My Digital Life: Abisola Omole, CEO of The Apartment Global Group & Creative Director of Arva
The digital entrepreneur and Harper's Bazaar contributor shares the secrets of her success, her Instagram must-follows and so much more.
We all have the same number of hours in a day, but sometimes I wonder if Abisola Omole has a secret time machine. The one-woman wonder is not only CEO of ever-growing empire The Apartment Group, but she's also just launched arva AND holds the position of Brand Director at CUBICLE. Oh, and as of this month, she’s also been named as a contributor to Harper’s Bazaar US. Now that’s what I call multi-tasking.
Abi - also known by her moniker Abimarvel - has always had a special something. She was part of, what I like to call, the ‘original UK blogger crew’ (of which I consider myself a member, thanks to my 2006-2009 blog, Canned Fashion) and the first to take the humble blogger event and turn it into a megawatt, 360° experience with The Apārtment, which began as a fashion-week activation and leveraged the symbiotic power of the influencer/brand relationship. Bloggers were personally invited to a literal (and totally Instagrammable) central London apartment for a week-long roster of brand-sponsored experiences, from intimate dinners to pre-show blowdries, and even road-tests with cutting-edge camera equipment. At a time when brands were only just warming up to the idea of influencers, it was truly groundbreaking.
Since then, Abi has added numerous strings to her multi-hyphenate bow, the latest in the form of arva, a contemporary lifestyle brand whose afore-linked Instagram is a must-follow (trust me). I was lucky enough to grab half an hour with the busy digital pioneer to chat about her fascinating career, and ask her just how she manages to get it all done.
NH: How did you get to where you are today, as CEO of three companies and Brand Director at CUBICLE?
AO: I started my career back in 2008 when I created a fashion and lifestyle blog, called 'I am Abimarvel'. A few years into blogging, I moved to London for uni (University of The Arts London), started attending LFW (still don’t know how) and began to contribute to a range of indie magazines and notable titles like MSN and Grazia. Years of interning at everywhere from publishing houses to PR agencies to even couture ateliers and photography studios all whilst studying, blogging and freelance writing meant that I was really starting to establish myself within the industry.
Around 2012, The Apārtment was created. At the time it was a creative hub for online creators, where they could foster organic relationships and partnerships with brands, create content, discover new products and feel a part of the newly forming online community. Shortly after launching I began to work with a range of brands on everything from their digital strategy to influencer marketing to event production. The freelance opportunities increased quite substantially and by 2014, The Apārtment had developed from an event into a digital and creative agency that today specialises in event production and design, as well as digital and brand strategy. With clients that included the likes of Diageo, Warner Brothers, Sézane, Boots, Selfridges and Canon, it was fair to say the company was doing well and we were the team behind a lot of exciting initiatives. Alongside all of this, I started working with Shini Park, then of Park & Cube and now CUBICLE, as her manager and now Brand Director.
In 2017, I took a step back to re-evaluate all I was doing and to figure out if what I was doing was making me truly happy. Months of brainstorming, lead to the creation of three further companies. arva, studio arva and Fole Studio. I’m letting them all grow at their own pace but I’ve definitely found happiness in challenging myself creatively and though The Apārtment is still very much operational and busy because I’ve managed to grow and establish a team and network of freelancers, I can now split my time across all of the companies, whilst still having time to be an ambassador for a couple of brands, create content for my personal platforms and as of this month, write for Harpers Bazaar US, mainly talking all things plus size fashion.
NH: Tell me more about arva, studio arva and The Apartment Global Group.
In short, The Apartment Global Group (TAGG) is a conglomerate of lifestyle and digital companies. It launched with the namesake digital and creative agency, The Apārtment, and now houses three additional companies: arva, a contemporary consumer lifestyle brand; studio arva, an interior styling and design led studio; and Fole Studio, a content creation agency.
Arva officially launched on July 1st, and we finally introduced the world to our editorial platform that is filled with lovely stories and our curated online store, which is all so exciting. We have around five arva launches/collaborations scheduled for this year and so I can’t wait to show everyone what we’ve been working on and for them to hopefully fall in love with our brand, as well as feel like they align with our ethos whilst finding their new favourite items in our store.
NH: I first met you via The Apartment! What are the biggest ways you've seen the influencer marketing space change during your career?
AO: I suppose the evolution of the individual 'content creator' to a brand or generally something bigger than themselves. We’ve seen industry members create their own agencies, brands, become creative directors - the general development and expansion of one's skill set is probably one of the biggest changes I’ve seen and it’s been cool to see all the different ways this growth has manifested for people.
NH: You are the ultimate digital multi-hyphenate. how do you balance it all? And do you use any digital tools to help?
AO: A lot of it comes down to a somewhat calm temperament - well at least trying to master having one. With this, I always like to create what I deem as an optimal working environment for myself; this typically includes playing ocean waves or classical instrumental music, being around windows - as I like natural light and often find myself looking to the sky or nature whilst deep in thought - and I like for the room's decor to have a warm and calm tone to it, which my house and studio both possess, meaning I can work with ease from either of them.
