India Sehmi is an influencer and blogger (@theindiaedit) with years of expertise creating content in the luxury travel, hospitality and wellness sectors. Her signature style – chic and refined with an edge – has earned her collaborations with the likes of Soho House Group, Belmond, Beaumier, NoMad London, Hoxton, Gleneagles, Experimental, and the Newt in Somerset.
In an age where influencers remain pivotal in marketing campaigns, we sat down with India to discuss what it takes to become an influencer, how to forge links with – and make striking content for – luxury establishments, and why she believes collaborating with influencers will always be crucial for brands.
Photography © Amanda Lee
What motivated you to found the india edit and how did it start to gain traction?
Thank you so much for having me on the Sequel journal!
the india edit really began many iterations before. I always loved taking photos, posing in my bedroom from a young age — I just loved capturing things, whether that was fashion or trips, et cetera.
A blog felt like quite a natural way to share that at scale. People would often come to me for restaurant or outfit recommendations, and the blog was just perfect for that. I actually started it when I was at university, probably about ten or more years ago now.
I started the india edit Instagram properly in about 2018, and it's just evolved since then. Lockdown was a big accelerator because everyone was at home on their phones and I had a lot more time to create and share content, and so that's when I was able to build it into a legitimate business.
And about two and a half years after that, I actually left my full time job to pursue it full time, which is what I do now.
Your content is wonderfully eclectic, tying together fashion, food, skincare, interiors and a range of lifestyle topics. Can you tell us a bit more about your work in luxury wellness, hospitality and travel in particular?
Well firstly thank you, that's very kind! I love sharing a range of content because it really just draws on all of the things that I'm interested in.
In terms of the latter part of the question, I think this sort of thing really comes down to trust and I am always incredibly vigilant in terms of the research that I do. When I go on trips, I get into major Instagram holes, read all sorts of different websites to find out the best places to go, and therefore that's what I can share with my audience. So it really adds value to them and it comes across as authentic.
I think in terms of sharing the more luxury, travel and wellness content, you want your content to be reflective of that aesthetic. So creating really beautiful imagery and videos that are reflective of whoever you are working with, whilst still aligning with your own style.
For years and years, and still much of the time now, I've obviously paid for my own trips and meals out, but I do now have the huge benefit of being able to work with amazing hospitality businesses - but I am super selective about which. I’d rather pay to stay somewhere that aligns with my brand than sacrifice that. I think that comes through in what I share and why brands would want to work with me and why my followers visit places I have recommended.
In our experience, some luxury hotels, spas or restaurants can be somewhat hesitant to work with influencers – or at least extremely selective. Having done a number of press trips, what do you think these establishments are looking for in a content creator?
I think, again, they are looking for someone that is reflective of their aesthetic or can tap into the audience they are trying to reach. It should definitely be a considered approach to ensure you are finding someone that can add value in the ways that you are looking for. This could be to create beautiful imagery, that you can then use, or it could be just to get your name out there and drive bookings.
I think transparency and expectation setting is important. For example, I once created content for Soho House Group, and their style of content is to be more ‘scrappy’, whereas a luxury hotel may want something that is incredibly polished and perfect. Increasingly hotels are leaning more into that ‘lived in’ vibe though! If it is imagery you are looking for as a hotel, a detailed brief is helpful, but you still want to leave room for the content creator to add their own creativity too.
If as a content creator you are looking to work with these establishments, then it’s important to share previous examples of how a hotel perhaps used your image or your audience really engaged with your content. Ultimately, the hotel is giving you something, so I think it's about what you can give them in return that's really going to be of value to them.
At the same time, I don't think that influencers should underestimate the impact that they have for those hotels. Partnerships can work in different ways - it could be anything from a discounted rate, a free meal or two whilst there, a complimentary stay, or payment for a set of deliverables.
Photography © Lucy Laucht
On the other side of the coin, how do you choose which brands or establishments you want to work with?
I choose hotels or brands that I really think align with my style, and I'm incredibly picky. I need to make sure that the interiors are very much my vibe – the location, the food, the quality of service – because I just don't want to be damaging the trust that I built up with my audience or risking that in any way. So it's definitely a case of saying no more often than I say yes.
What is your approach to creating content for luxury wellness, hospitality or travel brands? Talk us through your creative process from choosing destinations to shooting to editing!
I absolutely love visiting beautiful places because that's where I feel most inspired. It gets to the point sometimes where I literally cannot sit still because I just want to capture all of the beauty around me!
My trips typically start with research – maybe I see somewhere on Instagram that I would really like to go to and I save it, or I read about it in a magazine or online somewhere, and then I'll probably make a note of it so that I know where to go when I'm looking.
On the actual trip, I typically just let the inspiration come to me and get my bearings of the hotel at first, the light, et cetera, and just start taking pictures. Practice makes perfect, try not to overthink it and snap away!
