Student Spotlight

Embracing authenticity

Jillian Rhae Maxwell portrait in front of lighted mirror
Terry College student Jillian Rhae Maxwell poses for a portrait in her Athens apartment/social media studio. (Photo by Chamberlain Smith)

Jillian Rhae Maxwell finds belonging at UGA through support and social media

As she waited to take the stage at the Miss Collegiate America Pageant as Miss Mississippi Collegiate America in 2021, Jillian Rhae Maxwell only had one thing on her mind: the email sitting in her inbox from the University of Georgia. The news was exactly what she had hoped for, and now, as she prepares to graduate from the Terry College of Business in May, her accomplishments are a testament to her dedication.

Growing up in the small town of Benton, Louisiana, it was difficult for Maxwell to find her groove at first. When she started tagging brands in her social media posts, she was sometimes met with snide remarks and bullying from her peers who thought her goals were shallow, unattainable, or worse, not authentic. After all, with so much competition and an ever-changing digital landscape, it’s almost impossible to make it as a social media influencer these days.

Although she started her college journey at an institution much closer to home, this feeling didn’t let up, and eventually she knew that she was meant for something more.

According to Maxwell, the decision to transfer to the University of Georgia was a natural next step in her path to success and a chance to pursue the work that she is passionate about.

Heading to Athens was all about finding a place where she could dive deep academically while being surrounded by the educational and social support system that UGA is so loved for. As an engaged student in the business marketing program and a member of the American Marketing Association, National Society of Leadership and Success and the Alpha Phi sorority, she has certainly found her community here.

She stays involved with several events and philanthropic efforts through her sorority, which she sees as more of a second family. “Alpha Phi accepted me when I first got to UGA, and now they’re some of my best friends,” Maxwell said.

Jillian Rhae Maxwell sits at her desk with branded technology and stationery.

Maxwell leans into her personal brand as seen in her apartment office space. (Photo by Chamberlain Smith)

Growing a brand

At UGA, she felt more comfortable letting her creativity and individuality shine through social media, significantly expanding her presence. To date, she has amassed over 55,000 followers across her channels and gained 2 million total likes on TikTok.

This following has allowed her to create content and collaborate with household names including L’Oreal Paris, Lululemon and even Kendra Scott, but she is particularly enthusiastic about promoting small businesses. This started with her mom’s Christmas décor company, Mama Noel Designs, which was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal.

“These small businesses truly help run the economy, and then it turns into this greater picture of more taxes within the community, better schools, better libraries and a better citizen success rate,” Maxwell said. “That’s where it started. My mom was like, ‘You need to tag [small businesses] on social media,’ and at the time I didn’t understand. Now I get it; now I understand.”

This affinity for entrepreneurship pushed her to launch her own brand, Jillian Rhae Company, which Maxwell said focuses on timeless, classy fashion design. The brand launched its first piece this past September, the Day2Night Jillian Jumper, which was completely designed, tested and marketed by Maxwell, a feat which she said would have been impossible without the support of her faculty mentors here at UGA.

“I’m really close with two of my professors, Jennifer Osbon and Abigail Steiner, but everyone in Terry is so supportive. If you have a problem or you don’t understand something or you’re trying to do something, but you don’t know where to start, they encourage you to come to their offices and talk. It’s so nice to feel that they actually want success for their students inside and outside the classroom,” she said.

Jillian Rhae Maxwell poses for a selfie in front of a lighted mirror.

Maxwell is often seen wearing her signature Day2Night Jillian Jumper, a piece completely designed, marketed and sold by her. (Photo by Chamberlain Smith)

Looking forward

As she continues to build her own following, Maxwell is always on the lookout for new opportunities.

“I don’t take paid partnerships if it’s something I wouldn’t personally spend my money on,” she said. “There’s no amount of money you can pay me to do that because I’m just losing my credibility.”

Even though it’s been hard to pass on some of these opportunities, Maxwell said that it’s more important to stay true to her audience and herself than simply take a paycheck.

While she plans to find an agency or in-house creative job that allows her to build on her skills further, she is still hopeful about continuing her work as an influencer.

“I love getting to have this creative outlet at my fingertips every single day,” she said. “I’ve seen what it can do and it’s always changing, there’s always something new to explore.”