An exclusive interview in celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week 2016
I’d been following The Apartment for a while – The huge Fashion Week event, housing all the big bloggers and top brands under one roof. It seemed exclusive and out of my reach, thus admiring it from a far, showing love through a double-tap of my iPhone screen. But when I finally coined that a young lady named ‘Abi Marvel’ put it all together, my interest peaked and I needed to jump over the internets barriers. Without much of a plan as to how, I knew I had to meet her!
Securing an interview with Abi was difficult, reasons for which you’ll find in the interview. She is one busy businesswoman, taking over the social world one instagram account at a time! Meticulous in planning and a keen eye for detail, Abi has a calendar dating back far over 5 years. If you ask her what she did on November 14th 2011, she could answer in a heartbeat. Abi’s time is precious and I’m very grateful to have laughed all the way down memory lane with her, as she recalled the journey that has brought her here today…
You started out pretty early, Did you always know what you wanted to do?
Abi: I grew up with computers. My Dad was heavily focused on computer engineering so we always had pieces of computers around the house and he built them from scratch for fun. It was very normal for me, so jumping on the computer everyday wasn’t a case of knowing that that’s what I wanted to or that I could turn it into a career.
I used to sign up to all these websites and my username was ‘Abisola951’ because I was 9, my sister was 5 and the youngest was 1 – I literally started using computers at the age of 9. So blogging was a natural progression from sites like xanga, not sure if they still exist, but they were blog centred sites.
One day I discovered ‘live journal’ and became a member. I was blogging about all sorts of rubbish like school and which teachers sucked. I was in year 8 or 9 and had just moved to Milton Keynes. I also designed a website that was shockingly bad, I will never give out the link for it. It’s buried in the internet.
It was one of the horrific ones that had images as the background and all the texts were a different colour. But when I think about it now, all the pages were so forward thinking – it was split up into beauty, fashion and lifestyle with recipes for rice krispy cakes. Also, my parents said I was too young to read 17 and Teen Vogue, so I created material that me and my friends could enjoy.
Then I discovered Blogspot. I migrated because of all the customisation options and was fascinated about how it would advance my brand – that’s when I AM ABI MARVEL came about.
How did you get the name Abi Marvel?
I realised that singers and celebrities had something in their name that would emphasise what they were doing. I wanted to keep my full name, Abisole Omole, quite unsearchable on the internet and made the conscious decision to ensure my personal and blogging life were very separate.
Opening up a thesaurus to find another word for cool, the first thing that came up was ‘Wonder’. Abi Wonder was where it started, but a month later I changed to Abi Marvel – still cool but less of a super hero.
..so yeah, in 2008 Abi Marvel was born.
How did the Apartment feed into what you were doing as a 9 year old kid?
A few different ways…
I started University, London College of Communication in 2011, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with a degree. I had been blogging for 3 years but jobs in social media weren’t a thing then.
Slowly but surely brands would call on me for my opinion. I was approached by The Outnet to do something with bloggers, it was still early days for blogging so I was given freedom with ideas. We created a space in the office for a photoshoot and invited bloggers to select their own looks. It sounds so obvious now but at the time this wasn’t something everyone was doing, at all. It was 5 years ago.
I actually acted as the photographer, which is crazy to think back on and realise how huge of an opportunity it was. It was a pretty big campaign shot on my random camera. I was paid in vouchers but all I cared about was the opportunity – The content was shockingly good.
That same year at Fashion Week, I was commissioned to create content for brands and the biggest frustration for me was not having anywhere to get the work done. It’s fashions most social event of the year but I didn’t have a space to actually meet anyone outside of the shows.
There were clear areas for press to get on with their work but nothing for social influencers – people who really focus on online content and need a place to work and meet others. I wanted to create that space. So I thought “Why don’t I just get an apartment, which will feel like you’re at home but different things are happening in each room”.
