Like many future designers, Chelsy Christina Sisneros, who goes by Chelsy Christina, took a liking to interiors from an early age. “I feel like when most kids were watching cartoons, I was watching HGTV,” she says. At the same time, another passion had also captured her attention: saving the environment. By fifth grade, she’d already hosted a community auction to fundraise for combating deforestation in her hometown of Sacramento, California. At the time, the two interests felt completely unrelated.
By the time college rolled around, she began studying design while simultaneously launching a social media marketing agency alongside her now-boyfriend. The pair took on a variety of local clients, from restaurants to small businesses, and eventually grew to represent sustainable construction companies and interior designers. By 2019, one of their design clients recruited Christina to be an assistant at the firm, where she worked her way up from design assistant to senior designer.
While the role at the firm felt like a dream gig, there were parts of the design process that nagged at Christina—particularly the amount of waste created upon a home’s completion. “We would finish on installation day, and the front yard of a project would be completely filled with packaging waste from all the new products and furniture that had been delivered,” she says. “In construction as well—demolishing homes and interiors, and building in general, creates a significant amount of waste.”
When the pandemic hit, Christina began to forge her own niche, not only in the design industry—where she began taking on her own projects focused on sustainable practices—but also on social media, where she kicked off her own platform for the first time. Sharing instructions for eco-friendly home design, snippets of her own project adventures and glimpses of sustainability innovations, she’s gained a TikTok following of more than 181,000 in a few short years.
Ahead, Christina shares why she held out for a management team that aligned with her values, how sticking to a sustainable design niche has protected her personal life from spilling into the online world, and why she’s eyeing long-form content as the next frontier in the climate communications side of her social media strategy.
When did you realize social media was an opportunity for you?
I’ve always had an eye for social media. I got on Instagram right when it was created—I was in eighth grade. My generation grew up with social media, and we tend to be pretty savvy with it, but I always particularly enjoyed it. That’s why my now-boyfriend and I actually started a social media agency right out of high school. We started working with clients in Sacramento, where we’re from, doing social media for restaurants and bars. When I started working at the [interior design firm] and with other design clients, I was able to create a lot of growth for them. I took the firm from zero to 20,000-plus followers, and their YouTube channel to 300,000 subscribers. But I never really pushed my own socials. It wasn’t until Covid hit, when I had some free time since we couldn’t be on job sites, that I started creating videos on low-waste lifestyle. I made a few on interior design as well, debating which niche to go for. It wasn’t until a few years later that I’ve really figured out how to combine the two and that the content I really want to focus on is sustainable interiors.
I have a combination of followers who are focused on design, sustainable design, as well as people who are mostly just interested in the lifestyle aspect of sustainability. But even among the people who are mainly interested in sustainability, everyone wants a beautiful home. If they can do that in a way that has a low environmental impact, that’s something everyone can be interested in.
How would you describe your content?
When I started, I focused on creating content around zero-waste products and refillables, and how to reduce waste as individuals, as well as on the bigger-picture policy changes that need to happen. Over the years, I started creating short-form videos on sustainability in the home, like a series on moving into my new space with only secondhand furniture. That’s what I’ve been moving toward now.
What was the trajectory of building your audience?
It was pretty steady, but it happened quickly. During Covid, there were a few months when everyone was at home and had nothing to do, so people were looking for more content. TikTok was still pretty new and [there were] not a lot of creators, so my videos did extremely well. They were not nearly as high-quality as the videos I create now, but they did so well back then. Now it’s definitely more competitive, as a lot of creators have come to TikTok. No matter what, I just tried to stay true to myself. Naturally, as creators and just individuals, we change and our interests change. As long as you allow your personality to shine through, hopefully your audience will follow along with you, because they’re interested in you and your point of view.
Is your social media presence its own entity, or do you take on additional design work?
I mainly focus on social media [partnerships] as my revenue source, which allows me the flexibility to take on interior design projects that I’m really excited about, and then I can actually create content around those projects rather than having to take on a lot of projects at once, or maybe some that aren’t as great of a fit. Being able to work with brands allows me some creative flexibility, which I know a lot of creatives aren’t able to have, so I feel really grateful.
