When Peaches Monroee posted a funny Vine describing her eyebrows as being “on fleek” — a phrase she spontaneously made up — she figured maybe a few friends would see it. Instead, the entire internet took notice, catapulting the two words into overnight virality. It took half as long for others to capitalize on it.
That was three years ago. Today, Peaches (whose real name is Kayla Newman) wants her second shot. According to the 19-year-old Chicago native, she hasn’t seen compensation or recognition for her phrase, which has since been stitched onto sweatshirts, sewn on beanies, and made into stickers. Stars like Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj have used it, but Newman still remains largely uncredited (as many black teenagers responsible for shaping internet culture frequently are).
With the support of her social media followers, the nursing student has recently started a GoFundMe campaign with a $100,000 goal to launch a hair and cosmetics line. “I feel like everyone has those chances in life,” Newman told MTV News over the phone. “I missed one, but this is my second time.” We spoke with Peaches about being known as the “on fleek” girl, the inspiration behind her new project, and how life has changed since her viral moment.
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
Can you describe your Vine that went viral? What was that experience like for you?
Kayla Newman: Well, I had just come from getting my eyebrows done and it was me and my mom. She went into the store and I was just sitting in the car and I was like, “OK. Let me just say something about my eyebrows.” That’s when that video came about. I had never heard of “fleek.” I had never said it, never had written it down — it just came out. I was on Twitter and people from my school — I was a sophomore going into my junior year — kept saying “Peaches gonna be famous,” [or] “Wow, that video is blowing up.” And I’m just like, “What are you talking about? Whatever.” Next thing you know, I’m hearing people saying it everywhere.
I didn’t think it was gonna be this big. I didn’t tell my mom until a month or so later. She didn’t know about it and people were coming up to me in public. She was like, “How do they know you? What are they talking about?” And that’s when I showed her. She was like, “This is something positive. You’re not doing anything obnoxious and I’m pretty sure this will go one of two ways for you.” And after that, it has. People have been using it. People have come up to me saying, “I haven’t paid a penny for my eyebrows since I’ve seen that video.” And I’m like, “Really? Because all I did was just say something.” Now I’m sitting here in 2017 trying to do something with it.
How has your life changed from when you first went viral to now?
Newman: I would say the people and some of my social media. In 2014, high school was iffy and rocky. You have teachers and you don’t want to bring that outside world inside of school. People were looking at me. Teachers found out and they were talking about it. But I stayed focused on my books. Either way, I was still going to get the grades. I would ignore [the attention]. So many of my peers’ mothers and grandmothers had seen it on Facebook and would say, “Does that girl go to school with you?!” People at my brother’s school would come up to me. My mom was so shocked. Whenever someone would say it, she’d say, “How do you know about this?”
How long after your Vine went viral did you realize people were profiting from “on fleek”?
Newman: Not too long, to be honest. People were hitting me up on social media saying, “So-and-so has hats and you need to sue them.” One company was trying to get me — they even used “fleek” in one of their hair lines. They basically wanted me to ride over the video. I said, “No, I can’t do that. It’s still mine.”
It was big. You pop a firework and it goes up in the air and splashes — that’s how my video was. So many people were selling stuff. It didn’t take too long. Within two to three months, I started seeing [“on fleek”] everywhere.
Have you confronted any of the companies or brands who’ve used the phrase? If so, what have they said to you?
Newman: [I have reached out to] some companies, like on Instagram. I’ve seen a few people make t-shirts, hats, beanies, stuff like that — but they had to send them back to me. One lady never responded back to me but I was like, “You know what? It’s fine.” I’m not one to argue. I’m not gonna shout out on social media like, “So-and-so better give me some money.” With a celebrity, it’s hard to reach them anyway through social media. I’m not gonna sit here and make everyone look at me like I’m the crazy one.
Denise Newman [Kayla’s mother]: A lot of her followers have been so supportive and encouraging. They’ve more or less spoken up for her and have had her back. I was telling her, you gotta be careful what you put out in the atmosphere. I told her, “OK, if your followers say something, that’s on them. But you just keep quiet, stand your ground, and it’ll come. It’ll come to you.” That’s how I look at it. You don’t have to argue. You’ll just make yourself look bad, where you’re unapproachable now. Her followers have been amazing. They speak up for her and they have her back.