For example, the bathroom would be filled with beauty products, the kitchen would be stocked with food brands, the bedroom would be the most personal space for a brand to take over, the living room would be the chill area. An actual apartment for the ‘The Apartment’.
I started searching straight away. It was May and we’d finished Uni for the year, meaning I had a few months to prep for September’s Fashion Week. I made a huge list of all the apartments in Covent Garden and arranged to visit them all. I knew I was on a tight schedule because Uni started again in September and life would suddenly get a lot busier. Luckily, everything was confirmed by August.
How did you go about funding The Apartment in the early days?
I used a huge part of my student loan. I’ve always been self-sufficient. My parents always asked if I needed anything but situations were never desperate enough to call on them. It’s funny to look back on the time that I could only afford indomie noodles – which I love by the way. But it developed my work ethic and really pushed me to build something that would work and keep me independent.
I managed to bring on partners based on the relationships and influence I had as a blogger. We partnered with some really big people and when I look back now I just don’t know how! Our style sessions were supported by Forever 21 when they had just launched in London. I was also asked to curate an Apartment x F21 collection that went into their UK stores. eBay, Wella, Becca were all in the Apartment too.
Most of the brands I secured were happy to partner because we had relationships, if I wasn’t a blogger I think the process would have been completely different. I didn’t have to sell myself, I just had to convince them of the concept, which is only half the usual work.
I’ve done my homework and found out that you created an amazing press pack for sponsors/partners. How did that help?
I put together a kit for the whole thing! I’m a firm believer that if you’re doing something, do it well. So the pack was all about what I envisioned for the different areas, what the sponsors would get out of it – absolutely everything. I couldn’t be so clear on what the return for brands would be because it was the first time but what I could tell them was who would be there, which was one of the very important aspects.
I was very lucky because things like Instagram weren’t what they are now, so it was less about “How many instagrams will we get?” and more about “Who’s coming?” – which were mostly my blogger friends that I’d built up over the years, so it was quite easy.
It was amazing how many people believed in the idea so early on. We worked with Wagamama and Nandos but one of the ideas I’m most proud of to-date is working with tech brands. I contacted Olympus, they didn’t have an instagram or anything along those lines but every blogger owns a camera of some sort so that was the connection. And they replied!
They came on board as a partner, I then contacted Karla Otto and asked if they could allocate us 8 seats at a LFW show. It was perfect, the bloggers would take their new cameras to the show and create exclusive content. Before then, if you had an Olympus, it was because you were an adventurer, it was never a feminine, fashionable product.
You’ve moved on from a traditional apartment now. How did it progress?
The first season it happened I was so impressed with how smoothly everything went and we’ve slowly moved on from there. We kept receiving emails asking what was coming next but I hadn’t really thought too much further. We received so much social content and press, everyone was paying attention. But for me, it was less about grabbing headlines and more about building a community. We’ve steadily grown since then and just finished our 9th season.
We grew out of an apartment 3 seasons ago because we’re transitioning into a social media membership club. The initial point of The Apartment was a home away from home but blogging has completely changed so we have to keep transitioning. We’ve grown out the basics because I pride myself in challenging the idea of what we do and who we work with every season. It got to a point where no apartment space felt enough, so I started looking into event spaces.
We needed the main features such as food, make-up etc. but I wanted to build on that. A hair and make up station turned into a beauty studio, a food stall changed into an ‘Apartment cafe’ and then other things stemmed from that – a library, flower market, designer presentations.
It’s definitely not as easy as it looks. We sit and think about everything from the furniture, colour schemes, creative activations – everything has a part to play.
Is the Apartment exclusive to Womens Fashion Week?
We tried Mens one season but the industry isn’t big enough. There’s so many changes happening and LCM is getting more exciting but we’ll just chill and focus on what works well.
The company is split into 3 main parts – social, management and events.
We work with brands to create content for their platforms and creative direction for campaign imagery, we’re involved with events guest lists, organising press trips and any idea a brand may have that fits into what we do and stand for.
