When Blair Fowler gets home from a shopping trip to the mall, she makes a beeline for her pink-walled bedroom and begins describing her purchases in obsessive detail — on YouTube. Thousands of viewers sit back and stroke their chins: Did she make the right call with that black beaded top from Forever 21? Do those dark-wash, plain-pocket skinny jeans really make her butt look smaller? Is that pale-gray cardigan chic, or slouchy? Then the 16-year-old fashionista offers an insight into her shopping strategy. "If you haven't noticed," she says, "I only buy stuff that looks cute on."
The Tennessee-based teen is leading a new army of shop-crazy video bloggers, or vloggers, who like to share their mall hauls with the world. There are now more than 17,000 "haul videos" on YouTube. Fowler is queen: Her goofy, oddly mesmerizing videos on her YouTube channel "JuicyStar07" have been viewed more than 55 million times.
Among the devoted viewers: executives at fashion and beauty companies. The corporate honchos are now marketing directly to the vloggers, sending loads of free stuff (bath bombs from Belle Amé, miniskirts from Hot Miami Styles) in the hopes of getting a good review. The strategy appears to be working: When an online retailer called Shoes of Prey sent Fowler a complimentary pair of gladiator heels, she discussed her glossy new shoes in a video, and nearly 200,000 visitors flooded the shoe site.
The vloggers are also becoming YouTube "partners," meaning they get a cut of the revenue from ads (CoverGirl, Redken, John Frieda) that pop up during their YouTube videos. The more views a video gets, the more ad dollars the vlogger pockets.
Among the star vloggers is Fowler's 21-year-old sister, Elle. The videos on her makeup-centric YouTube channel "AllThatGlitters21" have been viewed more than 30 million times. The Fowler sisters have become such a phenomenon, they've hired an L.A. publicist.
Not everyone loves the lady vloggers, however. They've been widely ridiculed on the Web, being called everything from ninnies to narcissists. But the young women dismiss the "haters" and stick to their mission: instructing their loyal followers on how to shop like a pro. After all, it's not about fame or freebies, as the vloggers like to note. Says 23-year-old Cynthia Peck, who works as a schoolteacher by day and runs a YouTube channel called "ChanelBlueSatin" on the side (900,000 views), "Being an elementary-school teacher is what I'm devoted to. But YouTube has allowed me to teach worldwide."
Abigail Pesta is an award-winning investigative journalist who writes for major publications around the world. She is the author of The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down.
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