By entering into the ‘competitive ecosystem’ of social media, young innovators have opened up their horizons to the blue-sky thinking of the digital world.
Young artists can build entire online communities, and create their own scaffolding. Dutch-born, Dunedin-raised artist Aïcha Wijland now works as an art director in CHE Proximity, Melbourne. After switching from Tumblr to Instagram, both loyal and new followers combined to grow her feed into a thriving portfolio website, @aiicha.art. Her account spills beyond the boundaries of conventional beauty, combining her visceral imagination and gorgeous sense of colour with a tongue-in-cheek irony and relatability.
Aïcha calls her Instagram both her “creative outlet” and “digital business card”. Archiving her work led to illustration, painting and animation jobs during her freelance career. Along with the “joy” of sharing her work, Aïcha is accessible to followers in an immediate and personable way, and has even commissioned other artists. She cites the perks of art memes, challenges or collaboration threads within the Instagram art scene. In her view, a recent ‘draw this in your style’ challenge validated each artist’s own aesthetic. It also increased the exposure of artists to new art.
On the leadership front, Alexia Hilbertidou believes change follows “a strong social purpose”, rather than validation from other people, or reaching particular milestones. Currently in Seattle on the Facebook Community Leadership Program, Alexia founded organisation, GirlBoss (girlboss.nz) at 16. It aims to empower young women to work in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths), areas that the unconscious bias against women can often seep into.
Four years later, GirlBoss has implemented professional development workshops in 55 schools in New Zealand and the Cook Islands. Prompted by whether she will return to study, Alexia voiced her intention to stick with GirlBoss until a “drastic shift” in the lack of representation of women in STEM and leadership roles.
Another knack of innovators is knowing the needs of the market. Donielle Brooke created Designer Wardrobe (designerwardrobe.co.nz) to sustain herself financially after being diagnosed with a malignant thyroid tumour. The site filled a gap by combining local business with pre-loved designer goods. Now cancer-free for five years, Donielle has a platform that currently holds more than 27,000 active listings, and an active rental and valet service.
On the flip side, headlines were made by another entrepreneur’s recent decision to shut down her online magazine.
Meet Tavi Gevinson—fashion icon and muse for Rodarte at age 12, and magazine founder at 15. Dubbed the ‘collective diary for Gen Z’ in The New Yorker, Tavi’s magazine, Rookie (rookiemag.com), was a pastel, tulle and grunge-eyeliner collage of personal essays, poetry, illustrations and playlists solicited from the community.
At 22, Tavi discerned that what was best for Rookie may not be the best for herself. Her decision to fold the magazine allowed it to remain community-driven and independent from financial investors. It also showed another side of leadership—the maturity and courage to imagine another future.
At the end of the day, sustaining any enterprise taps into the well of resilience and patience of the creator. As social media blurs the lines between imagined/real, tangible/unattainable, innovators seek to match the demographics of their dreams to their reality. Striving always to grow—and knowing when to let go.
Left-right: Alexia Hilbertidou, Cover of Rookie Magazine, Aïcha Wijland
Words — Phoebe Deng