Niké Ojekunle Got Scammed. Now She’s Helping Others Avoid the Same Fate By Advocating for Financial Literacy

UPDATED: February 25, 2024
PUBLISHED: February 25, 2024
Niké Ojekunle

Niké Ojekunle calls herself one of the “OG influencers,” and since joining TikTok, the Nigeria-born, Los Angeles-based blogger’s “get ready with me” videos and skincare recommendations have helped her amass over half a million followers. As her follower count grew, she also negotiated more and more sponsorship deals for herself, using her business savvy and entrepreneurial mindset to ink deals with fashion and beauty brands. 

“I’ve always been self-managed,” Ojekunle says. “I’m good at it myself. It just doesn’t make sense for me to have a manager.”

But when a group called the Carter Agency reached out, the offer was a good one. They understood that Ojekunle preferred to work alone, and they were fine with that. Instead, they wanted to help her land occasional one-off campaigns with big-name clients. Ojekunle’s mom had just been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, and Ojekunle was flying back and forth from Tampa to Los Angeles to be with her parents. She wanted someone else to take the wheel for a bit, and the talent agency’s website listed Netflix, Amazon and the NFL as “strategic partners.” She said “yes.”

In November 2022, Ojekunle was one of the first influencers to speak out about her experience with the Carter Agency, which by that point owed her thousands of dollars for various branding deals. She wouldn’t be the last—dozens of influencers, many of them women of color, eventually came forward. Several of them shared their experience in an article in The New York Times titled, “New Fame, Age-Old Exploitation.”

Turning a negative experience into an opportunity to help others

The experience left Ojekunle somewhat shaken, but she wanted to channel it into something that felt productive. “The worst thing you could ever call me is a victim,” she says. “I just don’t ever want to be seen like that in my life. And so when all that stuff happened, I said to myself, ‘I will use this to change the industry, to make sure that everyone who comes after me—all the Black girls who come after me, will never get scammed again.’”

She decided she’d start mentoring other young influencers who approached her with questions about brand deals or the fine print in their contracts. It’s not an accident that the Carter Agency and other organizations like it primarily scammed women of color. Ojekunle explains that they’d seek out creators who might not have the experience or industry insight that more privileged creators did. Influencer marketing has one of the worst racial pay gaps of any industry. She thought she could help close that gap.

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Eventually, though, even that work, rewarding as it was, started to feel draining. “That whole [Carter Agency] thing—I’m still a little traumatized from it,” she says. “And the last year, I’ve kind of stepped away from influencing completely because… it keeps happening, you know?” The scams haven’t stopped, and it’s been exhausting to watch other young creators fall for the same tricks, to accept low rates, to say yes to any crumb of advertising money that came their way because they felt like they couldn’t say no.”

That’s when the gears started turning. Maybe she couldn’t stop scammers from being scammy. With the launch of TikTok Shop, maybe the problem would take care of itself, as brands increasingly approach creators directly, rather than going through agencies. 

Niké Ojekunle: The journey from homelessness to financial literacy

But Ojekunle realized she had started from the bottom, too, with no following to speak of and no fancy deals with talent agencies. She was homeless once, and she bought a house in Los Angeles last year. What sets her apart—what got her to where she is today, and what helped her realize that the Carter Agency was taking advantage of her and other creators—is that she has financial literacy

“I realized a lot of influencers don’t,” she says. She references a recent podcast episode in which popular content creator Emma Chamberlain said she never checks her bank account. Fans thought the confession was irresponsible and out of touch. Ojekunle says we’d all be shocked at how common Chamberlain’s situation is, regardless of how much money an influencer has coming in from brand deals. 

“A lot of influencers don’t go to college,” she explains. “So imagine, you have all that fame, plus you didn’t go to school, you have no formal education, you have no financial literacy at all. You just don’t understand money… That’s when I was like, ‘Oh, I could add this to my mentorship. I could teach influencers how to save money and invest and not spend frivolously when you  have that small window where you make good money.’”

Using one piece of the puzzle to create the big picture

Helping influencers avoid getting scammed—that was one piece of the puzzle. What Ojekunle is doing now with her Specs and Blazers brand is the whole puzzle: financial literacy, saving money and making that money work for you, all while developing an awareness of what to look out for from shady companies that might not have your best interests in mind.

Ojekunle adds that there’s a real keeping-up-with-the-Joneses type of thing happening among influencers who want to look like they have it all—the newest products, the first-class flights—but in reality are living on maxed-out credit cards and overdrafted accounts. She recalls a recent conversation with one influencer, someone with a much bigger following than she has, who asked how she could have possibly afforded to buy a house in Los Angeles. 

Her response was simple: She saves her money. She’s frugal. In her experience, many influencers aren’t. It’s not that she judges them though. There’s a certain image influencers have to portray if they want to continue being influencers, and the impulse to spend is one she understands well. 

“Parasocial relationships are tough; you want to look like your favorite influencer, and your favorite influencer wants to look like her favorite influencer, and she wants to look like her favorite celebrity,” Ojekunle quips. And not everyone has been so enamored with the frugality mindset she’s pushing now. “A lot of them are receptive, but there are some who push back and are like… I just wanna buy that new bag,” she laughs. “I realize, it’s a microcosm of American culture. It’s a lot of pressure on them. And then there’s an added layer to it: being Gen Z, being an influencer, being Black.”

Ojekunle inspires her followers to save instead of spend

Still, she feels hopeful that this could be the start of something new. The vast majority of her followers have been excited to hear her talking candidly about money—about saving and investing it, that is, not just spending it. 

“After the very first video that I did where I said, ‘I’m pivoting my platform toward financial literacy,’ my DMs were full of girls saying, ‘We’ve been waiting for any influencer, and I mean any influencer, to stop pushing products on our page and tell us to save our money instead,’” Ojekunle says. “Financial literacy for influencers is what I’m so passionate about. I feel like if I can just convert 15, 20 influencers to be the biggest influencer in their own life, to advocate for themselves, then I’ve done my part in the industry.”

Photo by Christina Mumper.

Cassel is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor, a co-owner of Racket MN, and a VHS collector.