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Courtney Trop is a fashion influencer with over 340,000 followers on Instagram (@alwaysjudging).
In March, she launched her first brand, Hi Stevie, which sells CBD and plans on releasing other cannabis products.
When the pandemic forced many brands to cut their influencer budgets this spring, Trop saw her fast-growing career suddenly come to a halt.
Her new brand, however, became her "financial saving grace" and now makes up 50% of her income, she said.
Business Insider spoke with Trop about how she pivoted this year from working mostly with other brands on sponsorships to working on her own brand.
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Courtney Trop has been a luxury fashion blogger and influencer for nearly eight years, so she’s used to the twists and turns that come with an evolving industry.
What was new for her, however, was having to completely pivot her business this year as the bottom fell out of the market, with many brands slashing their influencer-marketing budgets in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Last year was the best year in my career," Trop told Business Insider. "I was on planes every single week."
But starting in early March, when the pandemic caused many brands to shut down and send thousands of influencers home during fashion month, Trop’s busy day-to-day career slowed down.
"My schedule really went to a halt," Trop said. "Every brand I worked with for fashion month, half of them just aren’t paying me at all."
The drop was devastating for her income, but Trop said it also gave her the time she needed to finally launch her first product. For around two years, Trop had been brewing her own cannabidiol (CBD) formula — the non-psychoactive component of cannabis — with the help of her business-and-life partner, slowly teasing it on her own Instagram account (@alwaysjudging).
In March, she officially launched Hi Stevie, her CBD and cannabis brand.
"This has been my saving grace financially," Trop said, adding that Hi Stevie is now her main focus as an entrepreneur and creative. When the influencer-marketing industry began to pick back up in June, she resumed working with brands, but said that Hi Stevie now makes up about 50% of her income.
"I assume it will continue to grow and hopefully, once my fashion career comes back full force, Hi Stevie will have also grown by then, so it will make up for the losses this year," she added.
Being an influencer taught her about marketing and brand building
When Trop began developing Hi Stevie, she used her Instagram audience to gauge interest and research what her community was looking for in a CBD product.
Using the features of Instagram Stories and leaving her DMs open to her followers, she used her following as a focus group for her brand. She found they wanted a CBD product that actually tasted good, and that they were interested in vegan CBD gummies, among other insights. (Her gummy product will launch later this year.)
"Being on the other side as an influencer, it’s easy for me to create a brand and give customers what they want because I know both sides of it now," Trop said. For years, she’d been observing the ways brands market themselves.
On the sales side, she found that planning Instagram challenges and giveaways, such as including a free tote bag as a gift for each purchase, boosted her sales.
"You’d be surprised how well giving people a gift with purchase works," she said.
Recently, Trop struck a partnership with the fashion brand DanCassab, which had reached out to her about creating content for the brand’s website that would highlight what influencers were working on at home during the pandemic. Through some conversations, Trop and DanCassab made a plan to send Hi Stevie to the fashion brand’s customers and influencers as a part of its gifting campaign this fall.
"I’m seeing this new movement where brands want to work with influencers now that have their own brand or they’re doing something more," Trop said. She said finding those opportunities and making connections across industries is what has helped her build her brand so far through word-of-mouth and Instagram.
Launching any brand is a challenge, but CBD comes with its own obstacles
Trop said that cannabis had long been part of her Instagram presence and was a topic she’d discussed frequently with her followers, which made CBD a natural starting point for her when launching her own products.
She said she manufactures all of the products in her home, from creating the CBD formula to bottling and boxing it up and mailing out packages.
Trop said that navigating the legality of operating a cannabis-based business has been the hardest part so far, since the laws vary by state and country. And the FDA forbids all health claims related to CBD (with the exception of Epidiolex, an FDA-approved epilepsy drug that contains it).
Hi Stevie’s first product, a CBD oil or "tincture," is priced at $60, but is only shipped domestically for now. Trop has a large audience in Paris, and said eventually she wants to figure out how to legally tap that market.
Even with Instagram, there are hurdles to selling her product on the app using its shopping features. She plans on enrolling once she’s able to, "but again, the legality with CBD and cannabis is so difficult," she said.
For more stories about how influencers are adapting to changes across the industry, check out these Business Insider articles:
Houseplant sales are booming and so are ‘plantfluencers,’ the social-media creators sharing plant tips, products, and content
‘Insurance’ has surged the most among Instagram influencers of any content topic during the pandemic. Here are the others with the biggest increases and decreases.
How the coronavirus is changing the influencer business, according to marketers and top Instagram and YouTube stars
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