Amber Fillerup Clark On Going From Influencer To Entrepreneur
By Amy Shoenthal
Amber Fillerup Clark has been sharing her life online for over a decade, dubbing her an “OG influencer,” a role which often overshadows her other role as a beauty entrepreneur. After launching a line of hair extensions called bfb hair in 2016, she expanded her haircare empire when she debuted dae hair with Sephora in May 2020. Just last month, dae raised a $2.6M seed round led by Willow Growth.
I spoke to Fillerup Clark about the evolution of the influencer industry and the challenges she’s had to overcome, even as more women in this space are finally getting recognition for building lucrative businesses that essentially support their families and communities.
Amy Shoenthal: You’re one of the original Instagram influencers who started in this world at a time when your discipline wasn’t taken all that seriously. What was that like, and how has “influencing” changed since you got your start?
Amber Fillerup Clark: It’s wild to see how much it’s changed. People were so snarky back in the day, but it came from a lack of understanding. The concept of a selfie was so new to people, it seemed so surface level. People were like, why is Amber is taking pictures of herself? For me it was so much more than that, I was being creative in my own home, and there was no one else home to take a picture so I just took it myself. Then I wanted to share it with people, inspire them to try new hairstyles or new outfits that really spoke to their personal style.
Now, it’s less off putting for people to get 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 who connected with what I was trying to do. The connection part made it easy to overlook the negativity.
I thought it was so cool that as a mom I got to be in my home, with my kids, making money. I didn’t go to business school and I was running a lucrative business from home and getting to spend so much time with my kids instead of doing the traditional 9-5.
Back then, no one had influencer departments. Now every company has an influencer marketing department. Now what we do is so much more respected.
Shoenthal: Should the term ‘influencer’ be retired?
Fillerup Clark: Depending on who we are 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 icky sometimes. You don’t want to believe your worth is tied to influencing people.
You’re influencing as a byproduct of what you’re actually doing, which is creating. I think it would be great if that term went away.
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 about what you’re doing now?
Fillerup Clark: We started our hair extension company six years ago. I learned so much from that. My husband and I always talked about launching a haircare brand but it felt like a very distant goal. Then we started our extension line and the more I learned about how to build a company, how to deal with the issues that arise, suddenly that distant goal started to feel closer and closer. I’ve been talking to my followers so much 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 so overused, but I felt like no community really existed behind a product, let alone a haircare brand. I wanted to create something that stood for more. People are willing to spend more on products or brands that represent a lifestyle consumers want to be a part of and companies who stand for the same things they do.
Shoenthal: So how does dae solve that? What gap does it fill?
Fillerup Clark: There still aren’t a lot of clean brands that suit all hair types. Every beauty product has to be “clean” now but we’re trying to be a luxurious everyday essential for people where your shower is not just this mundane chore, it’s a sensorial experience. We put so much thought into our scents and our textures. For a lot of people, the shower is your only alone time all day.
I always tell my kids, your tasks can be mundane or you can make this fun. You get to choose. It’s the same thing with hopping in the shower. This can be a special part of your day. We want to remind people to slow down, feel the suds, smell your shampoo and just enjoy it even if it’s only two minutes.
Shoenthal: How did you find the people to create the ingredients? How did the product development process work?
Fillerup Clark: That was the most daunting part. I don’t even remember how I found our lab, but I was researching and asking anyone I knew not only from the beauty industry but anyone who ran businesses in general. I slowly started to find connections, flew to several different places, toured their labs, and ultimately found one that was the perfect fit because they focused on clean products. We started working with them and it was a great experience.
Shoenthal: Is it hard to be taken seriously going from influencer to entrepreneur, even though quite often they’re one in the same? How were you received when you entered the beauty space?
Fillerup Clark: One of our followers was talking to my husband at an event recently, and then she came up to me and said, I thought David was running everything and you were just jumping in for the picture. I was just like, no, it’s the opposite. While he is the most amazing, supportive super dad at home, I’m 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 don’t understand that it’s my business, I built my team, I found the people, I created the product. I wasn’t just approving, I 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?
Fillerup Clark: We try to be as inclusive as possible. It’s important to show all the different hair types that exist. Some of these products suit coily hair, some hair is thin, some short. I own a hair extension company so I’ve seen the different needs for different hair types. We’ve put a lot of thought into what hair types we’re showing.
I’ve seen how much body positivity has influenced me, from having my first child, and feeling self conscious and sucking in for photos, to now just being okay with the fact that this is what I look like. Two kids later I’m so much more comfortable after giving birth, it’s like a breath of fresh air. We can all just release, let go, not suck in, just do you.
For our brand, I want people to see a photo of one of our models with wrinkles. I want them to realize their wrinkles can be beautiful or that they don’t always have to cover up their zits. Little things like that make such a big impact. We don’t retouch anything, we often don’t put much makeup on our models. We want everything to feel natural. This is a comfort brand.
Shoenthal: Do people criticize you when you make statements like that since you’re blonde, white and thin so theoretically you fit more easily into society’s beauty standards?
Fillerup Clark: I’ve talked about that a lot. Even the other day someone asked me, how can you say something like wrinkles are beautiful, but then go get botox? I don’t think those statements are in conflict with each other. They don’t cancel each other out. You can think wrinkles are beautiful and also get botox if you want it. I say all hair types are beautiful and then 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 also take them out and feel really beautiful after they’re out.
Shoenthal: Have you shifted how you present yourself on social media now that your audience is so massive?
Fillerup Clark: I don’t put my kids’ faces online anymore. If I could go back I probably would do things much differently. It’s different to have a baby online versus a kid. My son is almost eight and my daughter is seven, then I have a three year old and a newborn. The older ones are going to school now and if their teachers were to follow me I wouldn’t want them to necessarily see this curated online persona which might give them preconceived notions about my kids. Then, if they have a bad day, they might be held to a higher standard. I want them just to be accepted for who they are. They’re just kids who have bad days and good days and I didn’t want to put that out there for the world to see.
Shoenthal: Anything else you want readers to know?
Fillerup Clark: My community truly does feel like a group of friends because they’ve been with me through my ups and downs, through the births of all my kids. I really do feel like I have a friend base, not a fan base. I’ve interacted with them for over a decade. And when your friend launches a brand, you want to support them. It just gives me chills to feel all that support.
Photo Source: Stephanie Sunderland Photography