In 2010, Sabir Peele was just another guy interested in fashion. There were countless others just like him. They follow the latest fashion trends. They have a keen eye for style. They’re the best-dressed in their friend groups.
But in the past seven years, Sabir has done something thousands can only dream of — he made fashion his career. After launching a successful blog, he built a devoted Instagram audience of 61,000 followers. Now he partners with major brands like Adidas, Stella Artois, Movado and Perry Ellis. He even hosts a video series for Esquire magazine.
How did he go from a college admissions counselor to full-time fashion influencer? Hard work.
Sabir invited me to his swanky Philadelphia office on a cold day in December. As we sipped bourbon, Sabir explained why influencers need to have patience and why marketers need to let influencers flex their creative muscles.
When did you realize you could have a career in fashion?
I used to wear a lot of Johnston & Murphy shoes. I would feature them on my blog and send links to the company. Then I got an e-mail one day. They were doing this national campaign for their shoe called the McPherson. “We would love for you to be one of our “McPherson Men,” they told me. They brought me to New York, we did a video spot and they featured my image in their stores. I made a couple hundred dollars but the notoriety was more of a payment than that. One picture they took of me ended up being a miniature billboard. It was probably 14 feet tall and 4 feet wide. It blew my mind.
In the early days, how did you juggle blogging with a full-time job?
As a college admissions counselor, I was working anywhere from 9 a.m. to damn near midnight with travel. Then I would work on the blog. But I could double-dip because my territory for work was New York and a lot of the blogging work was in New York. For about four years I barely slept.
In 2014, you quit your job and went full-time with Men’s Style Pro. Now you work with some of the world’s most recognizable brands. Can you name a few?
Uniqlo, Adidas, Kenneth Cole, Cartier, Movado, Seiko, Perry Ellis, Lincoln Motor Company, Stella Artois, I.W. Harper Whiskey, Martell, ModaMatters, Cobble & Hyde.
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#HostOneToRemember Holiday Style w/ @StellaArtois . The #MensStylePro Holiday Jam at @Tobox went off with a hitch and special thanks to #StellaArtois for making it happen! Cheers to the holiday season #📷 by @calebsnomadic . Click the link in my bio to see the full party recap. Drink Responsibly! . #Ad #StellaPartner #menswear #style #lifestyle #mensfashion #fashion #philly #mensstyle
Why is it so important for brands to pay influencers?
It’s a lot of work. You’re location scouting. You’re shooting pictures and video. You’re setting up product shots. If a brand partnered with an advertising company, they would pay them and not have questions about it.
After seven years, do you still get approached to do campaigns for free?
Everyday. 98% of the time I decline those offers. It’s devaluing my work.
How are your brand partnerships typically structured?
I always sign contracts. Some brands want exclusivity as well. For example, I worked with Timex for a year and wasn’t able to work with any other watch brands during that time. I was working with Adidas on their sneaker the Alphabounce. They said I can’t post about another like-brand a week before or a week after. That’s how it is for a lot of the spirits brands too.
How many #ads are too many for an influencer?
If it’s over 60% it’s too much. I’d say 30% of my content is ads. If you’re an influencer, people look to you for inspiration. If you’re spewing inauthentic stuff all the sudden, you’re going to lose traffic. Then brands won’t want to work with you because your follower base is either bullshit, bought or you lost all the people who used to care.
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Young Lido 📷 by @calebsnomadic . First #suit designed in the #MSPxMM collab! Yellow tattersall pattern, patch pocket w/ notch lapels (offered as a 3-piece). It’s Bold & Tailored. Click the link in @modamatters profile to get yours . #ad #mensstylepro #suit #philly #style #mensstyle #mensfashion #suit #esquire #mnswr
How do you keep your content authentic while promoting products?
I never work with brands I don’t like. My reviews are never negative but if there’s constructive criticism, I add that into every feature that’s review based. I want people reading it to know I’m not just being a puppet for a brand.
What should brands know about approaching an influencer?
Influencers want two things. They want to get paid and they want to make really good content with you. Have an open conversation. When it’s a very communicative process between the influencer and the brand, the relationship just blossoms like crazy. If the idea strays from what the influencer might usually do, be prepared for a little push-back.
Have you ever pushed back about creative and it worked out for the better?
Ryan Seacrest has his own line called Ryan Seacrest Distinction. I don’t remember what they pitched me but I didn’t like the idea at all. I told them that I’m going to the opera for the first time. How about I do an Instagram poll where I style two of the Ryan Seacrest dinner jackets — one was blue the other was off-white — and I’ll have everyone vote on the best one. It got so big that Ryan Seacrest — on his personal Instagram account — did a whole story using my content. That wasn’t even part of the contract!
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My #NagivatorExperience . It’s been a pleasure rekindling a love for the @lincoln Navigator. Growing up, Lincoln was a brand that I admired because my aunt used to drive us around in her Lincoln. Now that I have a family, space is paramount, but style is just as important to me and the new Navigator hits both marks. . #ad #style #MensStylePro #cars #menswear #mensstyle
What advice do you have for marketers?
Reach out to influencers based not just on numbers. Check their engagement. Check the copy. Look at the relationship between image and copy. If I post a picture and the copy is gibberish but it gets 10,000 likes, don’t think those 10,000 likes mean anything. Also, be upfront about what the project is. You don’t want to start off with too much grey area. If you don’t have budget for the project, there still needs to be a return for the influencer. If it’s going to be paid with product and the brand is going to mention the influencer on their social channels, put that in writing. Don’t jerk the influencer around. You obviously like them enough to reach out to them, be willing to establish a longer relationship.
What advice do you have for budding influencers?
When they’re young, say just out of high school or college, influencers expect to be successful immediately. They don’t realize how much of a struggle it will be. Nobody knows who you are. Like anyone who wants to start a business, you don’t just automatically make money. And know your shit. Influencers think they know a lot about everything but really know nothing about nothing. You think you look cute and you want people to hear your voice. Depending on what you’re end-goal is, you’ve got to think about how you’re going to be making money. At some point, being cute and people liking you is going to falter. You have to expand and not be stuck doing one thing. That’s why I created my boot and suit collections. Oh, and check your spam. I missed an e-mail from Mercedes Benz and it was a real invitation to go to France. I missed it by a week.
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