Photography: Leigh Keily
Styling: Ozzy Shah
Jim Chapman has the kind of adoring fanbase usually reserved for musicians and sportsmen. He’s a darling of the fashion world, sitting on every designer’s front row. Yet if you’re over 25, chances are you’ve never heard of him. He achieved his fame through vlogging, uploading good-natured clips of his daily life onto YouTube – “here’s me eating breakfast”, “here’s me walking to the gym”, “here’s me buying a pair of shoes”. He started out four years ago and quickly amassed a devoted following, mostly consisting of teenage girls smitten with his boyish good looks and self-deprecating sense of humour.
Today his daily clips get anywhere between 70,000 and 200,000 views, while his weekly ones average over 300,000. He has 1.4m Instagram followers and another 1.3m on Twitter. In the world of the internet, he’s officially a big deal. The scale of his content has grown alongside his profile: while it still involves confessional, slapstick videos of him doing things like baking a cake, now he’ll be baking the cake with Jamie Oliver. Someone has even set up a social media account dedicated to posting images of his feet.
All of this translates into some serious commercial clout. Over the years (he’s 27 now), his fans have grown up with him and many now fall into the coveted 18-24 bracket. Products he name-drops have a habit of selling out and brands fall over themselves to work with him, besieging him with free clothes and invitations to red carpet events. He’s a gateway into a demographic that remains elusive to many labels.
“The fashion industry is only just starting to understand the internet,” he says. “And it has a long way to go. It’s all brand new to them. Personality is key. My relationship with my audience is very personal: it’s from me to them and there’s nothing in-between. The reason I get so many views is that it’s just me doing my thing, whether that’s looking cool in a new pair of boots or drawing myself as a sunflower on SnapChat. It’s tricky for a brand – especially a high-end one – to replicate that. Companies ask to work with me who don’t get what I do. I turn down about 98 per cent of offers. I’m not a name for hire. I had someone ask: ‘Will you dress up as a sausage?’”
Chapman reckons there are between 10 and 20 vloggers in the UK making a serious impact on YouTube, one of them being his fiancée and childhood sweetheart Tanya Burr, who makes fashion and beauty videos (“she got me into vlogging in the first place”). He fell into fashion almost by accident. “It started when I was included on a ‘best-dressed’ list in a magazine. I got loads of traction after I tweeted it and brands started to notice the numbers.”
It sounds like one big laugh all the way to the bank, and it’s certainly a long way from the insurance job he took in Norwich after graduating with a psychology degree, but Chapman is uncommonly focused; not arrogant, but very sure of where he’s heading. “Next I want to be the face of a fashion brand,” he says in such a matter-of-fact way that it seems inevitable. “I love making videos, I have the best job in the world, but it also gives me a chance to branch out. I’m doing some radio and TV presenting. I love being in front of the camera.”
During our shoot he was happy to pose for videos with our stylist (a big fan), instantly adopting the slightly exaggerated version of himself that we see on screen. One involved him wincing whilst attempting to touch his own belly button, which he has a mild phobia of. After the clip was uploaded the stylist gained 500 Instagram followers.
You can see why companies like him so much: he exudes wholesomeness; a combination of geeky introversion and old-fashioned charm. “Brands like that,” he says. “They know they’re not going to see me falling out of a nightclub drunk or anything like that.”
How big does he think the Jim Chapman brand can get? “The way of the internet is the more people are talking about something, the bigger it gets. Potentially it could be massive.”