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iGirl goes IRL:we chatted to Bella McFadden

by HQ

internetGirl is decidedly that - a child of the internet. And in 2024 she’s going IRL.

The year is 2016, and a then twenty-year-old Bella McFadden sits in front of the computer screen in her parents home in Winnipeg, Canada. She presses a glowing SAVE button and her browser window reloads to white. The neon red logo for the used-clothing resale platform Depop loads in at the top left of her screen. Bella has just created depop.com/internetgirl.

She doesn’t know it now, but this moment will be the start of an empire that will eventually lead her to be awarded the title of the first person ever to earn $1 million on Depop.

It’s eight years later, and Bella and I sit on either ends of the phone: myself in Montreal, the city of her Concordia years, and Bella at her home in Manhattan where she’s now been living since last summer. We are catching up after meeting for the first time in December, when she and I were introduced on the set of the photoshoot that accompanies this op-ed, with images by Oceane Auclair.

When interviewing someone like Bella, it’s hard not to jump right in and allow my own fascination for her story take over. iGirl is something of an internet phenom, a sort of proto-influencer for the Tumblr age before anyone had ever heard of a Depop, let alone considered thrifting a part of the mainstream fashion canon. Asked if she’d consider Tumblr her first home on the internet, she agreed that it was and added, “Tumblr was my safe haven. I was always logged in soaking up inspiration and looking at worlds that I wished I could live in. It’s been fun to become an adult and get to live out some of those fantasies”. She offhandedly describes her teenage self as “just such a bedroom-dweller-girl”, and I can’t help but clock how subtly and deftly relatable that statement is for so many young women who were raised by the internet.

I mention having read somewhere that iGirl lived on eBay for a time before finding a home on Depop, and Bella laughs. “Yes, actually! When I was in college I had an eBay – very short lived. It turned into Depop later on when I dropped out”.

The question burning a hole in my brain was this: What must it be like, as a relative OG in the influencer space, to see a cultural shift from a time when producing curated content of yourself online was a fringe activity, to today where almost everyone has a “personal brand,” consciously or not. “Huh! I’ve never thought about that before” she replies. “But come to think of it, it is so normal now to actively post content about yourself.
Everyone’s definitely connecting with their aesthetic and style more after the pandemic. It’s been a shift. It’s all about feeling confident now”.

As we discuss what those early internet years looked like for Bella, it’s hard not to feel like you’re peering into a time capsule. “I was a rapid fire poster” she laughs. “I remember at one point I set a goal for myself to make seven Instagram posts a day! Which feels insane when I think about that now. Nowadays I post maybe once a month on my personal Instagram and it’s more about staying connected”.

Asked if there was a moment in her time on Tumblr when Bella realized her presence on the website had become something bigger than her, she exclaims, “Yeah, oh my god!…I remember I was reached out to for an article for – and I don’t think this even exists anymore – MTV’s The Phora Blog. They posted about me when I was sixteen or seventeen, for a list titled something like “The Girls to Watch”. I was like, oh my god! I was a teenage girl, it was such a moment for me.” I remark that that sounds like the internet equivalent of the teen girl fantasy come-true of being scouted by a star model agency at a mall – the feeling of being singled-out as a superstar in the making. “No, really though! Exactly that feeling”.

It’s hard not to see that Bella’s innate combination of aspirational style and relatable essence made her so easy to root for during her meteoric rise on Depop. And while her record-breaking and career-defining $1 million earnings on the platform put her in the internet history books, for many it was her revolutionary iGirl Bundles that put her in the public consciousness. “[The iGirl Bundle] was so postable. Everyone was posting bundle reviews and styling reviews. So when I started posting my own styling videos, things really started to blow up and everything came together.”

I tell her that one of the many things that fascinate me about the iGirl Bundles was just how novel a concept they were for their time. She chimes in “No totally! I remember making a word document on my laptop, and I just wrote down the idea one night. I pitched it to my mom in the kitchen the next morning like ‘Mom, I’m gonna do a cyber styling service!’ And she was like, ‘OK, you’re crazy’. Nowadays loads of people offer them!”

