Chalewote Street Art Festival

Shoulder to shoulder festival go-ers flow through High Street in Jamestown, bordering the Gulf of Guinea. The breeze coming from the Gulf refreshes the air that is often overtaken by the smell of fish, freshly caught from the fisherman who live on the coast. The colonial town is in need of a restore, and for the week, it got just that. From August 18 -21, Chalewote came to Jamestown for its 6th annual takeover. This year the festival embodied the Spirit Robot theme, igniting conversation about how technology, much like art, is a world within a world, where its expressions and underlining messages can tackle the complexities of life. The festival showcased art, music, dance and performance as the many facets to Ghanian and African culture.

“Chalewote” is an interpretation of “Man, let’s go” in Ga language.

Jamestown lighthouse


This loose, typically brightly coloured tunic known as a dashiki has its roots in West Africa, where it is commonly worn by men. I was swooning over this young lady who styled her dashiki as a dress so I copped one for myself at Makola Market in Accra’s fashion district.

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@artsoulkojo pictured with a hand painted mask

This festival goer replicated Anas Aremeyaw Anas’s most well-known disguise— a fringed curtain-like face covering. Anas is an investigative journalist who remains anonymous except to a few. In such a way, he’s been able to go deep undercover, using prosthetics as a disguise, to as he says “name, shame, and jail” people who are involved in corruption. Where the government doesn’t step in, Anas immerses himself in dangerous situations to get secret video footage of the “bad guys.” His work is highly respected by most Ghanians and I was fortunate enough to have been welcomed into his secret office of Tiger Eye Private Investigations to see some behind-the-scenes as well as chat with him (which will be posted soon). In the meantime, read more about his work here.

The flag of Ghana crafted with coins was hung on scaffolding in front of the James Fort Prison, but the night before it was ripped down. A little boy is armed with a stick, protecting the piece of art from the children who were trying to steal the coins.

Kojo Owusu- Kusi (@citizins)

There is no area in the world that has more boxing schools in such close proximity than Jamestown. The fights started sporadically on the street throughout the day. I was walking along, looking for my friend who I lost in the crowd of people when I was pushed into a circle formation. I found my way to the front and watched the fight start in the clearing.

The “selfie” stick.

Photo by David Venn (@david_venn)
Photo by David Venn (@david_venn)

“Land of Fire”- The name of the open aired structure speaks for itself. Local singers and rappers displayed their talents and had the crowd moving into the night.

The Forgotten Ones

       The Skype calling tone rings through Illamaran Nagarasa’s laptop in his apartment. It’s 4:00a.m. in Toronto, where Nagarasa currently resides while he works for a multicultural radio station, CMR 101.3 FM. “Appā!” said his daughter in their native Tamil tongue on the other end of the Skype video call. She had just arrived home from school and was elated to talk to her father. At twelve years old, Skyping is the closest she’s been to being with her father in seven years. “Don’t they know a child has the basic right to live with their parents?” she asked her dad about the Canadian government, which he translated. Nagarasa was speechless as he starred at his laptop screen. As Sri Lankan refugees, his daughter and wife have been living oceans away from him in Tamil Nadu, India. Nagarasa and his family were separated when they sought safety during the twenty-five year civil war in Sri Lanka which stretched from Jul 23, 1983 to May 18, 2009.

While his family sought immediate refuge, Nagarasa put his hope and the equivalent of $40,000 on a small cargo ship heading for a safer country so he could soon bring his family to join him. Without knowledge of the ship’s destination, Nagarasa hoped that wherever it took him he could use his freedom and voice as a journalist to help others around the world. Once he arrived in Canada, he struggled to convince immigration officials to accept him as a refugee. “Canada closed the doors on us,” said Nagarasa. Now, with the arrival of new refugees from Syria, Nagarasa is once again sidelined, waiting to be reunited with his family.

       In Sri Lanka, Nagarasa owned a media agency, Motivation Media Network, and also worked with BBC Radio. Nagarasa was accused of being part of the insurgency against the Sri Lankan government because he is of the Tamil minority. During the mass genocide of the Tamil people, Nagarasa was faced with threatening calls that gave him an ultimatum: to give in to using government propaganda at his agency or sacrifice the safety of himself, his wife and his daughter, who was four at the time. “If I stay here, the threat is not only on me, but on my family,” were the thoughts passing through Nagarasa’s mind the day he cleared his desk and packed away the photograph of his family he had perched on his wooden desk. Feeling helpless, Nagarasa called the number that was given to him on a business card in Thailand, where he first went to seek refugee. It was that phone number that led him to take a small boat out to the rusty Ocean Lady cargo ship which would take him to safety.

