Meet Lauren Riihimaki, influencer and YouTuber best known for her DIY videos, often consisting of colourful crafts and challenges that involve creating or upgrading items of clothing or homewares with limited or minimal crafting tools.
Since the launch of her channel in 2012, Lauren has grown a community consisting of 20 million followers across multiple platforms. Creating content for the Pinterest-loving generation, Lauren has been heralded as the “Queen of DIY”, appealing to the crafter in all of us. Striking up deals with some of North America's biggest retailers including Walmart Canada, Target, Amazon, and Canadian fashion brand, Ardene, Lauren is building an empire that goes far beyond digital content.
The future of the LaurDIY brand? Licensing. From crafting kits and tools that bear the LaurDIY name, to stationery and school supplies, adhesive gemstones to Coachella-fy your face and hair, shirts, hoodies, and even cozy onesies for adults and children alike.
While growing her empire, Lauren maintains a consistent upload schedule, posting videos twice weekly, while also creating content for her almost 5 million Instagram followers. The Toronto native, having moved to Los Angeles some four years ago, admits that the landscape for content creators and influencers in Canada was less fruitful, and that ultimately moving to the US opened her up to more opportunities.
I chatted with Lauren about everything from moving to LA, to evolving as a content creator, and the future of YouTube.
THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR BREVITY AND CLARITY.
When I was prepping for this interview, I had to do a little bit of stalking and go back and look at some of those old videos... do you remember the first video you made that got a lot of views?
“A lot of YouTubers have a viral video, but I never really had one that blew up. I had one video that started gaining a little bit of traction. It was a lot of views for the time, but it wasn’t a crazy amount looking back. It was a t-shirt reconstruction video where I cut a skull design into the back of a shirt. That was the first one that started picking up a little bit of traction.”
DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW THAT YOU WANTED TO DO DIY [VIDEOS]?
“Yeah, for sure. I feel like people grow up being good at makeup or being good at fashion, but DIY is always something that I’ve been attracted to and been organically talented out. It’s a combination, I think, of arts & crafts things when I was younger and I used to tailor a lot of my clothes growing up too because I was so tiny. I learned how to find little hacks to make clothes smaller.”
A lot of THE YouTubers who have been making videos for as long as you have have fallen off and become less relevant with time, but it seems that you've only grown over the years. How do you maintain that?
“I think it’s just finding a way to evolve your content. When I first started YouTube, it was very much a DIY tutorial base type of video, and now it’s turned into more of an entertainment style because I learned people are there more for the personality and not so much for the actual tutorial. Of course, people still love the DIY element to it, but it’s really about the connection to the audience and the YouTuber.”
DO YOU HAVE A STRATEGY FOR THAT OR IS IT JUST ORGANIC, AND WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE WANTS TO SEE?
“I think it’s a combination of asking the audience exactly what they want to see and following trends and staying on beat with what’s popular right now.”
When did you have to bring on a manager and someone to help with brand relations and negotiation?
“I actually got really lucky and a manager reached out to me really early at that point where I started getting [around] 50k views per video and was able to start doing brand partnerships. I got really lucky. They just organically reached out and we got along really well, and 6 years later, we’re still working together. It’s been great.”
Do you remember your first brand deal?
“Oh my gosh, yes! It was a little video integration pushing the new Divergent movie. I think it was the very first one, when it came out.”
AND LEARNING HOW TO MAKE CONTENT FOR BRANDS AND HOW TO WORK WITH BRANDS… HOW DID YOU MANAGE THAT?
“It was definitely heavily based on the partnerships with my manager who helped guide that relationship with brands, but again, a learning process. I think too, also being in Canada, brands were not late to hop on the influencer trend, but definitely… Canada gets their budgets later than American brands. So I had friends in the states that were already doing partnerships, so I had already watched content that had brand deals integrated into them. I think it was learning what other people were doing. The contracts, obviously leaning on the relationship with my manager to guide that as well.”
WHEN DID YOU LEAVE TORONTO?
“It would have been 4 years/3.5 years ago? I had just finished university and I was living bi-coastal for about 6 months, and then once I got my visa, I was able to be here permanently.”
Was it hard to do things from canada?
“Yeah, it was a big fish, small pond kind of situation. I worked with so many amazing brands in Canada, but the opportunity in the states is just so much bigger. My management company was out here, all of the YouTubers I was friends with and collaborated with were up here.”
Did you have any trouble trying to integrate your life and move countries?
