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I used to be addicted to an internet phenomenon called haul videos.
It sounds kind of weird. But I’ll literally watch someone sitting in their room, trying on clothes and talking about how they fit.
“So I’ll literally turn on both cameras, stand in front of the white background, model clothes, and then change out and then just do it over and over again for hours,” said Erica Louie, a YouTuber who goes by Miss Louie.
A corner of Louie’s Santa Clara, CA living room has been converted into a film set. She has a white floor-to-ceiling backdrop and a rack full of clothes with tags still on them. Louie’s been working on these videos for six years. She has a quarter-million followers.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I found my group. I found my niche,’ whether it’s young women entering college trying to get internships or women trying to get their first job,” said Louie.
Earlier this year, Louie left her corporate job at Dell to grow her YouTube channel, and her decision is paying off. Now she says she is earning a six-figure income, but it’s not easy money. Louie puts in 50 to 60 hours a week on her videos.
So how exactly does she make money?
Well, let’s say you like the jacket she’s wearing in a video. You can click on a link in the video description, which directs you to the retailer’s site. For every jacket that’s sold, Louie gets a percentage from the cart total. And that link is accessible even years after the video is posted. So, for instance, today Louie could be making money from a link she posted five years ago.
Ilse Metchek, head of the California Fashion Association, calls people like Erica Louie “influencers.” She believes they are changing how the fashion industry works
“Influencers are the new Vogue,” said Metchek. “Influencers get front row seats at the fashion shows. They get clothes sent to them daily. ‘Here! free! Please wear this.’ This is a business now.”
Erica Louie’s business model is surprisingly personalized. She buys what she likes for her wardrobe–with her own money–and then approaches brands, instead of the other way around. So she’s not tied to any one label.
That freedom and customization is refreshing to Gen Zers like me. Unlike older generations, we aren’t loyal to single brands. Plus, we are more interested in connecting with real people than with companies.
My friend Trinity Balla’s favorite haul videos are from YouTubers Sophia and Cinzia. She asked me to watch their haul from a shopping trip in London.
Part of the appeal of Sofia and Cinzia? We see ourselves in them. “They’re just three years older than us,” said Balla. “And they don’t have a bunch of money, like, they work.”
Sofia and Cinzia feel genuine. They are buying things they like for themselves. It’s a level of customization and a feeling of authenticity that speaks to us. Metchek says it’s going to be hard for retailers to keep up, since we’re so individualized in our tastes.
“You will not all have the same hairdo, and you will not all be wearing torn jeans, and you will not all be wearing the same footwear. And you may not even use the same cosmetics,” she told me.
Maybe Metchek has a point. I know this sounds nuts, but over the course of reporting this story, I even I found myself getting bored of YouTube haul videos. What’s next? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll even go to the mall?
This story is part of a special Youth Radio series Generation Z produced with NPR’s Sonari Glinton.