The woman behind three-year-old fashion label Exhibit, Cao is very momentarily stumped when I ask her: What are you first and foremost, a social influencer, fashion icon or label owner? And that’s understandable - after all, she’s got 167,000 followers just on Instagram alone, is unfailingly snapped by fashion photographers at events and has one of the most successful young local labels around.
But if you really must know: “I’m a label owner,” the self-taught designer eventually declares, adding that she intends to take Exhibit overseas in three to five years.
What do you feel you bring to the social media landscape?
My point of view of the world – what I think is beautiful, inspiring, interesting – and showing it through my lens. Fashion and photography are two of my passions, and Instagram is a platform for me to showcase and combine both of them.
How much time do you devote to social media?
I’d say 50 per cent of my time, since it’s also a business for me. And while I have 167K Instagram followers, I feel the quality of the people who appreciate the work you’re doing is more important than the numbers.
What’s your stand on keyboard warriors?
I don’t really pay much attention to whether people like me or don’t like me, I’m just doing what I have to do and what I love to do - and what makes me happy!
When it comes to reaching out to your followers, what are you most proud about?
I think I feel quite happy when I’m able to inject a bit of positivity, energy and colour into the day or life of my followers. My Instagram is never about negativity, I like to keep things happy. I guess that’s why people are hooked.
Also, it’s a platform where I share what I love, what I think is inspiring, and hopefully that inspiration will rub off on my followers. I don’t like repeating what I do on Instagram, so I guess it’s enriching for me as well because it challenges me to keep producing fresh content.
How are you are changing lives, influencing decisions, sharing information?
I guess when you’re in that influential position, it’s important to be responsible about what you say or do on it because it can affect your followers/readers. That’s why I like to inject it with positivity, spread good vibes and encourage good attitudes through my social media channels.
What’s the best and worst thing about leveraging social media the way you do?
It’s a way for me to share what I’ve seen and what I do on a daily basis - and I get to do that as a form of work. But it does affect my privacy, so I try my best to separate my private, off-work life from Instagram.
What challenges do you face?
A lack of inspiration to create content! But I’m always telling myself to keep learning, to keep my eyes open, whether it’s travelling or the simple act of browsing images online. That definitely helps with fighting the slump.
What have you learnt about yourself through your social media efforts?
I’m quite the perfectionist when it comes to, say, my content on Instagram. I can have 200 similar shots, but if there’s a hair out of place, or if the dress isn’t sitting right, or if the background isn’t working with the dress, I'll continue snapping another 200 more. If it’s going to take me an hour to get the shot, so be it!
Photo: Kelvin Chia