Kenza: "I’ve found real comfort and happiness in making others feel good. If I can make someone else feel even a little bit better by taking my time to listen then I feel like I’ve made an impact on them"
Alice Gee | 18/07/2022
Kenza Boutrif is being hotly tipped as the “one to watch” in the fashion industry after signing to Storm Model Management and securing a contract with ASOS as the face of their Must Haves edit. The half Algerian, half Congolese social media star is ready to take on the world post-lockdown and sat down with HATC to talk all about moving to the UK and getting discovered, her struggles with mental illness and her goals for the future.
HATC: You moved to the UK from Belgium at only 6 years old, that’s such a big move when you’re still a kid. Do you remember much about it?
Kenza: I remember it quite vividly. It was such an important part of my life that has built me into who I am today. Your childhood shapes who you are as an adult, and I do think moving, that trauma from my childhood still affects me today. It made me a little bit more dethatched and often feeling like I’m going to lose people. I’ve brought that into my adulthood which is not completely a positive trait, but I’m working through it as I want to be more connected to people.
When I moved here, I didn’t speak one word of English, I was in a school full of children, and couldn’t speak to them. I was alienated, I didn’t have any friends, but because of this experience I’ve gotten very comfortable kind of being anywhere. I can just walk into any room and feel comfortable and confident that I can handle it.
HATC: That’s an incredible skill to have, especially at 20 when most people our age don’t feel comfortable, feel out of their depth. How long did it take you to learn English?
Kenza: About three months
HATC: Oh my god, that’s incredible
Kenza: I still have quite a strong French accent, but I learnt quite quick because I really had to adapt, I didn’t really have a choice. It was quite difficult because my mum didn’t speak English either, so that was almost an invisible pressure, I had to learn so that I could help her as well. If we had any issues at home, I would have to go into the council with my mum and essentially be her translator.
HATC: When did you decide to start getting involved with influencing and modelling?
Kenza: I built my platform on Instagram when I was 13 years old. At that time influencing was this new, exciting thing going on and I jumped onto it and was really active. I was posting pictures all the time and got my first 100,000 likes in around two weeks, hit 100,000 followers by the time I was 15 and had my first brand deal and paycheck when I was in year 11. I took it very seriously, every opportunity I jumped for. But it was much easier back then because of the algorithms which have changed so much now.
HATC: You started a YouTube channel recently, why did you decide to explore that platform?
Kenza: I only really started uploading regularly in the past five or so months. I think it’s a great way to connect with people through it, I can do travel logs or longer sit-down videos and people get to see me a bit more in-depth. I get to share my experiences on a much broader platform and people get to see s different side of me, it’s nice for them [my followers] to get to know me on a personal level.
HATC: You must have been very business savvy to be able to figure all that out at such a young age?
Kenza: Yeah, you need to have some sort of business mind because you need to be able to convert your numbers when working with brands and turn them into a business that generates real income you can then sustain. That’s the hard part, that’s the part not spoken about enough. Because you can have a good month, and then a slow month so if you don’t put yourself out there and reach out to brands and figure out a way of making that business carry on running, you’re not going to have any stability.
That is an ongoing pressure to maintain it, because it is a career where it can go as quickly as it came, but if I’m being honest, I see it more like a challenge. I enjoy feeling creative, switching things up and trying new things. That aspect of the job keeps me going, it’s not just me sharing my clothes and hair because I like it, but because it pushes me to change, evolve and grow into bigger things it pushes me to change, evolve and grow into bigger things.
HATC: There is definitely an assumption that influencing is an easy job and you receive a lot of benefits for very little work, do you get that reaction from a lot of people?
Kenza: I would say, I do feel very privileged and lucky to be in this position, but there is a lot of work behind it that people don’t see. Every job has its pros and cons, and with this type of work you only see the pros, but I do feel like there are more cons. There’s no off button, there’s not a huge amount of stability and it can be tough on your personal relationships. It can take a toll mentally, because you can’t just clock off at the end of the day and go home because how do you clock out off your brand, how do you switch yourself off from your own business. It’s quite challenging.
HATC: How do you balance that? Have you found a way to maintain some of that privacy and not feel so hard on yourself?
Kenza: If I’m in a good mental state, then I can manage everything quite well but being in that positive headspace isn’t always possible. So, say you’re having a really good work month, but then something happens in your family or personal life, then it makes that next month difficult as you feel like you must be active in your work. That’s the tricky part of it.
HATC: Have you had difficulties in the past dealing with poor mental health then?
Kenza: I have done, the hardest times have been when I’ve fallen into depression and anxiety as it feels like they can knock against each other, but I’ve come to terms with how to deal with it. I can confidently say I know how to handle my issue now. It’s been an ongoing battle, but I see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Not every aspect of your life, your relationships with family and friends, your work or love life can be perfect, but there is always going to be someone who loves you. But people can’t help you if you’re not open about your feelings. When I was struggling with depression, even though my mum is my rock and always has my back, I didn’t know how to speak about these things with her, when I eventually did, I just completely broke down. After I did, I felt liberated and now I can speak about it to anyone, it’s like using my old weaknesses as my current strengths.
It’s important to remember to be kind. I’m always aware that I don’t know how others feel even when they are sitting right in front of me, so I’m cautious of making a passing comment that can contribute to them feeling bad about themselves because I know it can create this knock-on effect. I know how that can affect someone, how it really sticks, and you get engulfed in other people’s words. I feel so blessed to have my mum, but I’m extremely aware that many people don’t have family or close friendships like mine. It’s made me want to be that person for others, to try my best to help people even if its someone I don’t know.
HATC: Speaking about the perks of your career, you get to travel an awful lot. Is that something you enjoy?
Kenza: Yeah, for sure. But I have noticed that I’m far more focused when I’m in one place, my work flows much better when I’m settled for a couple of months rather than travelling all the time. I can become distracted and struggle to meet deadlines, so I’ve started to be a bit more strategic, stay at home and be fully focused for a few months then tell my agents I want to go travelling for a month or two after that and do a little less work.
I think people assume content creation is quick. But there’s so many things behind the scenes like admin, editing, researching briefs etc. You need to know how to speak to brands, negotiate, conduct business. You’re basically self-employed so you also have to become quite savvy with taxes or you’ll get into a lot of trouble.
There’s a whole other side to this job that people don’t fully see, you need to have all these other skills, it’s so much more than just taking pictures.
HATC: You said you love that being an influencer encourages you to evolve and grow. What do you have planned for the near future, any exciting projects you are working on?
Kenza: I’m launching my own NFT collection soon which is exciting. I’m looking forward to it because it’s this whole new world that I’m getting to dive into.
HATC: Before we go, what are some of your go-to methods to help when you’re struggling. What keeps you grounded and happy?
Kenza: I’ve found real comfort and happiness in making others feel good. If I can make someone else feel even a little bit better by taking my time to listen then I feel like I’ve made an impact on them, and that helps make me feel better too.
Words: Jade Poulters