From a factory worker in poverty to the most followed TikTok influencer in the world – The incredible journey of 22-year-old Khaby Lame, who was inspired by Will Smith and, in just two short years, went from living in public housing to making $10 million in 2021 alone.

Khaby Lame attends the 79th Venice Film Festival screening of the film Lord of the Ants in Venice, Italy, on September 6. Photo: Reuters

From a former factory worker to a millionaire social media influencer, Khaby Lame’s life turned around practically overnight.

The 22-year-old Senegal-born TikTokker, full name Khabane Lame, is currently the platform’s most followed account with over 150 million followers.

Senegalese-born Italian YouTuber Khaby Lame arrives on September 6 for the screening of the film Il Signore Delle Formiche (The Lord Of the Ants) presented in the Venezia 79 competition as part of the 79th Venice International Film Festival at Lido di Venezia in Venice, Italy. Photo: AFP

It’s a far cry from his life just two years ago amid the pandemic, when he was let go from a factory in Italy in March 2020 where he handled numerical control machines, as per The New York Times.

It was then that Lame turned to TikTok, where he devoted much of his time to content creation. In the confines of his family’s home, he started creating comedy sketches, which sarcastically and satirically mocked basic “life hacks” that are too complicated for no reason.

He’s since raked in US$10 million in 2021 according to Forbes – all while saying nothing at all!

So just who is Khaby Lame and how did his success grow so quickly?

Khaby Lame in Chivasso in 2020. Photo: @khaby00/Instagram

His family lived in public housing
Born on March 9, 2000, in Senegal, his family moved to Italy when he was one year old. They lived in a public housing complex in Chivasso, a metropolitan city of Turin in Piemonte, according to Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper. It has a small population of 26,000. Lame lived there with his three siblings and parents, as reported by CNN. He now lives in Milan with his agent.

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Khaby Lame’s iconic look is represented in this TikTok video. Photo: TikTok Famous/YouTube

As per Corriere della Sera newspaper, Lame said the city “taught me education and allowed me to cultivate many bonds”. Through his success, he told the publication, he wishes to help his friends and family.

US actor Will Smith reacts after winning the Oscar for best actor for King Richard during the 94th annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US, on March 27. Photo: EPA-EFE

Will Smith was his inspiration
Growing up, his dream was to be an actor like Will Smith and entertain the masses through hilarity, per Il Fatto Quotidiano. Initially, Lame could not find a niche for his work. Then he discovered farcical videos that attempted to fix problems that did not actually exist.

That was when he realised that, in order to make his audience laugh, he had to create content that made him laugh. As reported by CNN, he started posting videos of himself simplifying complicated solutions – with his signature deadpan smile on his lips as he throws his hands out in exasperation with a shrug of his shoulders. “My aim is to simply entertain people,” Lame told Corriere della Sera.

Khaby Lame’s signature pose, as seen in one of his TikTok videos. Photo: @khaby00/Instagram

He chose not to speak to communicate with his viewers
Lame said that, although his comical gestures were accidental, his choice to create wordless videos was not. “I thought of a way to reach as many people as possible. And the best way was not to speak,” he said to CNN.

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This is said to bring a relatable and universal element to his videos.

Khaby Lame was nominated as the face of Forbes Under 30 Europe Art & Culture 2022. Photo: Instagram

He was honoured in two Forbes 2022 lists simultaneously
Lame was nominated to Forbes’ Top Creators 2022 list at No 8 out of 49, and honoured as the face of Forbes Under 30 Europe Art & Culture 2022.

Boasting a total of over 230 million followers across all social media channels, per Forbes, he has become the face of Web3 and recently signed a deal with cryptocurrency exchange Binance in July, per TechCrunch.

Khaby Lame signed with Hugo Boss and starred in a campaign. Photo: @hugoboss.argentina/Instagram

Endorsements galore
In February, Lame signed a multi-year deal with Hugo Boss as its global ambassador, per People of Colour in Tech. He also launched the Boss x Khaby Capsule Collection for spring/summer 2022.

Khaby Lame collaborated on a capsule collection with Hugo Boss. Photo: @khaby00/Instagram

In January, he appeared in the star-studded #BeYourOwnBoss campaign video alongside Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber.

Note: This story was originally published on SCMP and has been republished on this website.

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With over 15 years of experience in luxury journalism, Neha Tandon Sharma is a notable senior writer at Luxurylaunches. Her expertise spans luxury yachts, high-end fashion, and celebrity culture. Beyond writing, her passion for fantasy series is evident. Beginning with articles on women-centric gadgets, she's now a leading voice in luxury, with a fondness for opulent superyachts. To date, her portfolio boasts more than 2 million words, often penned alongside a cappuccino.