Tanya Zielke never thought anyone would see her TikTok videos. She got on the app in 2019 because her niece told her to. She had some fun with it, posting mostly videos of different trends, her pets, and her fiancé Anthony.
One video did get 20,000 views: she duct-taped mini-Jack Daniels bottles to her socks during the “Walk a mile in these Louboutins” craze. What the heck? What is this app? She thought. I guess it’s okay to be weird over here.
All the while, Zielke carried on with her fulltime tech sales job in Chicago. Then the pandemic hit, and like many others, she lost her job in April 2020.
“It’s kind of like a “what does Tanya want?” moment,” Zielke says. Although she was good at sales, it hadn’t been her passion. Zielke turned to making videos to distract herself. In May, she decided to become a fulltime TikToker, posting funny, relatable, and sometimes boisterously weird—think Liza Koshy—lifestyle, beauty, and fashion videos.
Within months, Zielke landed a brand deal with NYX Professional Makeup. She and Anthony moved to Dallas and her @lifeoftanyamarie follower count exploded. In 2021, she joined Sephora Squad, the makeup company’s influencer ambassador program. She hired an agent and assembled a team.
Although she normally tells people she works in social media, Zielke has become a veritable influencer. She has more than 750,000 followers and 18 million-plus likes on TikTok. We chatted with Zielke about moving to Dallas, what sets her apart, and the ups and downs of the content creation.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You moved to Texas in August 2020. Why did you and your fiancé decide to leave Chicago?
I just couldn’t do the cold. I knew that I didn’t have a job, like a real job, So I was like, “what I can’t do is be Unemployed Tanya in the cold.” I can be Employed Tanya going to bars and restaurants and the club, but I cannot do Unemployed Tanya in the cold. So we just looked at a map.
How do you like Dallas?
I think it’s the perfect mix of city vibes, but also I can settle down and have a family. There’s things to do, sports are big here. The restaurant scene is incredible. I’m not short of things. And things are a little bit more spread out than I would maybe prefer. But I do love the fact that I can be in the ’burbs today, or I’m going to go down to Bishop Arts and spend a day down there. I’m going to get lunch down there, do a little shopping, grab a drink. Each neighborhood has its little personality, and I live for that.
You got your NYX deal in July 2020, before you moved. Was that when you realized you could be successful here?
They reached out saying, “hey, we want to do a six-month partnership with you on TikTok.” And that’s when I’m like, “wait, I can get paid over here? Like there’s money involved now, like what’s going on?” And so that was definitely a moment of okay, now I really have motivation behind this because like this isn’t just 90,000-follower count anymore, it’s like a potential career in content creation.
Lifestyle and beauty content is a pretty saturated market. What makes your videos stand out?
I’m definitely not the “aesthetically pleasing” girl where everything is perfect and I lay out the clothes perfectly on the bed. No, I’m whipping out of packaging. I’m like, “what did I get today?!” I have a lot of energy. And so, I think my content is a lot more relatable than a lot of the stuff that’s in the fashion world or what we’re used to [seeing on social media].
Have there been any moments when you considered quitting?
At the beginning, I was just like so in it. It was exciting. It was new. And like, I just knew that if I gave it a full year of 100 percent, I could walk away saying it didn’t work if it didn’t work. Like I could say, “okay, Tanya, you gave it a full year. You were 100 percent, you didn’t slack,” then I could walk away. And so, I remember December 2020: I was broke at this time, I was running out [of money], I was a little bit in credit card debt. And I’m not gonna lie, I was really hitting the wall there. And I was like, “I think I have to walk away.”
So what changed?
I wasn’t talking to the camera by this point. I had never spoken to the camera. When I was looking at people’s accounts, I was like, this person is talking and has a million followers. Maybe that’s what I need to do. Maybe I just need to open my mouth and say something. So, I saw this swimsuit hack video. I think I was like, “I’m gonna just reenact that swimsuit thing and say whatever I’m going to say.” That video went viral, got like, a million views.
How did Sephora Squad impact your career?
It got me in front of brands that I honestly had had DM messages with for a full year and had never responded. [Laughs.] Like Fenty skin. I think I have the longest chain of [messages], but just me, like “hey, I still love you guys.” And then I got to work with them.
You talk a lot about your team on your account. Why was that important to for you to do?
I used to say, “I will never hire a team, I’ll never need a staff, blah, blah blah.” That’s just sad. Like, that is just a sad mindset. I read this book, We Should All Be Millionaires by Rachel Rodgers. She just broke down in the book that like look, is there any millionaire that you know that doesn’t have a team behind them? Or is there any really successful person that’s done it all by themselves? It doesn’t exist. I think so many influencers think “Well, I can only do this” or “I can only edit this way” and “I know my style.” It’s such a missed opportunity for you to be pushed to grow.