For Bruneian fashion blogger Ajeeratul Abdullah, it all started with creative and slightly kooky OOTD posts on Instagram. Now, with close to 16,000 followers, the fashion maven has successfully used her social media following to springboard into a career as a stylist and brand consultant, working with retail giant FashionValet and Malaysian labels such as Aere  and Olloum. 

As the creative director of Ephemural Media House, a creative consultancy which she runs with her photographer husband Izzy Osman, she plans to turn her love of fashion into serious bank.  

How did you become a fashion influencer on social media and how did that kickstart your career in the fashion industry? 

Ajeeratul: My husband has always been a photography enthusiast. Back in 2015, he was just a photographer who wanted to learn about studio lighting. But because of that he decided to study fashion photography and I decided to take up fashion media styling courses in London.

Both of us were not trying to get into fashion, we just attended the courses to improve our skills, but it changed our perspective of the fashion industry. It’s not as shallow as we thought, there’s so much more depth to it, and we just fell in love with it. That’s also why I started my blog. The blog is meant to educate people about the fashion industry. In early 2016, we started working with Malaysian brands because they liked my opinions and Izzy’s photos on the blog.

[On Instagram], I’m known as a blogger and a social media influencer. However, my job actually involves a lot of behind the scenes work including brand image consultancy and marketing.

Photo: Courtesy of JeeraDoesFashion

How do you decide which brands to collaborate or work with?

Ajeeratul: When I first started, I accepted a lot of jobs — then I realised that my brand image suffered. The brands that you work with must be the ones that you believe in. Otherwise, it just looks like you’re promoting something, but it won’t engage your audience.

Let’s say someone approached me to promote telekung (prayer robes for Muslim women) or baju jubah (a long, loose-fitting Arab garment) — I wouldn’t be the right fit. I may have a following but my followers follow me for a reason, and my sense of style is a large part of it. Instead, I would actually propose an influencer that would fit into their target audience. Brands have their own image and not all brands fit my image.

Social media influencers are changing the marketing game. Previously brands would approach celebrities or someone famous to promote their products. Now brands prefer hiring real people. That’s something that the fashion scene in Malaysia and Singapore appreciate, they don’t look into the number [of followers], they look into who will best fit with their image and brand lifestyle.

Another thing that people tend to forget is that Instagram can be shallow.

Many people assume that the more followers you have, the greater your brand awareness will be. Just because someone has a lot of likes, it doesn’t mean it will generate sales. You have to understand the balance between quality and quantity.

You’ve been working as a fashion influencer for a few years now. What have been some of the highs and lows?

Ajeeratul: When people look at me on Instagram, it looks like it’s all highs. It’s photos of me going to parties, attending events and attending Fashion Week. What people don’t know is that Fashion Week is a lot of work for us.

The highs for me are the friendships that you build with people. You are surrounded by people who have the same vision as you — the designers, vendors and bloggers are really passionate about the industry. They are also passionate about the [visual] arts and business, and not just what looks good.

There are many lows that I can think of. There are definitely criticisms and rejections. People assume that the fashion industry is all fun, but in fact it is very cutthroat and competitive. You have to constantly adapt to changes and be open to learning new things. We are trying new things and that’s the fun part of being able to be creative and expressive.

Everyone in the creative industry is under-appreciated. Whether it is photographers, makeup artists, videographers including social media influencers — many assume that it’s an easy job. Therefore people expect the services [we offer] to either be cheap or free. People don’t realise the amount of hard work that goes behind it. A photographer produces good photos not because they have nice equipment, but because they actually spend a lot of time studying what works and what doesn’t.

You talked about receiving criticism and rejection. What are the some of the criticisms you’ve faced as social media personality?

Ajeeratul: My first hate comment was when I was still at 2,000 followers. The comment was, “How are they an inspiration? All they do is take OOTD photos with a nice background”. I wasn’t affected by it because I didn’t start doing this for those people.

It also helps that I have people who appreciate what I do. However, it hurt when people started writing hateful comments about me as a mother.

The worse was when I had my baby. I travelled for work when my baby was about three months old. There were people who commented, “How could she just leave her three month old baby back in Brunei?”.

I’m just like any other working mother, trying to find rezeki, and I was only away for four days. When I travel, I go through mother’s guilt — mother’s guilt is real.

Those comments were more painful than comments saying I’m over-posing in my photos.

My husband and I support and help each other. When we’re down, we remind each other what we’re here for. I have a vision for JeeraDoesFashion, and he knows that if he promotes and help facilitate [the growth of the brand], it will also help him get opportunities as a photographer. I am also acting as his PR person and I handle his schedule.

Being a social media influencer is 30 per cent of what I’m doing but it’s a very crucial part of our business. It’s also a way for us to learn effective marketing, as that’s a large part of what we do in creative consultancy.

Ajeeratul with her husband Izzy and their two sons. Photo: Courtesy of JeeraDoesFashion

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Ajeeratul: Right now I am focusing on being a stylist, because I want to be a creative director. Being a stylist helps you learn skills that will take you ahead. Being a stylist doesn’t just mean putting pieces of clothes together — to get a styling job, we have to come up with a concept and you have to be cultured.

What is the best advice you’ve received and what would you have to say to aspiring fashion influencers?

Ajeeratul Abdullah: The best advice that people have given me is to be authentic. If your reason [for doing this] is to gain popularity, then that’s not a strong foundation to begin with. There will always be someone who is more popular and prettier than you. If your foundation is weak, it can shatter your self-confidence and shatter the brand you are building.

Stay true to who you are. This is a big challenge for social media influencers, because you need to accept jobs from brands but sometimes at the risk of not staying true to yourself.