'I had 60,000 followers on TikTok. Here's why it never paid the bills.'

In 2023, influencer marketing was estimated to be worth $21.1 billion — but for a majority of influencers in front of the camera working to rake in the views, create the content and shoulder the responsibility of public scrutiny, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

More than 200 million content creators are competing for a piece of the pie, and in Australia, the money to be made isn't nearly as lucrative as it is for those in the United States.

Online content creator Grace Dorney can attest to this, telling Mamamia that apart from a few free beauty products, there has been no monetary gain from her stint in the online world, which began in 2020 during the height of the COVID pandemic.

Watch: Mamamia reviews non-friendly fashion. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

"It was lockdown. I was bored and I had so much time on my hands," she explains, adding that her foray into viral stardom began with an old Nike T-shirt she wanted to upcycle into a corset top. 

She was already knee-deep into her own video series where she reconstructed old garbs into new outfits. As a result, Grace slowly built up her audience to several thousand followers.


"I picked up a lot of sewing techniques through trial and error, and hours of YouTube tutorials," she tells us. "I liked figuring out how to give old clothes a new life through sewing on my own and I wanted to document it — mostly for myself.

"But also because I thought I was making cool designs from offcuts and secondhand clothing that other people might find interesting."

@grace.dorney Nike corset top thrift flip pt.1 #ThriftFlip #Upcyclr #OneLoveOneHeart #TextReaction #sewing #sustainable #smallbusiness ♬ original sound - Grace

The clips garnered more than one million views as she took viewers through step-by-step guides on how to sew. 

Grace wasn't necessarily expecting to become known for her ability to turn offcuts into reconstructed outfits, but people loved it and in time, she developed an audience obsessed with watching her flip clothes. 

"I didn't have major expectations. I went in with the mindset of, 'Let's see what happens. It doesn't have to be great,' but I kept making videos and they just kept going viral. We were still in lockdown so I had time," she says. "A lot of time."

Grace says people loved the videos because they weren't typical fast fashion hauls.

"It was kind of my niche, to upcycle," she says. "People really resonated with my videos and enjoyed them because it was a nice, sustainable initiative — but I also think it is kind of cool to watch something go from one garment to a completely new garment within the space of a few minutes."

Her videos got so popular she turned to her community Facebook page to ask neighbours for any clothes they wanted to donate to local charity shops but couldn't because of the pandemic. 


"I'd pick up their old stuff on their driveway and use that as my materials," she explains. "It was really weird because I couldn't go off and thrift shop because of lockdown so it worked out both ways. I got garments to flip or upcycle and these people got to get rid of their stuff."

Grace built a following online giving old clothes a second lease of life (this one, she made from scratch). Image: Instagram @grace.dorney.


Eventually, her followers climbed to almost 60,000, and the attention was definitely nice, Grace admits. She had thought it a blessing to get so many eyes on her designs — maybe it could lead to something.

As a creative, she knew how hard it could be to break into the world of fashion, but she also knew it was better to take social media step by step instead of planning too far in advance.

Eventually, people wanted to buy what she was making.

"There was a skirt people wanted," she recalls. "I had SO MANY messages about it. It was beyond what I could actually make myself by hand so I did the research.

"I looked into eco-manufacturing in Sydney because I wanted to make clothes the right way, without taking advantage of anyone. I was living at home and my parents saw how many people wanted to buy my designs and gave me a small loan."

Grace built a following online showing people how to make outfits from old clothes (or... grocery bags!). Image: Instagram @grace.dorney.


But by the time the process was done and Grace's designs were ready to be sold to the audience that had initially begged her for it, things had changed. 

The views on her videos had dwindled. She'd started a full-time job in the creative industry, so was posting less. People were returning to work after months of being inside their homes. No one was spending nearly as much time on TikTok as they once had been. 

"It's so hard to keep momentum as a creator," she says. "The collection didn't take off and there are skirts, from a size 4-20, still sitting in my parents' garage.

"The goal definitely would have been for that not to happen but I took a chance. If I hadn't tried, I would have never known, and regretted it forever. 

"It looks amazing on my resume to manage my social account, have a creative eye and to have spearheaded all the digital marketing for that. So just because it didn't amount to the goal I had, it doesn't mean that I should kick myself over it. It's not worth that and I'm still having fun with it."


Grace still makes her own clothes from secondhand pieces she collects. Image: Instagram @grace.dorney.

Grace still makes videos, sharing them to almost 50,000 followers on TikTok. But while she still upcycles outfits, she rarely posts about it.


These days, she shares videos styling an outfit or asking her followers to pick what she should wear. She also does product reviews for brands who send her their products.

"I just stopped enjoying making that kind of content," she says. "It felt like a job, and social media didn't turn into a job. It just got draining, so I took a big break. I still have my side hustle where I sell the clothes I make, but it's not a main focus."

While Grace doesn't consider herself a big creator in the online space, she says that it's not surprising that influencers are portraying a life online that they don't truly lead — particularly when it comes to how much money they're earning.

"Even when I was at my kind of 'peak' of social media, I had so many people coming up to me being like, 'Oh, well, you must be making so much money off of social media.' And I was like, 'No, I haven't made a single dollar'.

"In Australia especially, where TikTok doesn't have a Creator Fund like it does in the United States, it just doesn't translate."

The reality of online influencing is difficult, and while it relies largely on luck, it's also a combination of timing and a bit of common sense, says Grace.

"I was lucky to have the support of my family and lucky I began posting at the right time," she says. 

"It's all it really is. Good timing, good luck and good senses."

Feature Image: Instagram @grace.dorney.

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