Aside from the environment, I, like most people, create a lot of lists. I don’t use any fancy digital tools but my go-to apps (if you can call them that) for work are just Notes and the camera on my phone. Ideas form at any time or I might see a really cool potential supplier whilst I’m out and so I just have folders and folders on my phone filled with inspiration, random ideas and potential people/brands I might want to work with at some point.
I try to not psych myself up too much, even though I’m very aware that my to-do list will probably never end. I used to set quite unhealthy expectations for myself and for others on my team and I definitely made a lot of mistakes and handled things not as well as I could have. Taking the time to truly reflect on my process and really dissect all the ways I can grow and do better has made me even more productive and definitely a better colleague and leader, in turn making it easier to do more and handle switching tasks within the companies I run.
NH: What advice would you give to those wanting to work in digital and/or start their own business?
AO: Well, for those wanting to work in digital, I’d say it’ll be easier if you genuinely love and use social media. If you’re always suggesting cool websites to your friends because you spend hours just surfing, or you’re downloading the latest apps, just cause you’re curious or are always ready to try a new function out on Instagram, because you want to up your personal content game, it’ll most likely make your experience working in the digital world more of a success (and more fun!). Being able to tap into your knowledge as a native user, with preferences and ideas that are based on a real life experiences, can be a truly invaluable asset.
As for starting your own business? Wow, I’m not even sure where to start; I guess one thing I’ve been reminding myself of recently is that you cannot achieve perfection (whatever that might look like for you) instantly. When I launched The Apārtment, I rarely second guessed myself - I just did it. I figured it out, I worked hard and launched. It wasn’t perfect but looking back at the evolution, it kinda blows my mind. If I had tried to make our first event look like our season 15 event, it would have been impossible. At the time, whether I knew it or not, I understood that focusing on growing and improving each season was the best strategy - yes, mistakes were made, but I was brave enough to try and that's what lead to its success.
Whereas my latest company arva has been in development for over two years, as I find I’m constantly second guessing myself, trying to plan the smallest of details and really just unnecessarily psyching myself out, which has lead to all kinds of delays. Taking my own advice, I (finally) launched arva this month in a modest way and have worked on a very ambitious growth strategy for the coming months and years.
NH: What are your favourite social media accounts to follow, for work and inspiration?
AO: I take inspiration from all kinds of interesting places, so though a little random here’s some of my current favourites on Instagram:
@lifeanddecor, @90s.era, @vintageblackglamour, @nomibis, @miketyus, @blkmktvintage, @sisiliapiring, @thevisuelofgrace, @salvadormaliii, @charlottetaylr, @melissareannejohnson, @_javierittaaa, @lcchan, @steffan, @roseuniacke
There are SO many more tbh!
NH: What are your favourite brands to follow? And are there any brands you've discovered via social media?
AO: Yes, I’m literally obsessed with following brands, specifically start ups/creatives/young brands - but I don’t discriminate, lol. I dedicated one of our company accounts (@folestudio) to just follow cool brands, so here are a selection of my favourites:
NH: What was your first email address?
AO: Well my first one was done by my dad, so it was just my name, but the first one I got to do myself, circa 2007, was firstname.lastname@example.org. I was really into skateboarding, all things Napoleon Dynamite and All American Rejects - it was fitting.
NH: Which apps have you recently downloaded?
AO: Quibi - a short-form mobile video platform; think Netflix but all of Quibi’s original shows have a run time of less than 10 minutes per episode. They’ve got a lot of cool shows; I’d check out Dishmantled or Dummy for the sheer hilarity and then Survive or #FreeRayshawn for something a little more gripping and emotional.
WooCommerce - so I can keep an eye on my new online store with ease.
Audm - 'cause I love to listen to things (I’m obsessed with audiobooks) and have been wanting to read more articles on all kinds of subjects, but haven’t had the time, so Audm has a whole roster of narrators reading articles from publications like WIRED, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.
NH: What podcasts are you currently listening to?
AO: I actually don’t listen to any podcasts, at least not yet - controversial, I know. Naturally if someone tells me to listen to a particular episode of something I will, so I’ve listened to episodes of How I Built This and The Receipts Podcast but I don’t have a list of particular ones I regularly download.
NH: Are there any physical things you would never, ever swap for their digital counterparts?
AO: I’m literally looking around the room I’m in thinking about what I need/use that has a digital counterpart I don’t prefer and I can’t really think of any... I mean, I prefer physical books to kindle/online versions but then I like audiobooks, so is that kinda cheating? Oh actually, I love the whole experience of checking into a hotel, a member of staff running me through any facilities or highlighted events I should know about, maybe a tour and someone helping me with my bags - however I stayed at PUBLIC hotel in NYC a few years ago and their whole thing is trying to democratise luxury hotels (even though they’re still expensive 👀 ) and so they don’t have receptions or doormen, just machines you use to check yourself in and you activate your own room keycard and you struggle to your room with your suitcases, I didn’t love that idea but I might change my mind one day.
Interview by Natalie Hughes