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Why Miami Influencers Might Be the Secret to Tapping International Consumers

"People don't think of Miami as a fashion capital, but I completely disagree."

 "I feel like Miami gets a bad rap when it comes to fashion, and I'm hoping that I'm one of the people who can [help] shift that opinion," says Kelly Saks, a fashion and lifestyle blogger, wardrobe stylist and influencer, whom I interviewed — fittingly — at a Midtown Miami (note: not South Beach) salon, as she was having extensions put in her hair. "People don't think of Miami as a fashion capital, but I completely disagree."

She's not the only one. Miami is giving Los Angeles a run for its money as America's next sartorially hot city beyond New York City. After all, it's now home to multiple fashion weeks: the CFDA-recognized Miami Fashion Week (with Antonio Banderas as this year's honorary president, thank you very much); the locally run, Miami Beach-based Funkshion; and, of course, Miami Swim Week. Then there's the annual Art Basel, which might as well be considered one, too

Retail hubs (or "malls" — remember those? — as some call them), are opening up left and right, including the luxurious (and sustainable) shopping experience at Brickell City Centre (BCC), which introduced the first U.S. outposts of high-end international brands like Acqua di Parma and APM Monaco jewelry. Plans are in place to open a 200-acre American Dream mega-mall; plus, rapid development of cool, hip neighborhoods cultivate styles beyond the stereotypical South Beach "aesthetic." There's the cosmopolitan Brickell; the swanky Design District, home to Tom Ford, Christian Dior and Isabel Marant boutiques; and the Brooklyn-like street art and gallery-filled Wynwood, where a Reformation opened last month.

"The city grows and we grow with the city," says Carolina Lindo over the phone on a rare day off from her full-time job as a retail stylist at the new Lafayette 148 in BCC or hosting fashion-y events, like a recent swimwear-related one she did at Bloomingdale's. She started her fashion and lifestyle blog, I'm Not Sorry Darling, a little over two years ago and quickly amassed over 70,000 Instagram followers.

The Glamorai's Kelly Framel might have relocated from New York to the sunny shores of Miami, but it's a group of bilingual fashion and lifestyle influencers — many of the micro-variety — who are really running the show down there, including Saks's good friend Daniela Ramirez, who founded her blog Nany's Klozet in the early days of 2011 (but started blogging in 2009). Since then, she's built her Instagram following to over 200,000 (and Framel's at 140,000, for comparison).

"When I started, it was four of us. That was it," says Ramirez, in between bites of a high-end vegan snack at hipster-cool organic café Dr. Smood in Wynwood. Although, she kind of hates that term. "I feel like 'influencer' makes it very focused on numbers and 'Who's bigger?' and I'm like, 'No.' I like the quality of content, so I like 'content creator' better." Perhaps numbers aren't as indicative of the scope of influence in the Miami scene, considering the major players' follower counts diverge greatly, from Erika Thomas, who's under 10,000 to Snapchat star YesJulz who's over 400,000 (and who might be considered an international influencer at this point). 

"We look for the best fit for the [client] brand and, oftentimes, if a blogger or an influencer has very high numbers, then of course that's going to impact the influence," says Tara Solomon, principal and co-founder of local PR powerhouse Tara, Ink, which works with brands to throw the see-and-be-seen (or Instagrammed) influencer-filled parties in Miami. "But it's not something that will a make or break situation, as far as whether or not we work with them."

That's because being an influencer in Miami has meaning way beyond the borders and residents of Miami-Dade county. After all, the cosmopolitan port city is known as the "Gateway to the Americas," offering both access to audiences residing in or visiting from Latin America, some up to six months at a time — and spending lots of money in the process. "We have a lot more flavor here," says Miami-born Saks, who grew up speaking Spanish, too, in a Cuban-American household. 

Ramirez, who hails from Venezuela, easily toggles back and forth between both languages in her posts and shares that the bulk of her followers aren't local. "Caracas [comes first] and then it's New York, Mexico City and Bogota," she says. "Miami is not in the top five." Lindo engages with followers from her home country of Colombia and Jana Rose Carrero, who founded OJ and Cigs in 2012, says a "huge chunk" of her 17,000-plus Instagram followers are from Puerto Rico, where she was born and raised. 

Per the most recent 2015 report by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, travel from Latin America increased annually from 2011 to 2015 by 3 percent each year, with Brazil, Colombia and Argentina in the top five of the international visitor market. In 2015, international overnight visitors spent over $14.9 billion during their stay. (Locally speaking, the South Florida hispanic market has the annual buying power of $49 billion, which is expected to grow 20 percent in the next five years.)

"In this market, [being bilingual is] very important," says Nick D'Annunzio, principal and co-founder of Tara, Ink. "If a brand is focusing on a U.S. initiative in New York or LA and [targeting] Central or South American followers, it doesn't really translate into U.S. sales. But in Miami, it's very important because there's so much travel and tourism from Brazil, Mexico City and so forth." 

