We’re reaching out to some popular creators to get their best tips and tricks for success and better understand the ups and downs of life as a trailblazer on the internet.
This week, we spoke with Keia Kodama (@keiakodama), a custom sneakers artist and full-time micro-influencer with over 11,500 followers on Instagram.
Long-time fashion lover Kodama has been blogging on Instagram for years—posting style, shopping, art, and fashion content. Originally, Kodama told Passionfruit she approached Instagram creation as an opportunity to become a stylist. However, as her account progressed, she wanted to show a more creative side, and make something artistic “out of nothing.”
After making a content pivot in 2019, she caught the internet’s attention by showcasing unique custom sneaker content. Kodama’s most iconic content includes DIY cardboard remakes of sneakers, custom sneaker tutorials, or unique and artistic interpretations of custom sneakers—like her Black-hair-inspired custom Air Force 1s, dubbed “Hair Force 1s.”
Kodama has pursued unique monetization offerings, like selling DIY kits to make sneakers out of cardboard, but told Passionfruit she mainly monetizes based on brand deals. She’s gotten the opportunity to partner with a number of brands and was even featured in an art book by Nike. As of September 2022, Kodama was able to quit her job in visual production in the retail industry to pursue content creation full-time.
Also in September 2022, Kodama was invited to be a part of Whalar and Logitech’s Creator Academy accelerator program. The initiative aimed to provide up-and-coming creators from under-represented communities with a ten-week program of training, networking, and career development resources.
In an interview with Passionfruit, Kodama shared how she monetizes content, her tips for going full-time as a creator, why she chooses to pursue Instagram as her app of choice, her favorite content creation tools, and more.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What tips would you give another creator looking to pursue social media full-time?
I’m a lot older so it’s almost like retirement for me. At the same time, I’m not in a financial situation to say I’m retired, but I did leave my full-time job for good. I would say definitely save. It’s a sacrifice. So look through your finances to see where you can cut costs. Maybe there are some streaming apps that you need to get rid of. Maybe that car note, maybe trade-in if you can buy a car instead of having a car note. You know what I mean?
But for me, I knew that I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. So those were sacrifices I made a long time ago. It’s definitely sacrificing and knowing where to cut the fat in your finances … Then you need to know how to plan and manage your money. That would be your next step. … I would say save 20% and then know how to manage the rest between whatever it is that you need.
What lessons did you take from your previous career that you’re applying to your work as a creator?
I love what I did for all these years, it was awesome. … The knowledge I obtained during that time was amazing. I’m able to apply it now because we did a lot of marketing. … One thing I try to tell any [creator] is to find an establishment that you can work in to learn more about what you’re trying to do.
I did visual production. The last company I was with was Macy’s, so I was with them for the last six years. … I knew how that visual department worked, and how they ran theirs. It was awesome. I mean, half my content feature displays I was able to take home because we purge a lot there. So I was very fortunate to have a team and a company that actually supported what I did.
What monetization advice do you have for other creators?
Just from a business standpoint, because I’m business-first, I always make sure people understand their “why.” So if I was to give advice to anyone, it would be to know why you’re doing this and who you’re doing it for, so then you can grow outside of that. … Of course, you want to make money, but I think if you’re passionate about something, you’re going to do it regardless of if there’s money involved.
See what options there are, even with small accounts, because you can create content as a content creator, and sell that content for them to post on their page. Instead of them looking for you to have this big following to promote their brand, now you’re giving them content they’re paying for what they never would’ve made themselves that can promote their business.
Is there a reason you’re on Instagram as opposed to other platforms?
I think Instagram still has the quality of storytelling, whereas TikTok gives you more of a fast pace. And I’m a huge cinematic person. … Instagram still gives that, it still slows you down enough to know that you can find a story, and you will still want to watch the story. And I’m a storyteller, so it helps me a lot when I curate content to know that it will be watched or will be received that way. I love TikTok as well. I just haven’t perfected how to deliver that quickly yet.
Do you have any advice for creators who might be interested in applying to a program like Whalar and Logitech’s Creator Academy?
I’m almost a Cinderella story with that situation. I reached out to a friend a couple of months ago, a social media friend who is very successful with her platform. … I told her exactly what was going on and she referred me to a manager at Whalar who also was very generous with her time … She was the one that referred me to the academy when she heard that they were launching it.
They haven’t really seen anyone like me before, especially in the community that I am from. The sneaker community is a different world than just regular influencer work. It has great opportunities just as any other influencer [niche,] but there is a lot of gatekeeping. It’s a male-dominated space. It’s more associated with sports first than creativity, you know what I mean? So forging a different lane has been a journey for all of us doing it. And for a long time, we were getting backlash.
I feel like I’m still just scratching the surface. But it was me knowing that I don’t see a lot of this experimental creativity with sneakers. A lot of times when you customize, you’re just going to paint cartoon characters, which is beautiful too. But it wasn’t a challenge to me. … And that’s where I wanted to come in with how I present my art.
What software and hardware tools do you use to create content?
For the most part, my iPhone has always been my best friend. … I upgrade when I can because you want the best of the best. But I also learned how to use my settings correctly so that way I can always have the quality that I need. It varies per phone generation, so I would always recommend going to YouTube to find the best settings for your iPhone. … I actually also did a photography workshop with my friends to help them learn how to use their phones better.
Editing apps are your best friends as well. I love CapCut for editing videos, it’s amazing, and then Lightroom for pictures. Lightroom is the most professional app that you can have that gives you the quality of real editing without actually getting on your laptop.
What advice would you give an aspiring creator?
Believe in yourself 100%. Even if it is the most ridiculous thing in the world, believe in yourself because you will find your tribe. There are people that need you. … You will regret not trying. It’s worse than trying and failing, you know what I mean? You can always pick yourself up. If you don’t try at all, then when you get to 60, 80, whatever, you’re going to look back and say, “I should have done that.”
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