emma chamberlain & the business of being relatable
“mom, I am a rich man"
You are cordially invited to this week’s brew of High Tea, your dispatch of 🔥 internet culture served piping hot. This week: the self-made millionaire who has content, creatorship and company building in the (coffee) bag at 19.
Drink up! 🐸☕
p.s. if you’re not a paid subscriber, here’s what you missed from this week’s Bucks Fizz: our Thursday dispatch covering the best of TikTok’s unsigned and emerging talent.
Emma Chamberlain. That’s the tweet. If you’re looking for the Gen Z it girl to rival all it girls, then look no further. You’ve made it, you’re home. From launching her YouTube channel in 2017, to being awarded the Streamy for Breakout Creator in 2018 and earning a place on TIME 100 Next List in 2019, Emma’s trajectory from San Fran DIY high schooler to “the most talked-about teen influencer in the world” has been nothing short of extraordinary.
This week, Emma hit the milestone of 10 million subscribers on YouTube, after *checks notes* just shy of 4 years on the platform. So, how did we get here?
▶️ 10 million subscribers (1.35B views)
🎥 9.7 million TikTok followers (298.3M likes)
📸 12.5 million Instagram followers
🎙️ Podcast queen: Stupid Genius 👉 Anything Goes (Shorty Award for “Best Podcaster”)
☕ Business empire: Chamberlain Coffee
2017: the “how to” Pinterest era
On June 2 2017, 3 weeks after her 16th birthday, Emma Chamberlain uploaded her first YouTube video. These early videos, posted on a schedule of almost daily uploads, include the epitome of mundane West Coast teenage experience; thrift hauls, DIY Pinterest tutorials, Target vlogs and the well trodden path of the “day in the life” genre. Videos titled “first time driving alone”, “what I eat in a day” and “summer essentials 2017” established Emma’s early content calendar as one filled with nothing more than a teenage gal sharing her life with the internet.
It’s hard to divorce “the internet” from Emma’s current audience of 10 million eagle-eyed viewers, but let it be known that after a month of consistent uploads, Emma Chamberlain had 80 subscribers. Nevertheless, she persisted 👇
The last line of Emma’s video description for her “What’s the Best AFFORDABLE Vlogging Camera??” video, uploaded July 1 2017
By the end of July, Emma went viral for the first time with “we all owe the dollar store an apology”, which took her from 4,000 subscribers to 150,000 in the space of the month. One hit wonder? Think again. Turns out this growth pattern would continue, with ~100K new subscribers a month until Emma hit one million in April 2018. But hang on, we ain’t done with 2017 just yet.
Emma’s freshman year on YouTube was also one that introduced us to her signature coffee obsession with “EMMA’S LEGENDARY COFFEE RECIPE” in August 2017 – a theme that would become a staple feature of her vlogs (more on this later 🐸☕️). While Emma continued to find her content rhythm throughout the summer, there was one consistent narrative front and centre in her uploads: self deprecation (aka the cornerstone of Gen Z relatability). And so, Emma Chamberlain the brand was born.
2018: the Emma Chamberlain YouTube takeover
“My school was like, ‘You are going to be a failure.’ And I was like, ‘Watch. We'll see.’" – Emma Chamberlain, High Snobiety
After closing out 2017 by dropping out of high school, and with a first collab under her belt (Cody Ko, for the record), Emma was officially a full time YouTuber at 16. And if we’re talking about leveling up, 2018 was Emma’s year. This was the era that anticipated the 2019 takeover of the VSCO girl; messy buns, carmex and iced coffee in mason jars. Yeah, Emma really pioneered a style that would dominate mainstream culture for an entire year to follow. The content of this era was marked by Emma’s signature white captions (Arial font in white, iykyk) and the invention of “me editing:” clips, interrupting the action of the vlog with key moments of first person narration and self reflection from Emma, often editing from bed at 5am.
This era was defined by Emma letting us into the entire process surrounding her content and its creation. It was chaotic, messy and a million miles away from the high production quality of other YouTubers seeking to mimic studio formats. From repurposing the exhausted Q&A format into a car mukbang with “let’s eat burritos and chat”, to “the truth about coachella (everyone else is lying to you)”, where by day 3 she declares “my body has been in excruciating pain the whole time”, is a marked departure from the YouTube elite and their cookie cutter edits.
