Digital age demands individuals to be a brand, says Masoom Minawala

The global fashion influencer on why it's necessary to separate the two

Masoom Minawala in Dubai, shot by Chrizaan (@staycurious_photography)
Masoom Minawala in Dubai, shot by Chrizaan (@staycurious_photography)

Somya Mehta

Published: Thu 13 Jan 2022, 10:44 PM

Last updated: Fri 14 Jan 2022, 2:56 PM

There’s no dream big enough or wild enough when it comes to social media. The dream of ‘influencing’ and creating an impact on society, once considered too far-fetched for the common man and exclusively limited to celebrities, has now become commonplace. Today, one can create from the comfort of their own home, be their own boss and voila! the world becomes your stage.

Recently, Masoom Minawala Mehta has been one of those Indian influencers who have made their mark on the global podium. Living between Antwerp in Belgium and Mumbai, where she originally hails from, to globetrotting for her fashion escapades, Minawala started her journey from old-school blog writing, long before the medium became drenched in the Instagram definition of visuals.

“It’s great because the world is kind of getting smaller, so it doesn’t matter where I’m based anymore. Wherever the Indian audience is, I’m going to be there. And feed that back into my purpose of taking Indian fashion to the world,” says Minawala. In a conversation with wknd., the global influencer opens up about how she turned her move out of India — at the time what seemed like her biggest professional setback — to her greatest strength as a content creator, amassing a hefty 1M+ following on Instagram.

You now operate on a global level. But how did your journey begin?

It started with a fashion blog called Style Fiesta, which was text-heavy, with barely any videos or images. I started creating content in that era. It was such a ridiculous task to put up a video because it was just so complicated. I used to promote the blog first on my Facebook, on a personal profile, then Facebook launched Pages, so I used to promote it there.

When Instagram came in, I started to divide the resources between my blog, Facebook and Instagram. But then Instagram became such a powerful identity that all kinds of resources came down to that platform. It became a platform where we could create and promote at the same time. I’ve recently also started YouTube, so we’re expanding. But my focus has always been on the message I want to put out in the world. I keep an open mind to where and how I can do that.

Many creators start from YouTube because it’s known to have a more lucrative business model as compared to other platforms. Does Instagram also encourage monetisation opportunities for creators?

The kind of support that Instagram is giving creators is unbelievable. Whether it’s having your own account manager to the sheer number of tools they’re launching per week, which helps us reach out to our community. This especially supports aspiring creators and new creators in the 500-50k bracket. Yes, it doesn’t have a direct plan for monetisation strategy yet.

I started my content creation journey 11 years ago but I’ve only been doing this full-time for the past six years. I only made that switch when I saw that there was a steady flow of revenue coming in month-on-month, and it was something I could sustain my life with. When I started, there was no stability or a steady flow of income, there wasn’t even a foundation of the influencer industry. So, I definitely played around with it for a while. But even when I’d feel overworked with everything else, I’d always come back to creating content. That’s how I realised this is my calling.

Midway through your social media career, you moved to Europe. Did that have an impact on your content?

I moved because I got married and my husband is based in Antwerp. It was a very conscious decision that I took but I don’t think I realised the repercussions until it happened. I thought I’d go with the flow and it wasn’t a big deal. But when I moved, it all became very hard to manage. My business could not sustain me travelling up and down because that, in itself, is quite an expense. So, I tried to tap into the Belgian market but it was too small and risky, language was a huge barrier. Then I tried to target the European market, the UK market. Until I realised that it wasn’t coming to me naturally.

Minawala in a cape-saree on the red carpet for Cannes Film Festival
Minawala in a cape-saree on the red carpet for Cannes Film Festival

But this trial and error brought in the most important realisation that if I am to speak my unique truth, people would relate to it no matter where I am. I thought, let me try talking to the Indian community from where I am. Let me try giving the Indian audience a global perspective. And let me try taking Indian fashion to the world. Why couldn’t I be the bridge between the two? I had the right opportunities because I was so close to Paris, London and Milan. Paris, for me, is literally like taking a local train in Bombay. But it took a lot of time for me to change my perspective.

Taking Indian fashion to the world has now become your USP. How accepting has the world been so far?

I wore this Vaishali S outfit at Paris Fashion Week. She’s the first Indian woman to be showing at the Fashion Week — first one to be selected in years. So, I wore her outfit to the Hermès show and people went crazy. They could not believe the weave on the outfit. That’s what Indian fashion is all about. It’s really about looking at it intricately. It’s so rich. Even if you just look at one square inch of it, you realise that there’s so much value in it. If you see the outfit, the way it’s structured, it’s actually made of these string weaves.

