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“It was time for women to come to the fray without three layers of make-up and that perfect body contour,” says Niki Shah.

Dubai: This 33-year-old Indian expatriate woman is quite a rage on social media and her ‘girl-next-door’ image seems to have really struck a chord. She has made it big among her followers for the “real” person that she is — this Dubai-based multimillionaire’s “real content” generating massive interest with more than a million people following her on Instagram.

Welcome to the world of Niki Shah.

“When I started, for an Indian to come up with a concept like this in the UAE was quite rare. Back then, most South Asians generally thought in terms of running a blog, but no one really thought in terms of taking it full-steam ahead. But I was always passionate about what I did and that is why I am here today.”

Finding her niche

Shah focuses on lifestyle issues — whether it is fashion, food or travel. “Am a vegetarian and that piqued the curiosity of people,” she said. Shah, who hails from the Indian state of Gujarat, belongs to the Jain community. “People belonging to our community are strict vegetarians. For example, I don’t even eat vegetables grown under the ground such as potatoes and onions. That is a completely new concept for many people, but it was so real. It was me not pretending to be someone else. I was just putting the reality out there.”

She further said: “So in many ways, it was the right time for me to enter the industry. People started connecting with me and it turned out to be bigger than what I had thought. They wanted to know what I was wearing, what I was eating, where I was eating and so on.”

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Breaking the norms

Shah added that there was also a huge need to have content that was relatable for everybody. “Earlier, most social media influencers were actors with model-size figures. There was a disconnect with real women, so to speak. And there I was — looking like the girl next door.” She said people were losing interest in seeing the same plastic faces. “It was time for women to come to the fray without three layers of make-up and that perfect body contour.”

Wading through the challenges

Shah said her success did not come without a fair bit of challenges. “Popular brands were always geared towards a certain section of society and I knew that I had to make my presence felt.” She said: “Digital marketing was changing. A whole new profession had come into existence and brands were willing to pay influencers to promote their products. Today, brands are launching campaigns on Instagram and TikTok to promote their products. It’s a whole new world we live in.”

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What makes an influencer

Shah added: “You can become an influencer talking about things that relate to people on an everyday basis. Also, posting something that is close to your heart, reaches people well. They instantly connect with what you are saying or at least they are curious to know more about it. There should be an effort to post consistently. Someone needs to be around to manage your profile, build your image and do the branding. All this requires efforts. I changed my approach in Instagram. Instead of pushing the trends, I listened to my audience.”

The turning point

She said that was really the turning point in her career as a social media influencer. “Just answering their questions made more people follow me. The question can be as simple as where to buy a dress from, the fact that I connected with them and answered made them interested in my posts.”

Shop till you drop?

Shah admits she has a “thing” for handbags and shoes — particularly vegan products. “Most items hanging in my wardrobe are vegan. I am doing away with leather products.”

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Shah completed her bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2007 from the University of Wales. She also did a course in Fashion in 2008 from City and Guilds. She is currently studying professional makeup artistry.

She lives in Dubai with her husband Hardik, parents — father V.K. Shah, mother Kala — and her sister Chandni. Her father is a partner in a private company, while her mother is a homemaker. Though the family originally hails from Gujarat, Shah’s childhood was spent in Nairobi and Dubai.

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Team support

Shah admits that she is not an all-rounder and her success has to do a lot with her sister Chandni, who manages her finance, brand earnings and sponsorships. “I can create the creative content, but my sister has an eye for detail. She takes care of all the legalities and branding. She is good with money and handles my finances. We work as a team. This is critical for a successful entrepreneur and influencer.”

She said three people work full-time handling her job. “This is an industry that hires a lot of freelancers and I do have them working for me from time to time, depending on the campaigns I have ongoing.”

Living the life of a humble millionaire

“On my birthday, my parents did a lot of charity. Today, if I like to spend on any one person, it is not me, but my sister. My parents have taught me to value money and respect it. Every day, I feel grateful for all that is there around me. I am associated with not-for-profit entities and I share part of my income with them to help those in need. This is my way of giving back to the community.”