When did you start working with brands?
On TikTok, it was pretty quick—I was probably six months into creating content when brands started reaching out. On Instagram, I really didn’t grow my audience until more recently. People started wanting to work with me in combination—a TikTok video and an Instagram post. Now that I have a slightly larger following on Instagram, I get brands reaching out to me there as well.
So far, I haven’t really had to do very much outreach. I have my email in my bio, so I get a good amount of inbound [inquiries] from brands. I’ve worked basically entirely with brands that focus on sustainability, and I’m trying to work more with home and homewares brands. I look for brands whose purpose really aligns with mine—that sustainability is a big part of their brand, their brand values and their mission. I also like to work with brands that can relate in terms of aesthetics, but that’s like a cherry on top—I’m mainly focused on mission-based brands. I was managing all those brand deals on my own for the first year or so but have taken on management more recently.
What’s been your experience working with management?
I knew I needed management when I wasn’t able to get to all of the inbounds, and I knew I was leaving opportunities on the table just because I didn’t have the time, or because I like to set healthy boundaries. I could work [overtime] and get back to everyone, but that’s just not how I like to live my life. I explored management for a while, but didn’t find a fit that I was really excited about until I found Katherine Meinhardt, who’s the owner of The Well Agency. She specifically works with content creators who are focused on sustainability and social justice—you know, plant-based diets and things in those categories—and it’s been game-changing. She’s helped me negotiate my rates a little bit higher and has given me so much time back, and helped me pave the way for some deals and longer-term partnerships that I’m really excited about.
What does the process of producing content look like for you?
I keep it pretty simple. Short-form content does well just shot on the iPhone. I’ll just use a tripod—I’m mainly filming in my home, but even when I’m out I’ll prop my phone up on things and get shots, and then I use the app Splice to edit videos on my phone and get them up pretty quickly. I’ll do a voiceover usually, instead of talking directly with the camera, so I’ll type up a script and record that. The recording can take me a while—I know some people are able to get videos out in an hour or so, but I do spend quite a bit of time shooting, so I can really only get about one or two, maximum, videos out a day. But it’s a pretty simple process.
I try to [maintain] a calendar—on Mondays, I’ll type out my ideas for the week. I wish I could say that I stay true to it, but I think most weeks I end up moving things around because I think as inspiration strikes you have to move on it—if it’s too planned out, you might miss the really creative idea and opportunity.
How do you decide how much of yourself makes it on to your social media?
I’m in most of my videos, but the difference is that I do voiceovers, so I’m not talking directly to the camera. My videos are a little bit more planned out and calculated, which is just the style of video I’m comfortable with. I really admire creators who are able to just get on camera and talk and share their stories—that’s something that I’d love to get better at, but I think my style is more scripted and stylized.
I don’t share too much of my personal life on social media. That’s one thing I love about having a niche, because it creates that boundary of what you post and what you don’t post. That’s not something that anyone has to stick to, but it’s something that I appreciate because I’m like, “My brand is about sustainable home and secondhand design, so that’s what I’m gonna post about.” It doesn’t leave me questioning, “Should I post this, should I not post it?” It’s just like, “Does it fit into this category or not?” This is what people really are looking for from my account, and now that social media is more of my job, I’m less interested in posting my day-to-day personal life. In general, when I started growing a larger audience, the less comfortable I became with sharing intimate details about my life. I keep thinking I might want to post [something personal] on Instagram Stories for [my] Close Friends [list], but I never really think to. Now that it’s more of a job, I feel less interested in posting for fun. I already have to post quite a bit for work, so I don’t really have a desire to share.
How do you field comments, DMs?
It’s difficult to manage. I would love to get back to everyone, and I try my best. For example, right when I post a new video, I try to get back to every comment for the first day. That helps boost engagement, but I also just like to give feedback to the people who are asking questions. But especially since TikTok and Reels are both evergreen content, you’ll continue to get comments on videos that you posted a year ago, so it’s not realistic to respond to all of them.
