Sustainability is as much an evolution in conscious consumerism as anything else. Kyla Fish (@kylafishy) is a micro-influencer whose perspective was upended by an Indigenous Studies class, and for whom sustainability means a host of evolving practices, while Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (@gentlemanwithin) breaks down how quality goods and cost-per-wear can help frame sustainable consumption.
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105 – Sustainability at the Micro-Influencer Level, with Kyla Fish and Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within
Welcome back to Responsible Impact, where we discuss all things sustainability and e-commerce. We’re a production of MagicLinks, a company who connects brands and influencers in e-commerce. In looking around at the impact of our related industries, have we realized the need for conversations on how to make our mutual impact as responsible as possible. Sustainability is many things, including an intentional assessment of consumerism. Influencers are naturally a part of this, both because they’re consumers themselves. And because they make recommendations on their channels.
In this episode, I spoke with two micro-influencers about the way that they’ve moved towards sustainability and more deliberate conscious consumerism. Kyla Fish is a very thoughtful young Canadian with a makeup focused channel, and her perspective was upended by an Indigenous Studies class. Meanwhile, Gentlemen Within, Khoi Nguyen, has found that his guidance on men’s fashion fills a much needed role in educating and empowering followers. He cleverly breaks down how holding out for quality goods and thinking about cost-per-wear can make a huge difference in our consumption. All told though, my favorite part is how wholesome they both are in emphasizing learning and growing as you go.
Natalie (1m 19s):
This episode has a bonus – stay tuned at the end for Khoi’s growth strategy and his thoughts on leveraging platforms. All right, without further ado, let’s dive in. Welcome. Kyla, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Kyla Fish (1m 37s):
I’m Kyla Fish; I’m almost 19. I am a YouTuber and I’m in school to go for real estate right now. I’ve been doing YouTube for a long time now, but I started this channel that I’m doing last year and it was kind of just like an off-hand thing. It was summer and I was like, just wanted to kind of go for it. So I started doing kind of a mix of makeup videos and eco-friendly videos. It was kinda just a weird mix.
Kyla Fish (2m 8s):
I mostly do makeup on my channel now, but I’ve grown to almost 5,000 subscribers in the past year, and I’m happy with where my channels at and happy with what I’m doing. I’ve grown a little bit and found my community.
Natalie (2m 24s):
I’m going to totally date myself here and say that when I was younger, if I had done a makeup video, it would have totally been a comparison between like a Dr. Pepper Lipsmacker and maybe a Cherry Lipsmacker.
Kyla Fish (2m 33s):
Oh my God! Yeah!
Natalie (2m 35s):
Yeah! So in terms of monetizing, let’s talk about your use of MagicLinks, your take on AdSense, working with brands directly — What’s all that look like for you?
Kyla Fish (2m 46s):
My first thing, like your first kind of milestone for me was AdSense and you have to hit like a certain amount of subscribers and watch time with YouTube. So I just started making a little bit of money off YouTube, nothing major. It’s kind of like a day’s work of what I would do in my normal job, but it still helps my channel grow. With MagicLinks, I can monetize all of my links. So if anyone purchases a product that I recommend, then they, I make a small commission off of that.
Kyla Fish (3m 17s):
And just recently I’ve started to acquire some PR from different brands. So that’s been really fun and I hope to work with some brands in the future and stuff like that.
Natalie (3m 29s):
Has there been a change or an evolution in the way that you evaluate if a brand is something that you would or wouldn’t partner with?
Kyla Fish (3m 36s):
I think mostly just sticking with brands that I already like or already have a relationship. I don’t feel like I would ever enter into a relationship with a brand that I wasn’t really sure about. Or one really big thing for me is being cruelty-free. So I would never just accept makeup or go into a relationship with a brand, not fully knowing about them, if that makes sense, or knowing if they’re cruelty-free or have good ethics or morals.
Natalie (4m 4s):
In terms of which brands are more sustainable, let’s talk about how you work to integrate them and their products on your channel.