This era, while emblematic of the iGirl story, wasn’t without its challenges. When asked if the success of the bundles was immediate, she responds, “Yeah, it was pretty quick! When I first listed them it was for $100, or something crazy like that. I’d get sixty orders overnight and end up working twenty hours a day just to fulfill them. It really took over my life for a second there. I had a very love-hate relationship with the bundles at the time…That whole era, really. It was only me doing the styling service. I had an assistant in Winnipeg who helped me fulfill orders later on, but besides that I was all on my own. It was such a moment”.

It’s hard not to notice that Bella is less the centre of the iGirl brand than she once was, and that is by design.
“Part of why I took a step back was that I put a piece of myself into every one of those bundles, so when I started getting hate or negative feedback, I took it so personally. Nowadays I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to online opinions, but at the time it just wasn’t good for my mental health.

“I’m really grateful to be ‘Brand Girl’ now. It helped to feel less like it was all about me. It’s so rare these days that you even see me on the iGirl World website. It was taking over my life to be the face of the brand and the behind the scenes girl. But now that I’ve created distance and put my energy into creative direction and designing behind the scenes, I love it. It’s been [transformative] for my mental health”.

Today Bella looks to the future, and we chat about her first of its kind iGirl brick-and-mortar store that she plans to open in the spring, telling me about the “beautiful” spot she’s secured to be the store’s home in NYC’s East Village. While talks in January of 2024 have been dominated by securing signage and mapping floor plans, she most looks forward to building a space in which her supporters genuinely want to spend time. “I want it to be cute enough that they’ll want to take pictures in there. I want it to be very iGirl” she says. “People are definitely starting to value in person experiences more, places they can gather and meet each other.”

“I did a pop-up with my friend Emma over the summer at her store Rogue in NYC, and before that I’d never put too much thought into how much my audience would engage with an IRL store. iGirlWorld has been online since the beginning. It was so rewarding and the response was so positive, it made me feel ready for this era.”

I ask what little Bella in her bedroom in Winnipeg would think if she was told she’d have a physical location one day, and present-day Bella bursts out laughing. “It’s so funny! I always used to say things like ‘bricks and mortar is dead! I would never open an IRL store!’” I was so opposed to that. I felt like I was online forever. It’s been an interesting pipeline for me to live, going from being so opposed to wanting a store as bad as I do now! There’s a lot of things I used to say I’d never do that I do now – never say never.”

On the role that Depop plays in Bella’s life now in 2024, she says it’s “nowhere near what it was at the height of everything.” She went on to say, “Vintage is my roots and such a big source of inspiration. I’ll do two or so drops a month, in between drops for the iGirl brand. It’s so important to me to keep it living and breathing. It’s definitely a comfort place for me.”

Looking towards the future, Bella is setting her sights on finding her way back in front of the camera in ways her supporters haven’t seen as much of in the past. “I used to do an interview series on my YouTube called ‘Trashion’ where I’d find and interview anyone I thought was cool and interesting and worth talking to. I wanna dip my toes back into the interview space this year, and I definitely have some ideas that might surprise people. I’m fascinated by investigative journalism and abandoned spaces, the Atlas Obscura of it all, no matter where I travel to. I love meeting people who are characters. I love talking to strangers. I’m working on a few projects already, so you’ll see me soon.”

iGirlWorld’s first IRL location is slated to open in NYC’s East Village in Spring of 2024, with more details to come on Bella’s instagrams @internetgirl @igirl, and the iGirlWorld website in the coming months.

Photographer and Producer : Oceane Auclair
Talent : Bella McFadden
Makeup Artist : Orly Estrin
Hair Stylist : Levi Monarch
Nail Artist : Rose Falby
Production Assistant : Eustache de Gaulejac
Writer and Interviewer : Orly Estrin
Styling Assistants : Christopher Contaldi and Demi Cabrera
Stylist : Kareem Cole

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