Welcome to Creators Going Pro, where in partnership with Semaphore — a creator-focused family of companies providing business and financial services to social media professionals — we profile professional YouTube stars who have hit it big by doing what they love. Each week, we’ll chat with a creator about the business side of their channel, including identifying their Semaphore Moment — the moment they truly went pro.
Kofi McCalla was never going to travel the world.
That’s what his father told him. But McCalla, who’d been fostering a love of travel since he was young, wasn’t ready to give up on his dreams. He wanted to see the world’s most interesting cities — and even more than that, he wanted to see the people in those cities. And right alongside his love of travel, McCalla had developed a love of streetwear, from outfits involving bold top brands like Supreme to the unique styles birthed at small shops buried in Tokyo’s side streets.
While McCalla was attending university at a city outside London, he didn’t have the cash to afford the brands he wanted to wear. So he burned through what he could afford traveling to London and documenting other people’s outfits. In his search for a lo-fi way to show the internet London’s coolest threads, he found YouTube.
YouTube led him to Drake.
Well, to be fair, there was a bit of time and content development between the genesis of his channel in 2014 and collaborating with the rap giant in April. Over the past five years, McCalla has turned his channel, called The Unknown Vlogs (550k subscribers, 2.5 to 7.5 million views per month), into a haven for streetwear enthusiasts. In the channel’s early days, he mostly stuck to brief videos discussing new releases from Supreme. He occasionally visited big brands’ stores to see what had been put out, and took to editing and uploading videos of his trip on the same day, strategizing his content as a kind of current record of fashion’s newest new.
Then, in 2017, he struck the content vein that led to him dropping out of university and carried him to professional YouTuber-dom: a series called How Much Is Your Outfit? The series’ very first episode took place during that year’s Paris Fashion Week, where McCalla got to ask celebrities and models alike the worth of what they were wearing. That kind of content proved popular with McCalla’s subscribers, so after Fashion Week, he figured out how to continue it.
Now the series is 38 episodes deep, and shows McCalla traveling to cities around the world, speaking to people on the street about where their clothing came from and the value it has. Episodes generally net between 2 and 5 million views…and that brings us to Drake.
Because of How Much Is Your Outfit?’s popularity, the rapper reached out to McCalla via Instagram DM and asked if he could feature in an episode of the series. We’ll let McCalla tell you the rest of that story, but suffice it to say the episode was a hit with his viewers.
Becoming a professional YouTuber has enabled McCalla to do what he’s always wanted to: earn the money he needs to travel to far-flung destinations. Now, he’s working on developing a new series, called Fashion Culture, that’ll document some of the farthest-flung places he’s ever visited.
And McCalla’s fashion expertise has recently led to a new collaboration outside of video content. He just announced his first fashion collaboration, a partnership with men’s street style company PAUSE. Together, he and PAUSE are producing a limited run of 100 T-shirts designed by McCalla. They’ll be sold during the men’s portion of London Fashion Week this coming weekend.
Check out our chat with McCalla below.
Tubefilter: So first, tell us a little about you! Where are you from? What did you do before you joined YouTube?
McCalla: I’m from London, but I did live in a city out of London previously. It was pretty far out, so I spent all the money I had on travelling to London. I was supposed to be in school, but I really wanted to be a part of the fashion community and streetwear scene. That’s where it all began, really — but before all that, I was a gamer nerd, and I was training every day to be a mixed martial artist. But then I got into fashion.
Tubefilter: What made you choose YouTube as the place to share your content?
McCalla: I chose YouTube because I didn’t come from a wealthy background, and though I loved fashion, I didn’t have the money to fund the clothes I wanted to wear. I saw YouTube as a way to display other people’s clothing, to celebrate and document that culture.
Tubefilter: For folks who may be unfamiliar, can you give us a rundown of your different kinds of content? What can viewers expect when they tune in to an Unknown Vlogs video?
McCalla: The foundation of my channel is exploring the fashion culture of the youth streetwear scenes worldwide. I see it like the Lonely Planet guide to the fashion capitals and destinations around the world. My channel will give you an insight into where to go to eat, where to shop, which areas of London do you go to chill? Is it Soho, is it Shoreditch? My channel basically answers those questions, but through a fashion lens. It’s the cool kids’ travel guide, and I’m taking it to a global perspective.
At the moment, it’s more focused on How Much Is Your Outfit? This series allows people to really flex the purchases they own, but it also opens the dialogue around the valuation of clothing that the younger generation is buying into and the issues surrounding this.
I’m working on a documentary series exploring whole new cities and cultures, beginning with “The Fashion Culture in South Africa,” which will be followed up with more videos from around the world. These episodes are longer and a more in-depth look at the different fashion scenes, meeting local brands, designers, store owners, and supporters of the streetwear scenes to give better understanding and appreciation of different cultures.
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue? How much was it for?
McCalla: I got my first-ever cheque back in September 2017. I remember it because I was dating my girlfriend for a while, and I got paid £211 [note: about $277 U.S.], and I used it to pay my girlfriend back for lending me the travel money she had given me over summer. Wow, that’s crazy. I previously made no income whatsoever — I didn’t even know YouTube could fund my life to the point I am now.