We also have a network of over 30 influencers, but based on man-power we only represent a handful of them on a permanent basis. Park and Cube was the first name we took on after the first apartment, it wasn’t anything we’d ever done before but she (Shini) enjoyed how we brought brands and influencers together, so we gave it a go. It was summer and I’m way more malleable in the sun, so ask me all the big and scary questions when it’s hot.
We have great relationships across so many industries, from tech, automobiles, hospitality. So whens someone comes to us with an idea, it’s great to bring in our connections. I guess that’s how we started from the very first apartment, it’s a collaborative effort, so it’s important keep that going even when it’s not Fashion Week. We’re certainly working all throughout the year.
Do you ever say no?
Yes of course. I say no if I genuinely don’t think the idea will work. The Apartment is a brand but it is also very much me, which makes it quite personal and I’m protective of that. The tone and feel of our social pages aren’t ‘just’ things that fit into the brand image – they’re things that I genuinely like.
There was a week when I saw so many cool chairs and I just wanted to post them all on our Instagram, so I did and our followers don’t mind that.
After the success of the Apartment and securing key influencers on your books, what was your attitude towards Uni?
One of the modules we took on was social media and our lecturer used my work as an example – I was like “Crap, I’m about to become the person that everyone in this class hates”. They would ask if it was actually my company and I couldn’t deny it. I didn’t speak much about my blogging career or The Apartment to anyone at Uni. They just knew me as the girl that ran out the door as soon as lectures were over. I was so busy with press days, planning, meetings so I never hangout in the cafeteria.
Other than that there were definitely some useful elements of the course, like crisis management sessions. We had a crazy tutor for that, so naturally I enjoyed that the most.
Towards the end my only focus was on my dissertation, which was on ‘The impact of social influencers on brands’. My tutors pushed me to use The Apartment as a case study – sounds easy but I had to be objective so it was actually more like judging yourself as opposed to praising your work.
My only real issue at Uni was the lack of support. For example, if I had to leave class early for something ‘The Apartment’ related, I was made to feel a bit bad for that. Yet the whole point of University is to prepare us for industry.
I definitely don’t regret going, it didn’t massively get in the way but it also didn’t inspire me to create my business. I was studying, blogging, working on The Apartment and I had a job in retail – so I definitely learnt to manage my time during that 3 year period – no regrets.
So in a world where you’ve always been ahead of the curve, who or what inspires you?
My parents for a start but I also admire the former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts. I was researching her career and she completely blew my mind – she never takes sick days, she’s a devout Christian and she’s a Mum.
Women like Angela and Helena Morrissey, who is the former CEO of a very big hedge fund company in the UK, inspire me! Helena has 9 children – How do you do all of that and have 9 children? She’s impressive. I try to find people who I can pull inspiration from because when I first started nobody was doing what I was doing.
Apparently I’m not a typical 24 year old, a lot of people my age look up to Lena Dunham or Sophia Amoruso but I look outside of the typical. I don’t want to be thought of as a ’Girl Boss’ because I’m not a girl anymore and I think that phrases takes us a couple centuries back – somewhere we don’t need to be. But that’s just me, I’m overcritical.
To end on a high note, what is the dream for The Apartment – or is your dream bigger than The Apartment?
The dream is to make The Apartment a lifestyle group, taking it all the way back to my first ever blog and how it was broken down into sectors. What we currently do is the bread and butter, the membership club is growing and our connections will naturally grow through hospitality and other things of a lifestyle nature.
We will always be the destination for young creatives to express themselves, their style and more. I will never be ashamed to openly say that I’m a Christian and all the bloggers on our network are very true and open about who they are.
Eventually we’d love to operation as an industry body, similar to the British Fashion Council, but for the social media/influencer realm. I speak to so many young people that don’t know how it all works, I’d love to help and educate.
And TAGS is coming very soon so watch out for that!
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