On his 45th day at sea, Nagarasa made his way up to the top deck of the ship and smiled at the Canadian flag on the plane overhead. He craned his neck up towards the symbol of hope and waved his hands above his head along with the other men, reaching for help after their long journey. “God had come to save us,” said Nagarasa. The following morning, Nagarasa flickered his eyes open, after his only peaceful night’s sleep aboard the ship, and found himself at gunpoint. “Am I back in Sri Lanka?” he thought to himself. With the hopes of being welcomed into Canada with open arms, Nagarasa feels that since his arrival in Canada, he and his family’s welcome has been delayed.

       Military officers ordered all 76 refugees aboard the ship to exit the boat without their belongings. Nagarasa looked down to his personal items arranged beside the single mattress on the floor, which he shared with two other men. He quickly swooped up his journals, his most valuable asset that accompanied him on his long journey. The two journals, one brown and one blue, were both filled with stories of the bloody genocide in Sri Lanka and Nagarasa’s journey to Canada. Through eight storms that tossed the small ship around the sea, “like a football being tossed around a field,” Nagarasa said he kept his journals in perfect condition.

When Nagarasa stepped foot on the Western Coast of Vancouver on Oct 17, 2009, he along with the other refugees were accused of being terrorists. “Our only crime is that we wanted to live,” says Nagarasa. He was subsequently jailed in Vancouver for 40 days and interrogated for alleged affiliation with a Tamil separatist organization.

After his release, he moved to Toronto and began his application for permanent residency to get the process of his family joining him in Canada underway. Now, in year seven since his arrival in Canada, Nagarasa says he still doesn’t know what’s going on in his application for permanent residency, which will allow him to sponsor his family to join him in Canada. Unlike the current crop of Syrian refugees, some of whom were welcomed by the Prime Minister, Nagarasa is left without answers. The 18-month application turned into a 33-month-long application. Citizenship and Immigration Canada provided no other information as to why there was a delay in his application other than that it was “still in the assessment process.”

       Nancy Caron, a spokesperson for Immigrations, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said that “within the refugee population, no group is prioritized over another.” The 15,000 and counting Syrian refugees already settled in Canada, have government agencies and private organizations aiding them in their settlement process. Francisco Rico-Martinez, co-founder of the FCJ Refugee Centre and a refugee from El Salvador, said the Syrian refugees are “the golden refugees, for good reason.” While there are a lot of people helping them, Rico-Martinez says his organization deals with the “forgotten ones”.

Nagarasa hopes that under the liberal government his application for permanent residency will be approved sooner, rather than later. When he looks at his cellphone displaying an incoming call from his family, he is full of fear that he was unable to bring them to safety soon enough. In his plight to advocate for refugees in similar situations, he stands firm when he says, “justice delayed is justice denied.”

Need Wi-Fi, Will Travel

       His hands hover over his keyboard as if he’s praying to a god. He stares at the sacred results of his Google search that appears on his laptop screen and scrolls through “Things to do in Colombia”. Next to him, the Colombian with a Herculean physique explores his own Instagram feed as he forks a bite of his fluffy pancake doused in maple syrup, the authentic Canadian breakfast provided each morning from the hostel staff. The Googler and the Colombian do not exchange a word or a glance.

At the check-in desk at the Canadiana Backpackers Inn in Toronto, there’s a sign with large boldface letters: ‘INTERNET PASSWORD: canada123’. The first thing travellers are doing when arriving, is logging into Wi-Fi. This is the new connection travellers make; it’s virtual- not with one another.

An Australian steadies her backpack against the wood panel wall and removes her phone from the faded outline it’s left in the back pocket of her jeans; she connects. She doesn’t look at the front-desk staff who is explaining when and where breakfast is served.

The wireless fidelity, abbreviated to Wi-Fi, weaves through the halls of the 1889 Victorian townhouses, intertwining with the ‘80s rock buzzing from the front desk. For $27.44 a night, nomads share dorms, starting and ending the day with strangers. They cook side by side and they sit thigh to thigh on the plump couches. The hostel’s ample communal areas are meant to initiate social interaction, but travellers spend most of their time with their connection to Wi-Fi.

