In the future, every Portlander will be famous to 15,000 Instagram followers.
Maybe that's an exaggeration. But this midsized West Coast city has a swagger beyond its size—and social media is a big reason why.
Hundreds of this city's residents have become online celebrities with a national reach. They don't go on TV or get book deals—they gather huge digital audiences on Twitter, Facebook and especially Instagram.
They are "social media influencers."
It's not new: For most of this decade, people have used platforms like Instagram to market themselves as razor-sharp dressers, elite chefs, or chic stoners.
And it's not entirely legit: Last week, The New York Times revealed that many of the biggest names on Twitter purchased fake followers—bots and stolen profiles—to increase their numbers.
Looking cool online isn't mere narcissism. It's a business model.
An influencer with a million followers can draw $200,000 a year in sponsorship deals from companies like H&M or Dr. Pepper. In return, companies get product placement in the photos of enviable lives. (The key role images play is why Instagram, a photo-sharing site, is at the center of this trend.)
In Portland, the influencer exists on steroids.
Portland is home to an outsized number of social media influencers (by our admittedly unscientific survey). In a handful of industries—cannabis, food, sportswear, outdoor adventuring and tech—Portlanders have impact in New York City and Tokyo.
Take Kassala Holdsclaw (@kassalaholdsclaw). Her fashion-centered Instagram account shows her dressed in clothes from two of the brands that partner with her: Forever 21 and A.S.98. She poses gracefully in Portland or Brooklyn, N.Y., or on the Oregon coast, sometimes holding a bottle of Soylent or a tube of mascara from Almay. She has 26,000 followers.
Holdsclaw and the 20 others we profiled are among Portland's top cool merchants. Some are famous in "real life." Others you wouldn't recognize on the street.
But to thousands, they're what Portland looks like. They've harnessed the tools we use to goof off to build careers—and, in some cases, make money.
Meet some of the most powerful social media personalities in Portland in 2018.
Lavenda Memory (@lavendascloset)
Followers: 197k on Instagram
Day job: Full-time blogger and social media consultant
Why people follow: Lavenda Memory's Instagram feed shows a pristine Portland life.
She's dressed in a mix of fast-fashion staples from Forever 21, sometimes set off by a piece from Gucci, hair and makeup immaculately styled.
This is her job.
"I spend two days a week just responding to emails," Memory tells WW. "I live online, so I spent Monday and Tuesday looking over contracts, negotiating terms, reaching out to brands. Wednesday through Friday, I'm creating content. I'm moving more into video this year, because that's where brands are most interested right now."
Memory, 32, started working as an influencer in 2014, moving from an eight-year career in fashion photography into blogging.
"I would go out and buy the clothes, on sale, of the brands I wanted to work with," she says. "I would tag them in the photos, I would find their emails, or shoot them a message on Instagram. I was hustling."
Today, Instagram is overflowing with well-dressed kids trying to break into the influencer game. But just a few years ago, Memory's plan was still novel, and she was rapidly able to build a raft of business partnerships with brands like
Forever 21, H&M and BCBG. (She won't say how much they're paying her.)
But now, she says, the Portland competition rivals that in New York and Los Angeles.
"There are so many bloggers now," she says. "There are so many influencers. Brands are actually hosting events here. We weren't even on the map two years ago."
Nick DePaula (@nickdepaula)
Followers: 30.7k on Instagram, 27k on Twitter
Day job: Creative director at Nice Kicks (@nicekicks) and ESPN feature writer
Why people follow: Soles and scoops. DePaula took his talents to ultrapopular sneaker website Nice Kicks in 2015—and has made that site cover sneakers like most sportswriters track NBA free agency. DePaula joined ESPN last year as a NBA feature writer for industry news and player profiles. That means sneakerheads look to DePaula to learn when Odell Beckham Jr. inks an endorsement deal with Nike—and what his gear will look like.
Justin and Juline Machus (@machusonline)
Followers: 41k on Instagram, 15.5k on Twitter
Day jobs: Owners of Machus menswear boutique on East Burnside Street
Why people follow: The Machuses' eponymous shop has achieved a national footprint for Portland's modernist streetwear scene. They use their Instagram as a live portfolio for their newest pieces.