Kyla Fish (4m 11s):
Yeah. So I think a whole thing with makeup is that the industry isn’t really sustainable. And I think it’s something that I still really want to work on. So one thing that I promote on my channel all the time is to use what you have, like never go out and buy something because someone else recommended it or because you feel you need it. Or if you have that same item in your collection already, one thing I like to promote is just using up your products, but also the end of the product’s life and how to recycle it and how to properly dispose of it.
Kyla Fish (4m 44s):
So just not bringing too much into your life that you can’t handle and you’ll have to throw out eventually. And also just making sure that you’re disposing of everything that you bring into your life properly. But I think it is something that I still want to work on. And I know there are a lot of brands out there that are promoting like zero waste makeup products and reusable packaging and refillable packaging. So it’s something that I definitely want to grow a little bit more on and educate myself a little bit more on.
Natalie (5m 12s):
Huh. You know, I had never considered that disposing of cosmetics might be needing more thought. T his is a great thing. What are some other tips that you have?
Kyla Fish (5m 21s):
Yeah, I know there is a store. They have a TerraCycle bin in all of the, or most of their stores. And so you can actually bring in your clean makeup empties and recycle it with Tara cycle. You can send your products to Terra cycle, but I know that that one does cost money. And then if there is no like accessible places for you to recycle any of your makeup, like no local areas, you can always just clean out the products and try to recycle it. Or like if it’s glass packaging or something like that.
Kyla Fish (5m 55s):
But you do have to be careful that you’re not just throwing things in your recycling and hoping that they’re going to be recycled. You have to just know your area and know what facilities are available to you.
Natalie (6m 7s):
Yeah. The idea that some things are available in some areas and not available in others is actually something that’s come up in a number of other conversations. Something where a lot of folks have said, you know, ideally this would be much more uniform across regions so you don’t have to go through this big decision tree -like what you’re talking about, right?
Kyla Fish (6m 24s):
For sure. I think even in like the eco-friendly space, like for me, where I live, we’re not able to compost. So it’s been a really big journey of trying to figure out like one way of saving waste and not being able to compost. So there’s it, it’s hard to save that there’s one way of being eco-friendly when not everything is accessible to everyone and that doesn’t just go for cosmetics that goes for every aspect of life. So it’s all about an individual’s – well, what facilities and what resources they have available to them and how you can make that work in your own lifestyle, cause that doesn’t look the same for everyone.
Natalie (7m 3s):
You and I had talked about changing the way we shop. I think that’s going to resonate with a lot of people. Tell me about what your journey has been like on that front.
Kyla Fish (7m 12s):
Early on in high school, I would just kind, well of the big fun thing with my friends was to like go to the mall and just go shopping. And I would constantly constantly be buying like cheap, fast fashion clothes that I didn’t need or I wore once and then donated or threw out or whatever. Like I just totally didn’t even take into consideration. So I think my huge thing has been shopping a lot less, but also not supporting a lot of fast fashion brands. And I know that’s not an option for a lot of people depending on where you live or the price point of a lot of places are not having access to like thrift shops and stuff like that.
Kyla Fish (7m 50s):
But one thing has just been to slow down my intake of clothing and try to support really sustainable brands, trying to figure out different ways and educating myself on different companies out there or just thrifting more. The biggest thing is to just slow down on your intake. The more I got into this research on being a little bit more eco-friendly and trying to care a little bit more for the earth, I started by just making small changes throughout my life. Like will a bigger change for me was going vegetarian because I learned about the impact of beef and cattle and what that is on our planet.
Kyla Fish (8m 28s):
Some smaller changes I made to you was just walking places or I don’t own a car. Like I either get a ride from someone, but also bus or walk anywhere available to me, switching from liquid soap in the plastic bottles to just bar soap, like hair products using like the bar shampoos and conditioners bamboo toilet paper. Like that’s just a random little thing that makes such a big in the long run.
Natalie (8m 57s):
You had mentioned an indigenous studies course, and that actually is something that lines up a little bit with some of the journey that other folks I know are going through as well. Dive into that. How did – how were you even introduced to this in the first place?
