Fashion bloggers seek profit in battle of the gimmicks

As web style leaders have gone mainstream, writers struggle to maintain individuality, credibility and make their work pay

Wildly clashing patterns and fabrics? Large geeky glasses? A distinctly homemade-looking garment worn with an expensive designer one, smartphone clutched in a youthful hand? It is probably a fashion blogger.

Beyond the leggy models in ballet pumps and skinny jeans, and the celebrities and fashion editors hiding behind their sunglasses, bloggers have become the most recognisable third element at the semi-annual round of fashion weeks that began in New York last week and continues in London. A fringe event at London this year will be the Independent Fashion Bloggers conference, which took place in New York with 300 people in attendance.

Style and fashion blogging, which began as a welcome breath of fresh air into fashion's cliquey and exclusive world, is now becoming overpopulated, intensely competitive and commercial. "It turns that corner when it stops being special and starts to be the norm," said Joe Zee, creative director at Elle magazine, in the conference's keynote address. "It started out where that girl was special; now there's a lot of clamouring for that position."

The fashion industry had been a little late to the world of social media, preferring the static, crafted images in upmarket magazines and airbrushed celebrities to sell their wares. It was not until Tavi Gevinson, a then 13-year-old from Chicago, was eased into the front row at New York fashion week in September 2009 and feted by the media and designer Yohji Yamamoto that the phenomenon became widely noticed. Tavi, whose blog was at first assumed to be a fake, described herself as a "tiny 13-year-old dork that sits inside all day wearing awkward jackets and pretty hats". She is now a designer, model and magazine editor in her own right. The success of a handful of bloggers such as Tavi is inspiring thousands of others to emulate them. But as quickly as the blogging community won its credibility, it is expanding so rapidly that many agree with Joe Zee that it is going mainstream. Clothing companies are running their own blogs or sponsoring others, while some blogs are disappearing into bigger online magazines.

One of the UK's most respected fashion bloggers is Susanna Lau – or Susie Bubble, as she is known on the hugely popular Stylebubble blog she has been running for the past four years. But her career choice didn't come with an obvious salary source and she says the issue for those who want to be professional bloggers is how to make it pay while still retaining the integrity of the individual and an independent voice.

"I don't believe it's all up with the independent voice and down with the fat cats," she said. "There's no way it's that simple, especially in fashion. You have to collaborate with certain labels and get involved in projects in order to make a living, but also hang on to your integrity and be true to your own voice. It's tricky to navigate. I have advertising on my blog but it doesn't affect the overall tone."

She says at the beginning people expected blogs to be written for the love of it and felt cheated when marketing started. "I couldn't go on doing it for free, without earning anything from it … The blog is a calling card, you use it to show your talent and get into other things, like Scott Schuman."

Schuman, one of the most successful, and earliest, fashion bloggers, is a photographer who started from within the industry after his pictures had featured in Vogue and GQ. He started the Sartorialist with the idea of "creating a two-way dialogue about the world of fashion and its relationship to daily life", he says. With its popularity and the extra platform for his own images, Schuman shot to commercial success while hanging on to his uber-cool image, and his work is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In New York's Milk Studios last Wednesday, the colourful group of style bloggers did talk about fashion, they did tweet and take pictures of each other on their phones and send them back to their blogs – but mostly they talked about business. How to make their passion pay and how to market themselves.

"There were," wrote Daily Beast journalist Isabel Wilkinson, "four pairs of leopard leggings, 14 vintage floral dresses, three lady-turbans, one set of gold and purple fingernails, one pair of glittering harem pants, four heads of platinum and blue hair, and – despite the rainy day – only one pair of old-fashioned wellies." She added: "One thing is clear: as Gypsy Rose Lee would say, you gotta getta gimmick. You can't just be a plain old fashion blogger who posts pictures from the runways. Now, it's about choosing a theme. There was Penny Chic, which styles outfits with clothes from Walmart; there was the Ghetto Fashionista, which 'keeps a pulse on the runway and the hood', and the Idiosyncratic Fashionista, for 'women of a certain age'."

Jennine Jacob, the conference organiser and the founder of IFB, said it was possible to "make a decent living on a blog" if you sell four sponsored T-shirts a day. "As an industry, we're still figuring what our model is. I don't know if it's 'selling out' – we're just trying to reach a sustainable business model."


Tracy McVeigh

The GuardianTramp

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