Brana Dane: “Surround yourself with others who know more”

Surround yourself with others who know more. The rules of social media can be hard to keep up with, even for a professional. It’s impossible for one person to know everything so it can be very beneficial to surround yourself with others in the same field. Follow other trend-setters. Become friends with other influencers. Particularly […]

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Surround yourself with others who know more. The rules of social media can be hard to keep up with, even for a professional. It’s impossible for one person to know everything so it can be very beneficial to surround yourself with others in the same field. Follow other trend-setters. Become friends with other influencers. Particularly if you want to organize for causes, its essential to maintain relationships both online and in person. Alone, I only have the ability to reach around 85k people, but by collaborating with others the effects become exponential. In this way I can leverage my influence for good.

As a part of my series about leaders who are using their platform to make a significant social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brana Dane, a star influencer with over 85k followers across multiple platforms. Not only is she known as a model with a large following, but also as an activist who uses her influence for good. She has created and participated in numerous social media campaigns in concert with the Freelancers Union, the Model Mafia, Lonely Whale, Rainforest Alliance, the NY Governor’s Office, Lower Drug Prices Now and many other prominent organizations.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As a model many people kept encouraging me to join Instagram and post my work. Soon I found my footing and started to develop a loyal following. I still remember my first dedicated fan on Instagram from several years ago. It’s a great feeling to be able to make others happy by just being yourself!

It was also through my work as a model that I discovered the world of social impact. I was invited to attend the premiere of “The True Cost” alongside Eileen Fisher and Zosia Mamet. Through watching this documentary and my own research, I began to realize the ethical issues created by my industry. Subsequently, I became one of the first members of the “Model Mafia”, which is group of models who share a passion for a more sustainable and just world. We were even profiled in a Porter Edit cover story for our work.

Since these earlier days I’ve made it my mission to illuminate important issues through my ever-growing social media presence. I tend to focus on issues relating to fashion and the environment, such as workers’ rights and environmental waste.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

The most meaningful experiences are when I get to connect to others through my work. For example, I was able to meet Rushan Abbas, a leading voice in defense of Uyghur’s human rights. I met her during NYFW when I collaborated with several different groups to protest the use of Uyghur forced labor in producing garments. I was very happy that the protest and story ended up in Marie Claire and other major news outlets. Shortly thereafter, the US passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

Another proud moment was being asked to speak on stage in Union Square for the 2019 annual Earth Day Rally. I was very nervous to be speaking for such a large audience in a public forum, but it turned out to be a great decision. Since, I have also curated and moderated panels featuring other activists and influencers doing good.

Through my work, I have become more and more involved with environmental causes. Thus, I was able to find my niche as an influencer. So many amazing opportunities have come my way since. I’ve had the luck to work with environmentally friendly brands such as TENCEL, Behno, and Aranyani luxury bags among many others. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started out I was too shy! I would post infrequently and would share very little about my personal views. I slowly gained the confidence necessary to break out of my shell and try new things. I got so much positive feedback online and in real life for being bolder and expressing myself that I eventually I started advocating on other people’s behalf as well.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Social media is like learning a new city; you just have to jump in and live it. Don’t be afraid to be yourself and discuss the issues that matter to you. Authenticity is very important in both social media and activism. When you truly care about something it doesn’t come across as preachy or sanctimonious.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?

My general philosophy is to advocate about what I know. When we go about our daily lives there are always ethical and practical issues that reveal themselves, wouldn’t it be nice if more of us used this as an opportunity?

With a combined reach of over 85k followers across multiple platforms, I have led many social media impact campaigns with other influencers. For example, most recently I designed a social media blitz with the head of the Freelancer’s Union to put pressure on representatives to include gig-workers in the Cares Act. As soon as NYC started shutting down I immediately knew the vulnerability of my fellow models, influencers and freelancers. I didn’t hesitate to take action and reached out directly to the head of the Freelancer’s Union to coordinate efforts. I designed a social media push and then disseminated the information through my various networks of friends, activists and influencers. We all tagged the relevant representatives to ramp up the pressure. As a result, I was even asked to go on MSNBC and speak about why freelancers should be included but before I could the Act was (thankfully) passed.

Sometime later, I was contacted on behalf of Governor Cuomo’s office to raise awareness for mask and stay at home guidelines. This was at the height of the pandemic when information on the virus was still new and everything was very uncertain.

In 2021 I am continuing my efforts to look after those who are vulnerable. I was recently contracted to advocate for limiting pharmaceutical monopolies in order to ensure lower drug prices for Americans. Doing good doesn’t have to be boring or a chore, it can be an exciting and fun part of life. I love to post beautiful visuals while also saying something of importance.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?

All of the influencers (including myself) who participated in the Cares Act social media blitz were direct beneficiaries of its success! It was truly a combined effort, but it was a great feeling to be publicly thanked by the head of the Freelancers Union for leading the grassroots campaign on social media. Every bit of pressure we put on our leaders helps them to make better decisions.

Was there a tipping point that made you decide to focus on this particular area? Can you share a story about that?

