Through TikTok, anything is possible!
That’s certainly true for my friend Anna Molinari of Instinct Brand. We sat down to chat about her sustainable fashion brand, going viral on TikTok, and getting a collection in New York Fashion Week (NYFW).
Anna has amassed almost 150,000 followers on TikTok from posting about how she creates her sustainable clothing line out of trash like plastic and Juul pods, while also preparing for her first NYFW in February. We discussed how she created Instinct Brand, her TikTok-famous Met Gala newspaper dress, and how a DM on Instagram led to getting her first collection in NYFW.
Q: When did you start Instinct Brand, and how did you come up with the name?
A: I actually started Instinct Brand in high school, and I was only selling jewelry that I was making. People in high school called me “Annamol” (like animal) because my name is Anna Molinari. So from there, I thought of the name Animal Instinct, which is what it was originally called.
When I got to college, I started upcycling tailgate clothes. I would buy t-shirts at local thrift stores and then resell them. I thought, because I already have this name, I should roll with it. So, I changed it to Instinct Brand because with the way fashion is going, I think it should be instinctual for consumers to choose sustainable clothing options.
I also started experimenting with unconventional materials like Juul pods and plastic, and I even have a piece made of cigarettes. It was really during quarantine that I wanted to make actual wearable clothes that were made out of trash. I continued doing the upcycling, but the designs were a little more advanced. From there, Instinct Brand turned into this streetwear brand that uses 90% recycled materials for the clothing.
With the upcoming show, I’m basically going to relaunch it as a real streetwear brand. I don’t want it to look like it’s made in my bedroom, even though it actually is. That’s going to entail using much more actual trash in my designs and making that trash wearable. I want to make it something that’s not just sculptural, which is what a lot of trash fashions are. They’re only for a runway show or a museum.
Would you say that your mission is to be a fully sustainable brand?
Yeah, the mission is to be fully sustainable. I’m at about 90 percent sustainable now. If I could get to 100 percent, that would be awesome. Another big thing for me is just raising awareness. That’s where my social media comes in hand and has really helped inspire others and let others know about the changes that need to be made in the fashion industry.
Speaking of social media, when did you start to blow up on TikTok?
When I first downloaded TikTok, I think it was the spring of 2020. First, I just posted some videos of shirts I upcycled in the past. In the second video that I posted, I was about to go on a date and I didn’t know what to wear. I ended up taking a bunch of scraps and turning them into a dress.
That was my first video that ended up getting a lot of views; I think it was like 200,000. The third video I posted was of all the clothes I had made out of trash, including a toothpick necklace, a straw dress, and a Juul pod corset. That one blew up and got 1 million views in two days. Right off the bat, I got 10,000 followers from those videos. Since then, there’s been steady growth with a viral video here and there. With the nature of TikTok, only some of them really go around. Something I do want to get better about is posting more consistently.
Did you have any sort of strategy going into posting content on TikTok?
I didn’t have any strategy. I just wanted to share what I was doing. Since school basically got canceled from COVID, no one was able to see the collection that I had made that year. I wanted to find a way that I could reach people with my work. Every time I wanted to make something, I would post videos of it. I think the more videos you post, the better. I do find with TikTok that if your video shares a story and is more compelling than something that’s like “look what I just made,” it gets a lot more views.
Did you do anything your senior year to show off your collection?
Yes, I thought if the school wasn’t going to do anything for us, I would do something. I found a photographer and some models who were willing to shoot. We went to an abandoned casino parking lot and I marked off basically a virtual runway. I made a TikTok about that experience, and that was my most viral video at the time.
I think it got around 2 or 3 million views. It’s crazy thinking about that, because if school wasn’t canceled, and we had our little showcase at Syracuse, maybe 100 people would have seen this collection. But because of TikTok and the virality of it, 2 million people got to see what I was doing. That’s when I really was like, ok, I need to start posting everything I’m doing on TikTok to keep gaining this really supportive following.
Can you tell me about the newspaper dress you made that went viral?
I made the newspaper dress in 2021. It was after a year of bad, bad COVID when the vaccine first started to be administered. There had been an entire year of chaos in this country from all of the protests, the BLM movement, when the capitol building got stormed, the election, and there were so many shootings. I feel like people were just like “Yay. I’m going to get the vaccine and then I’m going to party and it’s going to be the roaring 20s again.” I just remember thinking, “This is messed up. There are so many messed up things going on right now, and I don’t want people to forget.”
So, I collected newspapers from March of 2020 to March 2021 and I constructed this dress. While I was constructing it, I basically papier-mâchéd and curated the articles and placed them all over the dress. I posted a video of it in April 2021, the same week I got my first vaccine, and no one saw it. During the summer of 2021, I went home to Rhode Island, where the dress was, and that was right around the Met Gala. The theme was literally Americana, so I posted another video of the dress, and that really blew up.
I think it was the timing of it. With my designs, it’s so much more fulfilling when they say something and it means something to people.
How did you get approached to have a collection in fashion week?
I got an Instagram DM, and I didn’t see it for a couple of weeks. I finally opened it and it was from a production company, and they told me they do New York Fashion Week. They asked if I was interested in doing the New York one, so I gave them my number and they called me the next day. They said they have this runway that showcases emerging fashion designers, and they said they came across my Instagram and they felt like they were missing a sustainable fashion brand and that I would be a great fit.
Also, they told me that they needed to know if I was going to do it by that night. I had done no research on it; I didn’t even know if it was legit. But, I said yes anyway. It’s going to air on Amazon Fire TV, and there’s going to be a live audience, which is actually sold out. The show wasn’t sold out until I posted about my collection and it went viral.
I started getting comments, Instagram DMs, and emails from people saying the show was sold out and asking if I was going to drop more tickets. It’s just crazy to me that I have a following who cares so much about what I’m doing. It’s so crazy to look at that number and think there are 150,000 people who actually care what I’m doing and are inspired by or interested in what I’m making. That’s why I feel so much more compelled to make clothes that say something.
How has working on your collection, making TikToks, working full time, and balancing a social life been?
This is the hard part. I basically drew a line after New Year’s, and I told myself I can’t do anything social until mid-February after the show is over. It’s hard because I work from around 9am to 7pm, and when I come home from work I sew. When I’m at work, I have to be worrying about those things there, and I can’t think about what I’m doing at home. That’s also really hard, and I know that this definitely can’t be a long-term dynamic. Hopefully, I can get my brand to a point where it’s sustainable enough to keep me afloat.