Holly Wolf: The 21st Century Model
Yesterday's 'Model' is Today's Entrepreneur
By Mike Reid
Holly Wolf has graced international magazine covers and pages such as Playboy, FHM, Maxim and numerous others. Holly has even been named Playmate of the Year in Czech. However, I no longer think of Holly as a model. The industry has changed and Holly has changed with it.
Note: I first met Holly years ago with mutual friends as we all geeked out at Toronto ComiCon. Within minutes of meeting Holly, we spent over half an hour raving about what game developers were planning the following year. We were like caffeinated 12-year old children. During this interview, we didn't get into all the nerdy and gaming stuff that consumes Holly's universe, as well as mine. For no other reason but because we just didn't have the time.
I spoke with Holly over the phone, during the second half of her busy day. During our conversation, she was simultaneously editing video content for a company she's partnered with. It was the weekend, but for Holly, there really aren't many off days.
Holly's journey didn't start with modelling. As a teenager, she was a theatre kid with the dream to tour the world and someday perform on Broadway. While at Sheridan College, Holly transitioned from musical theatre to dance. It turned out that even in the dance world one needs headshots. At these photo shoots she discovered that being in front of the camera was more and more enjoyable and at the same time more and more photographers wanted to work with her.
Holly: Modelling was unplanned. I love musicals to this day. I originally wanted to act, dance, sing and tour with theatre companies. I did that for a little bit, and it was so much fun, but I fell in love with modelling more.
When a person understands what they want to do with their life there are usually challenges ahead of them. There are also great milestones, like the moment you realize you've become the thing you've set out to be. The moment Holly realised she was a model was bittersweet.
Holly: The first time I was published in Playboy Mexico was pretty awesome. I remember the article going up and being super excited about it. Then about an hour later, I was posted on a bashing website for the pictorial of me. I thought, "Wow. This is what it feels like to be a model?" You have the tiniest bit of success and people start hating on you immediately. I remember thinking, "Damn, this is awesome and slightly weird."
Before that, when Holly first started, she thought a model's life would be all about designer clothes, hair and makeup, pretty things, and non-stop traveling. That was sometimes the case for Holly and at the same time not at all.
Holly: All that awesome stuff definitely happened and still happens. I've worked with a lot of companies and I've flown to beautiful locations: Mexico, France, Spain, the Philippines... But even then, it was definitely less glamours than what most people think it to be. Aspects are great and some aren't, but you come to that realization pretty quickly.
Holly: I spent much less time being involved when I first started. There was less strategic thinking on my part. I spend a lot of time now working with companies, sending emails, negotiating rates, posting on social media. I'm very involved and it never used to be like that at all.
If you follow Holly online you know what she means by involved. She's constantly shooting for magazines, reviewing products, appearing at events, creating content, and more. She stays in direct contact with fans via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. She regularly streams her video game play on Twitch. This all leads to my original hypothesis that the successful model in the 21 century is actually an entrepreneur.
Holly: Yes. I'd also add a bit of a struggling artist. Not in the sense of literally struggling, in the sense that you're always working. It's not a 9-5 job, sometimes you have work and sometimes you don't. The models who are working their asses off are making the most money.
She is kind of a one-woman show. A lot more brands have realized that the new market is people who have large and engaged followings. For example, a mattress company sent her a mattress earlier, the content she was editing during our conversation was for the unboxing video.
Holly: Work comes from a variety of opportunities, sometimes it's events, sometimes it's sponsored posts, sometimes it's photo shoots. I also have my own merchandise, I sign all of my prints, I personalize it for whoever buys from my website (hollywolf.ca), and I personally ship all of it. I have my entire workspace in my apartment. I love it. I'm a homebody.
While listening to Holly, Jay-Z's lyric from the Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix) comes to mind: "I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man."
Modelling used to be pairing the physical attributes or fame of a person with a product or brand. Companies hoped that customers would either connect with the model or see them as aspirational. The current state of the model or influencer is more about the relationship between the person's audience and a company hoping to leverage that person's relationship.
Holly: Some companies and brands get it and some don't. Companies message me all the time to promote a brand or product that doesn't suit me as an individual. For example, I'm a vegetarian, almost vegan. I will not buy bags that are made out of an animal. So I will turn down companies that offer me products that are fur, snakeskin or leather because it doesn't fit with me as a person and my audience knows this. Smart brands try to work with influencers that understand, even though we can influence people to buy things, it needs to fit the person. People know when something is fake. I want people saying, "Oh, Holly really likes that and she backs it. She might be getting paid for it, but she backs it. Maybe I should take a look at it." Even though I am still "modelling" products, it still has to work for me as a human.