      The owner of the hostel, Chris Morgan, trudges through the hostel’s open door, the thumping of his well-worn hiking boots quieted by the overlaid Persian rugs. His bulging fanny pack pokes out from under his blue and yellow Colombia windbreaker. He retrieves a small bundle of envelops from behind the front desk. His cheeks are still flushed from the chilly October morning as he leaves.

Morgan speaks in fragments, as he explains how he slowly acquired the eight townhomes tucked away on Widmer St. in the entertainment district, the same street where his late-father, John Morgan, had once lived. He is one of Canada’s most prolific comedy writers, most known for as a founder of CBC’s Royal Canadian Air Farce.

Morgan opened the hostel in 1996, after returning to Toronto from an extensive round the world trip. He set to replicate the camaraderie that he clung to during his travels. “With a hostel there is actually a community of people, it’s not just a place to sleep, it’s also a place to meet people,” says Morgan.

Wi-Fi is a fixture in the 16 hostels located in Toronto, all providing free access to wireless Internet to their guests. Before Wi-Fi became a meeting tool for travellers, the weekly pub-crawls and quiz nights led by the hostel were where they would gather.

Canadiana Backpackers Inn obtained Wi-Fi when they first opened 20 years ago. The hostels manager, Sandra Tojeira, says back then, there wasn’t a demand for Wi-Fi.

       “Before it used to be a pen and paper under their door to get in touch, where as now it’s just an impersonal Facebook message,” says Tojeira.

Melanie Chambers, the now 43-year-old travel writer, started travelling in 1996. When it came to breaking the ice, she would always strike up conversation. “Wi-Fi takes away from making face-to-face connections,” says Chambers. She stresses that travellers inevitably feel disconnected from their environment, like they never left home. What exhilarates her is taking herself out of her comfort zone. “It’s the risk that comes with travel… You want it to feel as strange as it can possibly be,” says Chambers.

The German traveller working temporarily at the front desk sinks into the common room couch, relinquishing the last few minutes of his break. A sharp body odour escapes his baggy t-shirt. The brightness of his phone illuminates his face in the dully-lit, musty common room. A life-size wood carved native Indian salutes the hostel guests who are staring at their devices as if it’s their only lifeline. While cruising through people on the Tinder app, his screen displays a photo of a clean-shaven 24 year-old Dutch man. He stops and looks over across the room to the same Dutch man sitting 9ft. away from him. His Beats by Dre headphones attach him to his laptop. The German swipes right on his screen over the man’s photo. A checkmark is promptly replaced by “Match” in Tinder’s signature fiery orange – he’s mastered the game of Where’s Waldo. Instead of going up to the Dutch man, the German fixes his eyes back on Tinder, and continues to swipe: left, left, left, right, left, right… Like fishing with dynamite. Minutes later, the German returns to his post at the front desk without speaking to the Dutch man.


       The Wi-Fi network streams through the hostel, but travellers gather around the three Microsoft desktop computers tucked in a corner. “This is where the connection is strongest”, says the Colombian, tapping away at his phone. A single mother of two yells at the chunky monitor as her allocated Wi-Fi session runs out. Before she can return, a quiet girl wearing her knit sweater inside out is waiting to connect. The Colombian looks over the shoulders of two Russians, carrying on conversation without looking away from their Facebook pages.


Update: Since writing this story, the Canadiana Backpackers Inn has shut down and will be replaced by condos. Although wi-fi has become intrinsic to travel, hostels such as these had a home-y feel and I’m happy to have connected with a few great people during the time I spent there.

Humans of Ryerson 002

Originally published on the Ryersonian

Just a short distance from Yonge Street, one of Toronto’s most well-known streets, lies Ryerson’s main drag, Gould Street. Though it’s commonly used to shuttle between school buildings, Gould is more than just a thoroughfare — it’s a place where passersby pause.

Here are snippets of what people are thinking about this week:


Andrew Watts, First-year, master’s in film and photography preservation and collections managementhumansofryersontwo11finalonline-768x512

“In my final year of my undergrad I was a research assistant for my professor, who was working on a database of amateur films and filmmakers. And that put me in contact with a lot of archives and sort of made me aware of the nature of archival work and the need for archivists to start digitally, or in other ways, preserving films … We also had a collection of 16mm films at the University of Calgary that I did a directed study on … There’s tons of stuff that’s been sitting in archives that hasn’t been put on a digital platform for people to view it … There are jobs out there, it’s not something that I’m concerned about really cause I feel like going to school solely for the prospect of getting a job after is just stupid and defeats the point of education. But I also have student loans to pay off, so obviously getting a job is something that would help … I definitely have ideas. Skateboarding, photography and filming have always, since skateboarding’s conception, been linked in some way, whether it’s documenting it for magazines or creating videos. There’s really not a lot academically written on skateboarding photography or videography so that’s definitely something that I’ve pondered in the past, like is there some way I can do something with this? But that’s like a distant dream sort of thing.”


