Clara George: Ignore The Haters
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photos by Pip Andersen
At the age of twenty-two, Clara George is impressively experienced, with the world at her feet. She is a Human Geography graduate of the University of Exeter, an entrepreneur, social media influencer and also currently holds the title of Miss Devon. Quite the C.V for such a young woman.
I recently met with Clara for a chat at ‘On the Waterfront’ down at Exeter Quay and then took a walk along the beautiful riverside. As with all of my interviews, I had tried to avoid making any preconceptions about Clara and, even so, found myself pleasantly surprised with her laser-focus, her down-to-earth approach to life and her common-sense opinions on things.
She was born in Hampshire to a Cornish father and a mother with Spanish/Gibraltarian heritage and, at just a few years old, moved to Geneva in Switzerland where she lived until returning to England to attend university. She spent her school years attending an International School in Geneva (one of the first of its type in the world) and still returns to Switzerland regularly to see friends and enjoy the alternative culture.
That said, it became clear early on in our conversation that Clara is an avid fan of Exeter. With extended family roots in Devon, it was always a possibility that she would come to Devon at some point so, upon hearing about the ever-impressive reputation of the University of Exeter, it didn’t take long for her to decide to move here.
She described to me the moment that she arrived in the city, saying
“I had felt a certain level of nervousness about the move but as soon as I arrived in Exeter, I fell in love with it. People will probably think I’m being a bit silly but it feels almost like the Geneva of the UK. The cities aren’t similar visibly but they are both small, compact cities, close to the countryside and with a river at the heart of them. When people finish their degrees, it is common for the immediate question to be ‘Where should I go now?’, but I didn’t find that question popping into my mind. Instead, I had the question ‘Why would I go anywhere else?’. So many of my friends are here, it is such a beautiful place and I have started to realise my personal and professional goals here. You can’t say much better than that!”.
I found Clara to be well-rounded in her life experience, her studies and her professional acumen. This became most obvious when talking about her time at university. She explained how she had intentionally chosen her subject of Human Geography for its variety and depth of content. I didn’t realise that it is so much more than most people would assume it to be! Whereas Physical Geography is a much more scientific, undynamic subject, Human Geography, at a basic level, is the study of all human interactions in history. It covers a broad range of modular topics, including Technology, Politics, Economics, Sociology, History, Poverty and Illness. Her description of her subject was so passionate and positive that it almost made me want to go back to university. You can add ‘good saleswoman’ to her C.V.
Also, during her time at University, Clara became a Student Brand Manager, helping brands to get their voices onto university campuses. Brands that she represented include Soap & Glory, Proper Corn and Boohoo and it was from this work that she realised her passion for managing brands, marketing and event management. This lined her up perfectly for her first post-graduate role working as a PR & Marketing Assistant at Lightfoot where she was able to put that passion to work. It didn’t take long though, due to the growing popularity of her personal blog and social media accounts, to realise that her real passion was consulting other businesses solely on their social media activity. This was the embryonic start of her current business venture, Clara George Social, a freelance social media consultancy.
Clearly, it requires both bravery and moxie to take a move away from a stable job to a risky, self-employed position but, behind Clara’s eyes, I saw a steely determination and ‘an old head on young shoulders’ at many points in our conversation. She commented,
“It is worth every moment of stress and pressure. To do something you love for a living, 100% of the time, is the single best decision I’ve made in my life so far. And Exeter is the perfect place to realise that dream.”
As if this wasn’t impressive enough, she also runs ClaraCouture, a blog and collection of social media accounts which are growing in popularity every day. The word ‘influencer’ can be easily used and often misunderstood, but Clara believes that there is a real opportunity for influencers in Devon, as we are slightly behind some of the trends in, for example, London. Within ClaraCouture, Clara works with brands across the country who send her products or invite her to come and experience their offerings in return for comment, review or endorsement. For example, in the week that I met with Clara, she had influencer commitments every single day, including travelling across the U.K reviewing hotels, restaurants and a selection of products from Mars, Soap & Glory and Daniel Wellington.
Indeed, the two businesses she runs complement each other perfectly as she is able to prove, first hand, that she has grown her own personal brand to the point of having an incredibly large following and high levels of engagement with that audience. At last count, she had 15,000 followers on Facebook and 148,000 followers on Instagram, so it is clear to see that her title of ‘influencer’ is far from a deluded millennial sense of self-importance (a criticism commonly levelled at influencers).
When asked how she has grown audiences of that size, Clara said,
“Honestly, it has been a lot of trial and error. Some things worked, but then stopped working. Somethings just simply didn’t work. It doesn’t help that platforms like Facebook change their algorithms so often, so a big part of my job is keeping track of those changes and adapting where necessary to make sure my audience and engagement levels don’t decrease. Also, the visual elements of what I do are vitally important so I spend a lot of time making sure my images and videos are exactly as I want them before posting online.
And being image-conscious is something Clara has had to start thinking about more, due to a portfolio of modelling work and, more recently, her selection as Miss Devon, which automatically qualifies her for the Miss Great Britain pageant this month in Leicester. She spoke in a very matter-of-fact way about the competition stating,
It is so much more than a beauty pageant. It really isn’t that stereotypical idea of an image-focused pageant which people have in their minds. Rather, there is a keen focus on being an all-round positive female representative for your area and things like business acumen, education, sporting achievements and extra-curricular activity are taken into consideration. This is a vitally important part of the process. Even more for the winner who then takes the brand of Great Britain out to the rest of the world to sell its benefits and value.”
She also unpacked her desire to be a positive role model for younger people, particularly in the sense of inspiring them to start businesses, have confidence in themselves and believe that they can make a living from following their dreams. She explained the need for thick skin in an online world where ‘everybody is brave behind a keyboard’ and people say things digitally which they would never dream of saying in person. She has learned not to take extreme feedback to heart; either positive or negative. One results in your ego being inflated and the other in your confidence and self-worth being damaged. I got the feeling that neither were likely to happen for Clara; a rare example of someone her age swimming against the almost insurmountable tide of pressure to base your self-worth on the number of likes, comments or shares that you achieve on social media; or, indeed, the temptation to believe what relative strangers say about you online. Clara faces these issues with a stoic resolve which, at times, borders on defiant optimism. Haters are going to hate and you just have to ignore them.
As our time together drew to a close, I strolled back through Exeter’s beautiful Quay towards my car and reflected back on our conversation. My residual sense was that I had just spent time with an incredibly self-assured and honest young woman, with a bright future laid before her. An inspiration to many, a believer in the city of Exeter and a superb work ethic which will surely stand her in good stead for years to come.