Do you ever encounter trolls?
When you have videos that hit a million views, it’s not going to appeal to everyone, and that’s just something that you have to get comfortable with and build thick skin around. There will always be some negativity. Once a video of mine hits a few hundred thousand views, that’s where I set the boundary of not reading comments anymore, because I know there’s going to be some negativity there. Someone created a video on TikTok that was kind of mocking me once, and that was probably the worst of it. At first, just reading a lot of those negative comments—they were things that weren’t very productive or constructive, like people criticizing my voice. I know a lot of creators get comments around body-shaming and things like that, so it can definitely be a tough space to be in mentally. You have to have thick skin and know when to just stop looking.
Is social media in general ever overwhelming for you?
I’ve created more boundaries now, so it’s more manageable. With my current schedule, for example, I don’t post on the weekends. I might be doing really fun things that are great for content on the weekends, so I’ll still get some shots and record videos, because that’s the fun part for me—but I won’t post and edit until the workweek. Since I don’t share too much of my personal life, I have healthy boundaries that help make social media more manageable and my schedule to be more flexible. I try to work a nine-to-five—some days, I’m working late, but creating those boundaries really helps.
How do you approach platform updates/algorithm shifts?
It’s definitely tough doing social media for a living because things are always changing, and sometimes you feel pressure to stay on top of it. I think what’s most important is staying true to yourself and your own point of view. I find if I’m trying to follow the latest trends and follow the latest tips on how to go viral and things like that, I end up overthinking it, and my videos actually don’t do as well. When I’m more focused on creating original content based on ideas that are really unique or that I haven’t seen before, those are the things that are a risk because I’m never sure how they’ll do, but most of the time, they actually end up doing better than if I were to just follow the trends that I’m seeing on the platform. People really are looking for originality and a unique perspective, and those are the creators that people are really looking to follow.
I do try to be an early adopter because that really paid off with TokTok. If you’re getting on TikTok now, it’s definitely still worth it to get on and build your audience across any platform, but there was definitely a payoff for the people who were earlier—and it is harder to build an audience now. You have to recognize that and try to keep that in mind with the new platforms that launch like Threads and Lemon8. But also, we can’t do it all. There’s always a new platform. So experiment with things, but then find what really works for you and what to focus on.
What’s the biggest challenge for you right now on social media?
I want to move toward long-form content. I’ve been creating TikToks and Reels for a couple of years now, but it can be pretty limiting when you’re editing a video down to 20 seconds. I find that I write out a script and have to delete half of what I want to say just to fit in the main point, and I’d love to create longer content because some topics are more nuanced, and I’d love to go into detail—especially with DIY and interior design—in explaining how you can create looks in your own home. That’s harder to do in a few seconds. I also think that’s a great way to build audience because I want to create a deeper connection with my followers, and if I’m able to really show my personality, that would be a great way to help me connect.
One thing I’m considering, since I focused more on climate communication when I first started, [is how] to balance how I’m speaking about that and what I’m highlighting, and then what parts are about interiors. I always feel inclined to talk about climate change and not just little sustainability tips that we can use in our own life—there are a lot bigger things that need to happen in order to create movement in the space. Mainly, it’s policy change on a government level that regulates corporations and Big Oil—we really do need to divest from fossil fuels. Bringing that back to design, it’s moving away from things like fast furniture and trends. That’s really one thing I love about my generation and the future generations to come, is that people are a lot more interested in personal style and having a unique point of view. Instead of just copying the trend that’s being sold to us by big brands, we can shop more secondhand and find things that are unique to us and that we’ll cherish and hold on to long-term.
People have resonated so well with my content because it’s something on everyone’s mind, and that’s really exciting that it’s beginning to be in the conversation. But I think across categories—not just in interiors, but in fashion and basically in any category—on the whole, sustainability and the climate isn’t being talked about enough [given] the severity of the issue. Figuring out a balance and how to communicate that in a way that I’m comfortable with and doesn’t become overwhelming is the challenge I’m currently trying to overcome.
Homepage image: Chelsy Christina Sisneros | Courtesy of designer