Amrit Bhandal, Second-year, accounting and finance


“I feel like accounting and finance have more money in it … I wanted to go into fashion at first, I applied to Ryerson’s fashion program too. I got into their communications program, but I didn’t end up going through with it because my mom was like, ‘you’re not going to make any money blah blah blah blah blah’ — you know how parents are.”


Anonymous, Fourth-year, new media


“I was smoking, I didn’t want anyone to catch my second-hand smoke so this is the perfect spot … I suffer from anxiety and depression and it was pretty bad like two years ago. I’m actually doing fine now. People watching is my solution for that I guess, to get used to people … You can see tons of emotions in people’s faces, it’s kind of fun. I can sort of feel what they feel in that moment.”


Orman Forde, Campus custodian


“You get the rough days and you get the smooth days and you just take everything you get … I’ve been here for about 30 years … but don’t worry, I’m close to retirement. I’ll be back and forth between the island and here. I’m from Trinidad & Tobago … I know a lot of people around campus, I have a lot friends. I see the new sets of students come in, study, leave and new ones come in … Life is good, people are good … I don’t like to sit in one place, I like to move, so this is pretty good what I’m doing now all over the campus.”


Ricky Cheung, Alumni, computer sciences 2017


“I’m [on campus] to meet some old friends I recently graduated with … I knew them since first-year university … I miss their company… I would be the person [in our group] that’s level headed, tries to be the right-man. If everyone’s throwing around crazy ideas I’ll be like ‘guys, we kinda need to get this done, let’s not go over the top’… I like to fill the role that no one else is filling, so if we don’t really have a hype person I’ll fill that in … I just like to fill a niche that’s not been taken up or something that’s needed … In my family, I’m the youngest of the youngest … I like to keep quiet, keep my head down. If someone asks me a question, I answer. But I don’t really take the initiative to try and ask them things myself … I wouldn’t interact with my friends the same way I do in front of family because there’s the pressure for my [Chinese] heritage. If you’re the lowest in the family, you’re very polite to your elders, you don’t act up  — you try to not embarrass them essentially. But, with friends, I don’t really have the pressure to act a certain image and I can be whatever I want or however I want according to the situation.”


Julia, Second-year, new media


“I think technology opens up a whole other world to explore. A lot of people say that there’s stuff you can’t make in real life but you can make it real online … Right now I’m thinking a lot about internet security and how much we’re actually showing online. You think you’re just going to a website, but really it’s tracking everything you do … You’ll see ads on the side for shit you already looked up … You’re sharing so much more than you think … People don’t care. Now they have that face scan thing on the new iPhone … What the hell are people going to do with that? I don’t think I’m as paranoid as I should be. Most people should be more concerned with what’s going on … It makes me wonder, too, why don’t I care about it more?”

Humans of Ryerson 001

A series for the Ryersonian:


Amidst the concrete jungle, Ryerson’s Quad is nestled between the Kerr buildings. Whether it’s to get work done, take a nap or a pause between class, the Quad is a respite from the city’s bustle for the #HUMANSOFRYERSON

Here are some snippets of what’s on students’ minds.

Zeinab Fakih, first year bachelor of arts in English


“On Friday, there was that whole pro-choice thing happening … I left class early and me and my friend were like, ‘Hey, let’s see if there’s anything going on on campus before we leave.’ And then we saw a bunch of protesters holding up posters, like “Mind your own fucking body” posters. I walk up to these people and I’m like ‘what’s happening?’ and as someone’s trying to explain, someone else goes in, going off about how [abortion] is against human rights and I’m like ‘No. Ok I’m leaving now, bye.’ ”

Juliene Sobrevilla, second year bachelor of arts in environment and urban sustainability


“[My tattoo] says ‘inspire.’ It’s like two, ‘inspire’ and ‘inspired.’ I did that to inspire others and to remain inspired by others … It’s a beautiful thing to work with other people and interact with them. I work at a community centre … I graduated from college, it was my placement and then they hired me afterwards. Now they just can’t get rid of me … I meet people from all walks of life, from different parts of the world, different ages and different lifestyles. I just think it’s a beautiful thing to be surrounded by such a diverse community. Every day I’m inspired by everybody, and myself even.”

