Influencers and small businesses in Russia lost lucrative Western brand deals after the Ukraine war began. Here's how three are coping.
- Big Western brands like Adidas and Reebok pulled out of Russia after the Ukraine war began.
- The boycott is hurting influencers and small businesses in Russia that rely on Western brand deals.
The mass boycott of Russia by big Western companies has sent ripples through the country's economy, touching influencers and entrepreneurs as much as larger businesses.
It's left Polina Che, the founder of sustainable jewelry company Recycled Objects, fighting for her livelihood.
"We're losing money every month that goes by," Che told Insider. "We're hoping that the companies will work with us again when things calm down, but right now, it feels very unfair."
Over the past decade, many Russian influencers and small businesses have relied at least in part on income from collaborations with Western brands, through things like sponsored social-media posts and event-hosting.
Now these same brands have cut ties with Russia after Vladimir Putin launched his assault on Ukraine.
Che said she used to make up to $2,000 a month through partnerships with Reebok, and earned money from brands like Logitech and Uniqlo (Insider was not able to independently verify these claims). Che modeled in a Reebok photoshoot alongside influencers and said she made recycled souvenirs for the brand's events.
With Reebok having cut ties with Russia, Che said she had slashed her workforce from 10 to three to cope with the resulting loss of income (Insider wasn't able to independently verify the size of Che's company).
Russia's Instagram ban wipes out a vital marketing channel
Some people in Russia continue to use Instagram via virtual private networks, or VPNs, which allow access to sites that have been blocked.
Che told Insider she moved from Russia to Georgia in part to regain access to her company's Instagram account. But she said she can't purchase Instagram ads for her company, even from Georgia, because Meta, which owns Instagram, has paused advertising in Russia.
Two small Russian business owners told Insider their income had collapsed since the Ukraine war began.
Buliash Todaeva is the founder of Zerowaste Lab, a company that makes art from recycled products.
Todaeva and Che said that after Western brands left Russia, their businesses lost between 90% and 95% of their monthly income.
"I feel so bad for my friends and my team who have supported me so much with this business — and now we have nothing," Tadoeva said.
Diana Akhmadishina, a sports coach who was a brand ambassador for Adidas Russia, told Insider that her photoshoots and other projects with the brand had been put on hold.
Akhmadishina said the representatives of some companies she works with had privately shown support for her and the "idea that it's not Russian people who are responsible for this sad situation."
Adidas said it condemns violence and has suspended operations in stores and on its ecommerce site in Russia until further notice. Reebok did not respond to Insider's request for comment.
Russia's influencer economy disrupted
The Russian influencer economy is worth $250 million, according to data supplied to Insider by the Influencer Marketing Hub. It's likely to face significant disruption as a result of the invasion.
Some brands don't want to work with influencers and business owners who can't access Instagram, said Sergey Gandin, CEO of Proekta, a Russia-based marketing agency that says it has more than 1,200 influencers on its books.
Gandin told Insider that, before the invasion, 70% of his company's work came from Western brands, with clients including Prada and Lego. He said all had pulled out of Russia since the war began, and Proekta had lost 75% of its revenue as a result.
Djanan Kasumovic, head of growth at Influencer Marketing Hub, said that even if the invasion were to end, companies may not flood back to Russia. The double-hit of losing brand deals and being shut off from Instagram was devastating for influencers in the country, Kasumovic said.
"I cannot recall an industry in Russia that will take a bigger hit than the influencer industry, because you are basically cutting off distribution," he said. "And if you cut off distribution, you don't have a job as an influencer."
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