Emily Luciano strikes an impressive pose

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Emily Luciano is busy. Actually, scratch that. In a world where busyness is a badge of success, Luciano isn’t just driven: she’s a whirling dervish of Marilyn Monroe hair, fashion selfies and blog posts.

In fact, at just 21, Luciano works the kind of days you’d expect from a hotshot lawyer hoping to make partner before the age of 30.

Emily Luciano became an instant success after she started posting photos of her fashion sense on Instagram about a year ago. Brittany Gawley / Ottawa Citizen Style

For roughly 80 hours a week, the former All Saints High School student writes a blog on her website lovelyluciano.com and has 500 to 1,000 readers a day. She posts photos of herself on Instagram, emily_luciano with 57,800 followers and counting, engages with fashion and lifestyle brands looking for an opinion-for-hire and checks in one day a week as a part-time hair salon receptionist.

So she’s busy. But Luciano is something else, too: she’s part of a growing trend amongst labels, from Coach to Forever 21 and Triumph Lingerie, that hire amateur photographers, bloggers and influencers to promote their brand to followers.

According to Technorati Media’s 2013 Digital Influence Report, online retail sites wielded a 56-per-cent influence on consumers when making purchases online. Brand specific websites had a 34-per-cent influence followed closely by blogs with a 31.1-per-cent influence on consumers. Blogs also ranked higher than other social media wizards like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for shaping consumers’ opinions and motivating purchasing decisions.

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Whether it’s the numbers driving the trend or marketing departments creating a trend to capture millennial numbers, it appeals to brands because it’s all about creating online evangelists for a product. As British brand and marketing guru Adam Chmielowski recently noted, “true cultural connection is the Holy Grail for brands if they want to create an enduring emotional relationship with people.”

And that definitely appeals to millennials who value peer recommendations over any slick ad campaign a label might come up with.

“This is not a traditional way of marketing,” notes the savvy Luciano, who left her graphic design studies at Algonquin College to become what the industry calls a brand influencer.

“I think companies are feeling that it’s easier to connect with a person living everyday life, wearing clothing and advertising for them, than going with a celebrity.”

Luciano’s own journey into the blogosphere began a year ago, when she started posting photos of her fashion sense — largely influenced by her older cousin Rebecca — on Instagram. From there, enough followers “liked” her images that her hobby became a job, with boyfriend Jimmy Coté taking all her photos on his iPhone.

“My parents were shocked when I put school on hold, but now they’re seeing how much success it’s bringing. They’re totally supportive,” she says.

“I’ve always had a thing for fashion — my dad used to take me and my twin sister, Megan, shopping — and I thought it was really cool that other people would be inspired by what I’m wearing. Whatever they see me wearing, they go out and buy that. That’s why companies want to work with me, because I have such an impact. I work with Coach, Aldo and some Australian brands. I just love their style over there.”

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Ottawa’s Emily Luciano estimates she works about 80 hours a week. She writes a blog on her website lovelyluciano.com. Brittany Gawley / Ottawa Citizen Style

While most bloggers hope a brand will notice them and offer a deal, Luciano actively seeks them out and offers to become a brand ambassador. Initially, a fashion label might offer clothes in exchange for posts and photos, but that can eventually turn into a revenue stream. She says companies will pay successful bloggers $1,000 to $3,000 for what can be little more than six images and 200 words; others pay per post or for time spent on a job. True influencers, with 600,000 followers or more, have entire teams behind them, creating their own “authentic” presence.

She admits that’s where she’d like to be, too, but notes, “When I skip a day, I feel terrible. I look back to a year ago and I wasn’t doing any of this. And I picture what five years will bring me.

“I don’t know what will happen, but if I keep going at this rate …” she adds, without irony, “Well, a lot of bloggers are 30 and really successful. So, I still have time.”

Emily Luciano’s favourite things

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Alice’s Village Cafe in Carp is a favourite place for Emily Luciano. Kristin Goff / Ottawa Citizen Style

The first product I ever promoted: “Triangl Swimwear bathing suits. They’re an online store.”

My favourite shoes: “Black booties. I literally wear them with every outfit because it’s a bit more dressed up if you’re in jeans
and a sweater.”

Favourite place to have a coffee: “Alice’s Village Cafe in Carp. They have the best coffee. I used to work there a few years ago.”

If I wasn’t in Ottawa, I’d live in: “Los Angeles. I find the fashion there is always mainstream and I think there are more people to meet.”emily_luciano_boots

I am most influenced by: “Other bloggers like Los Angeles-based fashion blog Thrifts and Threads. I feel I can relate to her (Brittany Xavier) because we have similar audiences and they can afford what we wear. When she started blogging, she only wore H&M and Forever 21. Now, she’s got more than 100,000 followers and she’s still wearing affordable brands. She keeps it real.”