Asa Bree (@asabree)
Followers: 49.5k on Instagram
Day job: Nail technician at Finger Bang
Why people follow: The star nail technician at upscale salon Finger Bang (@fingerbang) keeps her Instagram updated with hi-res photos of the most lavishly adorned digits in the city.
Foster Huntington (@fosterhunting)
Followers: 1 million on Instagram
Day job: Author, photographer and stop motion animator
Why people follow: Huntington lived out of a luxe van and created the #vanlife hashtag, which kicked off an entire subgenre of travel photography on wheels. Then he built a treehouse and skatepark in the Columbia River Gorge, 45 minutes east of Portland. Today, he owns special effects studio Movie Mountain (@moviemountain) and sells coffee-table books of artful van photography.
Tally Gunstone (@tullitha)
Followers: 73.8k on Instagram
Day job: Art director
Why people follow: Gorgeous nature photography. Whether shooting orange rock formations or mist-shrouded forests, Gunstone has an eye for landscapes, one that's netted her sponsorships from brands like Eddie Bauer.
Sam Landreth (@samlandreth)
Followers: 107k on Instagram
Day job: Blogger and wedding photographer
Why people follow: Landreth combines outdoor lifestyle photography and fashion blogging to great effect, building an aesthetic that combines the best of #vanlife and streetwear. That means flowing clothes on white sand beaches in Thailand.
Socality Barbie (@socalitybarbie)
Followers: 1 million on Instagram
Day job: Plastic doll
Why people follow: OK, this is a weird one. In 2015, Portland resident Darby Cisneros styled a brunette Barbie doll with a beanie, square-rimmed glasses and earth-tone jackets and photographed it across the #PNW in an uncanny parody of the outdoor travel influencer. After going viral within months, the account went quiet in November 2015. But Socality Barbie posted a cryptic new photo this past Dec. 27. Has the queen returned?
Followers: 48.4k combined on Instagram
Day job: Partner in Submarine Hospitality Group, owners of Tusk and Ava Gene's restaurants, and executive chef at Ava Gene's
Why people watch: McFadden's Tusk changed the way that people looked at Portland food—literally.
"Tusk is superficial modernity," WW said in its 2016 review, "food built to look pretty on Instagram."
Sorry, haters: All food is now built to look pretty on Instagram.
"There's no detail that's not worth considering," McFadden, 42, says. "That extends to social media as well. You're telling a story."
The photos on Tusk's Instagram page do that. You can almost taste the mélange of verdant vegetables, rose petals, deep amber olive oils and burnt orange spice mixtures popping from the screen of your phone. You could imagine yourself eating off of Tusk's tastefully speckled plateware, or lifting your thyme-garnished cocktail from the restaurant's marble countertops.
McFadden shows that if you are a restaurant in Portland in 2018 that is trying to draw attention and you do not have a professionally managed Instagram feed, you are not doing your job.
McFadden was ahead of his time. Tusk drew buzz in Bon Appetit and The New York Times before serving a single customer. (It helped that the food caught up: Tusk now ranks in WW's top 10 restaurants of the year.)
"[Instagram] becomes a part of the process," says McFadden. "What is this story? What is this food? Why are we doing what we're doing? You're just
trying to create an experience."
Gregory Gourdet (@gg30000)
Followers: 29.2k on Instagram, 9.3k on Twitter
Day job: Director of culinary operations at Departure Lounge Portland and Denver
Why people follow: Effortless glamour. Gourdet's Instagram feed makes the life of a national-name chef look like an unbroken cascade of roasted duck, stylish outfits, Iron Chef appearances and international travel.
Jen Stevenson (@jenlikestoeat)
Followers: 12.3k on Instagram, 3k on Twitter
Day job: Food writer
Why people follow: Writing about food and photographing your food are two very different skills. Stevenson is one of the few Portland food writers who can do both, artfully documenting Portland's prettiest dishes.