Vaishali S Studio Couture Collection
Vaishali S Studio Couture Collection

The kind of talent that India has — in terms of handicraft, artisans and handlooms — is incredible. But we’ve just not had the right platform to take it to the global stage. I think it’s high time we’re at the forefront of it. India has been doing a lot of work for the global fashion industry behind the scenes. Whether it’s doing the embroidery for the largest French fashion houses or running the factories that create all the embroideries and cuts for the top three fashion shows. So, why are we on the sidelines? I really want to bring India to the forefront. That’s the mission.

The big Indian fashion houses have managed to create a global imprint, but it’s the more local, homegrown labels that still remain on the periphery…

A large focus of what I do is on small-scale Indian designers. I have this initiative I started last year in the midst of Covid, which is called #SupportIndianDesigners, through which I curate posts, catalogues and guides, recommending new Indian designers to my audience through different financial brackets.

It could be Indian designers under Rs 20,000, for instance, or Indian designers you should check out for your cocktail function. I create pocket-friendly budget guides and this is a not-for-profit initiative that I started, even though most of my revenue comes from fashion, beauty and lifestyle industry.

Can hashtag movements lead to tangible results?

My strength has always been my conversions. I’m known to drive sales and create impact for any brand that I work with. Brands always reach out to me recognising the traffic and traction they get on their page in terms of instant sales, direct messages and other kinds of engagement. While not all brands might be able to work with me due to financial budgets, when I have this reach, it’s important for me to take this impact and widen it.

About 80-85 per cent of these are women-owned businesses. When I started a business as a woman in India, it was extremely hard. There’s not a lot of support and you have so much emotional backlash and guilt. Being extremely ambitious as a woman is not well-accepted. So, if my content can serve my community with helpful recommendations of Indian designers but also aid these designers by encouraging their businesses and make a difference to their P&L, I’d be silly to not make use of it. So if you ask me, a well-thought-out hashtag campaign with good intentions can definitely drive tangible results.

What’s been your biggest challenge so far?

I think the biggest challenge has been to be able to differentiate between Masoom the brand and the online persona and Masoom the individual. These are actually two different entities. And if you even mistakenly think that it’s the same, then you’re in for trouble because you’ll be making the wrong decisions. You’ll communicate in the incorrect manner and have your personal opinions get in the way.

The purpose for Masoom the brand is to serve her community with her content. Whereas the purpose for Masoom the individual is not just to serve her community, it’s also to lead a happy and peaceful life, cater to her friends and family, to enjoy life and to also work hard and meet her goals. But this is a new-age business that commands an individual to be a brand, which can get extremely confusing. What are your work hours? When do you switch on to Masoom the brand and when do you switch off?

When I receive negative feedback on work, Masoom the brand should be responding, not Masoom the individual. If Masoom the individual is responding, then it’s going to be absolutely crazy because the emotions will take over and you’ll feel personally attacked. But it’s not a personal attack. It’s feedback on your work. And that’s okay. Everyone doesn’t need to like your work, right? Everyone also doesn’t need to like you as an individual but that’s much harder to accept.

I think this is the bigger, more complicated challenge because which other business demands this? Probably the celebrity business. And in that case, they don’t show up as often as influencers do. They work in private and come into public when they promote something. Influencers work in public. We create, post and promote in public space all the time.

So, how does an influencer switch off?

I don’t use social media beyond 8pm. I don’t post in realtime. Instagram Stories isn’t something I post in realtime. I love taking photos and videos, I’m happy to do that but the time spent on creating it as a story for your audience and deciding how it should be presented to them… Oh my god, the fun is just over. It’s important to enjoy the present moment. Another thing is, I actually don’t use social media for personal purposes. Every time I go on Instagram, I go for work, I do not allow myself to surf social media. Of course, I do it once in a while to see references or to see what other creators are up to. But I don’t look at it as a mode of communication for my personal life. If I’m using it to keep me updated for my professional life, and my personal life, I’m just going to be on it forever.

Cover Credits: Dress: Garimon Roferos (@garimonroferos) Shoes: Amina Muaddi (@aminamuaddi) Earrings: Anāash ( Hair: Aamir Naveed (@aamirnaveedhair)

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