Marla Catherine is moving her fashion empire to TikTok
In 2015, Marla Henry’s older sister had an idea.
“I was making YouTube videos with my mom, and we weren’t taking off,” says Evelyn Henry, who was 19 at the time. “But Marla––we knew she would do well. She’s got the look and the personality.”
Marla was sitting on the couch in the family living room when Evelyn walked in and asked if she’d film a video. Now she’s the talent. “If you aren’t a loyal follower of the channel, you wouldn’t know that Evelyn is involved,” Marla says. But she’s the reason that the channel exists the way it does today.”
Evelyn does nearly all the behind-the-scenes work. “It’s stuff like editing and videography, which, if held at gunpoint, I still wouldn’t be able to do,” Marla says. “I’m much more comfortable being the one talking to a camera.”
Even so, it took a year of posting for Marla Catherine––the YouTube channel––to reach 10,000 subscribers. At the same time, Evelyn was building an Instagram account with the same handle. After another year of posting back-to-school and styling videos, their YouTube following multiplied by 10.
It was the 2017 upload ‘How To Thrift Like a Pro’––in which a 13-year-old Marla pushes a shopping cart full of plants around DI––that was the first video to get over a million views. Soon after, the channel reached 500,000 subscribers. Again, Evelyn walked into the living room.
“Our income was almost exclusively from Google AdSense, but it felt right,” she says. “I told Marla I quit my job, and we were full-time YouTubers.”
Marla, nearing her fifteenth birthday, was immediately on board. “I didn’t even know it was a stressful decision,” she laughs. “I was just like, ‘Okay!’”
By then, the sisters had nabbed a few brand deals. What they really needed, though, was a manager. “We were undercutting ourselves so much,” Marla says. “If our work was worth $100, we were signing deals for $25. All money looked like great money to us.”
“Our income was almost exclusively from Google AdSense, but it felt right."
Shopping for a management company proved to be one of the most difficult parts of the Henrys’ social media journey. “Companies wanted 50 percent of brand deals and 10 percent of AdSense on top of that,” Evelyn says. “That didn’t sit right with us, especially since we were creating all of the content on our own––we didn’t understand why they’d get that much of the brand deal, much less any of the ad revenue.”
Today, the sisters say you can find full rate sheets and breakdowns of finances for digital creators. Back then, they relied on the community. “We’d DM other creators and ask what percentages they got, just to get some kind of context,” Evelyn says. “And I’m so grateful people were responsive to us––they’re the reason we were able to navigate the great deal we have now.”
Now that they’re charging what they’re worth, Marla Catherine accounts are making more money than ever. “We earn around $3,000 per post for sponsored content,” Evelyn says. “We’ve made $8,000 from a sponsorship that was literally a selfie in specific clothing,” Marla added. “Deals can vary significantly––I missed an entire semester of high school just on brand trips.”
The sisters have one major stipulation for nearly every brand deal––creative control. “When we get premade content from brands, our engagement hits record lows,” Evelyn says. “I’ve never understood brands that say what you can and can’t do––if you want our audience to respond, you have to let us talk to them.”
Talking to their audience has proven more difficult over the last year, though. Marla points to Instagram’s recent decision to hide likes as one of the app’s biggest shortcomings. “You know, they say Instagram and social media isn’t about likes, that you shouldn’t think about the numbers,” Marla says. “But when it’s your job, you have to.”
"Deals can vary significantly—I missed an entire semester of high school just on brand trips."
Marla says she’s getting a fourth of the likes she used to get even a year ago since the change. On her own account, she only sees a few people’s posts on her feed––that’s out of the 400 hundred people she follows. “It’s literally more lucrative to be on an app like TikTok, where you and everyone else can see that people are receiving and responding to your content,” she says. “When you’re pitching to brands, that’s so important.”
All the above has led Marla to turn her focus to other apps. “I haven’t talked to one other content creator who uses the app as much as they used to,” she says. “Stuff needs to change there for us to come back in full force again––for now, when we think of planning content, we think of TikTok.”
