In 2020, millions of people were introduced to the concept of “collab houses,” where multiple influencers resided in multi-million-dollar homes dedicated to content creation. But before the Hype House and “Braddison” (the ship name of TikTokers Bryce Hall and Addison Rae) came Team 10, spearheaded by YouTubers and former couple Jake Paul and Erika Costell, aka “Jerika,” in 2017.
That house gained notoriety for broadcasting oftentimes dangerous and controversial stunts along with everyday vlogs on its collaborative YouTube channel. Four years later, the OG influencer incubator disbanded after disputes among its members. An eviction notice came in 2017, followed by an FBI raid of the Los Angeles mansion in 2020.
“My whole life that year  was to wake up [and] film,” said Costell. “We weren’t living in reality in those days.”
But despite its controversies, the house served as a blueprint for the TikTok collab houses of 2021. Since then, its members have found themselves in various places, from the fashion industry where Costell landed, to the boxing ring. Costell has inconspicuously found her place with Akire Sport, the activewear brand launched in March 2021.
Despite having 10 million followers across social media platforms, Costell, who came out as the founder of the brand on Tuesday, deliberately chose not to attach her name to Akire Sport initially. Her inside perspective as a veteran influencer allowed her to tap into influencer marketing differently, by catering the brand toward the “girl on the go,” a consumer audience that encompasses both herself and her followers. The line is sold on akiresport.com and pieces range from $19-$98.
“Unless you’re a fashion influencer or a makeup influencer doing makeup, it’s hard to be taken seriously in a lane other than what you’re putting online,” said Costell, who studied business and marketing before moving to L.A. to pursue a career in modeling and joining Team 10 in 2017. “I wanted everyone else to see how good [Akire Sport] is, without me having to push it in their face or do a swipe-up link or pay people to market it.”
The “off-duty model” athleisure brand, which Costell describes as “elevated, oversized street style,” consists of sweatsuits, biker shorts and tank tops in an array of colors, all of which are manufactured in LA. And while the brand has been worn by Hailey Bieber, Addison Rae, Bella Poarch, Claudia Sulewski, Anastasia Karanikolaou and Alissa Violet, Costell’s steered Akire away from being labeled an influencer-founded brand.
“I don’t think being pretty is a character trait. I don’t think being a YouTuber is a character trait,” she said. Costell hoped to expand Akire’s reach — and her credibility as a brand founder — by her decision to launch it anonymously.
Akire isn’t the first byproduct of Costell’s business savvy. Her decision to pursue social media wasn’t to become a YouTube star, but to tap into a missing market within YouTube for “everyday female vloggers,” to further her modeling career, she said.
Now 28, Costell was 24 years old when her YouTube career took off. “It was a very toxic way to live, to try to outdo yourself every single day,” she said. Eventually, she took a year-long hiatus from content creation in 2020 and continued to work on Akire, which she began working on in 2018. “I no longer do anything I’m not passionate about. If I’m not 100% in it, and it’s not true to me, I won’t touch it,” she said.
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While paid influencer marketing is still hugely popular, some brands have begun to shift away from the strategy to appear more “authentic.” As the pandemic highlighted the divide between influencers’ bubble of privilege and the general public, brands have turned away from “influencer campaigns that are too product-centric”, instead utilizing micro-influencers, and unpaid influencer and celebrity endorsements, to increase their credibility.
In terms of Akire, Costell relied on her friends and the network that she had accumulated over the past five years, ranging from “the girls who do my extensions” to influencers like Charli and Dixie D’amelio, Addison Rae, and Loren Gray, she said.
As for her decision to now attach her name to the brand five months later, Costell is confident that “I’m no longer that traditional influencer, and my brand now is very much what I love,” she said. “It’s the perfect timing for [attaching my name to Akire], considering I just basically came back to full-time influencer mode.”