I believe it’s our duty to address those issues that come into our purview during our daily lives. As a working model in fashion, I felt that I should speak out on the plight of the modern garment worker as well as the environmental costs of fast fashion. This is how I started my journey as an environmental activist and eventually incorporated it into my social media presence.

Developing a niche as an influencer is very important. At the same time, it has to be something that’s authentic and organic otherwise it will become too difficult to sustain. For example, I have led many social media campaigns focusing on environmental issues, but typically they are always associated with a real-life action such as a march, protest or rally.

In the fall of 2019, I designed and led the NYFW guerrilla-style rallies that went viral all-over social media. The action was even reposted in Vogue Brasil and covered by a couple NYFW blogs. The idea was to leverage the attention and press at NYFW in order to raise awareness for the environment. It worked!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Lonely Whale is great non-profit that knows the value of using social media for good. I collaborated with them to reduce plastic consumption, but ultimately, we need to target the companies who are setting the standards for production and make sure the government is appropriately using their oversight to take care of our shared world and resources. Without a healthy Earth, no human can be healthy either.

Overproduction and waste are the two biggest threats to the environment today. As a society, we need to reevaluate antiquated systems that could be more efficient. I don’t believe we as consumers need to spend more money in order to be less wasteful. It’s simply not common sense; something has gone wrong when this is the case.

When you start to analyze things from a conservational standpoint you actually discover that not only are we polluting and ruining our eco-systems around the globe, we are wasting immense amounts of resources and ultimately money in doing so.

For example, around 40% of the food produced is completely wasted in our supply chain. This is enough to feed every hungry individual. We need smart strategies and not politically motivated maneuvers to address real problems. As an influencer and activist, I can only add to the conversation, it’s up to the public to demand smart leadership.

In fashion, brands such as Chanel actually burn unsold garments. Instead of overproducing and then burning to establish the illusion of exclusivity, why don’t brands think creatively to create actual value?

What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any good tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for a social good?

I believe if the community leveraged their influence on social media more often we would see more immediate improvements in our society. You don’t have to be an influencer, we all have our networks. Learn about those issues that come into your life and surround yourself with other motivated people who will work with you to change the status quo. There’s no better feeling.

During my collaboration with Rainforest Alliance to get the plastic bag banned in NYC I learned that a well-coordinated social media effort goes a long way. We worked together and got it banned! As a model and influencer, I often have access to media or the opportunity to collaborate with large organizations, but anyone can apply the same basic principles for an impact. The trick is to simply connect separate networks that have a common goal.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. The more you put in the more you’ll get out.

Many people view social media as a frivolous time waster, but it is what you make of it. We’ve never been more connected digitally. As a compliment to in person interactions, it can be a great tool. Mindful and intentional use of social media is the answer. There is the potential to reach and effect many people through your actions online, so take advantage!

2. Protect your value.

Being an influencer is a real career! It takes a lot of time and dedication to build up and maintain a following. It’s very important to protect your value as an influencer. Many people will try to take advantage of you due to a lack of understanding of the work that goes into it. My advice is to pass up on any opportunities that don’t feel like a 95% win. Focusing on growth and being authentic to your audience should always be your top priority, not catering to a company or brand.

3. It’s OK to be many things at once.

Especially at the beginning, you may have to try out a lot of different angles to find your niche. My account is essentially a representation of my real life as a model and activist, but I’m also an artist and will post myself with my art on rare occasion. I always try to simply be myself, but with a focus on what I’ve found is most authentic and relevant for my audience.

4. Half of success is simply not quitting.

Once you build up a little momentum you won’t want to stop; you just have to keep going until you get there. I still go through many plateaus in growth and I remember how hard it was to get to my first 1k followers. Consistency is key.

5. Surround yourself with others who know more.

The rules of social media can be hard to keep up with, even for a professional. It’s impossible for one person to know everything so it can be very beneficial to surround yourself with others in the same field. Follow other trend-setters. Become friends with other influencers. Particularly if you want to organize for causes, its essential to maintain relationships both online and in person. Alone, I only have the ability to reach around 85k people, but by collaborating with others the effects become exponential. In this way I can leverage my influence for good.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Everything starts with a solid foundation. After we meet our basic physical needs we need to build a strong mental foundation. Society is built around our better natures and the more we improve ourselves the more society will improve as a result. I try to inspire people to be self-reflective and self-accepting in my social media captions. The more self-aware we become the less suffering we all will cause.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love this question. I share a quote in all my Instagram captions. My favorite quote of the moment is, “Let your teacher be love itself” by Rumi. To me this quote represents how truth must be experienced directly and cannot necessarily be taught. We all understand truth through our own lens and at our own level of recognition. For this reason, it’s important to be open and accepting of change and experience. We must always greet both pleasant and unpleasant experiences with love in order to increase our understanding of ourselves and the world.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to sit down with the CEO of Instagram and let him know what I think of the recent changes on the app!

But seriously, lunch with Eckhart Tolle would be my choice at this moment in time. I’m always working on my understanding of myself and my place in the world. I am also always trying to improve my selfcare because it makes me more effective in my work and personal life. I would love some personalized tips on how to do this more effectively.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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