When she’s not thinking about TikTok, she has JoWest on her mind––Marla’s personal clothing brand. “If the YouTube channel was Evelyn’s baby, JoWest is mine,” Marla says.
The sisters signed a contract in November of 2020 to start producing Marla’s clothing designs. They cashed their first paycheck last week. Long-term, Marla wants a future like Rachel Parcell’s––she’s hoping JoWest gets bought out by a company like Nordstrom.
For now, though, the sisters are still trying to navigate the world of fashion. During JoWest’s first collection launch, Marla and Evelyn ignored the lessons learned from brand deals-past and let loose of the reins. “We had photographers there, models, makeup artists, a stylist,” Marla says. “It was a full-production thing.”
When they got the pictures, they snatched the reins back. “We liked our own work better,” Marla says. “We’re efficient; we know each other and how we work best. Since then, we haven’t had another full-production shoot. We’re still a team of me and Evelyn in everything we do.”
Despite the work it takes to design the clothes and work with a manufacturing team, the sisters are more excited about JoWest than some of their regular content creation work. Still, when Marla had some downtime earlier in 2022, she didn’t invest more in content creation or even JoWest––she got a job as a cashier at a grocery store.
"We liked our own work better. We’re efficient; we know each other and how we work best. Since then, we haven’t had another full-production shoot. We’re still a team of me and Evelyn in everything we do.”
“I think people fantasize about having my job a lot,” she says. “But at the same time, I was fantasizing about having a job where I could clock in and clock out. I’ve been a social media personality since I was 12. I wanted to experience something else.”
She worked there for four months before calling it quits. “It put the money we’re earning into perspective,” Marla says. “I made the same amount of money in one Instagram post that I did in the entire time working eight-hour shifts there. I’m a lot better at saving and spending now, that’s for sure.”
With cashiering out the window, Marla knew JoWest was it. “The support from social media…it’s a blessing, but not a passion,” she says. “Now that we have a stable income from YouTube and everything else, we have the time to devote to this. Clothing design––that’s where I want to be.”
It helps that her passion is also exactly where her subscriber base is. “Most of our followers are young women and girls,” Marla says. “They’ve followed us through various hauls and lookbooks and, of course, thrifting. This felt like a natural step.”
Of course, there are thousands of other fashion influencers out there. “There’s definitely saturation,” Marla says. “Back when we started, and I’d say even more now––there are all these YouTubers around similar ages making similar content. And on top of that, we all kind of look the same too.”
“I think people fantasize about having my job a lot. But at the same time, I was fantasizing about having a job where I could clock in and clock out. I’ve been a social media personality since I was 12. I wanted to experience something else.”
Despite this, Evelyn says they’ve never had to fight for an audience. “We don’t think of things through a lens of competition,” she says. “Marla always brought something different to the table.”
One of the things they think makes them stand out the most? Modesty. “We set the standard for ourselves to keep our work modest a long time ago,” Marla says. “It used to be just us and a few other people, and I think being early was what set us apart in the fashion space.”
Marla says she prioritizes modesty as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Still, that kind of content has brought all kinds of people to her channel––within and outside of the Church. “I have followers of other faiths who tell me they’re inspired by my content,” she says. “I think it’s refreshing for people.”
Her faith plays into all parts of her content––especially, she says, the decision to stay in Utah. Though Los Angeles and other major metropolises draw young social media stars, Marla says Utah is it for her. “We thought about moving to LA,” Evelyn reminisces. “I think we had one conversation about it. But the longer we were out of state, the more we craved coming home.”
While Marla recognizes that some people don’t love living in Utah, she can’t think of a better place. “I feel grateful to have grown up here,” she says. “I love the culture and being surrounded by people that have similar faith. It’s home, and moving away never felt right.”
Evelyn, who just married a medical school student, doubts she’ll be in Utah for much longer. But the pandemic showed the sisters that they can do everything remotely, together. “This job is so much more fun than anything else I imagined doing,” Evelyn says. “I think we’ll keep at it for as long as we can and then some.”