Mid April, when Emma hit one million subscribers (just 10 months after her first upload), she thanked her fans for sticking by her, at a moment that some viewed as a turning point in her career: “it’s always going to be me with my coffee, it’s always going to be me in the car, it’s always going to be me doing me”.
“When I first started my channel I literally did it because I was sad and had no friends...now I feel like I have a bunch of friends”
Through vlogs detailing all nighters filled with iced coffee and editing, photoshoots featuring “mental breakdowns” and “what really goes through a 17 year olds head (while in bed?)”, Emma Chamberlain turned relatability into a business model.
“I’m here today with my daughter Emma Chamberlain...I just want you to meet her and be obsessed with her” – Tana Mongeau, 2018
By May 2018, Emma was collabing with Tana Mongeau at Playlist, sarcastically shooting the shit about high fashion (“yeah...I know high brands”) and the Dolan twins (“I was a Dolan stan...they’re just too hot for me”). By August, after her move to LA, Emma was in a collective with the Dolan twins (10.6M subscribers) and James Charles (25.6M subscribers). By summer 2019, Emma was getting papped by the Hollywood Fix on her “relationship with Ethan Dolan”. As for “high brands”, well Louis Vuitton and Paris Fashion Week have something to say about that. Manifestation? Emma was the blueprint.
Emma’s most watched vlogs of all time, featuring 2018’s Sister Squad – James Charles, Ethan and Grayson Dolan
As for subscribers, brace yourselves:
👉 April 2018: 1 million
👉 June 2018: 2 million
👉 July 2018: 3 million
👉 August 2018: 4 million
👉 October 2018: 5 million
👉 December 2018: 6 million
2019: from VSCO girl to Louis Vuitton
Emma’s 2019...okay where do we start? First came the collab with High Tea fave JoJo Siwa (12.2M subscribers), swiftly followed by getting shipped off to Paris Fashion Week in March by Louis Vuitton (“this sounds like it’s a joke”). Of course, Emma starts the Paris vlog with “let’s make a coffee and discuss what’s going on today”, as she prepares to get flown round the world to rub shoulders with Karlie Kloss. bUt fAmE cHaNgEd hEr. We think not.
In June, W Magazine named Emma “the most interesting girl on YouTube”. A month later, The New York Times declared that Emma Chamberlain was “the funniest person on YouTube”. If that wasn’t enough, in the same month TIME named Emma one of the “25 most influential people on the internet”. By October, Emma was back in Paris (“i don't know how i keep getting invited to these things but i am so grateful”) courtesy, once again, of Louis Vuitton.
"Chamberlain pioneered an approach to vlogging that shook up YouTube's unofficial style guide” – TIME
Of course, it would be remiss of us not to dive into some of the incredible partnership$ that set the course for her global takeover. 2019 was experimental for Emma, with the launch of her infamous Snap creator show: Adulting; the sunglasses collection with Crapeyewear; the #MyCalvins campaign and ofc, the infamous Target collab with Gen Z favorite, The Office’s Angela Kinsey, aka Angela Martin (generating 27M views for Target 👀).
A year after being named Breakout Creator at the Streamys, Emma was crowned 2019’s Creator of the Year. What a wild 12 months, right? But wait, we ain’t finished. Emma had one more surprise in store for us before the year was out: Chamberlain Coffee. Grab your mug, we’re diving in 👇
Emma Chamberlain: the mogul
Now High Tea pals, it hasn’t escaped our notice that the internet has been brimming with the busine$$ bops of Gen Z blokes of late, specifically TikTok’s Josh Richards, Griffin Johnson and Noah Beck as they launch their newest venture fund, Animal Capital and Jake Paul’s launch of The Anti Fund, the self-proclaimed ‘piggy bank for unicorn companies.’ We’re here to tell you that despite the lack of attention for her pivotal milestone this week (10M for a YT, no Vanity Fair article out) Emma is making the $ moves too, $8M in 2020 to be exact (according to Celebrity Net Worth). Scaling independently, away from the constraints of big brands and VC’s managing partners, Emma Chamberlain is quietly building one of the biggest creator businesses: primed for longevity, free from scandal and, ofc, infinitely caffeinated. Oh pals, you are in for a treat.
