When supermodel Bella Hadid and Lil Miquela shared a kiss as part of a Calvin Klein ad last month, it sparked an online frenzy. Many complained that Calvin Klein was “queer-baiting” and deceiving customers with a fake lesbian encounter.
Here’s the thing: 19-year-old Miquela is not real. She is nothing but a computer-generated model, or a ‘virtual influencer’ as many have coined it.
She is also in fact, the world’s first virtual influencer. Lil Miquela has been in the social media scene since 2016, but it was only when her creators pulled a publicity stunt in 2018 did the world know that she was actually made of pixels.
According to them, she was designed to simply attract ‘follows’ and ‘likes’.
Meet Maya, The Next-Gen Influencer
Closer to home, we discovered Maya, who is dubbed the “region’s first ever virtual model.”
According to her Instagram profile (@mayaaa.gram), Maya is an “average not so average Southeast Asian virtual girl”.
A quick scroll to the bottom of her Instagram feed signals that she is new to the platform with less than 20 posts so far. Despite being late to the game, she has garnered over 7,000 followers in a span of just a month — this is no mean feat in today’s competitive market.
Her very first post was rather cryptic with a “Loading…” message flashing wildly on a computer screen, but it successfully managed to pique the interest of others. People were curious about the meaning behind this message, and based on the comments, it was clear to see that they were excited for what was going to happen next.
Later posts revealed that it referred to the loading of her “database”, and this was subsequently followed by posts of her body render progress. Unlike Lil Miquela, it was clear that Maya did not shy away from her true virtual persona.
Since her ‘story’ is what draws followers, Maya makes it a point to give her followers a first-hand look at her whole development, allowing them to be a part of her journey from the start.
We were curious about Maya’s origins, and started digging around for answers.
We found out that people from across the region had played a part to help Maya find her ‘body’ by sharing their selfies on social media. With this pool of selfies, their similarities were collated and rendered using artificial intelligence technology to give Maya her physical appearance.
In other words, Maya is born from a collation of Southeast Asian faces — a true reflection of what it means to be Southeast Asian.
Riding The ‘Futro’ Wave With PUMA
Promptly after her ‘reveal’, Maya secured a partnership with renowned sports brand PUMA.
As an “official PUMA gal”, Maya gets to be a part of its PUMA Rider campaign, fronting it alongside three new regional ambassadors: Tosh Zhang (@toshrock) from Singapore, Adipati Dolken (@adipatidolk) from Indonesia, and Ismail Izzani (@ismailizzani_) from Malaysia.
On Instagram, Maya teased her followers with a sneak peek (pun intended) of the Rider sneakers and also documented behind-the-scenes of the campaign photoshoot, showing off selfies with fellow ambassadors and the PUMA crew.
Speaking to Eleanor Wang, marketing manager at PUMA SEA, she shared that Maya is a “perfect fit” for the campaign because PUMA wanted to showcase the new Rider in a way that would be relatable, but also fresh and fun — very much like Maya herself.
So what is it about the Rider that makes it so special? Back in 1980, the Fast Rider was one of PUMA’s most iconic running shoes, featuring a minimalist design, lightweight construction and its signature shock-absorbing Federbein outsole.
The iconic 80’s silhouette has since been revamped as the Future Rider (above), with an updated modern aesthetic and ‘Rider Foam’ providing unparalleled comfort with every step.
The all-new Future Rider and Style Rider cleverly fuses the old and new together with both retro and futuristic elements, sporting a casual-cool street style.
Both the PUMA Future Rider and Style Rider clearly show that PUMA is betting big on nostalgia with bold material play and vibrant colour-blocking, while remaining true to its sports heritage. This seamless blend truly cements the legacy of the original Fast Rider, making it a must-have for retro sneaker lovers.
Both styles are now available on PUMA.com, PUMA Stores and select retailers islandwide.
On March 23, PUMA will be launching a dedicated online game on its website. Called Rider Challenge, it lets players accumulate points to win prizes on a weekly basis, which includes the grand prize of a year-long supply of PUMA shoes.
It will be available for play to those in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia till April 26. In the meantime, you can keep a lookout for it on Maya’s Instagram page once it goes live!
This article was written in collaboration with PUMA.
Featured Image Credit: @toshrock via Instagram / PUMA