The blogger who shaped a scene
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The blogger who shaped a scene

Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger

Daniel Azzopardi didn’t just burst onto the local influencer scene; he helped shape it. Just as the three-times Malta fashion award-winning blogger is on the verge of launching his Youtube channel, Iggy Fenech catches up with him to find out what’s in store for 2019 and why speaking out against bullying and homophobia will always be high on his agenda.

“It was a different time when I first started out,” Daniel tells me as we leave the gorgeous Su29 hotel and walk towards a small coffeeshop, “we were all very excited and enthusiastic about what we wore and what we did then. But we were younger; we’ve grown up now.”

Tommy Hilfiger. Photography: Carlton Agius, make-up: Jennifer Dimech, location: Su29 Boutique Hotel, VallettaTommy Hilfiger. Photography: Carlton Agius, make-up: Jennifer Dimech, location: Su29 Boutique Hotel, Valletta

It may seem odd that Daniel is already reminiscing about the early days of his career as a blogger and influencer, yet, when one looks at how the scene has changed since he first joined it in 2012, it’s quite easy to see why. Daniel was among the first to blog about fashion in Malta, among the first to turn it into a full-time job, and has continued growing in popularity as the Internet forced influencers to change their tactics. 

Now, the role of an influencer has always been somewhat controversial. The idea that some people can change the way others shop, look at a brand or even think just by being popular or curating their Instagram feed is not something everyone can swallow. But Daniel, who played a big role in creating the influencer culture in Malta, has certainly made the most of it. 

“Social media has changed a lot, too, and, as influencers and bloggers, we need to react and keep up with the trends… We always have to think about what’s next and that’s been one of the key things of how I’m still here, I think. Do I have mixed feelings about the Internet moving towards a point where the instant-gratification of a photo is more important than the well-thought content of a blog? Definitely. But I don’t make the rules, I just have to follow them to survive.”

I don’t make the rules of the Internet, I just have to follow them to survive

Truth is, however, that Daniel’s career started on a whim. Bored at his job as a visual merchandiser for a fashion company, he decided to start a blog on the side. The Internet back then was obsessed with blogs and with reading what people had to say about practically anything. 

Gagliardi available at Bortex FineGagliardi available at Bortex Fine

“I focused on fashion because it’s always been my passion, but I think it was more my sense of humour that made the blog kick off.” And kick off it did, earning him three Malta Fashion Awards for Best Blogger, a myriad of collaborations with the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Gagliardi, over 30k likes on Facebook and 25k followers on Instagram.

“I’ve always tried to be an open book with my followers; I’ve always shared the good and the bad,” he adds. “I’ve also always believed that it’s about being real and about mentioning what I go through whatever that may be.”

Among the topics Daniel speaks about are bullying and homophobia – and his voice travels quickly. Just two years ago, for example, a video of his calling for Archbishop Charles Scicluna’s resignation over a position paper by the Maltese Catholic Church claiming that the banning of conversion therapy would be
‘discriminatory’ went viral and made national newspaper headlines.

“Looking back, I realise that the way I used to fight fire with fire and calling people out for their behaviour in a not-so-nice-way may not have been the right way to go about it,” Daniel, who was nominated for a JCI Contribution to Peace and Human Rights Award earlier this year, says. “Today, I try to be kinder and to explain what is wrong with their argument rather than just hurling insults back.”

Daniel’s own trials and tribulations with bullying and homophobia have been well documented by himself, and he’s covered everything from what it felt like to be gay in an all-boys secondary school in Gozo to the hate he inevitably gets from trolls on the Internet.

“For a job which people think constitutes nothing but posting pretty pictures and attending events, it can be really stressful,” he jokes. “But, in reality, it can feel like a cycle of nothingness. I mean, sure, the milestones [such as reaching a new tier of following or getting a new collaboration] give you a high, but they’re rarely satisfying in the long run.

“Early this year, in fact, I felt like I had lost my way as a blogger. Nothing made me happy anymore. I don’t assume people realised but, with my job being what it is, I had to continue posting. That’s the problem with living on the Internet: if you’re gone for longer than a week, you’re irrelevant. And, yes, I know that may sound silly to some, but me being away from the Internet without an explanation is like someone who has an office job not turning up to the office one morning for no reason. This is how I pay my bills, so I had to live with the pressure of posting things that didn’t drag my followers down for no reason while trying to figure out what I wanted in life.”

Charles&RonCharles&Ron

The answer to that would come when a mother of a young follower went up to Daniel and opened up about her son coming out to her and mentioning the blogger in the process.

“It grounded me like nothing else before,” he tells me. “I often write and say things, and I obviously hope people notice, but I never thought I could make such a difference in someone’s life – someone I had never met or even spoken to! It was then I realised what was truly important about what I do and it reminded me of why I loved doing it in the first place… I have a responsibility to others and it can’t just be about me. Moreover, I also realised that my own happiness comes around by helping others and making them happy.”

Now, as 2018 comes to a close, Daniel is gearing up for the New Year, with some big plans for his brand and career: “I’m starting a YouTube channel,” he reveals. “In this, I’ll be talking about fashion, travelling, hauls, likes and dislikes, of course, but I also want to continue addressing the realities I have faced and which others face due to bullying and homophobia.

I’ve always tried to be an open book with my followers; I’ve always shared the good and the bad

“I think adding the element of video – the human element of seeing someone talking rather than just reading a status – is incredibly important, particularly when discussing issues that affect so many at such a deep level.” 

But, before all that, there’s one of Daniel’s favourite times of the year coming up… Christmas!

“Christmas will be spent in Gozo with my mum, Maggie, who has been my rock from before I knew I needed a rock. Without her I definitely wouldn’t have made it to this point and I love spending the holidays with her, and with our two dogs, Sandy and Perla. It will be a traditional one for us, too, with lunch at home and then a stroll in Xlendi or Victoria… Unlike social media, I think Christmas is best left the way it’s always been,” he concludes. 

Follow Daniel on Instagram, @itsdanielazzopardi.

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