Kathleen Pick, second year bachelor of fine arts in performance dance


“If you’re going for an audition and you spend all of this time training up until this audition, and you have hopes and dreams for this audition to work out, you might walk in and they cut you immediately because you’re too short or you’re too tall. Or ‘oh so, we needed a ballerina and you’re contemporary dancer.’ It would be anything like that and all of a sudden you’re back to square one and that’s hard to handle sometimes. It can be really hard to be turned down for something you can’t change. And it also doesn’t help that you’re literally putting yourself through this over and over, and you love it any way and you can never figure out why. You’re like ‘why do I enjoy this so much?’ being in this pain all of the time  it’s just something you can’t live without. I used to be a competitive dancer and I was always told, ‘why are your shoulders up?’ … One thing that it took me a long time to realize is that it wasn’t always that my shoulders were up, it was that my shoulders are just very broad for my stature. So they tend to look large and so for judges, they don’t tend to see me standing still, they just assume I’m raising them on purpose or by accident and it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing line when that happens. My body is just shaped like that and it was hard to hear and watch the video and be like, no, that’s just my shoulder shape, and that’s how it looks when I do that. Little things like that, it can gnaw away at you sometimes. It took me years to sort of look at it as ‘they don’t think I can do it, because of that I’m going to.’ ”

Emily Wrobel, fourth year bachelor of arts in environment and urban sustainability


“Climate change  It’s a lot of the reason why we’re experiencing these anomalies a lot of the time, these weird weather anomalies that don’t really make any sense. I feel like a few weeks ago, when the hurricanes were happening, people just thought it would be another hurricane. But, the magnitude of them is so strong and the frequency of them is so abnormal too. I think we’re going to see a lot more of that. It’s sad too, because there are so many communities that are prone to it and effected by them. Hurricane Urma was really scary … especially because there are areas that were affected by it that haven’t been affected by a hurricane in so long. Like I think my friend was telling me the other day that Savannah, Georgia got hit. And that’s just like so far north. It’s in Georgia. It’s not in Florida at all, which is strange because they would never usually get hit like that. And also, I know Puerto Rico is doing really poorly as well. They’re not going to have electricity for four months or something. It’s just a whole different reality for people there. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately.”

Daniel Messias, doesn’t even go here


“Just today I was in Loblaws and then walking around I found a chair so I moved it to sit here in the sun.”

Thomas C., exchange student from Paris studying in Ted Rogers Business School

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J’ai pas envie de finir entre quatre mur dans ma vie, j’ai envie de voyager (translation: I don’t want to finish my life within four walls, I want to travel) … I’m doing the finance stuff because I’m working in an apprenticeship in a bank in Paris, so I have to improve my skills. But, I wish I could live in the mountains …There’s a kind of model that is copied in each country, so there’s less and less diversity … Now all of the young people go to H&M so we dress the same, we eat the same, we think the same with the internet and those series like Game of Thrones. There’s a kind of model that is copied in each country, so there’s less and less diversity. And France, particularly after the Second World War, we had a convergence between U.S. model and European model. For me, I think it’s sad, because there is less to discover, less to learn, because you can’t learn from someone who is the same. So for me, from France, Canada is not that much different.”

Influencer marketing trailblazers

How millennials are branding their Instagram profiles to monetize on their follower count


H​er lululemon leggings cling to her stone-like quad muscles as she is captured by Toronto photographer Allie Mavian on an empty street in Toronto’s Liberty Village, just outside Reebok CrossFit Liberty Village. The Canadian Olympic weightlifter, crosses her arms and stares fiercely into the camera lense. Two days later Lahela releases her workout plan and posts the photo on her Instagram account, @isabel.lahela, accompanied by the hashtags #slimthickworkout #stw #liftlikelahela. “I’m trying not to post sexy pictures anymore,” says the personal trainer. As a positive body image advocate, Lahela uses her Instagram profile to promote her “slim thick” workout plan. She says weightlifting and embracing one’s natural curves are what the “slim thick” monthly workout plan is all about. Lahela is trying to rebrand her Instagram account, which has over 106,000 followers, and steer more female followers to her feed. She hopes to leverage the healthy lifestyle she showcases in her Instagram feed to advertise for businesses that complement her personal brand.

