Red Gaskell is a freelance photographer, director, and satirical author. Responsible for growing ethical brand Everlane’s social presence, he adapted their narrative from when they were an innovative start-up into the cultural powerhouse they are today - pretty much straight out of college. In those early days of Instagram, marketing a brand, not a product, was something few were doing and even less were getting right. Red’s passion for translating culture into content turned Everlane’s socials into the beating heart of their brand story.
As the company evolved, so did Red’s role, and passion for creative storytelling eventually led him to pursue fresh challenges beyond Everlane. He left on good terms and with an invaluable network. Whether it’s turning Kanye West’s tweets into poetry (and a bestseller), searching for the next startup, making films or writing articles - Red brings a multidisciplinary perspective and a splash of colour to any digital strategy.
I met up with Red for a burger and a chat about his magic social touch. Just don’t mention the aggressive cheeseboard and IPAs to any of my Whalar colleagues.
Q> Where did it all start?
Red> I had a couple of interesting gigs in college. One was running Twitter for a food truck, and another was managing a wi-fi and webcam company’s Facebook. Their audience was stay-at-home mums and people who needed fast internet, so I learned how to speak to different groups. I also got an agency internship in the food industry. I would help develop menus and, if a recipe was doing really well, figure out how to scale it up across multiple restaurants.
Q> Then came startup ethical fashion brand Everlane. On social, you grew their IG following from 20,000 to 380,000 during your time there.... How?
Red> When I took over the social, Michael (The founder) told me that we needed to figure out who our community were and what our strategy was. At the time in San Francisco, there were a lot of these things called ‘Insta Meets’ happening. People would meet up and take photos together, but it was much more about photography at that point. I started to embed myself into that community and going to these events. They were a tonne of fun and many of the people I met are still my friends today. Our thought was - if we want to work with creatives, how can we be a part of the community? What can we do for them?
I focussed first on growing my own Instagram by getting better at photography. I re-enrolled in a bunch of classes, went to events and talked to other Instagrammers. Once I understood the industry community and platforms better, when I spoke to people about Everlane the conversation wasn’t just about the brand. I knew what was valued and what drew engagement.
Interestingly, we did this campaign that got us on Instagram’s suggested user list, but it actually had a negative effect. Essentially, Instagram was saying to new users "hey, go follow these accounts" - and we just left with loads of dead weight. We emailed Instagram asking to be taken off and saw our engagement go back up. For us, social was, and needed to be, an organic dimension of our brand. People loved our products, website and emails - social was the avenue for consumers to add brand affinity and get an inside look. It was like a feedback loop that kept feeding itself in a really cool way.
If I look back at those first four years it was a fairly linear but consistent growth. We didn’t ever push our product, instead we took a strong stance on just not selling.
Building a narrative, not a sales pitch
Red> Every time a new product came out, I would get approached with a link where people could buy the products on Instagram. That was not our goal on social. Our website was the only place to buy Everlane. The tools back then were better for retailers with higher SKU (stock keeping unit) counts and multiple brands.
This stance made my job so much easier because we could just focus on producing cool stories and finding interesting methods to make us stand out. If you read the posts from brands trying to sell stuff in 2014, you could tell they were so fake and full of bullshit. It just felt like negating storytelling, I don’t think anyone enjoyed writing that copy. As a founder, Michael was really receptive to this. He pushed me to be even less salesy and a better marketer by really understanding our audience and make something that is good.
I think that people have this belief that marketing is bad, it’s actually just about bad marketing. Marketing is good when someone can objectively see good work.