Portrait by Taran Wilkhu
Female Narratives is creative agency and collective of 100 creative women globally, telling authentic stories in innovative ways for partners across fashion, beauty, music, film, wellness, tech, food and philanthropy.
Interviewed via email, January 2019
Tijana: We create campaigns for brands using our collective of female freelancers; writers, stylists, photographers and more. We foster the community by hosting regular events where members can interact, support each other and initiate cross-collaboration on personal projects.
Some of our members are signed to other agencies (modelling, photography, directing), but we offer a space for them to put themselves forward as multifaceted creatives – a set-up we’d wanted for ourselves but that didn’t exist.
Franzi: We started with a founders’ dinner of 21 women who all knew us but maybe not each other. It was pure magic when the girls realised how much room there was to collaborate and support each other and how like-minded they were. Since then, we’ve grown to 100 women but it still feels like a sisterhood. Within the network, girls are free to contact us at any time and we’ll intro them to anyone who could help them.
North Face campaign
Franzi: A recent project was the #beemindfull campaign for social/dating app Bumble, for World Mental Health Day in October. We produced a film of eight incredible women from CEOs to activists speaking about their personal experiences of overcoming failure. On the day itself we used our entire community to maximise involvement via social media. Watch here
For our North Face campaign we created a localised version of a global campaign called #shemovesmoutains for London. They needed an agency with a strong female community that knew a lot of rising talent, who could execute a shoot day and create a coffee table book of black and white portraits of inspirational women. See more here
Tijana: We’re not an ‘influencer agency’ – our selling point is not, and won’t ever be, how many likes or followers we can get you, we never do #ad promotions. I find the future of that model massively questionable, so we focus on creating content so good it’s shared organically and rarely guarantee social outcomes. Despite this, our social figures often exceed expectations.
We recruit new members regardless of follower numbers, based on their work, clients and passion. If their feed shows that, it’s helpful but not the deciding factor.
At first I thought no one would notice us without 10K followers, but right from the jump brands contacted us via Instagram. It could be because we post original content from our projects rather than just re-purposed images – and because we’ve worked continuously for two years. Similar collectives/agencies have emerged but not lasted, or been much more than an Instagram account. Brands today are actively looking for new solutions; traditional ad agencies are too expensive for most start-ups and using a consultant often isn’t enough. We offer a potentially affordable new way.
Franzi: We’re both models with a total of 17 years’ experience combined. I also have a background in production as my family ran festivals in Germany and Tijana has worked in press and communications at magazines, publishing companies and the Olympics.
Tijana: I used to want to work for a big company, a household name. But, after a series of internships and grad jobs, I grew disillusioned with the painfully slow progress up the hierarchy towards a creative and interesting role. Even when I was 17 I’d look at the top person and think, ; ‘I can do that. That’s not that hard.’
When I worked at smaller companies I found that my drive and determination meant I was the hardest worker, staying the latest and putting my reputation on the line for someone else’s dream, which made me feel I lacked agency.
Franzi: I wanted to freelance in production while modelling, but the last-minute casting system made scheduling near impossible. I could have worked weekends but there weren’t any companies willing to take me on and give me responsibility on those terms. So I started producing small things myself with other freelancers.
Tijana: The idea for a creative agency telling true stories had been pulsing through my mind since living briefly in LA in 2014. The exact moment I had the idea was October 2016. I’d left New York after a series of terrible events, feeling like the world I’d built was crashing down. I moved back in with my parents in London; a real low point.
Feeling so down, I figured that the only direction was up, and vowed not to leave my room until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I’d met Franzi earlier that year and we’d clicked talking about wanting to freelance while modelling. I went to Franzi’s house and we talked for hours, strategizing about the idea of a creative collective. We decided to write down all the name of creatives we would love to work with – we wrote separate lists and then swapped them. We had both listed only women. That was exactly the piece that was missing. Female Narratives was born five minutes later.
Franzi: we did two very small projects at first, putting shoots together for brands we already knew, our founders’ dinner, which we called A Seat At The Table (after the Solange song), in February 2017. When lots of the girls started to put ‘Member of @femalenarratives’ in their Instagram bios that’s when we knew that FN had grown to be bigger than us.
Franzi: We recruit girls we think are really awesome, while other girls reach out to us. The deciding factor is whether we can envision projects that we can work on together.
Clients come via contacts, recommendations and our special technique of hosting events or talks where we invite CMOs or founders of companies we want to work with to attend or speak. This gives them a little insight into our world without any commitment, if they like what they see, then they’re more likely to work with us.
Photo by Manon Ouimet
What we’ve learned
Tijana: Having two careers means the concept of a ‘work-life-balance’ is a myth to me. My work IS my life and I’m happy this way because it’s my company and all my passions combined. But it’s impossible to draw a line between work and play. Franzi and I even go on holiday together! Sometimes we’ll be partying after midnight and she’ll ask me about a work e-mail she wants to send in the morning and I’ll have to say: ‘not now!’
Franzi: Or the time we signed a big project, then both went to Burning Man Festival for a week with no phones. When we resurfaced we were inundated with e-mails and spent a week in LA waking up at 5am to be vaguely on London time and working non-stop until dinner. We didn’t make it to the beach once!
Tijana: We then flew back to London, practically went directly to set and worked 14 hour days for two days. Once it was all over I slept for 16 hours straight!
Tijana: Another lesson is to be flexible. At first I wanted to grow the collective to be as big as possible, but after being inundated with requests to join we had to pivot from that vision; 100 members works well so there are no plans to grow for now. I like knowing all the women personally and maintaining regular contact – this would be impossible with many more.
Tijana: For anyone considering starting something, I’d tell them; don’t let your ego ruin things. You might have an absolutely awesome idea, but you don’t know if its viable until you share it with people. Your ego might step in and say “I don’t care what other people think, this is a great idea!” which can be dangerous. Fine for avant-garde artists but if you want people to buy your product you need other people to like it! Shift your idea until you get to a place where you’re happy but your community is also cheering you on.
We had a general idea of what FN was, but there was so much fine tuning. We spent weeks pitching and getting feedback from friends and mentors and there were plenty of times I had to stop myself over-pitching and really listen to people’s concerns. It meant that we got something that we haven’t had to change at all since we started it.