“It wasn’t too bad. I think because I did that whole 6 months bi-coastal, I had kind of already found my friend group and stuff. I got really lucky where it wasn’t too hard of an integration or transition period. I had time to find an apartment and get a lease and all that stuff.”
You put out a lot of videos. what does your schedule look like in terms of content creation?
“I try and be a couple weeks ahead in pre-filming. For the most part, it’s DIYs on Sunday and then a weekly vlog or video on Wednesday.”
AND WHEN YOU FILM, DO YOU FILM IN BATCHES?
“Videos usually take at least a full day, so I can’t batch in a day, but I might film 2-3 videos in the same week to be ahead of the content schedule.”
What tools do you use to stay organized?
“Google Docs is a huge thing, and the calendar, etc. I have a daily personal assistant that helps keep everything organized. I think having a content calendar is so important.”
You're 25 now... What's something you know now that you didn't know at 20?
“Oh my gosh, 5 years ago! I think just understanding that everything is going to fluctuate no matter how consistent you are and just being okay with that. I remember every time views would drop or I felt like I wasn’t gaining subscribers, I would always [feel] like my YouTube career was over and this was the end. But it’s a natural fluctuation that’s always gonna happen because the world of the Internet is so unpredictable.”
Do you ever feel like you’re at the mercy of these platforms, like INSTAGRAM SHUT DOWN YESTERDAY…
“It was so interesting yesterday when Instagram went down, just to see how panicked people whose main platform is Instagram were. I think that goes to show you how important it is to make sure that you’re spread across so many different platforms so that your main thing isn’t on one platform.”
Where do you see the future of youtube going? THE LANDSCAPE HAS CHANGED SO MUCH.
“For sure. I think digital content is only growing and going upwards. I think YouTube has a pretty strong future of being one of the forefront leaders in video [content]. I don’t know, it’ll be interesting because things can change in a day on YouTube. I think I’m in a low-risk, niche content area because I’m family friendly as well. Some channels, when they tightened up the rules around monetization, a lot of the channels that were a little more controversial went through a huge change. Because my stuff is pretty family friendly, I’m in a low-risk area that doesn’t really changed too much.”
IN TERMS OF MONETIZATION… SEEING THE MOVEMENT TOWARDS PAYED CONTENT AND SUBSCRIPTIONS. IS THAT SOMETHING THAT YOU’VE DABBLED IN?
“Yeah, a little bit. The subscription thing is something that’s new on YouTube. I think it’s tough, because there are platforms like patreon that are specifically just for subscriptions, and then everyone already has subscriptions like Netflix and Hulu, iTunes, Pandora, Spotify. I think subscriptions are obviously something that’s working for so many platforms, but there’s kind of a ceiling for how many subscriptions the average person is gonna have. It’s definitely a great alternative way of monetization.”
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG WOMEN LOOKING TO START THEIR OWN CHANNELs or get into instagram?
“I think it’s just finding your style and not copying… finding your own niche. I think it’s easy to download one of those presets and make all of your photos look exactly the same as someone else’s but I think it’s really finding and carving out your own space in the social media world. There’s so many people doing it now, that it’s so important to have you your voice.”
WHO ARE SOME YOUTUBERS THAT YOU ALWAYS WATCH?
“I’m a die-hard David Dobrik fan. I think he’s totally changed the space of Youtube with his content. He’s so good and so funny. And then, The Try Guys as well, have done such a good job at transitioning over from the corporate world and into the more independent creative world; they’re absolutely killing it. Oh! Jenna Marbles. She does such a good job at staying true to her style. To be so relevant after so many years, I think it’s so impressive and says so much about her brand.”
WHAT BIG PROJECTS DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR 2019?
“I’ve got some stationery launching in a really big store coming up. I can’t announce it yet, but that’s coming up. I think the continuation of all the merch and licensing products, I think that’ll be Walmart Canada still carrying everything, lots of new merch drops, Ardene, Target is continuing for 2019, and then we’re adding a really big retailer this year that’s gonna be launched around back-to-school.”
I'm sure that 6 years ago, you never would have imagined being where you are now... Looking forward another 6 years. What are your big goals and dreams?
“You’re so right. Looking back 6 years ago, if I were to imagine myself 6 years forward, it would definitely not look like what it looks like right now. I don’t know, to be honestly. I’ve been working a lot into licensing the last couple of years. I think that’ll only continue to move forwarding in licensing, and products, and brand collaborations… in terms of doing more physical stuff. Growing the brand to be more [of a] physical product based brand outside of just creating digital content.”