Kyla Fish (9m 13s):
Yeah, that was the biggest part. Like that’s what really pushed me into this journey of just wanting to do good in the world. And like I had a very, very, very Western mindset. Like I only thought of where I lived, what I consumed. I never thought of where does my stuff come from? What is my impact? What is my impact on the world? And I always thought, well, I’m just one person. So it doesn’t matter. And in school, the only resources I really knew about for like helping the planet, they would teach you to turn the tap off while you’re brushing your teeth or make sure you turn the lights off when you leave the house and yeah, those things help and you should be doing those things normally, but it’s not how to make a big impact in your life.
Kyla Fish (9m 59s):
And so when I was in grade 12 in high school, I took an Indigenous Studies course and it really, really made me realize how Western my mindset is and how, how ridiculous, the way I was living was and how what the impact on the planet of just me alone had on the planet and thinking of millions of people living the same way I do it just kind of scared me a little bit thinking about….that no one really cared about this issue.
Kyla Fish (10m 31s):
Like that’s how I felt. And so taking that course really helps me to learn just the way I adapted a little bit of indigenous culture, not in the sense of like taking from them, but in the practice of giving back to the earth and only taking what you need and trying to make as little impact as possible. And my teacher, she was absolutely amazing. She really, really educated us on how to take care of the planet and why it is so important that it’s not just, what about you, what you learn in this class, it’s about what you take from it and how you apply that to your life going on.
Kyla Fish (11m 9s):
And it wasn’t just about getting a passing grade for that class. It was about your whole life and how this course is going to affect you and how you can become a better person later on. And so that course just really flipped my world upside down because I really realized my impact on the planet. And that was only a year ago. So I feel like I’ve made some pretty big changes in my life since then. But yeah, as I mentioned, the first thing was like going vegetarian and then going like to like small little things that were, that just built up into this bigger thing and trying to educate the people in my life as well.
Kyla Fish (11m 49s):
And that’s why I started my channel. So I don’t focus as much as this of this, on my channel anymore, but I really wanted to push this kind of idea of being more ecofriendly and how ways you can make a change in your life. So it really, really, really had a huge impact on my life.
Natalie (12m 10s):
I love that so much. In, in terms of your followers then, did you find that in discussing these things more and more that it was resonating or did you get any feedback about it?
Kyla Fish (12m 22s):
Yeah, I’ve had a lot of people, either comment or message me and just mention how like, Oh, they never thought about this way or that I’ve helped them change one aspect of their life or help them do one little thing. And even if I just helped one person, I would feel like I did my job and my due diligence, you know, I feel like that would make such an impact. And so just getting those messages and knowing that I can pass along this kind of voice or this idea that really, really resonates with me.
Natalie (12m 56s):
When you talk about things that you want to d,o your research on a lot of folks are really unsure about where to start. Where do you normally start when you’re researching? If something aligns with your values?
Kyla Fish (13m 8s):
I think it’s hard to know because there are so many resources out there and it’s hard to know just where to start or how to take in all the information. So usually I like to find like a couple of different like sources that I really trust and like that really, I feel that relate to me a lot. And so for some things I’ll find like different YouTube offers or different blogs that really helped me out. And even then, like, you have to take in as much information as possible and then reflect on your own life.
Kyla Fish (13m 42s):
Like that’s the biggest advice that I would give is just to understand all of the information and sources you have out there and then go, okay, how does that impact me? How does that help me? What can I do to be better
Natalie (13m 57s):
To that feeling of almost guilt when you enter into an environmental conversation or arena, and you’re like, I can’t do everything I want to do!” You had said something really lovely to that, and I’d like to ask you to talk about that. What’s your approach to doing things to the level that you can ?
Kyla Fish (14m 15s):
Take a step back and breathe and know that every thing you do has an impact. And that doesn’t mean that everything has to be good there. Like for me, the one kind of area of my life is makeup, but I’ve improved other areas of my life. Like not purchasing clothing anymore. And my favorite quote is we don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly, even though you can’t do everything, anything you can do is important. So trying to make those changes and I’m still not perfect.
