Freja Wewer became an accidental Scandinavian it-girl in her early twenties, picking up a army of Instagram followers with her independent, cool way of putting together a look. Today at 25, the Copenhagen native has made the transition from influencer to photographer and creative director – a one-woman brand with a base of 250,000 followers. How does she do it? We sat down with Freja and her managers Kristian Nyholm and Zachariah Wedel to find out how she’s tearing up the social media rulebook.
Freja is flanked by her right-hand men for the interview, Kristian and Zachariah. We’re in Kristian’s office in Copenhagen, and as furniture is rearranged to make space for the CIFF shoot, Zachariah makes sure that the paper trays with æbleskiver and jam are taken off the table. “Kristian says they don’t look presentable,” he jokes. Being a manager requires a keen eye for detail.
This fashion trio have been together for two years now, Kristian and Zachariah working behind the scenes on strategy and client negotiation. As for Freja, she started out as an influencer but is increasingly being hired as a creative director and photographer on ad campaigns. Dressed casually in a plain sweatshirt and black baggy skater jeans, Freja takes the first question.
Was it your plan from the beginning to make a career out of social media?
Freja: Not at all. It all happened randomly. I was in high school and posting images like everyone else. Just typical teenage girl stuff. That led to some modelling jobs, and then I started gaining more and more followers. I was spotted by Pernille Lotus, who was setting up an agency for people in the social media business. She taught me how to transform my social media posts into making money. I was 21 then.
What was your very first Instagram post?
Freja: Good question. I don’t recall. It could possibly have been a photo of a cake. But I have long since deleted all those old posts, so we’ll never know.
When did you begin to take it seriously?
Freja: When I was at Pernille’s agency. At first, I just saw it as a way to make some extra money. I never viewed it as a real job. Besides, back then, basing a career on social media was so new that the job didn’t really exist. Nobody used the word “influencer”. Young people now have something to strive for because they see other people doing it. I just took it as it came.
You’ve said that you’re “100 percent dependent” on Zachariah and Kristian. Describe how you work together. What’s a typical day like?
Freja: Kristian and Zachariah are usually at their office, while I’m at my studio. We exchange many emails and phone calls every day. I have a lot of big thoughts about my career and where it’s going, so that’s an ongoing conversation. But day to day it’s mostly about practicalities and deadlines. Negotiations with new clients, deciding whether to accept the job at all, and if so, how much to charge for it. And there is communication with our existing clients.
Zachariah: If we don’t talk on the phone at least three times, it’s an odd day. When working with something as personal as Instagram, which is Freja’s face to the world, it’s the job of Kristian and I to convey the client’s vision to Freja and explain how this or that client might be a good match. We review the details of the offers before talking to Freja, because each collaboration must be aligned with Freja’s brand. This ensures that we’re all on the same page. Many conversations are about her future and our strategy. The first layer contains the low-hanging fruits, the most obvious things to do with an Instagram account with so many followers. Next, we dig deeper to see what talents Freja has to support a career with longevity. We immediately noticed that she has a great eye for aesthetics and how a campaign should look. Instead of being in the campaigns, she could act as a creative director on them, or add her i-Phone look to photos taken by a campaign photographer. What keeps our wheels turning is that we always think long-term.
How many clients have you worked with since your collaboration began?
Kristian: Around 75-100 so far. When Freja first came to us, our initial task was to understand her as a person and a brand and the kind of career she wanted to create.
Freja, have you ever felt that a brand has tried to exploit you, or assumed that you don’t have much business sense?
Freja: Well, nothing specific, but with some of the larger companies I have had the sense that they didn’t fully trust my creativity. They say they’ll give me “free hands”, but still want a reshoot if the images don’t turn out as commercially as they hoped for. But I’ve had management ever since I started this, so nobody has really tried to play me. Had I been all on my own, I’m sure someone would have tried to take advantage.
Kristian: Some companies realise that they need a social media presence, but they don’t really know how to tick the right boxes to get there. This is where we can educate them on why Freja is the best pick for them.
Which collaborations are you both most proud of?
Freja: I’d say the long-standing relationships we have with some of our clients. I have worked toward being a designer, photographer and art director, and the scale is now tipping over to where I find myself in the roles I want, and I am being taken seriously.
Zachariah: We can’t say much about it, but we have worked with Asics for a year, and now they wish to extend and expand our collaboration, so that’s a big stamp of approval for Freja’s brand.
Did the lockdowns cause you to take stock and rethink what you want out of life and business?
Freja: Social media wasn’t affected by the lockdowns too much. If anything, it has given me more time think about my own -projects, instead of being on the road all time.
Kristian: We also manage musicians, and they have been hit hard by the lockdowns. This made us realise how vulnerable the entertainment business is, and that it would be wise to add creative clients such as Freja to our platform. This has given us a great synergy to bring musicians into more commercial collaborations. We have also started to consult with brands such as GANNNI and Asics. In that sense, Corona has definitely changed the way we work and navigate.
Can you see a future where you operate direct-to-consumer?
Freja: I already have. In 2020, I did a collection with Sofie Heste Jente where we made our own prints and had a tailor sew it all up. We also shot the images and sold the clothes ourselves. Now I’ve done the same kind of collaboration with a Dutch artist who has engraved ten handbags that will go on sale soon.
How do all of you work to develop and monetise Freja’s brand?
Zachariah: It’s about communication. How can we get her to where she wants to be, using what she already has? Over dinners, meetings at the office, and phone calls, we constantly talk about Freja’s goals. Kristian and I are here to boil it down to a targeted strategy for achieving the desired results. It’s not like we have a “method” as such. The craft of being an agent is to spot talent and position it right. The past two years have been a lot about the influencer part of Freja, and now she wants to even out the balance.
Freja: It’s about embracing projects that may not pay off right away. Other management agencies are short-sighted and only think about getting paid here and now. We all accept that things take time.
Kristian: When clients call, they want her to bring their product into her world. Now they know that Freja has her own aesthetic, style and look, which means that she takes ownership, instead of trying to fit her into a campaign that may not be right for her.
How do you protect Freja’s brand identity and integrity?
Zachariah: We do it in the sense that Freja sees and evaluates each product before we begin any negotiations with the client. Because it must be in sync with Freja’s style and taste.
Kristian: It would be nice to have one template to suit all clients, but we choose to approach everyone individually. The three of us are strongly intuitive people, so we must agree on every new step we take.
In the past, people were often a bit dismissive of influencers – like it wasn’t a real job. How has that attitude changed in the past couple of years?
Freja: In the beginning, people didn’t get the concept, so it was easy to hate on. But the brands we work with are established big-name clients. It’s more respectable now and nothing to be ashamed of. It’s mostly the older generations I have to explain myself to.
Zachariah: At one point, everyone was reading -magazines, and all the ad money went there. Now everyone is on Instagram, so now huge amounts of money are being spent there instead. I guess that’s the simplest way to put it.
Kristian: The numbers speak for themselves. As soon as the brands were able to actually measure the number of sold items per social media post, there was no arguing with that.
Zachariah: It’s easy now to calculate value for money, because we have so much data. When Freja does a campaign, we send the client a heap of data. On their end, they have specific formulas for reach and engagement rates, so they know what they’re paying for. This, in turn, makes it easier for us to convince the clients to come back.
There have been examples recently of influencers being recruited to executive jobs in fashion. Can you imagine yourself taking that route?
Freja: Sure, I’d love to. Time will tell.