When Rishika Jikaria (20C) and Marissa Ren (22B) open TikTok, they don’t simply scroll through the myriad of videos on the massively popular social media service. Instead, the trend-savvy junior and recently graduated Juris Doctorate candidate at Fordham University return to a platform where they have garnered astounding popularity.
With 1.1 million followers and 36 million likes on her videos, Ren creates content on fashion, beauty and college tips. Jikaria follows close behind with 565.6k followers and 8.2 million likes for her short videos focusing on South Asian dance.
Widely known for her fashion videos, Ren started her account in September 2019 as a simple pastime. Although her mission was just “to post dances and meaningless videos for fun,” this hobby soon became life-changing, with her first video going viral the next month at over 2.5 million likes.
“It was just me trying on my mom’s clothes,” Ren said. “I’m very embarrassed of it now!”
Jikaria recalled similar humble beginnings. She began by posting dance videos with her two sisters back in March 2020 as a means to make quarantine less lonely.
“We’ve been dancing together since we were really young,” Jikaria said. “We’ve always been choreographing together, taking videos and posting them.”
Apart from dancing, as South Asian-Americans, the sibling trio aimed to bring more cultural representation to the app.
“We thought it would be cool to bring our own perspectives [and] create videos that reflect that. That’s what inspired us,” Jikaria said.
Michelle Zheng (19Ox, 21C) met Jikaria through Emory Karma Bhangra, an Emory’s co-ed Bhangra dance team, where they immediately became close. Zheng noted the trio’s impact on diversity across TikTok.
“They are such big inspirations to so many South Asian women who don’t see people like themselves represented,” Zheng said.
After amassing over 2.5 million likes on her first TikTok, Ren began taking content creation seriously. One of her most popular series follows Chinese street fashion and showcases some of the country’s recent fashion trends.
Amy Zhang (21C) was close to Ren before coming to Emory and wasn’t at all surprised when she became viral.
“She has always had an eye for these types of things and a very good sense of style,” Zhang said.
Ren is also part of TikTok’s Creative Learning Fund, a COVID-19 relief effort providing over $50 million in grants to educators in need. Creators like Ren will also contribute to the platform’s dedication to learning by providing users with educational content about traditional clothing across Asia. From now until October, Ren is committed to uploading informational videos to foster greater acceptance of global cultures.
Ren’s roommate Tian Zhu (22B) said that her commitment to quality makes her content captivating.
“She spend[s] hours filming,” Zhu said. “I would say she has a very strong work ethic.”
Ren is not the only one taking advantage of the app’s opportunity. Jikaria is part of the TikTok Creator Marketplace, which allows creators to take requests from those interested in working with them to start trends from their music. She and her sisters have accepted a few requests from creators who have asked them to dance to their songs.
Aditi Chunduru (19Ox, 21C), a close friend of Jikaria’s, said the opportunities that Jikaria has been able to take advantage of are a product of her hard work.
“[Jikaria] puts her 100% effort into anything she is doing,” Chunduru said. “She will not quit until she truly given it all she has got.”
For both of the TikTok stars, the transition back to school has made it difficult to create content. However, this has given them time to reflect on their recent accomplishments.
In May, Ren was invited to be a part of TikTok’s first Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month event, where she connected with other Asian creators like Michelle Phan and Patrick Starrr. The event celebrated the cultural history of the AAPI community and their contributions to the app.
Similarly, Jikaria has had the opportunity to collaborate with Lowe’s Home Improvement store this past summer on a Fourth of July themed TikTok that celebrated being with family during quarantine. She’s worked with DJs, such as DJ Jamz and DJ Jamsal, and well-known brands, including Anita Dongre Designer Clothing.
Ren and Jikaria have also credited the app for both personal and professional growth. Studying marketing and human health, Ren’s love for social media is shaping her academic decisions.
“Before last year, I thought I would go into accounting or finance, but I did not like it,” Ren said. “After starting TikTok, I realized that I wanted to do something more creative.”
Ren spent the past summer as an intern for takeme.to, a social media marketing product by San Francisco start-up Scout. She helped content creators grow their audiences, and said that TikTok was a key player in working for the company.
“I don’t know if I’ll be a full-time content creator, but I really enjoy working with social media and content creation,” Ren said. “From TikTok I’ve learned a lot about engaging with audiences, user preferences and things like that.”
Jikaria said that the dedication required to upload videos consistently has shaped her work ethic and diligence tremendously. Prior to TikTok, she hadn’t realized how much effort it takes to run a social media account. Jikaria claims that TikTok has taught her a lot about professionalism, too.
“Professionally, I’ve learned how to negotiate and how to advocate for myself,” Jikaria said. “When we do brand deals, it’s really important to understand your interests and the other party’s interests [so] you can both gain the most out of the collaboration.”
With a continually growing fanbase on TikTok, Jikaria and Ren are excited to embark on new journeys through the platform. Neither students expected fame, but they think of TikTok as a vehicle for ordinary people to shine.
“No one knew me before TikTok,” Ren said. “The cool thing is that anyone can blow up.”