Rachel Ward - Hale's Instagram influencer
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 April 2019
Cheshire's Rachel Ward has an Instagram following of over 320,000 people, delivering an unexpected career opportunity.
Rachel Ward grew up in Hale and in her mid-teens started a modelling career which was, she says, both useful and potentially very harmful.
‘I travelled all over the world and learned a lot about styling, photography and how to set up a good shot,’ she says, ‘but I wouldn’t recommend it as a career. Bookers can be horrible; I had some really nasty things said to me, unbelievable stuff to say to a teenager.’
Her time as a model was, however, Rachel’s introduction to social media, and the power of a good post.
‘I started with a Twitter account and just posted pictures of myself and the places I was visiting. It grew to about 50,000 followers quite quickly. I then moved on to Instagram, really quite in the early days of the platform. By this time I had started studying for a degree in fashion design, in Manchester, and posted all my outfits, where I was going...for me it was like a visual diary of my life, something I would be able to look back on. I told all my Twitter followers about the account and so got a following quite quickly. By 2012 I had 80,000 followers already.’
It was at this point that fashion and beauty brands began to take notice of Rachel’s posts and she had her first thoughts about using the platform to make a living.
‘Brands began to ask me if they could send me things to wear and post and I thought “well, who wouldn’t want some clothes!” but I would only accept things I liked or would truly reflect my style, and as this started to happen more I realised I could make it into a business and charge for advertising brands.’
As advertising platforms go, Instagram is absolutely perfect for fashion and beauty brands, both of which have long sought to associate themselves with famous faces that in some way support their brand image. “Look!” they say. “Jennifer Lawrence wears Dior and she’s super classy – you can be classy too!” What Rachel and her Insta-peers do is bring the opportunity closer to their followers’ lives. Rachel isn’t a world famous super model or Hollywood film star, she doesn’t have a reality TV show through which she can build a billion dollar cosmetics brand, but she does have a life that most of her followers can relate to – or at least aspire to. In between the super-glamorous dresses and locations are shots of her in jeans and tops, in a bar in Cheshire, a hotel in the Lakes or a London street. She tells her followers where they can buy the items she’s modelling and makes it clear when items have been gifted or a post is paid for.
‘I now have over 350,000 followers,’ says Rachel, ‘and they are really interested in my day to day life. I do take care and I never show posts that reveal where I live, or do live posts from places I am at. I sometimes get nasty comments on my posts so it just makes sense to me to make sure that I keep it all a little at a distance from my real life.’
I don’t blame her. In ‘real life’, Rachel is petite, a slender 5’ 7”, with delicate features magnified by her beautifully applied make-up and careful contouring for her Instagram photography. She greets me in a pink shirt and jeans, introduces me to her husband Tom and her beautiful cat and is all excited about her new home. She’s smart and funny and takes her work very seriously, something the brands she works with clearly appreciate.
Rachel married recently, and I wonder what her husband makes of it all.
‘He’s very supportive and actually takes a lot of pictures for me. I’ve been doing this as long as we’ve known each other, so he’s used to it.’
When Rachel and Tom married, the brands she works with took full advantage of the opportunity and Rachel was beset with offers for wedding dresses.
‘I didn’t want to just wear something someone else chose though,’ she says. ‘I had a long-held dream of going shopping with my mum to choose one. We saw one I loved, from a designer in Milan, Nicole Spose, but you could only get a few of her designs in the UK and this wasn’t one. I begged the dress shop to get in touch with her, explain that I wanted to buy the dress and I had this huge Instagram following. She agreed to send it to the UK for me, and I wore it for my wedding at Tom’s family’s hotel in The Lake District. Tom organised it all!
‘I did have an evening gown gifted to me by one of my clients. I kept my Nicole Sposa dress, but I donated my other to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.’
Rachel uses her platform to encourage her followers to have their cervical smear when called for it.
‘I was called for my first test at 25 and I put it off,’ she says. ‘I didn’t go till I was 26. I didn’t understand how important it was and how easy it really was. When I did go, they found that my entire cervix was coated in pre-cancerous cells. They said if I’d left it any longer, even weeks, it would have been a whole other story. It was 12 months of treatment and tests and I documented it all on my feed. I push my followers to go. I put it off through ignorance of the procedure and the result of that was really severe – the operation and recovery was far more uncomfortable than a smear is. I now have to go every 12 months. At the time it filled my life and it’s important to me to show that my life isn’t “perfect”; it’s full of the same things other women’s lives are. I get messages from followers telling me they went for a smear because of what they learned from me and many of those have found pre-cancerous cells, too.’
It would be easy to believe that Rachel’s life is filled with sunshine and roses, with an adoring husband snapping pics of his beautiful wife as she goes about her day, but this is far from the reality.
‘Yes, I do post some quick pics,’ she says, ‘but I don’t want my job to be my life. I try to separate the two as much as possible. It’s my job – I plan my shoots, I source locations, I take everything I need there and do my own styling, photography and editing. A video shoot for one of my make-up tutorials can take two days to complete.’
Rachel posts almost every day, requiring a constant focus on ideas, locations, outfits, make-up, then replying to followers and working with the brands she is paid by. It sounds exhausting.
‘It’s my hobby, my passion and my dream job. I wouldn’t want to do anything else,’ she smiles.
Find Rachel on Instagram @rachelward_e