To say that Haileigh Vasquez is obsessed with fashion is an understatement.
“I have jackets, I have capes, leathers, raincoats, fur coats, dresses, pants, and purses,” she said going through her closet at home in New York. “I have a lot of clothes.”
She’s just 6 years old, but she’s already an Instagram model. Her page, “hails_world,” has more than 123,000 followers, and she loves to wear Dolce & Gabbana and Burberry.
“It's really fun, because I like wearing cool clothes because kids in my school say, ‘I love your outfit,’” she said.
When she grows up, she said she wants to be a fashion designer “just like Karl” -- she’s referring to designer Karl Lagerfeld.
“He's an icon fashion designer,” she said. “He designs all the stuff in Fendi and Chanel.... But I like Karl, because he's really fashionable, and I am too. So I really, really want to be like him one day.”
Haileigh is just one of many tiny trendsetters on Instagram. There are pages filled with children wearing the latest fashions, from Haileigh to 4-year-old Ryan Secret, photographed with his signature faux hawk for his 119,000 followers, to 6-year-old Gavin Duh, giving his best “Blue Steel” look to his 200,000 followers.
Haileigh’s mother, Zulay Vasquez, says her first post was when Haileigh was just 3 years old.
“First picture was like ... it literally broke the Internet. She went viral,” Zulay Vasquez said.” I put this dress on her, with a little belt on the waist, and she was walking with her hand on her hip like this, and everybody was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I posted that picture and ... everybody re-posted that picture so many different times.”
That Instagram fame catapulted Haileigh onto the runway -- she recently walked in New York’s Fashion Week -- and for some kids, that can mean big money.
“For some parents it’s just posting cute photos of their child,” said Ericka Souter, contributing editor for the parenting website Mom.me. “But for others, there is another goal. It’s getting exposure. It’s setting their kids up for modeling or acting careers, and this can certainly lead to that.”
Vasquez said that by law, 15 percent of the money Haileigh earns goes into a trust fund, and then the remainder goes into her daughter’s savings account.
“I will just put it there and let it grow,” Vasquez said. “If she decides at some point that she no longer wants to pursue this, she wants to go to MIT or Harvard, she has the funds to pay for that.”
To those who might criticize her and say Vasquez is just capitalizing on her daughter’s looks, Vasquez said the Instagram page is just a hobby for them.
“She just happens to get paid for it,” she said. “I feel I built her up for the future, her confidence. She looks at herself and she says, ‘Wow. I'm beautiful.’ Whether people tell her she's not, in her mind, she already knows that she's beautiful.... That's the first step towards making her a confident young adult.”
But the world of social media stardom can come at a price.
“The Insta-Mom is definitely the new form of the stage mom or mom-anger,” Souter said. “When you have 100,000 followers, parents have to ask themselves are all these people good intentioned? Are they all just fashion fans who love to see kids in great clothes or is there something else going on?
“And then you have cases where the pictures are taken and used for pornographic material and it’s kind of dangerous and people can develop a scary obsession with your child,” she added.
Vasquez said she takes protective measures to keep her daughter safe, posting only a few times a week and never tagging their location while they are still there.
“I make sure that she knows that she knows that if people come up to her ... she's aware that this person is not my friend,” Vasquez said. “I do background checks. I make sure that I have an app where I check everybody. I make sure that she's always safe. As long as I can prevent it, I'm going to control it.”
Another young Instagram star, Elle, from Arizona, is just 3 years old and has more than 89,000 followers.
“I started posting pictures of Elle maybe when she was 4 or 5 months,” said her mother, Linda Parra. “I can’t believe that there’s that many followers and that many people interested in in our pictures and it’s just sweet and super flattering but it still surprises me.”
But Parra said the response online has not always been positive.
“There’s been a few comments like ‘let kids be kids’ and I mean, I think it’s because they think I dress her up that she’s not a normal kid, but she is,” Parra said. “She plays in her clothes, she goes to school in them. I would never put her in anything that she’s not comfortable in.”
Parra works as a dentist, but she also runs a children’s boutique called The House of Posh Tots.
“I’ve been offered money, but then to me it doesn’t seem organic anymore, so I will take the merchandise and style it any way that I like, but I don’t really want to get paid,” she said. “This is fun and I have two jobs, I don’t want to have a third one, and even though it does sound nice to have a little extra money ... it just doesn’t seem real to me and I don’t want my followers to think that I’m selling them something.”
As for Haileigh, her mother said when people see her daughter’s photos, she hopes they will just see her as “an amazing person.”
“She has such a personality,” Vasquez said. “She would love to be the style guru of the world. She would love for people to e-mail her and tell her, ‘What should I wear?’ She wants to pick everybody's outfit. I would hope that at some point in life, she can probably do that.”
And if Haileigh wanted to give it all up tomorrow, Mom says she would be fine with that.
“If she was to say, ‘I don't want to do this anymore,’ then I support her 100 percent all the way,” Vasquez said. “Because at the end of the day, I'm just trying to do what makes her happy.”