In terms of editing, I try not to edit too much, but I think again you want to be reflective of the environment you're in. If it's a gorgeous glowy summer evening then you want your edit to be reflective of that. Typically I use the app VSCO to edit.
Photography © Sarah Ellen
If you were to give three top tips to someone looking at how to become a luxury travel influencer, what would they be?
Firstly, be vigilant in your research because you want to be knowledgeable about the place that you're going and ensure that it aligns with you as a content creator.
I would also say "don't ask, don't get". That is one of my mantras for life – the worst thing that can happen is you'll end up in exactly the same position that you're in now, so definitely ask, but be considered with how you ask and think about the exchange of value.
Finally, I would say ensure that the content is either aligning with their aesthetic if it's for them or with your aesthetic if it's for you.
And I'm going to add a fourth one which is just to have fun!
In your opinion, what makes influencer marketing so effective for brands? What can an influencer bring to the table that a conventional campaign can't?
For me, influencer marketing is all about the human element and as a follower you're buying into someone and you are choosing to follow them for a reason - maybe because you aspire to have a similar lifestyle to them, or you really trust their advice and recommendations, or you really relate to them in some way. And as a brand you don't have that same personal element.
I think an influencer can translate your brand for their audience in a way that you wouldn't be able to, and you can have different influencers working with you as a brand so that you're capturing lots of different audiences.
Travel content in particular - I think it's just amazing to be able to see a brand or hotel through the eyes of a content creator.
Often, the idea of ‘influencing’ is still so closely tied to Instagram – it’s easy to forget about the benefits of owning your own blog or branching out to other social media. How important do you think it is for influencers to have platforms other than Instagram?
I think it is really important not to have all of your eggs in one basket.
Instagram is always going to remain an important channel in my opinion, but having something like a blog – something that you own fully – is really amazing because you're not subject to algorithm changes or random changes that are out of your control.
At the moment, I do see a lot of traction happening in TikTok and that kind of short-form video content, and I think that's here to stay. I think it's about thinking about how you can create content that is still reflective of you, but translating that across different channels – and that is something that I'm still trying to work out myself.
As a digital creative, you’re working in such a dynamic, fast-changing industry. Since starting your blog, for instance, TikTok has burst onto the social media scene and changed the face of online marketing dramatically, with audiences demanding more ‘authentic’, personalised content. Do you feel that the nature of your content has changed at all over the past few years?
I honestly don't feel like I've worked this out yet. I feel like on Instagram I'm more curated and polished, whereas on TikTok is an opportunity for more of my personality to come through, but I'm still working out how to ‘think in different channels’ because I believe that is a skill that needs to be honed.
Also more and more, it's about ‘thinking in video’ rather than in static imagery, which, again, is something I am still learning.
Professionals in your line of work often use different terms to describe what they do. In some reports, the term ‘influencer’ is declining while the term ‘creator’ is on the up. What name do you tend to use to describe yourself and your work? Do you identify with the term ‘influencer’?
I do relate to the term influencer because I think that I do have a certain influence over what people are maybe buying or places they're visiting or restaurants they're going out to eat at.
However, I also think that most of the people around me are influencers, whether they create content on Instagram or not. For example, if I'm just chatting to a friend and they're giving me a recommendation I'm being influenced to maybe purchase that or follow their recommendation.
I personally relate to the term content creator a lot more because I feel as though my skillset is more about actually creating: photographing or creatively directing content. I don't do that just on my own channels in terms of the content that I share, but also for brands.
More and more I would say that my work is expanding in that direction and I'm actually creating content for brands that would never actually end up on my Instagram handle. So ‘content creator’ is what I would call myself.
Prior to creating content full-time you spent six-years working at LTK, an influencer marketing hub that helps creators find brand partnerships and monetise their content. What are your thoughts on the role of tech in influencer marketing, and how can you see tech shaping the industry in the future?
I think tech is an amazing enabler for influencers and content creators. When I was working at LTK, we often talked about how we created the tech so that influencers could continue doing what they do best – the tech is there as a foundation and support to help you grow and monetise your business, and I do very much believe in that.
I think that we will continue to see tech play such a huge part whether that's from an AI perspective or more from a support perspective, but I think that it's only going to become increasingly important.
However, it will probably become increasingly artificial beyond the realms of things that we can even picture right now, particularly when it comes to things like the metaverse.
And finally, to sum up, what is your advice for brands looking to work with influencers and content creators?
I would say influencers should be a core part of your marketing strategy and if they are not then you are late to the party! Influencers are able to translate your brand to their loyal audience in ways that you are not able to as a brand and therefore they are an increasingly important part of the marketing mix. 95% of all of the biggest brands in the world are using them and that is with good reason.
Influencers have so many skills from creating content to driving sales to creating ‘buzz’, and there are different influencers you can work with for different elements of your business. I think what's really amazing about influencer marketing is that it has so many touch points across a business.