Amber Fillerup Clark on the fight for influencers to be taken seriously as entrepreneurs

amber filling Clark has been sharing her life online for over a decade, calling her an “OG influencer,” a role that often overshadows her other role as a beauty entrepreneur. After launching a line of hair extensions called hair in 2016, she expanded her hair care empire when she debuted dae hair with Sephora in May 2020. Last month, dae raised a $2.6 million seed round led by Willow Growth.

I spoke with Fillerup Clark about the evolution of the influencer industry and the challenges it has had to overcome, even as more women in this space finally gain recognition for building lucrative businesses that essentially support their families and communities.

Amy Shoenthal: You are one of the original Instagram influencers who started in this world at a time when your discipline was not taken too seriously. What was that like and how has the “influence” changed since you started?

Amber Fillerup Clark: It’s wild to see how much has changed. People were so sarcastic in the past, but it came from a lack of understanding. The concept of a selfie was so new to people that it seemed so superficial. People were saying, why is Amber taking pictures of herself? For me it was much more than that, I was being creative in my own house and no one else was home to take a picture so I took it myself. Then she wanted to share it with people, inspire them to try new hairstyles or new outfits that would really speak to her personal style.

Now, it’s less off-putting for people to go out there and say, ‘I got ready, I look good, I want to take a selfie.’ Even back then there were still a lot of people connecting with what I was trying to do. The connection part made it easy to overlook the negativity.

I thought it was great that, as a mother, I could be at home, with my children, earning money. I didn’t go to business school and I was running a lucrative business from home and spending a lot of time with my kids instead of doing the traditional 9-5 hours.

Back then, nobody had influencer departments. Now every company has an influencer marketing department. Now what we do is much more respected.

Shoenthal: Should the term ‘influencer’ be retired?

Filler Clark: Depending on who we’re talking to, I always say my husband is a photographer, or we’re creative directors for brands and we do creative campaigns. The term ‘influencer’ feels off-putting at times. You don’t want to believe that your worth is tied to influencing people.

You are influencing as a by-product of what you are actually doing, which is creating. I think it would be great if that term disappeared.

Shoenthal: tell me about dae. This isn’t your first foray into beauty, you had hair extensions as part of Barefoot Blonde, so what’s new in what you’re doing now?

Filler Clark: We started our hair extensions company six years ago. I learned a lot from it. My husband and I always talked about launching a hair care brand, but it seemed like a long way off. Then we started our extension line and the more I learned about how to build a business, how to deal with problems that come up, suddenly that distant goal started to feel closer and closer. I’ve been talking to my followers a lot over the years, recommending products and hearing what they loved or hated about what was on the market, so I had a lot of ideas.

The word community is thrown around a lot, but I felt like there really wasn’t a community behind a product, let alone a hair care brand. I wanted to create something that represented more. People are willing to spend more on products or brands that represent a lifestyle consumers want to be a part of and companies that represent the same things they do.

Shoenthal: So how does Dae solve that? What hole does it fill?

Filler Clark: There are still not many clean brands that suit all hair types. Every beauty product has to be “clean” now, but we’re trying to be an essential everyday luxury for people where their shower isn’t just a mundane task, it’s a sensory experience. We put a lot of thought into our scents and textures. For many people, the shower is their only time all day alone.

I always tell my kids that their chores can be mundane or they can make it fun. You can choose. It’s the same with jumping in the shower. This can be a special part of your day. We want to remind people to slow down, feel the lather, smell your shampoo, and just enjoy it, even if it’s only for two minutes.

Shoenthal: How did you find the people to create the ingredients? How did the product development process work?

Filler Clark: That was the most discouraging part. I don’t even remember how I found our lab, but I was researching and asking anyone I knew, not just in the beauty industry, but anyone running business in general. I slowly started to find connections, flew to several different places, visited their labs, and finally found one that was a perfect fit because they focused on clean products. We started working with them and it was a great experience.

Shoenthal: Is it difficult to be taken seriously when you go from influencer to entrepreneur, even though they are often the same? How were you received when you entered the space of beauty?

Filler Clark: One of our followers was talking to my husband at an event recently, and then he came up to me and said, “I thought David was in charge of everything and you were just jumping for the picture.” I was like, no, it’s the complete opposite. While he is the most amazing and supportive super dad at home, I am doing all of this from a business perspective. People still think someone else must be doing it and I’m just the face of it. They do not understand that it is my business, I formed my team, I found the people, I created the product. He wasn’t just approving, he was involved in every part of the process.

Shoenthal: Talk to me about authenticity, body positivity, self-acceptance, and more. I’m curious, where do you and your company fit into that movement?

Filler Clark: We try to be as inclusive as possible. It is important to show all the different types of hair that exist. Some of these products suit coiled hair, some hair is thin, some is short. I own a hair extension company so I have seen the different needs of different hair types. We’ve put a lot of thought into the types of hair we show.

I’ve seen how much body positivity has influenced me, from having my first child and feeling self-conscious and absorbing photos, to now being okay with the fact that this is how I look. Two children later I am much more comfortable after giving birth, it’s like a breath of fresh air. We can all just let go, let go, not absorb, just do it.

For our brand, I want people to see a photo of one of our models with wrinkles. I want them to realize that their wrinkles can be beautiful or that they don’t always have to cover up pimples. Little things like that have a big impact. We don’t touch up anything, we often don’t put much makeup on our models. We want everything to feel natural. This is a brand of comfort.

Shoenthal: Do people criticize you when you make statements like that since you are blonde, white and thin so you theoretically fit more easily into society’s beauty standards?

Filler Clark: I’ve talked a lot about it. Even the other day someone asked me, how can you say something like wrinkles are beautiful, but then you’re going to get botox? I don’t think those statements conflict with each other. They do not cancel each other. You can think that wrinkles are beautiful and also get botox if you want. I say that all hair types are beautiful and then I get criticized for having a hair extension company. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put on hair extensions for an event and feel really beautiful and then take them off and feel really beautiful after they’ve been removed.

Shoenthal: Has the way you present yourself on social media changed now that your audience is so massive?

Filler Clark: I no longer put my children’s faces online. If I could go back, I’d probably do things a lot differently. It is different to have a baby online versus a child. My son is almost eight years old and my daughter is seven, then I have a three-year-old boy and a newborn. Seniors now go to school and if their teachers followed me, I wouldn’t want them to necessarily see this selected person online who might give them preconceived notions about my children. So if they have a bad day, a higher standard could be held of them. I just want them to be accepted for who they are. It’s just kids having bad days and good days and I didn’t want to post that for the world to see.

Shoenthal: Anything else you want readers to know?

Filler Clark: My community really feels like a group of friends because they have been with me through my ups and downs, through the births of all my children. I really feel like I have a friend base, not a fan base. I have interacted with them for over a decade. And when your friend launches a brand, you want to support them. It gives me chills to feel all that support.

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