In this follower-reliant business venture known as influential marketing, it is paramount that the demographic of followers suits the influencer’s personal brand in order to form business partnerships. With Instagram’s “Insight” update available to business Instagram accounts like Lahela’s, influencers can view these analytics. Lahela’s “Insight” page says 90 per cent of her followers are male, while only 10 per cent of her followers are female. The first big jump in her follower count came after a popular Instagram account called @squat.fitgirls posted a photo of her in a bikini. With this attention, her number of followers jumped within days. However, a male-dominated following, the majority being from Chile, it’s not providing much incentive for companies with female-gendered fitness and lifestyle products to reach out to her to advertise for their brands. Lahela wants to preserve her motives of promoting body positivity with her healthy lifestyle and needs to reach a female demographic to do so. Now the self-made Instagram influencer needs to rebrand her Instagram feed if she wants to preserve her authentic motives or she risks selling-out, that is, promoting products she doesn’t believe in just to make money. She needs to engage more with companies that produce goods directed towards females. With the release of her new workout plan, Lahela says she’s taking her Instagram account more seriously by steering it in a business-oriented direction.

Influencers like Lahela are flooding into Instagram, where companies pay good money for the perfect photo to advertise their products. Behind the smoke and mirrors of curating a compelling Instagram feed are influencers with thousands of followers. The influencers use social media as an “Insta-business,” where a high follower count is the basis of the business. Whether a part-time passion or full-time pursuit, influencers like Lahela are trailblazers who use smartphones to weave Instagram businesses into their daily lives and perpetuate personal brands through instant postings.

S​ince its launch in 2010, millennials have driven and shaped Instagram. TapInfluence, a software company, lays out the tale of influential marketing, starting from the 2009 recession, when millennials began to have more purchasing power than the Baby Boomer generation. In turn, this younger demographic became the primary target market for brands. With technology at millennials’ fingertips and social media platforms fulfilling and maintaining their need to communicate, Instagram became a quick and easy source of influence. On the brand side, certain companies re-envisioned their marketing strategies to adopt this new way of propelling their brand message. Marketing agencies picked up on the influence Instagram had over millennials, which led them to launch campaigns that consist of short-form visual content to gain interest in products. Millennials saw the opportunity to influence their own demographic. They started trends such as selfies, Throwback Thursday and hashtags which gained traction. Millennials became a consumer demographic that valued authenticity and engagement with brands. The next logical step was for millennials to become influencers themselves. From this grew the relationship between brands and influencers to build a mutually beneficial exchange of exposure on behalf of the brand and for monetary compensation to the influencer.

Influencers use the platform to intertwine their various passions into their daily lives to monetize their interests. With smartphones being the co-pilot in these ventures, influencers who categorize their Instagram account as a ‘Business’ have the tool in hand to study metrics and determine instantly each post’s reach. Ash Mollalei, owner of, a space for influencers to connect with brands, says digital marketing needs to be consistent and influencers need to find ways to convey their authenticity to the consumers. is an agency that couples the influencers he manages with brands that have a cohesive message—like a modeling agency but for influencers. “It’s a boutique approach that is more customizable,” says Mollalei.

In an industry that has yet to standardize its business model, influencers look to agencies to handle their contractual agreements and manage their client list. Mollalei says agencies are a way for influencers to assure consistency in rates, and where brands can count on the credibility of the influencer and the delivery of their posts. “Social media is almost as a search engine,” says Mollalei. “Tools are going to emerge where you can better quantify your progress and activity.” What this comes down to is determining credibility solely by raw data quantified by Instagram analytics. Influencers who don’t call themselves a business are more reliant on the in-person engagements and comments as feedback for consumer response.