☕️ 2020: the (coffee) grounds for success
It was early 2020 when Emma was named “the most popular girl in the world” by Cosmopolitan and shortly broke the internet with the magazine’s February cover (honestly, we don’t think we’ll ever recover). Lest we forget, it was also at this point she was earning up to $2M a year from her YouTube alone (according to Social Blade) and coupled with the brand deals and her own ventures, Emma Chamberlain ~the brand~ was a multi-million dollar business in its own right. Coffee was not only a major part of her video content, it was an extension of her brand.
Capitalizing on coffee meant she could also provide an incredible touch point with fans who wanted to buy into (literally) her way of seeing the world. Forget merch lines (the dad caps and the branded sweaters – altho she does have those too 💅), Chamberlain Coffee is a vibe manifestation of her authentic Sunday vids that tangibly percolates beyond the confines of YouTube or IG to cement her status in the IRL.
It’s no surprise that Google search term interest for Chamberlain Coffee is highest after she posts a vlog on Sunday, with 75% of social traffic to the chamberlaincoffee.com site coming directly from her YouTube channel compared to the 19% from her IG. Coffee is not just an #aesthetic, it’s a collective action that helps us celebrate the mundane and enjoy the small things during quarantine.
Announcing its launch in December 2019 via a YouTube vid (ofc, what else), in which she says: “this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done because if you know me, you know I’ve been passionate about coffee forever”, the Chamberlain Coffee line started off with Emma’s steeped coffee bags (a staple in her vids) perfect for cold brew in her signature iced coffee. Fast forward to less than a year later, and we got what we’ve all been waiting for: an entirely re-branded Chamberlain Coffee with both ground and whole bean preparation options to brew the perfect cup.
Now if you’re reading this thinking, it’s a coffee brand – so what? We’ll have to stop you right there. Do you think Starbucks would ever have its Gen Z sippers flaunting its temporary tattoos? That’s right, we didn’t think so.
2021: our lockdown queen
“here’s me doing boring stuff and filming it lol” – Emma, on her YouTube channel
Quarantine brought new challenges for many YouTube influencers with new imposed limits to content creation meaning no influencer collabs allowed 🙅♀️. Ofc, there were many that flunked this rule due to relying heavily on shared social capital of others for their clout (*cough* James Charles *cough* Sway Boys *cough*). But Emma doesn’t need such gimmicks. YouTuber Bretman Rock said it best: “If you need costars, you’re not the star” and for Emma, lockdown allowed her to make the easiest transition back to her solo creator roots. What does this mean? One word: vlogging. And it’s really working in her favour.
“As I get older, I feel like hanging out with people is less efficient. It’s harder for me to justify doing pointless things with people. It's weird. It's kind of a waste of time.”
“But even by herself, she’s constantly aware of the outside gaze: Any time she applies makeup, makes a smoothie, tries clothes on, she knows she could be putting it to camera and turning it into clicks. “There is that pressure where you're like, ‘Okay, I have no excuse not to be filming everything I'm doing,” she says.” – Emma Chamberlain, High Snobiety
Authenticity = creating content that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. Emma is at home all day like the majority of the world and she doesn’t feign otherwise. Instead, she invites us to share in our collective boredom and find happiness in the at home routine. What does this look like? Two words: skincare and caffeine. Chamberlain Coffee features in every vlog with Bad Habit Beauty a close second. Emma is not only Bad Habit’s ambassador but also the brand’s Creative Director. She calls the shots. She writes the checks.
There’s a theme here folks and it’s ownership and control. We saw it with Addison Rae (cc: the unstoppable Addison Rae) launching her music career without a label, we saw it with Charli D’Amelio investing in Step and we’re seeing it with Emma and Chamberlain Coffee and Bad Habit.
Our TL;DR? Sleep on Gen Z *women* creators at your peril. They’re making $$$ moves, pioneering new editing styles, reaching millions of followers and quietly building their own multi-million dollar empires – no LP required.
Okay, you made it, now you can get back to ordering a fresh batch of Chamberlain Coffee. ☕️