One of fashion’s “It” girls is actually a girl. Not a young woman. Not a teen. A girl.
Giana, known to her 22,800 Instagram followers as Dear Giana, is a photogenic 9-year-old artist and fashion enthusiast with an elfin frame and a marketing heft that brands want to harness.
Through her street-style flair and fashion drawings displayed on an Instagram account her mom runs, Giana has corralled fans, including art galleries, Vogue.com, streetwear fashion blog Highsnobiety and Nike . The sneaker and apparel giant collaborated with Dear Giana on three T-shirts to be released Oct. 11, the International Day of the Girl.
“It’s very cool, for sure,” said Giana during a recent interview, where she had on Nike Air Force 1 sneakers and Nike socks.
Giana is among the stylish pre-teens made famous by social media and anointed mini-influencers or mini-creatives. Their ascent comes as marketers are striving to reach Generation Z, the roughly 67 million individuals born roughly between 1997 and a few years ago. They have about $44 billion in purchasing power, according to Mintel. Thanks to social media, members of Gen Z can see a staggering array of merchandise, and pinpoint precisely the clothes and shoes they want to wear, even if their parents are still paying for them. Gen Z also is the most racially diverse generation in American history: Almost half are a race other than non-Hispanic white.
“They already hold much influence, particularly due to their unprecedented digital access and resources, which is prompting them to try things while they are young that weren’t possible for past generations of kids,” said Meredith Hirt, senior insights writer at Cassandra, a research firm specializing in young consumers. “Children don’t have to wait until they grow up to be influential, …which is causing brands across all industries to take notice.”
For 33% of 7-to-12-year-olds in the U.S., clothing ranks second behind technology in categories they consider worthy of splurges, according to Cassandra, showing that pre-teens are focused on fashion and nearly as interested in it as millennials are. Clothing ranked second for 36% of 13-to 20-year-olds. “We’ve noticed a rise in car makers targeting parents through their kids,” Ms. Hirt added, “recognizing that kids and tweens are influential and have sway as to what their parents decide to buy.”
Nike’s director of communications for North America, Jenna Golden, wrote in an email, “We feel that Dear Giana is such an inspiration for young girls everywhere.” The company declined to disclose financial terms of its contract with her. Earlier this year, Nike worked with eight young “athlete influencers” and asked each to design children’s versions of one of the company’s shoes.
Trend forecaster WGSN, which has tracked Giana since she entered the scene two years ago, labeled her the “girl of the moment” and the “next leading mini-creative” in a recent report. Giana has a gap-toothed smile, dark bangs and loves sunglasses. She is of Filipino and Mexican ancestry and lives with her parents and two younger siblings in Dallas. Gena, her mother and manager, asked that the family’s last name be withheld for security reasons. “It’s just to keep her safe,” Gena said.
The fashion industry, perennially in search of the new, has a complicated history with youth. In 1980, Calvin Klein drew criticism for ads with a 15-year-old Brooke Shields. About a decade ago, 11-year-old Tavi Gevinson became famous for her fashion blog. In 2011, fashion line Miu Miu tapped actor Hailee Steinfeld, then 14, to star in its ads. Today, 14-year-old actor Millie Bobby Brown is a fashion muse. Spotlighting children raises concerns about exploitation and privacy. This year, Vogue pledged to stop using models under 18; some modeling agencies said they would cease using models younger than 16. Last year, two luxury conglomerates, LVMH , which owns Louis Vuitton, and Kering, which owns Balenciaga and Gucci, banned models under 16.
While fashion’s highest levels took steps to keep children out of the limelight, social media offered them an entirely new platform. The pre-teen market took off in 2010 with the launch of Instagram. Ms. Hirt, of Cassandra, said a few years ago J.Crew commissioned Sydney Keiser, a blogger from Milford, Ohio, to design a special collection for children. At the time, Ms. Keiser was 4. J.Crew came across her paper reconstructions of red-carpet dresses on her mother’s Instagram account.
Parents who post images of their children’s handiwork can find themselves being contacted by brands or talent scouts scouring Instagram for the next potential star. That’s how Giana was discovered. According to her mother, Giana started to show an artistic bent at age 3, when she would tackle coloring-book pages with watercolors or stage “art shows” with little rock formations in the backyard.
At 5 or 6, Giana was pulling pictures from her mother’s copies of Vogue and customizing them with crayons, pencils and markers. Gena started posting images and videos of her daughter’s efforts on Instagram. In 2016, when Giana was a 7-year-old second-grader, a children’s clothing brand called même. proposed hosting her first art exhibit in Seattle, Gena said. Giana displayed more than 40 works in the show and was on her way. Drawing pictures and styling streetwear looks that catch fire online comes naturally, Giana said. “I just did what I like…I just buy some clothes and wear it how I want to wear it.” Gena said Giana loves what she is doing. Giana said her mother “never forced me to do anything. She just let me do what I wanted to do.”
In the two years since Giana’s first art show, there have been three more, including one with Nike. Streetwear-style blogs like Hypebae and fashion and entertainment news sites like Complex have taken note of the pint-size cool girl who is a fan of Supreme, Louis Vuitton, and Virgil Abloh of Off-White. Brands are asking Giana to wear their clothes and accessories and post about them.
After discovering Giana on Instagram, Highsnobiety published an interview with her in December. “Even more than here’s this little girl that wears pretty cool clothes, it’s the fact that she wants to be an artist and has an outlet to reflect her creativity,” said Jian DeLeon, Highsnobiety’s editorial director. “The fact that she’s doing a Nike collaboration is truly mind-blowing.”
Vogue.com asked Giana to illustrate a few looks from New York Fashion Week in February and captured her at work in a video. Vogue saw that “Giana wasn’t playing dress-up, she actually had something to say and share with the world,” fashion news editor Monica Kim said. Giana’s passion for streetwear and her art encourages other children to be creative while inspiring adults too, said Erin Rechner, senior kidswear editor at WGSN. “They’re looking to her for new, fresh inspiration.”
To keep Giana from taking all the attention too seriously, her parents “limit how much stuff that we tell her,” Gena said. “We’re keeping her grounded.” Her father, Anthony, is a creative director. Gena, who studied set design and retail window display, says their daughter still has household chores, such as making her bed and cleaning her room.
This year, the family hired an agent, Jeffrey Klein, director of the influencers division at Photogenics, a Los Angeles talent agency. In an email Mr. Klein wrote that he is wrapping up deals for Giana with “major brands for design collaborations to drop in 2019 and as far out as Spring 2020.”
Write to Ray A. Smith at Ray.Smith@wsj.com