When Vashtie Kola and I first met in 2011 at VIBE Magazine, she was the antithesis of a social butterfly.
At the time, the influencer was a burgeoning director and stylish creative whose connections and hard work had already made her the sweetheart of NYC's downtown scene.
Twitter wasn't quite the information machine it is today, so back then you had to do your homework to understand why Vashtie was a woman to watch.
Though her résumé now reads like a drop-down menu of achievements -- DJ, designer and model -- Vashtie is still the endearing, soft-spoken person I buzzed around while prepping for a fashion photoshoot.
"I'm beyond busy and becoming busier by the moment," she says about her multiple jobs. "Naturally, [as] women, we take on more than we can handle."
Today, as we settle into our interview, Vashtie still reminds me of who she was years ago. That girl who prefered to be behind the scenes, rather than clamoring for the spotlight.
The difference, however, is the curly-haired girl sitting before me in a furry, pink crop top and black slacks now understands the power of being front and center. She's learned how social media can act as a springboard for success.
Vashtie created the tomboy-meets-high fashion brand Violette, housed online and in Paris' popular Colette boutique. She also became the first woman to design a Jordan-brand sneaker and can be spotted in nationwide campaigns for Puma and DKNY. Not to mention, she's starred in five Toshiba commercials.
Before Vashtie began carving out her space on social media, she was a Trinidadian tomboy running with the guys in upstate New York.
Though playing with the boys made her most comfortable, Vashtie was shamelessly bullied in junior high school. It turned her off to all-girl squads for some time.
However, it taught her an invaluable lesson.
"I feel like we all go through this phase of girl-hate," she laughs, admitting she uses Facebook to show her former mean girls they didn't break her spirit. "But don't let anyone rain on your parade. If you have dreams and goals that your peers can't identify with, it's important not to allow them to shut you down. No one else is living your life for you, so you have to make sure everything you're doing is going to make you happy."
These days, however, she surrounds herself with positive women.
"I need women in my life to teach me things," Vashtie says.
Back in 1999, Vashtie found herself miles away from her home in Albany, NY and smack dab in the center of the Big Apple. While in the city, she made it a point to create relationships and work for popular clothing brands like Supreme.
Later, she established herself as a leading creative in style and art, helping design custom headphones with Beats By Dre and serving as the creative director of the fashion brand Billionaire Boys Club.
In other words, she was a shining star well before the Internet caught on.
Now, her days are jam-packed with DJ gigs, flights and meetings with her two social media managers. A typical day for Vashtie means waking up at seven or eight and heading the gym for about 90 minutes. Because she battles insomnia, hour-long workouts are not usually fun.
"But, within that hour, I'm answering emails, planning social media posts, corresponding on my social media," she explains. "I hate wasting time so I like to do a lot of things at once."
As her growing list of profitable talents continues to expand, so does her following.
For a woman who strives to keep it real, it's odd to see her thrive using a tool like social media. Instagram, in particular, is saturated with copycats.
Her only personal rule is to remain creatively authentic and unique, something she isn't used to seeing in this day and age.
"I grew up immersed in skate culture and hip-hop culture," she says. "Things from those realms and that era was all about authenticity."
Though Vashtie feels social media is a necessity in order to share everything she designs, she emphasizes the world of filtered selfies and flawless flicks doesn't tell the whole story of how hard she works to maintain her brand.
"You have to be dedicated to things you want because there's a lot of hard work behind it," she says. "You might not make money for a long time, but as long as you love it, it will fulfill you."
No matter which tools you use to fuel your dreams, she urges women to stop putting themselves through a filter.
"We question the way we look or if we're coming across as a bitch," she says, advising it's time to strip away the bullsh*t and be brutally honest. "Just be real with yourself. The story that you tell yourself [about who you are] is the story you're going to believe."