Candace Payne, a.k.a. Chewbacca Mom, has made nearly $500,000 through gifts and scholarships after she went viral for wearing a Chewbacca mask. More recently, Danielle Bregoli has sold merch based on her “cash me ousside” phrase after appearing on Dr. Phil. Why do you think they were able to monetize these opportunities?
Newman: I would say that they just jumped on it. I procrastinated a lot and I didn’t really know that this was going to happen. I thought, It’s just a video. I didn’t think it was going to blow up like this. But like I mentioned on my GoFundMe page, this is my second chance. I feel like everyone has those chances in life. I missed one, but this is my second time and I know for sure I’m gonna be on it. I’m trying to get things going. I’m also thinking about school, ’cause I’m going to be a nurse. I don’t want to let that slip through my hands.
Do people in your school or community know you as the girl who created “on fleek”?
Newman: The majority of the people in high school knew, but not in college. In college, I just go to school [and] I come home. Hardly anyone knows. With the people I grew up with, they’re like, “Peaches, that’s just you on a regular basis.” That’s how I am. That’s just me. I’m fun, I’m vibrant, I’m positive, I’m a little crazy — but in a fun way [laughs] — but that’s just me. They knew that. My teachers have always said, “You’re gonna be something.”
How has this shaped the last three years for you? How has it shaped your identity, if at all?
Newman: Nothing has changed except for my age and being mature enough to take on different situations. It was kind of scary for me [when the video came out]. I didn’t want anything to happen to me. I’d be out in public and a group of people would see me and it’d be a commotion. I didn’t want that to happen [again] so I’ve stayed home a lot of times. When this video came out, it made me sit down and think, You just can’t do anything no more. You just can’t be in the car with anybody no more. Even with the people I’m with right now, I tell them no [about filming]. But they’re good about it. I’ve got four friends and they’re pretty good. I don’t hang around with a big crowd of people and they were the ones who were with me in elementary school until now. They didn’t judge me; they didn’t think I was better than them. A lot of people got that concept in their head: Oh, you’re too good. No, I’m just a regular person. I struggle too.
If you could go back in time and do anything differently, knowing what you know now, would you?
Newman: I would. I would have jumped on the video more and made sure I had my brand, my name, everything out there. I’d be well-known, I’d have a bigger fan base. Going to college would be so good with money. I wouldn’t have to worry about breaking the bank with that. But I also feel like everything happens for a reason.
Besides not getting the recognition or money you deserve for creating “on fleek,” has going viral been positive in any way?
Newman: Yeah, because people [like celebrities] see the video and then their [social media followers] see it. Then when I do come out with something [new], they’re like, “Oh, that’s the girl right there.” And that kind of helps. People idolize celebrities like Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian.
What advice would you give to a young person who might find themselves in a similar situation in terms of making content but not getting the credit?
Newman: Just keep trying, ’cause it took a while for me to finally get to that point. I’m an average person out here. Don’t give up — that’s what you can’t do. That lets everyone else win. You gotta find your niche, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m still in school, but I’m finding my way. Also, stay in school. Have some type of education. Because more than likely, you’re gonna need a backup plan. I’ve always said I wanted to be a nurse and I’m not gonna give up that dream. I’m trying to accomplish this one, but I’m not gonna give up that one. That’s my backup plan. That’s my go-to. Make the right decisions and read. Read whatever you get. You sign one contract and that’s your life. You can’t take that back.
And just go for it. You can do anything you wanna do. Look at me now. I wanna sell my hair, do the cosmetics line, be an actress. I wanna do all of it. I’m gonna do it. But I’m also gonna make sure that plan B works.
What’s the inspiration behind the hair and makeup line that you want to launch? Is this something you’ve always been interested in?
Newman: I have been interested in selling hair — I wear a lot of extensions myself. People have always asked me, “Why don’t you sell hair? You’re always wearing hair, you’re always styling [other people’s]. Why not just sell it yourself?” For cosmetics, that was actually a little funny for me because I didn’t start wearing makeup until the end of my senior year in high school, because I could never find the right foundation for myself, and I have sensitive skin. So I could never get that part going until I went to college and I was like, “You know what? There’s parties. I wanna have fun.” Every female doesn’t need makeup, but it’s not wrong to [want to] be a different character yourself. So that’s what inspired me to do it: my fan base and me.