Kyla Fish (14m 48s):
There are still so many steps that I can take, but I’m still so proud of all the things that I’ve changed in my life and the way that I’ve educated myself and tried to educate others. And I think the whole point of it is, is just to do the best you can.
Natalie (15m 4s):
What’s she saying there is actually something that we at MagicLinks talk about a lot. In fact, recently, Brian, the same Brian who always comes up in the credits, he said something that’s really stuck with me. He said, the perfection is in the practice. This is something that Khoi Nguyen echoed in his interview too. He discussed how a friend lovingly pushed him to take the final steps and launched his site “imperfect” in air quotes, though it may have felt to him at the time and how it took trial and error to dial in his personal style. It’s all better coming from him though. So here we go – his interview starts with me asking him to introduce himself.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (15m 37s):
So hi, my name is Khoi and I run Gentleman Within. It’s an online resource dedicated to helping regular guys just level up their style and live with more confidence through practical style tips, advice and inspiration. Gentlemen Within started as mainly a side hustle while I was still working my day job in advertising. And I always had an interest in fashion and dressing well, and I read a lot of blogs and watched YouTube videos of a lot of the now big players in my space, many of whom I’ve become friends with over time.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (16m 10s):
I saw what they were doing and I figured that I could do the same thing on top of that. I also had my friends, they would always ask me for advice all the time on, you know, what to wear, what outfits to wear for like a date coming up or what’s appropriate attire for an interview. Things like that, you know, basic questions that most normal guys would have. And so figured that I would just start writing articles to answer their questions so that I can, you know, perhaps answer more questions for millions of other guys (potentially) that have the same question around the world.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (16m 44s):
And so that’s kind of how it started. It was, you know, born out of passion for the fashion. And I also wanted to actually make a business out of it. And so in the beginning, I’d come home from my day job. And then, you know, it’d be like from nine to 2:00 AM, it’d be my second shift. And that was like creating content for the blog and fell in love with it. Then, you know, here I am.
Natalie (17m 7s):
I’m very impressed with how flexible your sleep needs are, because I don’t think I could do that! In terms of a sustainable approach to a wardrobe. I know that you’ve kind of focused on things like cost-per-wear or capsule wardrobes. A lot of people don’t recognize necessarily off the bat that sustainability isn’t just that something is made in a sustainable way. A lot of times it’s what you do with it while you have it. Take us on a quick tour of how you perceive sustainability in your wardrobe and in what you advise.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (17m 40s):
Absolutely today in men’s fashion, particularly, I’m seeing a trend towards brands that have more of an emphasis on sustainability, particularly in their marketing. And so I really think it’s great that brands are actively pursuing it and trying to be more transparent, things like that, and I’m completely on board with big direct to consumer brands. They’re putting more emphasis on clothing made with recycled materials, all that’s fantastic. But yeah, it does go beyond things like, like that.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (18m 13s):
For example, brands offering fair wages or having a positive culture, that’s all inclusive, things like that. That being said, going beyond the trend, these are some actionable things that I think guys can do to practice sustainability when it comes to fashion first, a wardrobe audit, probably the most important thing that you can do in building a sustainable wardrobe is take inventory of all the things that you have in your closet. I know it’s not the most exciting thing, but it’s a good idea to lay it all out so that you can see it and keep it things that you absolutely love or figure out like, what are the gaps in your wardrobe that you need to fill?
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (18m 50s):
It’s really all about being intentional with what makes it into your closet. In the past, I would go to the mall and make impulse purchases. I would buy things for my wardrobe that at the time I was like, Oh, this is awesome. You know, I really like it. But when I came home, it wasn’t really something that I would wear that often.
Natalie (19m 6s):
We’ve all done that don’t worry.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (19m 8s):
Yeah. And I used to do that all the time and I’m becoming a lot more intentional or over the years, I’ve become a lot more intentional with the pieces that I do by knowing the items that I wear all the time
Natalie (19m 20s):
Does being intentional about what you buy, come from having sort of a checklist of what constitutes a well rounded wardrobe altogether? Like, are you looking to fill holes in a wardrobe or build out components of it or when you say intentional, is it that you’re like, “I really like this piece, I’ll make it work.”