I​t’s just after 6 p.m. on a Thursday in late October at Blow Fish Restaurant on King Street in Toronto. The last bit of the day’s natural light shines in on the photo shoot in the cocktail bar. Anna Napolitano hovers her Samsung S6 smartphone over four food dishes, which are arranged like a puzzle. The dishes display spicy tuna on crispy sushi rice topped with a jalapeno pepper, spicy tuna with spicy kewpie, pan-searing dumplings with balsamic basil dip and steaming edamame. Four other Toronto influencers arrange eight plates on top of a black coffee table’s oriental designs. Deep house music is the backdrop for the restaurant’s #thirteenthursdays event, engaging customers with after-five drinks and sharable tapas-style Japanese dishes. “Can I get hands?” says the influencer known as @dineandfash. Napolitano grabs a set of black chopsticks and imitates the action of reaching for a piece of spicy tuna. @kristenmcne reaches for her pink-hued cocktail, but once the photo is taken she releases her hand from her cocktail glass and doesn’t take a sip. Napolitano follows suit and sets the chopsticks back on the table. “Never go to an event hungry,” advises Napolitano. Twenty minutes later, the dishes are cold but still enjoyed nonetheless. The number of rock shrimp orders quadruples by the end of the evening, and the bill comes to $500, which is covered by the restaurant’s marketing department. Napolitano’s meticulously curated photo is posted just after nine the next morning with the caption: “Not pictured here are the many portions of Rock Shrimp consumed @blowfishrestaurant.” She receives 500 “likes,” and counting.

Napolitano’s Instagram account evolved naturally. Her knack for finding the best eats in Toronto became an interest of her growing following. During the day, Napolitano is a team leader at Rogers, where she helps provide the right tools for small businesses to run successfully. She dedicates her evenings and weekends to attending influencer events around Toronto. The events are arranged by Dulcedo Management, who works with a collection of individuals—among them influencers, models and celebrities—to introduce to companies for their advertising campaigns. Although Napolitano makes money in influential marketing, she says it’s a personal hobby. She won’t promote something she doesn’t enjoy, and likes to write captions based on something that happened at the event where the photo was snapped. “I love my puns,” she says. “I think they’re hilarious.” Worried about how her Instagram account is perceived, she has yet to make her Instagram account a business account. It would allow her to examine her analytics but she worries that her work will then come across as scripted and disingenuous.

While Napolitano is worried about her credibility, in the United States, the Federal Trades Commission has clamped down on overt paid product placements. They have enforced advertisers to disclose their paid partnerships and endorsements with #ad in their caption. There is no such rigorous monitoring of Canadian accounts, so users are in a grey area. Napolitano says she would love to eventually make the transition to be a full-time influencer. If and when Canadian users are required to use something like the #ad hashtag, she won’t have a choice—she’ll be forced to label her Instagram account a business.

I​t’s starting to get dark out by the time Siffat Haider, known on Instagram as @icingandglitter, enters Sorry coffee shop in Yorkville for the second time on Friday, Nov. 11. The full-time influencer is decked out in a camel coat, the season’s latest trend, topped off with a felt, wide-brimmed hat of a complementary hue of nude. The coffee shop has become one of her many “offices” in the past few months, she said it’s very “instagrammable” with its white marble deco. She orders her routine hot chocolate and chats with the baristas with whom she’s become well acquainted. Once she settles into a modular chair with a low-table she pulls out her business-partner— her iPhone 6, and begins scrolling through her back stock of pictures from her trip to New York City two months earlier. She decides on posting a photo of Happy Bones NYC. It shows a large donut and two cappuccinos. She captions it, “Because I’m craving a donut the size of my face.” As she holds her phone inches from her face, she starts tagging food accounts, among them being @buzzfeedfood and @inspocafe. She slides all of the tags to pile on top of one and other on the top right of the photo, making a cach​é​ of accounts she is trying to get the attention of—a trick of the trade to not coming across as an advertisement to followers and maintain authenticity. She posts the photo just after six o’clock in the evening, which is prime time for user viewership. Over the course of the week it was posted, it raked in just under 2,000 Instagram likes, with 132 comments and counting.

Haider quit a job she loved as a fashion web editorial assistant at Elle Canada to commit full-time to becoming an influencer. Her blog and Instagram account began as a creative outlet, a type of portfolio for her creative work. At first she didn’t realize she could monetize her creative venture, but when her follower count steadily climbed she realized she had the sure opportunity to go into the business full-time. “People have been spit out,” Haider says of influencers she has known to have not been able to maintain their accounts enough to have consistent income. With her boyfriend as her main photographer and coffee shops as her office, she is completely mobile with her business. She currently has over 41,000 followers on Instagram and says her appeal is in her authentic, diverse posts about lifestyle, fashion, food, beauty, Toronto and travel. “I don’t want to pigeonhole myself—it’s part of being entrepreneurial,” she says. With the help of her agency, Shine Influencers, Haider operates as a full-fledged business and gives 20 per cent to her agency for acquiring clients and assuring the contract works for her. “It’s not like a three-year phone contract,” Haider says. She has the ability to make her own creative decisions in curating the advertisements and she consults with her management to firm up the details in contracts. Haider says she couldn’t do it without her management team, especially when there are no standards set.