Tubefilter: You recently collaborated on an episode of How Much Is Your Outfit? with Drake. What was it like to do a video with such a high-profile star?
McCalla: It was really random. I woke up one morning, and Drake had DM’d me on Instagram, and I was like, “Woah! WTF?!” I replied to his DMs, and then we had it arranged for one month in advance of his show in London. I wanted to keep it low-key, I always work in silence. And then when it came to the day — it actually happened — I met the guy, the legend. It was crazy! He was such a humble guy — so many thanks.
I was super nervous. I brought along my girl and my friend Tristan, and he’s a really good people person. When I’m nervous, I always bring Tristan, because I’m naturally introverted and I don’t always know how to speak with people when I’m feeling nervous. I usually get the job done and I dip. I may come across as standoffish sometimes, but it’s because I am scared!
Tubefilter: How did you decide to start How Much Is Your Outfit? Did you notice it picking up an audience right away?
McCalla: It was started during Paris Fashion Week because I was surrounded by all the celebs and all the idols in the fashion scene, like Luka Sabbat, Ian Connor, Virgil Abloh — the list could go on. I didn’t want to take a photo with them because I’m a YouTuber, I make video content. I thought of an easy format which would allow me to speak with my idols and talk about their outfits without coming across like a fan.
I didn’t realise at the time that it was picking up an audience, it just kind of happened. When I did notice, I was taken aback by it, as I didn’t expect it to take off like that. But I didn’t faze me because it’s just numbers at the end of the day.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you—the first time you realised you were a professional YouTuber?
McCalla: I guess it happened recently when I met up with Drake, and it all sank in when I was sitting in the green room with my friends and Drake’s friends. I was sitting there thinking, I’m doing a video with Drake – he’s the biggest artist in the world, because everyone knows this guy, and I’m about to do a video with him. No one on the face of this universe can take this away from me because I made it to this point. That’s when I realised I am actually doing something, you get me?
Tubefilter: What draws you to travel and to street fashion? Do those two interests blend together? Why did you decide to make content about them?
McCalla: I chose travel because, when I was a kid, I remember my dad saying, “What do you want to do when you finish school?” I told him I wanted to travel the world, and he said to my face, “With what money? That’s never gonna happen.”
Subliminally, it fuelled my intentions to prove him wrong, and to travel the fuck out of the world — go everywhere and meet everyone. As much as my channel is based around fashion, it’s also a way to fund my travels, because I’m not wholeheartedly focused on style. I love other stuff like architecture, music, and dance. Fashion is a way to support my travels and see the world. Diving into the streetwear fashion worldwide just happens to be a topic that I am passionate about. I think it’s important to document the fashion culture for it to progress. The fashion industry is allowing young individuals like myself to build a career and become the next generation’s innovators and pioneers.
Tubefilter: Do you have anyone working with you behind the scenes? Maybe an editor or assistant? What about a manager or network?
McCalla: It’s just myself and it was like that for three years. I have no team, even though people think the Unknown Vlogs is a team, it’s not, it’s only me, myself, and I. My girlfriend will help me, point the camera, or give me direction when I need her, but it’s mostly me. Then I joined my agency Studio71 and the Moxie fam, and now they’re taking care of me — helping me become that next-generation entrepreneur, I guess. I’m at a point now where I do have a production team that will produce the heavily formatted content like the Fashion Culture series, where I have a camera, director, and editor, but that’s very expensive.
Usually though, it’s just myself and a cameraman travelling to each of the locations. I work alongside them to direct each video in the series, and try to keep any production to within one or two weeks in total. I try and work to a budget of £2,000 [note: about $2,500 U.S.] per video for a camera operator, depending on the scale and length of the project, and pick up the travel and accommodation costs myself.
I’m looking to work with a sponsor for the series, which will then allow for better flexibility, longer projects, and even more in-depth videos so we can develop the format even further.
Tubefilter: Do you have a set filming and uploading schedule? Do you take time off?
McCalla: I used to upload every single day, and I would film and upload on the same day, as I felt like it was important to do that — it’s what made me different from everyone else. I’d go to Supreme and upload the content on the day. However, every other platform wasn’t so immediate, with the exception of publications like the Daily Mail. They upload as soon as they have something hot, and I saw that, and I was like, I’ll do that, and it made my channel boom! Now, I have no set schedule. I literally publish when I want to, and it’s the best life ever.
Tubefilter: What do you think is the most vital skill you possess as a creator?
McCalla: I guess it’s originality. No one can take away from the fact I’ve created so much content on my channel. I created the How Much Is Your Outfit? series and raised the issue with the pricing and evaluation of clothing all over the world. It sounds egotistical, but the skill I have, and that I need to have, is originality. I try to keep all my content as original as I can, even when it’s so hard to do so in a world full of clickbait.
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel? What are you building toward?
McCalla: I’m currently working on longer documentary series which will complement my South African video, and on continuing to push my content to the next level.
I’m building towards buying my dream house, moving in with my girlfriend, making more content, and eventually going back to uni to finish my law degree, because I dropped out of uni. Then, I guess, enjoy life to the fullest.
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