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (19m 36s):
I think I’m both. And so definitely if you really love a certain piece, then go ahead and buy it. Like if it’s like a kind of like a statement piece, right? If it’s going to be like a cool trendy jacket, like bomber jacket with a cool design on the back, it’s not necessarily the most versatile, timeless piece, but it’s really cool, you know, fashionable something that’s can kind of, you know, help you stand out. And so I, I always say to experiment with pieces that you feel are a little bit out of your comfort zone, but then focus on items in the world of classic men’s wear as well.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (20m 18s):
And so this is where it’s like focusing more on the timeless styles as opposed to trends. So it’s kinda like a dissonance there, but I always think classic men’s wear is never going to go out of style. And those consist of hallmarks of quality clothing. They’re versatile and they’re going to be in it for the long haul.
Natalie (20m 39s):
For people who maybe don’t know their way around fabrics and garments, what are some specifics they can look for that would indicate that a piece is quality versus likely to fall apart?
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (20m 49s):
First thing is if you’re able to be in person and actually touch and hold the fabric, you can kind of usually tell if something feels a lot more high quality. And also there’s lots of brands in investing in sustainable fabrics and all natural fabrics, like wool, that have qualities beyond just being sustainable but they also have all kinds of great properties as well, like antimicrobial properties. And so it’s all about getting a feel for the products and just kind of, I guess, educating yourself on different types of products, whether it’s, if it’s all natural or if it’s like synthetics
Natalie (21m 28s):
Talk about spending with cost-per-wear in mind.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (21m 32s):
Basically, if anyone doesn’t know, cost-per-wear is getting the most out of the clothing that you buy considering how often it is that you’re going to wear a particular garment. Don’t really feel deterred from investing in expensive shoes or a nice leather jacket or a grail watch if it’s high quality. And, you know, it’s something that you’re going to get plenty of mileage over the next five, 10 years. Avoid articles of clothing that aren’t all that versatile, that are going to be most likely collecting dust in the back of your closet. You know, like I have a watch a Seiko Five that I wear almost every day and I’ve worn it for the past six years now, and so it was like a hundred dollar watch.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (22m 11s):
It’s, you know, less, just a few, few cents per wear a day. So I guess looking in terms of how much, where are you going to get out of a particular garment? That’s one of the best ways that you can, you know, work towards building a more sustainable, more drip as well.
Natalie (22m 31s):
We talked about men of color and increased representation, also issues of skin tone. Talk to me a little bit about what you’re seeing in that aspect.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (22m 39s):
I think is because I’m so ingrained in the space, I notice things that other people might not. So I do see a lot of representation in terms of men of color. I have lots of friends who are bloggers, who are black, Latino, Asian. And so I feel like we are represented, but definitely not enough, especially because I hear from my audience saying that they, you know, they see a lot of the bloggers out there, but it’s a lot of white bloggers that don’t necessarily the clothing just doesn’t look the same on me as it would on them.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (23m 12s):
And so I love seeing the representation and they always told me to keep going and keep pushing. Cause you know, they just don’t see it very often, especially me being I’m 5’6″. So under the average height in Americ. Shorter Asian guy doing style, I feel like there are a lot of men out there just like me who are looking for style advice. And thankfully I’m in a position to be able to offer that.
