From selling clay charms in elementary school to posting covers on her YouTube channel starting at just seven years old, now 18-year-old Mai Pham has always been an entrepreneur. Along the way, Mai has not only amassed millions of followers on social media, but she’s also beginning to branch out into other industries, namely street style fashion.
Mai recently announced that she'll be coming out with a street style clothing line inspired by Travis Scott’s Potential Cacti, his upcoming clothing brand. Mai knew she didn't just want to release merch with her name on it. “I want to make something that represents me, but also something [my followers will] love to wear,” she says.
This dedication to her followers is something that has long set Mai apart from many other creators. In many ways, Mai feels that her subscribers have grown up with her. She doesn’t simply see YouTube as a job, but as a creative outlet – a way for her to share her life with her fans. And she certainly has shared a lot with her fans (e.g. me) over the years, but today she’s opening up in ways she hasn’t before, sharing more about her unique, fascinating journey from a precocious seven-year-old to a YouTube phenomenon.
The seven-year-old YouTuber
Unlike other kids her age, Mai spent her time searching the web and uploading YouTube videos instead of playing with Barbies. “I was that seven-year-old kid that wanted to do YouTube,” Mai says. And she rarely ever doubted whether or not she could fulfill that dream for herself. “I knew that I could make it happen...and here I am now.”
It’s clear that Mai’s always been the confident, independent woman that her fans adore today. As a teen, she enjoyed spending time alone, often going out to restaurants or traveling to neighboring cities on her own – experiences that allowed her to develop her free-spirited, spontaneous personality. When she wasn’t dining or sightseeing alone, Mai turned to the Internet, and YouTube, in particular, to entertain and educate herself.
From a young age, it’s always been Mai and her laptop against the world. If she ever needed help, she did her own research, rather than asking others for information. “I used the Internet to answer my questions. I never relied on other people,” she says. So, for Mai, it was a natural transition from avid Internet usage to YouTube stardom. It also helps that Mai has never been camera-shy. “The camera is something I’ve always been comfortable around,” she says. “It feels like talking to a friend.”
But Mai initially started her channel in order to pursue a slightly different career path than the one she’s on now: music. In fact, some of Mai’s first videos are covers of popular songs from the 2000s. She still hopes to pursue a music career in the future, and has even begun working on her own songs. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to appreciate music a little bit more,” she says.
Like Mai, many other YouTubers and influencers have tried to venture into other fields in the entertainment industry after achieving their initial breakthrough success. However, fans are often quick to judge and critique these attempts. There are many so-called fans out there that attempt to gate-keep being a celebrity, meaning that they question and judge influencers’ career endeavors (i.e. music, acting, fashion). Mai tries not to stress out about the potential judgment that could come from her fans from a career pivot. “It’s something in the back of my mind,” she admits. “But I think people can tell when you’re passionate about something, and when someone enjoys what they’re doing…so I just hope for the best.”
Using her platform for more
Though Mai loves creating a happy, safe space for her followers through her YouTube Channel, she also doesn’t shy away from tackling touchy subjects, such as the recent rise in AAPI violence. “[It’s] extremely important to post about everything that’s going on in the world,” Mai says, “[especially when] social media is the number one way people consume content.”
Even though Mai thoroughly believes in speaking up about important topics, she also feels the pressure to say the right thing and ensure that she’s spreading the right message to her followers. In many ways, it’s hard to imagine that someone as self-assured as Mai would ever worry about what others think about her; however, there’s a unique pressure put on many influencers to be perfect. “The media can be really harsh. It’s so easy to hate online…but, you know, people make mistakes, everyone’s human,” she says. “People forget that YouTubers are real people too. There's a lot of pressure to make sure they don’t mess up. It can make someone hesitant to share stories of their life online.”
Though Mai finds her fanbase to be very supportive and accepting of her, she still sometimes tries to be cautious about the way she presents herself to her followers. And funnily enough, when talking about the pressure to be a good role model, Mai pauses and says, “Sorry, I’m just trying to think of the right thing to say.”
Nonetheless, Mai seems to strike a unique balance between being unapologetically herself while still setting a good example for her young fans. Mai knows she has an impact on a lot of young women, and feels it's her mission to ensure they stay positive even through rough times.
Mai’s mission echoes that of her own favorite YouTubers – MissRemiAshten, Haley Pham, and Ava Jules (all of whom are now her colleagues and friends). These YouTubers, among others, have inspired Mai’s healthy and upbeat lifestyle, something she hopes to inspire amongst her followers as well.
Knowing that her videos are her followers’ source of happiness for the day fills Mai with pride and gratitude, and motivates her to keep going. Not even a global pandemic can slow Mai down, and she’s worked to produce even more content for her fans during these uncertain times. “YouTube has been the one steady thing in my life over the past year,” she says.
If you want to go far...go alone?
In addition to YouTube, there is another thing that’s remained steady in Mai’s life over the past few years: her love for travel and exploring new cultures.
At 16, Mai hopped on a plane to Bali – opting to fly solo and document the experience through vlogs on YouTube. Mai encourages all of her subscribers to try to travel alone at least once in their lifetime, as she believes it's an extremely fulfilling and rewarding experience.
Mai’s philosophy on traveling alone is emblematic of her entire philosophy on life and womanhood. It’s clear that, for Mai Pham, the age-old saying “if you want to go far, go together” does not apply.
Mai has definitely managed to go far – and she’s always done so completely on her own terms. As for where she wants to go next? The answer is only slightly surprising. “Antarctica...not many people have experienced that...not many people have seen that place in their life before,” she says. “I want to go there before it becomes somehow trendy.”