We backtrack the conversation a little and discuss the fact that a mattress company mailed her a mattress. She's become a one-stop shop content machine.
Holly: I have contracts with companies and they pay me to work with them. They're paying me to review products, shoot content, edit and distribute content. It's a lot of work. They're not just paying for me to shout out a product, they're paying for the production of the video or whatever the arrangement is. This way they can also have content to post on their social media.
While most of the time she's had a conversation with companies, which can lead to contracts and payment arrangements, sometimes people just reached out and say: "Hey, we'd love to send you this."
Holly: Yes, that happens, but I let those people know that my business relationships and products/endorsements come first. I've had several companies just send unsolicited products to my P.O. Box then they send me an email saying, "Hey, we want you to try our headphones."
My reply is, "Amazing, thanks. Just know my business relationships and partnerships come first. If I have time to get to it I will, if I don't have time I won't."
If I haven't mentioned the product on my social media they'll reach out again and ask, "Hey can you post about those headphones?"
I'll have to tell them, "Hold on. Remember when I said my brand relationships and paid companies come first?"
Some people get a bit push saying things like, "But we sent you $50 headphones (or whatever)."
Your cost of headphones? This didn't cost you much bro, settle down. Maybe you're selling them for $50, but your cost to make them was $5. I know how manufacturing works. Some people think, I sent someone a free pair of whatever. So now they should promote me. You don't get the attention my paid relationships and partners get because you sent me something I didn't ask for.
Not all companies understand the dynamic of this relatively new industry. Influencers are not going to jeopardize their relationship with audiences, especially for a product that's untested or a company that doesn't respect or understand an influencer's time, energy or value.
Holly: Sometimes a company will send me a product that isn't great. If I don't like something, I'm not going to post about it. My fans and supports trust that I like what I talk about. I've had to tell someone, look this isn't that great or these headphones fit kind of weird. It hurt my head. I couldn't wear them for more than an hour at a time. I don't feel comfortable shouting out your product, because if someone buys it on my recommendation they'll get hurt too and say: What the fuck Holly?! I take that very seriously. So a lot of my job is communicating back and forth with companies. Whether it's a paid agreement or someone wants to send me stuff. If you want to send me something, okay cool, here's my P.O. Box, but I'll get to it if and when I can.
We paused for a moment as Holly answered the door for a delivery person. She's had a packed day and knew cooking dinner wasn't in the cards, so she ordered delivery.
Being your own business and boss provides you with a lot of control. However, with that control comes a lot of work. I ask Holly to go down a list of what her day has involved.
- The first thing I did was walk and feed my dog.
- Then I had to prep my living room for a video shoot I was doing for a mattress review video.
- Oh, I can't forget about my stop for coffee.
- I dealt with UPS so I could deal with delivery and C.O.D costs of a gaming chair from China. It was from a company I'm working with.
- Received mail and packages. Posted on Instagram while I opened packages of different products.
- I drove to a meeting and contract signing with a company that will be sponsoring my hair.
- I grabbed a quick bite to eat.
- I got back home, put some makeup on my face, changed my clothes to shoot the mattress video. I had everything prepped before I left, so I turned on my ring light and started shooting.
- Posted more content on social media.
- Then my gaming chair arrived. We had to haul that up the stairs.
- My friend Amber arrived and we went to a spa to get our facials done which we posted and streamed online.
- We grabbed a juice on the way.
- By the time I got home I didn't have time to make dinner so I order food on Uber eats so I could start editing my video.
- Then you called for this interview.
- I'm also editing the video I shot this morning.
That's my day so far. After I finish my dinner I'll take my dog out again, and I still have to send out the rest of my Patreon rewards for the month. I have two stacks of mail-outs that I have to do.
Patreon is a membership platform that allows artists and creators to run a subscription content service for fans and supporters. It's also a way for creators to build relationships and provide exclusive experiences to their subscribers, or "patrons".
Holly: I have a lot of friends who are YouTubers. They started using Patreon after the Ad-pocalypse, when companies started pulling ads from YouTube. Content creators started making 30 - 50% less on YouTube ads. Rather than having to let go of their editors, they turned to Patreon as a way to say to their fans: Hey, if you like what we do here's a way to contribute to it. I took a few months and examined some really good Patreons. I subscribed to people and saw what the experience was. I saw what worked for some and didn't for others. It's always best to learn and experience something before you jump into it. Especially when it involves money and people who want to support you. I spent another week developing my tiers and rewards then I launched it.