Natalie (23m 39s):
Bonus time: At a certain point in our conversation, Khoi brought up some very thoughtful and relevant insights on how he’s grown his brand, Gentlemen Within. While it’s not specifically related to sustainability, I think that this part of the conversation is going to resonate with a lot of influencers. And frankly, I just kinda couldn’t bring myself to leave it on the cutting room floor. If you’re looking for some good strategy, this bonus segment is for you. He begins by talking about his thoughts on COVID.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (24m 4s):
There was just so much uncertainty when it happened. I was like, Oh man, this is not looking good. Like brands were filing for bankruptcy, J Crew and big big brands. And I’ll just like, like I’m affiliates with a lot of these big brands as well. And so it was like ad rates plummeted. So brands are cutting back on their marketing budgets. So it was, it was a tough time for a couple of months. And luckily over the past few months, a lot of people have gotten their stimulus checks. So they’re spending again. So, you know, things have kind of rebounded, but it’s still very uncertain times content consumption is like off the charts.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (24m 41s):
So there, there’s definitely an opportunity there, even though some industries are being affected more than others, like I say, style and fashion is kind of middle ground. Like travel was hit really hard. Us, we’re just kind of in the middle. People are still buying clothes, but changing to more athleisure wear, as opposed to like wearing suits. No one’s really wearing suits anymore, but that was kind of a trend that’s already been happening. I just feel like it’s speeding it up now. That’s why lots of brands are releasing more athleisure lines. The ones who are going to be rewarded are those who are looking beyond being just an influencer and instead thinking of themselves as a media company, just, you know, serving your audience in the best way that you can provide high quality in depth content that goes beyond just like a pretty picture with a caption.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (25m 33s):
And so in my niche of men style and fashion, I could focus on creating comprehensive style guides, flip book videos, email courses, other incentivize opt-ins to grow my email list or work on for repurposing content for social media, things like that. And, but I feel like it’s a lot of things to focus on right now, but I feel like there are opportunities now more than ever with a COVID to, to grow and create a business out of this.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (26m 10s):
So before I went full time, it, it wasn’t until I started treating my, my brand, like an actual business, that things started to change. And so, as I mentioned before, when I was starting out, I was creating content that I thought was valuable, but I didn’t really have a strategy. I had no real path to monetization. I feel like it wasn’t until I got clear on that, that gentleman within started to grow and actually started making money. Definitely having that home base, something that you have as your main focus, the blog was my main focus.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (26m 42s):
And then about a year I started YouTube and that was probably the second best thing I did for my brand. And as uncomfortable as it was getting started with that, I learned so many skills along the way with that. And I feel like it’s an awesome marketing platform. It really compliments a blog very well in that articles are pretty much, you can take an article and make it a video vice versa, and you can embed the video into your blog post so that when people land on your articles, they’re going to stay on your articles longer.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (27m 13s):
And so it’s just having that YouTube channel definitely helped me grow a more engaged community. YouTube is a platform that is more community based than others. Like for example, as opposed to Instagram, I feel like in the beginning, it’s important to focus on maybe one or two platforms that are kind of like your bread and butter things. Like I would say, if you’re really good at writing, go the blogging route. If you’re good on video, start a YouTube channel, just whatever you feel more comfortable on, but over time you evolve and you can’t just rely on one on one platform anymore.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (27m 48s):
For example, with the pandemic, Amazon actually slashed their commission rates for a lot of publishers. And so it was really a death blow to a lot of publishers who just relied on Amazon associates. And so I think it’s important to diversify your platforms as well. And another example is Facebook used to be a huge driver of traffic for many blogs, but over time they just killed any type of organic reach on the platform. And so it’s basically a pay to play model now. And so a lot of brands who relied on getting traffic from Facebook, that’s gone, it really is.
Khoi Nguyen of Gentleman Within (28m 22s):
You just can’t rely on a single platform anymore. And you need to, I’m not saying you need to be everywhere because that kind of drives someone crazy as well. But think about diversifying a little bit, it’s just like with anything, you know, you want to diversify your investments. So you can’t put all your eggs into one basket.
Natalie (28m 38s):
Thought provoking, right? Credits this episode go to the always wonderful Haesil Shin, Brian Nickerson, Kyla Fish for her spirit and Khoi Nguyen of Gentlemen Within for his patience through recording difficulties. We had back to back recording platform fail us in the same afternoon — y’all he’s a trooper. And of course, thanks to you for listening. Kyla is @kylafishy, Khoi is @gentlemanwithin, go check them out.
Natalie (29m 11s):
Please tell a friend, rate the show and subscribe, we’re all the major platforms. I’m Natalie and I’m out! ‘Til next time gang.