Are traditional fashion influencers any good at TikTok?


“On other platforms, it has been super easy to fake creativity because it has been a game of mimicking and imitating.”

If a tree falls in a remote forest, does it make a sound? The modern iteration of the question may be: if you aren’t on TikTok, do you exist? Consider the meteoric, global rise of the platform.

Almost a quarter of Australia’s population is on TikTok; the app has surpassed over two billion lifetime downloads globally. Thanks to its addictive interface and the potential for instant virality, everyday citizens are becoming overnight sensations. So what is to become of the traditional Instagram fashion influencer?

For more fashion news, shoots, articles and features, head to our Fashion section.

Increasingly, my Instagram feed is turning into a plug for TikTok transitions. International influencers, including Leonie Hanne and Alyssa Coscarelli, are but two mega names to join the platform with fashion and interiors-based content. It begs the question: do traditional fashion-focused Instagram influencers have what it takes to garner a TikTok following?

The Instagram vs. TikTok divide

It should come as no surprise that Lillian Ahenkan, aka Flex Mami, is tackling TikTok head-on, in a spirited, hilarious and motivating way. Naturally, I had to ask her thoughts on the matter. With only a few months of full-on usage up her sleeve, she has amassed a collection of clips featuring her witty quips, fun styling and real, in the moment insights.

As she points out, “TikTok is a whole new language. It’s a whole new dialect”. If you wanted to ‘make it’ on Instagram, it required building a community first – this community would then reward influencers’ content with likes and engagement. On the other hand, Lillian notes TikTok requires one to provide the value upfront (i.e. a groundbreaking video), then hope an audience will flock, watch, and follow. “You are being told to invest, invest, invest, and you might get results… That’s not the way we are used to dealing.”

@flexmamiDo you want a semi convenient location to live? Or a kitchen with space for a fridge? ##sydney♬ original sound – flexmami

For Lillian, TikTok is “an outlet to have hyper-specific conversations or very general conversations. Whereas Instagram, I use it as a way to build on a pre-existing connection with my audience by talking about pre-existing themes and topics”. Videos are made assuming that no one knows who she is, where she is from and what she is interested in. They are put into the ether for the global For You page to pick up and push out. As she tells me, “Every day I am starting from scratch”. The strict content schedule is no longer relevant.

The relationships are different, as is the virality – everyday uploaders are just as likely to hit it off as an influencer with thousands of followers. One ingenious clip and a star may be born. Hence, it requires a completely different approach when it comes to content creation.

Influencer Helen Chik started her finger-tutting-heavy TikTok during the first round of lockdowns, as a way to break free from her fashion-focused Instagram content. She notes the key difference between the two is that “Instagram requires so much more curation behind it and quality is key”. On the other hand, “Tiktok trends start so easily – a guy skateboarding whilst drinking a two-litre bottle of cranberry juice can start a global movement. Go figure”.

@helenchikxThe most luxe suit I’ve ever worn. Love me a good suit though 👌🏼 ##tiktokau ##tiktokaustralia ##tiktokaus ##sydney ##fashion ##ootd ##tiktokfashion♬ Me & U – Cassie

But are they any good? (And what does it take?)

TikTok requires a completely different mindset, which means Instagrammers “now have to admit to being novices,” says Lillian. For her, it was important to learn the ins and outs of the platform as a consumer first, a sentiment echoed by fellow Instagrammer-cum-TikToker, Jess Alizzi. Jess, like Lillian, has only recently dived into the potential that TikTok holds. “I found I was spending more and more time on the app as each month went on,” she tells me. Her content builds on her Instagram feed: camera roll montages with banging backing tunes, a mass of outfit inspiration, and Melbourne appreciation.

@jessalizziI’ve literally never related to something more 😂 dinner & drinks ##ootd♬ original sound – Brandon

In terms of what makes a good TikTok-er? Lillian notes the need for a creative flair. “On other platforms, it has been super easy to fake creativity because it has been a game of mimicking and imitating.” We became used to seeing the same mirror selfie poses, the viral cut-out styles and the decadent tablescape again and again and again. “You [aren’t] really rewarded for being original on Instagram; you’re rewarded for doing what everybody else has done in a slightly better way.”

The idea of specialisation is evident when I talk to both Lillian and Jess. “Because of the less curated and more candid nature of content, niches that have not been highlighted/promoted on Instagram are now getting attention on TikTok,” notes Jess. (See: the dermatologists, financial gurus, etc.)

Is it here to stay?

All three of my intel sources resoundingly say absolutely yes. For Jess, it’s an avenue to continue sharing her style inspiration to existing and new audiences, although she notes the industry adoption has been slow. “There is still some pushback from many of the well-established fashion influencers who originally found their success on Instagram, but I have no doubt that in time, if TikTok continues to grow at its current rate, then most Instagram influencers will find themselves feeling compelled to post on TikTok.”

Conversely, Helen rarely creates fashion content for the platform. “It isn’t what my audience follows me for, so I stick to the formula I’ve found that works for me and I incorporate fashion into my videos in my own way without it being ‘fashion’ specific.”

According to Lillian, if creatives don’t jump on that wagon now, they will only be left behind. This time they are battling against billions of worldwide users. Given the right stroke of genius, even I could be momentarily huge tomorrow. “TikTok really is the every person’s platform because it is rewarding people for being as normal as possible,” she explains. Of course, it comes with its problems (as is expected of social media). It’s changing the way we connect and relate to others, and encouraging us to share absolutely everything (maybe even more so than on Instagram).

Could TikTok be the great unearthing (or undoing) of Instagram influencers? In this era of masked identities, we’re seeking out a continually more authentic and less curated approach online. Drop the filters and bare your transgressions. Considering the negatives, “[TikTok is] not a healthy way to interact, but do we ask for health when on social media?” questions Lillian. “I don’t really think so. We’re asking for entertainment.” So, entertain us, baby. Give us your best shot.

Want to know more about the impact TikTok is having on fashion? Try this.

Lazy Loading