While the perks of influential marketing may mean freebies galore and attending elite events, exclusive contracts are becoming more prominent in the industry, restricting influencers on the products they consume and the brands they show support for. Influencers may score a great campaign where they make good money, but the exclusive contract keeps them from engaging with brands with similar products, closing out a huge chunk of potential clients and money. Companies such as Tim Hortons are tying influencers to their products exclusively and not allowing them to support competing coffee companies while under contract. Tim Hortons is trying to appeal to millennials with Instagram campaigns showcasing photos of the signature burgundy takeout cup being consumed by twenty-somethings in bed wearing silk pyjamas. In the game of authenticity, this toys with influencers’ ability to remain true to their own preferred brands. They sacrifice some freedom but enter into contractual binds that bring in extra money.

Rays of sunshine light up Baddies Cafe at Bloor and Lansddowne Streets as three female influencers gather for brunch. It’s their version of a weekly boardroom meeting. On this Saturday morning in early November, @food.diva, @icingandglitter and @dialaskitchen are trying out the new café’s creative menu items. Some are adorned with flower petals, others with photo-ready foam art. “You get what you give,” says Haider of her string of friendships she’s forged with other influencers. Being the trailblazers for this industry, they take the opportunity to talk shop about rates and potential clients, forever anticipating where influential marketing will go and how they plan to take it there.

Old Fadama

I felt like I was riding on a horse rather than in a taxi as I made my way on the bumpy road that led to Old Fadama. Stalls lined the streets, where vendors who sold the same product were all clustered together. For several feet, all I could see were onions, piles and piles of them — many were of the same variety, which made me wonder how one could make a living this way.


Old Fadama is Ghana’s most populous slum and the second biggest in West Africa. The shacks are lacking water and proper sanitation, yet nonetheless migrants illegally reside in them and call it home. The air around the slum is dense with toxins from the roughly 20 acre e-waste scrap yard, called Agbogbloshie, which neighbours it. I drove by men burning car tires and in turn creating a thick black smoke which they breath in throughout their days work. To them, this is the fastest and cheapest way to recycle, yet it is also the most harmful to both their health and the environment with its production of high levels of carbon monoxide. Other workers, were perched on pieces of scrap car parts, trying to salvage metal or copper from unusable electronics sent over from richer, Western countries. (Click here for a more in-depth article from the Smithsonian to read up).


What had brought me to this area on this overcast Saturday was not to be poverty stricken, but to recognize a positive step a part of the community had taken. I had gone with New Lens Travel, an immersive culture experience that challenges voluntourism. As a small group, we went to see a group of young people who were forward-thinking and were working to deviate from the stereotypes that often follow the “slum” life. Creative Writers and Young Debaters Club (CREWDEC) is an initiative of youth from 11-17 years old from Old Fadama. They meet every Saturday to discuss and debate the happenings of their community and the issues surrounding life of Ghanaians. After their meetings they write their articles by hand and share the stories with their community as well as with the government to express what needs to be done to improve their quality of life and to end the stigmatization of its people — talk about taking matters into their own hands.

I stepped out of the taxi with my fellow travellers by the sweet potato vendors, which was the closest landmark to the doorless brick building where CREWDEC met. We navigated around the stalls to the building and sat around chairs where I proceeded to listen to conversation about political issues in the area. Timothy, a teacher and journalist based in Accra, led the discussion. Although I had barely any context for what I was hearing, I was taken aback by how opinionated and passionate these young people were about issues that were larger then them and that would undoubtably affect their lives and the lives of those around him. What I learned is the importance of having these conversations, in order to breed smarter and more conscious adults who will become the foundation for their community in the years to come.

Later, I snuck off to the top of the open-roof building with my dear adventurer, David Venn, and took photos of the market. From above, the fluidity of movement down below was mesmerizing— a hustle like no other.      `




Auntie Jemimah
During my time in Ghana, I mainly saw women and children who were “head porters.” Hours on end, wether it was to sell their product or transport them, they mastered the act of balance to earn their living— the physics behind this is beyond my comprehension.



Sweet Potato delivery
Mamma doing double-duty.


The men of CREWDEC.