It takes me 2 - 3 days a month to do all of my Patreon content. For example, my higher tier patrons get an 8 x 10 printout every month. So after I've done the photo shoot, I've got to get everything printed, sign them all, I have a shipping label printer at home, so I pack it all and ship it to everyone monthly. That's just one of the features from one tier. I take people's support to heart. I have conversations with them and keep up with them. It's a little community. It's a group of people who are really happy to help people create and be successful. So I do a lot of work to honour that.
Patreon tends to be a different online experience to that of other social media platforms. Digital culture has unfortunately created Keyboard Warriors who spend their time harassing strangers, posting negative or inappropriate comments on people's content, and being the human embodiment of a 4th place trophy. On Patreon, people are extremely supportive. The experience can be a breath of fresh air for content creators.
Holly: Everyone in my Patreon community is great, there are never any negative comments. They're all there to support me as a creator, they want to be there. They love everything that I do and who I am as a person. It's a very happy place filled with positive reinforcement. Regular social media, you'll post something and some of the comments are negative for no reason. It doesn't affect me too much, but it's still there. You see that as a person and it's going to affect you. Patreon is wonderful. It's my happy place. The great thing is that my funds from Patreon go right back into creating great cosplay costumes, doing photo shoots and creating cool stuff for my fans and supporters.
As a model, Holly is both an artist and an entrepreneur. Both paths tend to have inconsistent incomes. When it comes to her being able to make money, I was curious to know if the bulk of her income came from modelling or a variety of sources.
Holly: It's very dispersed. My income varies from month to month. I get event bookings in advanced, for example when I'm booked for Fan Expo. I know I'll have a certain amount of money coming in during that event. So I have a loose idea of what's coming up, but it's very sporadic.
If you went back in time and told Holly from ten years ago that being a successful model won't only mean being flown around to do photo shoots. That most of the time, she'd actually be an entrepreneur who grinds day in and day out, she'd run towards it. To her, the grind has always been the expectation when working towards success.
Holly: Before college, I worked at Mirvish, Princess of Wales Theatre. When I got into school, I worked at Chapters for the longest time. When I was a dancer, I often times had two jobs. Which is funny, because I get a lot of girls who'll contact me and say, "Oh my god, you're so successful. How do you do it? I just started modelling, but I have no money."
My first question is always, do you have a job? A lot of times they'll reply with no. My response is always the same, go get a job weirdo. (Haha) Do you need headshots, modelling shots, hair extensions, your teeth whitened? That stuff costs money, and if you're just starting out you better have a job to fund that all.
I don't mean to be rude, but I've heard some pretty stupid girls saying: "I want to do this or that, but don't want to put in the work." I used to work at Chapters from 4 am - 9 am stocking shelves every day before the store opened. They'll say, "Are you kidding me?" No! I wanted to have a nice house, pay off a car, and I wanted to have zero debt from college. So yeah, I was going to have at least two jobs (haha). Now I work for myself. I probably work more now, but it's on my terms. People think it's easy.
At this point we breakout into back and forth stereotypical Valley Girl voices.
Mike: But Holly, you make it look so simple. You just wake up and people just give you things
Holly: I know, it's so amazing-
Mike: I wish I could just wake up and have life handed to me-
Holly: Wow, let me just slap on some fake eyelashes on and post about it-
Mike: I wish I was Wolf.
Quite enough of that.
What's the next thing on Holly Wolf's radar?
Holly: Right now, to keep doing what I'm doing. I'm really enjoying it. I have a lot of fun working for myself. In the beginning, I didn't know it would be this much work, but it makes sense. Anything this amazing and worth it will always take time and effort. Nothing comes easily. There's a 0.001% chance that life is easy. Life is tough bitch!
As we wrap up our conversation, I know she has a long night of editing ahead of her. I thank her for taking the time to explore the state of the modern model and suggest that she makes sure to gets enough sleep. To which she replied,
Holly: Thanks man, even though my schedule can be non-stop. I make sure I sleep. There are times when I don't get a lot of sleep, like if I'm at a Convention, but if I know that's coming up I go home to sleep the day before and after. I will not be out partying. My face, skin, and beauty is maybe half of why I'm awesome, so I take care of it with sleep. (Haha)
We joking banter back and forth about the percentages. By my very scientific calculations (meaning a pulled a random number out of thin air), I conclude that her physicality is only 30% of why she's awesome.
Holly: Whatever it is, I do not slack on sleep. Sleep is when your body regenerates and I need it. (Haha)
Well, sleep well my friend. As always, you've got a long day ahead of you and the day isn't going to slay itself.