Followers: 6.2k combined on Instagram
Day job: Freelance photographer
Why people follow: Langbaan head chef Earl Ninsom brought professional photographer Christine Dong on his staff trip to Thailand to document the research that goes into building menus. The result? A combination of food and travel photography that builds anticipation for the upcoming dishes.
Naomi Pomeroy (@naomipomeroy)
Followers: 14.9k on Instagram
Day job: Owner and head chef at Beast and Expatriate restaurants and Colibri florist
Why people follow: It's hard for a restaurant to stay relevant for more than a decade, but Pomeroy's Instagram keeps diners abreast of her restaurants' ever-changing dishes, which are as strikingly arranged as the boutiques from her new flower shop, Colibri.
Sarah Jeong (@sarahjeong)
Followers: 54.4k on Twitter
Day job: Senior writer covering law and technology for The Verge
Why people follow: Jeong is a Portland journalist with international impact: She's the tech law expert for Vox Media tech website The Verge (@verge, 2.4 million followers). This means every time someone's about to lose a couple billion bucks, you'll hear the how and why from her.
Stephen Green (@pdxstepheng)
Followers: 8.8k on Twitter
Day job: Community director at co-working space WeWork and startup adviser at Backstage Capital
Why people follow: Green has spent much of his career levelling the playing field for minority and women entrepreneurs. He uses Twitter for the same goal: He amplifies stories of people of color in tech so investors can find them. "Often, the implicit bias is that they don't exist," he says, "or that they only do barbecue or barber shops, as opposed to trying to find the black-owned drone company in Portland. I try and use social media to try to expose people to those other narratives."
Followers: 7.6k combined on Twitter
Day job: Co-founder and CEO of networking startup Switchboard
Why people follow: It's no secret that tech is hostile toward women. Portland startup founder Zepeda is one of Portland's biggest advocates for changing that—co-founding the Zebras Unite movement (@sexandstartups) to build a more ethical and inclusive startup and funding culture.
Followers: 24.1k combined on Instagram
Day job: Founder, editor-in-chief and creative director at Broccoli magazine
Why people follow: Oregon's recreational cannabis industry isn't yet 3 years old, but Charbonneau says it's already all bro'd up.
"It began feeling very male-dominated from the beginning," says Charbonneau, editor and creative director at brand-new magazine Broccoli. "So we want to make sure that we're speaking to the women out there that nobody was talking to."
Launched in November, Broccoli isn't just a magazine staffed entirely by women. It feels like a new step forward in Portland's stoner aesthetic.
Broccoli is far past the "weed porn" close-ups of multicolored, crystal-coated buds that dominated the industry's media for decades. Rather, the magazine and its Instagram page are resplendent with pastel tones, artfully arranged pot leaves, gently distorted typefaces and cats.
Basically, it's Kinfolk for pot smokers. Which makes sense: Charbonneau was Kinfolk's creative director for nearly four years. (Broccoli, a free magazine, makes money the old-fashioned way: selling ads.)
Broccoli's Instagram—just 9 months old—is an oasis of off-kilter hygge calm in a cannabis media landscape that is sometimes so dank it's unchill.
"People have all of these sensory interests that tie into their cannabis experience, but weed isn't their No. 1 focus," says Charbonneau. "We're talking about life, and where it fits in."
Jade Daniels and Harlee Case, Ladies of Paradise (@ladiesofparadise)
Followers: 21.5k on Instagram
Day jobs: Stylists, branding consultants, photographers and bloggers
Why people follow: Daniels and Case show up to cannabis-industry parties in colored wigs and vintage jackets. Their events company looks like Willy Wonka crashed the Summer of Love, and the photos of their candy-colored shindigs create Portland cannabis's most fun Instagram.
Ariel Zimman (@stonedwarecompany)
Followers: 18.7k on Instagram
Day job: Ceramicist.
Why people follow: For the hash pipes. Zimman's geometric smoking pieces are as much minimalist ceramic sculpture as they are tools for getting high. The Instagram feed is part art gallery, part twee head shop.