Influencer ‘Tara Milk Tea’ on the pursuit of playful luxury


Once upon a time, no one knew what an influencer was. Tara Whiteman wrote the blueprint.
Tara Whiteman is better known to her 1.3 million Instagram fans as ‘Tara Milk Tea’.
Tara Whiteman is better known to her 1.3 million Instagram fans as ‘Tara Milk Tea’. | Image source: Supplied

When Tara Whiteman started posting photos of her meals at local cafes in Sydney on Instagram, she didn’t realise that what she was doing could become her full-time job. Back in 2014, the term ‘influencer’ was little known. The design student simply did it for fun.

“I liked supporting local cafes and I enjoyed doing flat-lays, which are the top-down photos, as well as styling things at home. I did that for two years and then I pivoted to travel, because that was something else that I really enjoyed doing.”

Today, Whiteman is better known to her 1.3 million Instagram fans as ‘Tara Milk Tea’. The moniker dates back to when her focus was on food and she drank a lot of bubble tea.

“It was a fun name that fit the vibe of what I was doing, and it relates to a lot of my Asian audience as well,” she says.

Whiteman’s mother is originally from Singapore, which is where she met her father, who was working there as a marine pilot before immigrating to Sydney.

I pivoted to travel, because that was something else that I really enjoyed doing, says Whiteman. | Image source: Supplied

Nowadays, Whiteman rarely encounters people who give her a blank look when she tells them what she does for a living – but it does still happen occasionally.

“I think some people who haven’t really seen my work don’t understand what I do, and they just think, ‘Oh you do nothing.’”

As she started receiving inquiries from brands about paid partnerships, Whiteman networked with other social media influencers. She became part of a small but growing influencer community in Australia.

“One of the best things I did was to meet other people who were doing what I was doing. There isn’t much transparency around pay and things like that, so the more I spoke to other people, the better the understanding I got, both creatively and business-wise.”

Tara Whiteman
Tara Whiteman | Image source: Supplied

Whiteman’s luxury brand clients include Dior, Dior Beauty and Piaget (she is their brand ambassador in Australia), as well as a host of airlines, which have taken her to around 40 countries. In 2019, she ranked 17th on the Instagram ‘Rich List’ and was the only Australian to appear on the list. That year she reportedly earned $1.1 million and made around $15,000 per sponsored post.

Whiteman and her partner of six years, Damien (whose surname she prefers not to disclose) are a two-person team on the shoots. Both are photographers and Whiteman has an Honours degree in Design from the University of New South Wales. Most shoots are completed in a day, but a recent one from Europe was one of the longest, as a millisecond was taken every day and then compiled into a montage of outfits.

Her home styling shoots featuring colourful items on a white bookcase can take weeks because she needs to source the props, food and other products and then painstakingly lines everything up for a quick succession of time lapses.

“Damien and I have the same creative style, so we work really well together. He doesn’t enjoy being in front of the camera though,” she says.

Whiteman herself does not speak to the camera: she either uses stills or pairs her videos with upbeat or quirky songs.

She describes her aesthetic as “luxury – but playful. I keep it real, but I also like to show people the finer things in life, which is something that I personally enjoy.”

Tara Whiteman
Tara Whiteman | Image source: Supplied

Many of her posts have a dreamy femininity about them and feature Whiteman in elegant gowns. Backdrops are often beautiful bathtubs, fields of flowers, billowy clouds or dramatic sunsets (the best of which were found in the Maldives, she says). Whiteman also loves the royal palaces of Rajasthan in India, the quirky fashions of Korea and the cherry blossoms of Japan.

“I’ve chased spring a lot,” she says with a laugh.

When the COVID-19 lockdowns began and travel restrictions were imposed, Whiteman was worried about how she would continue her livelihood. She quickly pivoted to focus more on lifestyle and fashion and tried to make the most of the altered circumstances.

“We had been flat-out in 2018 and 2019. We were literally flying across the world every week,” she says. “The pace was crazy. Obviously, there were a lot of bad things about the pandemic, but the slowdown that came with it allowed for a lot of reflection and change.”

Whiteman now feels more appreciative of travel and is aiming to do fewer, but more meaningful trips in 2023.

Whiteman knows how lucky she is to do what she loves for a living, and that it has proven to be lucrative.

“When I was at university I worked in retail and I was also a dental assistant for a few years, so I know what it’s like to earn an hourly wage. I appreciate what I do very much.”