality and entertainment and new content into our lives. But they’re also relatable in ways celebrities can never be. These women found connections with followers not because they’re like everyone else. They found connections because everything about them—their interests, their struggles, their ambitions—are blazing new trails.