Why This Girl Gang Is Ruling Social Media
Instagram account @BrownGirlGang has become a game changer in showcasing the talent of South Asian women on social media. From beauty influencers @rowisingh, disc jockeys @staraworld, fashionistas @maryamishah, to models @mishti.rahman, or writers like @rupikaur_, BrownGirlGang displays the creative ways gals are fusing traditional "brown" elements of South Asian culture with contemporary perspectives. With over 12.5K followers and counting, BGG founder Sanjana Nagesh discusses her need to highlight diversity in mainstream media and to inspire others to blur cultural boundaries.
Tell us a little about yourself, Brown Girl Gang and why this venture is so important in today’s social media landscape.
Hey! I’m Sanjana and I’m a Marketing Assistant at Showpo, student at UNSW and the creator of the blog BrownGirlGang. BrownGirlGang was born in March 2017 out of a series of procrastinating events.
One morning I found myself scrolling through Instagram for a few hours (instead of studying for my upcoming university exams whoops) and was in awe of the talent amongst South Asian influencers.
Women from all areas of life - startups, music, art, fashion, sport, social impact and more - were finding the most creative ways to fuse traditional "brown" elements of South Asian culture with contemporary perspectives.
My family moved to Australia in the early 90s and I was born here soon after, so being Indian-Australian is a huge part of my identity. It was so empowering to finally discover content fusing multiple cultures that I found myself wanting to learn more about each girl and the story behind her work. Thus, BrownGirlGang was created! A space to collate and feature inspiring & badass brown girls around the world.
What do you hope to achieve with BGG?
BrownGirlGang aims is to put South Asian women on the map! If you look at mainstream media, in most industries you’ll only find a handful of women of colour representing a much larger population. Whilst we love people like Mindy Kaling, it would be amazing to see more women like her shine on a global scale. Ultimately, BrownGirlGang hopes to inspire others to blur cultural boundaries and remember; you will never influence the world by being just like it.
What was your AHA! moment when you knew you wanted to create BGG?
Haha funnily enough I had no intention of creating such a widespread collective - it all happened almost by accident! When coming across all the incredible women on Instagram I thought to myself, “It’s such a shame these are all so scattered, I wish I could find them all in one place. Like a ‘girl gang’, or more specifically, like a ‘brown girl gang’.”
This handle seemed so straightforward to me that I assumed it was already taken on Instagram. However when I searched for it I saw the “no results found” notification and decided to make it straight away! By the end of the day I’d started haphazardly regramming different women and it all snowballed from there.
Who have you worked with in BGG that you had an OMG moment about?
I think the most surreal moment was when Poorna Bell (author/journalist/ex editor in chief at HuffPost UK) interviewed me for an article in The Guardian international newspaper. I was lucky enough to be interviewed alongside some of my major idols - including Burberry model Neelam Gill, artist Babbu The Painter & other insanely inspirational women - who I never in a million years thought I would be featured with.
The article was on colourism within the South Asian community, discussing how girls should feel comfortable in their own skin and all shades were beautiful, which is a topic I’m really passionate about so it was really humbling to be included in the conversation. Check out the article here.
You originally started heavily as a blog then moved to social media, did you see a larger engagement via Insta?
The shift is was actually quite unintentional. I initially started out with Instagram and a website which was really interesting as I had to learn how to buy a domain name, link it to Squarespace and more. However I also work at Showpo and am still studying, so as work and uni priorities came up I found it easier to post more quickly on Insta whilst I was on the train in the morning, sitting in class or on my lunch break.
So naturally, since I was updating the Insta more frequently that’s where I was seeing traction and it fell into a cycle of prioritising Insta over other platforms. Also, Insta is a great platform to visually present what your brand is about at first glance, as opposed to having to explore a website more thoroughly before gleaming insight into a particular collective.
Who is someone of South Asian descent who inspires you?
One of my all time idols is definitely Anjula Acharia; an interview she did for Elle India summed up perfectly why she’s one of the most amazing women I know.
“I believe that pop culture has a huge influence on the way we embrace diversity. That much of the racism I faced as a child in the UK had to do with one-dimensional, usually negative portrayal of people of colour. Like there was no room for us to be the authors of our own stories...working on the soundtrack of Slumdog Millionaire with AR Rahman...I wanted to ‘take Bollywood to the middle of America and show the world how cool we are’. We did the collaboration with The Pussycat Dolls, and it was top 10 in 10 countries. Later, I signed on Priyanka with Jimmy (Lovine). She has truly broken a path for WOC and for South Asians. That journey taught me never to accept the status quo. If you are not happy about something - change it!”
Anjula is currently a Venture Capitalist at Trinity Ventures and Priyanka Chopra’s manager. How cool is she?!
What has been the most rewarding and/or memorable moment for you and BGG?
At risk of sounding super cliche, everyday is incredibly rewarding. The Instagram receives daily DMs about the ways in which BrownGirlGang has seriously impacted people’s lives, including girls feeling more comfortable with their ethnicity and identity, encouraging girls to pursue their passion in their career and more. I never thought my blog would have the ability to make such a meaningful impact to strangers’ wellbeing and that’s easily been my favourite part of working on BrownGirlGang.
Advice for other young women wanting to start their own venture?
In the words of Nike, just do it. Also, if you want more freedom in the initial stages so you can really figure out your venture (like I did), then you can always start something anonymously. For a few months I hadn’t told anyone about the Instagram as I created it without having my name or image attached to it and it really gave me flexibility to have fun with the project and try new things before finding my rhythm with the branding.
What are the next steps for BGG?
Omg so many things! Merch, more collabs, more interviews, more events. Haha I actually have no idea right now which I’ll choose to action first so I guess it’s a surprise to everyone where the blog will go!