Ramirez points out that the Miami influencer scene does feature two distinct groups: the Spanish-only, which focuses more on parenting, lifestyle and "mom" content, and the "general market" (i.e., English-only ones), which is "more fashion, younger, edgier." Although, bilingual influencers like her can crossover to both.

And national and international fashion brands — beyond the obvious swimwear and sunglasses — are taking notice and reaching out to the influencers that fit their aesthetic (and target audience). "They just email me," shrugs Ramirez. 

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"I feel like [brands] want to see [their product] in a lifestyle and a pretty setting. Or they want it to be, like, your life," Carrero, of OJ and Cigs, tells me as we sit outside a Dr. Smood outpost in the airy BCC. Adidas, Asos, Cos, Stutterheim and Reformation have contacted her to place their pieces into her New York-streetwear-in-sunny-Miami aesthetic. 

Fashion retailers with a presence in Miami seek out influencers like Saks, who counts Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Emilio Pucci, Tiffany & Co. and Simon Malls on her client list. Brickell City Centre, which opened its swanky doors last November, holds regular fashion and beauty blogger and influencer "crawls" (below), involving "swag bags" and visits to select boutiques, Solomon likens to "a very upscale treasure hunt."

"Always start local, but always think international, global," says Clare Laverty, AVP of Marketing for Swire Properties, the developer of BCC, regarding the strategy of courting Miami-based influencers. The 4.9 million square-foot mixed-use property attracts both local and international visitors to not only 500,000-square-feet of retail shops but also hotspot hotel East Miami, restaurants and swanky residential spaces.

Lindo works primarily with independent Latin American fashion brands entering the U.S. market, like Brazil-based Iorane World and Colombia's Seta Apparel, which she recently wore to the influencer-utopia known as Coachella. In March, Seta joined a handful of other international clothing lines for Stylemrkt, a designer showcase and influencer gifting fest at the new SLS Hotel in Brickell (synergy!). Although, Lindo aiming to work with a more well-known, higher-end clientele. "I take pictures mostly in the Design District," she says. "It's more luxury — and I really want to work with luxury brands — and they have reposted me a lot." 

With her eye on the long game with her target brands, Ramirez always posts in a non-Miami-specific, "global" aesthetic (below). ""If you want to talk about any fall trends and you have a palm tree in the background, you're like, 'Okay, it doesn't match,'" she says. 

As the OG of Miami influencers, Ramirez has worked with a gamut of fashion brands, from big corporate entities like eBay and DSW to prestigious houses like Viktor and Rolf, to small local boutiques, with which she'll negotiate a commission arrangement for compensation. She recently collaborated with BonLook on a pair of sunglasses and in 2015, along with Blair Eadie of Atlantic-Pacific and Wendy Nguyen of Wendy's Lookbook, collaborated on a Miami-themed handbag design with Rebecca Minkoff. Although, Ramirez concentrates the bulk of her work on a more lucrative category. "I love fashion, but I always get more beauty campaigns because that's where the money is," she says.

Not one of the four influencers I talked to worked with an agent, and Ramirez and Saks both said they prefer to do so directly with brands' PR. "It's always about building that emotional relationship with a brand, which can be sometimes hard on email — when they're just looking at my picture — so that's how I go about getting partnerships," Ramirez explains.  (Plus, Ramirez, Saks and Carrero all have experience working on the PR and marketing side of the industry.) 

"I think it's still at the beginning stages of the industry in Miami, and [the influencer scene is] not quite as organized as it may be in New York," says Solomon about the more personalized aspect of working directly with the influencers (and not their agent). Relative long-timers Saks and Ramirez both think the Miami scene has become "saturated" with fellow content creators, they don't see it as cutthroat as the two established fashion cities.

"I've seen and heard stories about LA and New York, and that it's a little more competitive — especially in LA," Ramirez says. "It has the vibe of casting. Everyone's been casted, so maybe [there's] a little more competition. A lot of Miami bloggers don't do it full-time, so maybe there isn't the pressure [of], 'Oh you got the campaign and I didn't.'"(Note: She content creates full-time.) All four agreed that Miami influencers are a "community" and enjoy a "camaraderie with each other." Saks chalks it up to a smaller pool. 

"It's not like a hierarchy where we play by the numbers [like], 'Oh, so and so has the most followers, so she's the most popular.' We all really treat each other with respect," she says. Saks and her "colleagues," as she refers to fellow influencers, even refer work to each other — and that's good because the opportunities are rolling in.

"Before, [Miami style] was the curvy girls with huge boobs, tight dresses, so [people had] the feeling that we were kind of tacky," says Lindo. "But the city is evolving and making it fancier, in some places. People have evolved in fashion and all the brands are coming here to Miami."

Top: Jana Rose Carrero of OJ and Cigs (right) and friend. Homepage photo: Yesi Flores

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