LOS ANGELES — When 14-year-old Bethany Mota gets back from the mall, she eagerly models her latest finds to friends and family.
And to tens of thousands more on YouTube.
The rising high school sophomore from Los Banos, Calif., is a “hauler,” a term for tech-savvy young fashionistas who show off their purchases, or hauls, in homemade videos that they post online.
Bethany started hauling about a year ago and now has more than 48,000 YouTube subscribers who tune in to watch her show off her favorite back-to-school outfits (“you don’t want to wear heels and stuff, obviously”), big-volume mascara (“this is like my new obsession”) and perfumes (“summer in a bottle right here!”).
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“You get to connect with girls around the world, and that’s what reeled me in,” said the doe-eyed, fresh-faced teen, who could pass for Kim Kardashian’s younger sister. “YouTube videos, they’re more personal and more real than a commercial on TV.”
Hauling has become a phenomenon over the last year or so, fueled by a mix of exhibitionism and voyeurism. A successful video can garner hundreds of thousands of views and turn a hauler into a beauty guru with a huge fan base.
Major retailers are watching, too. Several, including JC Penney and Marshalls, have begun reaching out to haulers, giving them free merchandise in the hopes that the girls will make haul videos in which they endorse the products.
“The bottom line is: It’s marketing for less,” said Eli Portnoy, a marketing expert and chief brand strategist of the Portnoy Group. “What better way to reach your customers than from what seems to be independent voices saying ‘I love these products and I love these stores’? Instead of you promoting your products, they’re doing it for you.”
Bethany is one of them. In June, JC Penney flew her and five other haulers from around the country to Texas and gave each girl gift cards worth $1,000 to shop the department store’s back-to-school selection.
After the shopping spree, the girls were required to record their own haul videos, which JC Penney posted on its website and on Facebook and YouTube.
At the heart of the trend is the girls’ bubbly charm, attractive looks and somewhat ditzy personalities.
“It’s real girls that like fashion, rather than experts telling people what to wear,” said Audrey Kitching, a fashion writer and model from Hollywood who was one of the haulers chosen by JC Penney. “It’s more organic and not somebody who’s getting paid to say ‘wear this’ or ‘wear that.’ ”