LOS ANGELES, United States — Despite being a relatively early entrant into the unpredictable world of fashion blogging, Emily Schuman insists she is risk averse. In fact, the riskiest move she ever made took place one Friday afternoon in 2010 when she accepted a voluntary layoff from AOL, where she managed online media campaigns.
“It was a little bit earlier than I had planned to leave,” said Schuman, now age 33. “I didn't sleep the whole week.” She took the discharge as a sign and decided to dedicate herself full-time to the then two-year-old website Cupcakes and Cashmere. “It's paid off enormously.”
Today, the fashion and lifestyle blog boasts 1 million monthly visitors eager for Schuman’s take on fashion, DIY projects, entertaining and cooking in a conversational tone and with an approachable yet aspirational style. She has published two best-selling books and launched three licensed product lines that are projected to bring in about $50 million in sales this year. Those lines account for 90 percent of her revenue, while the rest comes from sponsored content, affiliate links and traditional banner ads.
But on Thursday, Schuman’s Cupcakes and Cashmere is making what may be its riskiest move yet. The blog is launching its own e-commerce business in partnership with Digital Brand Products, the brand-building arm of influencer agency Digital Brand Architects. Los Angeles retail veteran Lisa Kline has signed on as head merchant.
The launch comes as more and more fashion and lifestyle bloggers are capitalising on their influence with product lines. “If there is already a kind of established trust and respect for a person and their brand, that's a very natural progression then to have that lead into e-commerce, because it's already happening naturally,” said Schuman.
Her audience first demonstrated the commercial power of that trust back in 2010, when affordable luxury brand Coach asked Schuman to design a limited edition handbag that quickly sold out. Raina Penchansky, now co-founder and chief strategy officer of Digital Brand Architects, was working at Coach at the time.
Emily is her audience: they are one and the same. She is speaking to herself as much as she is speaking to them.
“Nearly 10 years later, she is still always concerned with making sure that everything that she is communicating with her audience, from parenting to mascara, is really genuine,” said Penchansky. “The biggest takeaway that I have is that Emily is her audience: they are one and the same. She is speaking to herself as much as she is speaking to them.”
In the early years, Schuman tested the waters with Coach and a capsule collection for Club Monaco. With no agency representation, she negotiated contracts based on her experience working at Condé Nast and AOL. Soon Lucky and InStyle featured her in their pages and she published her first book, “Cupcakes and Cashmere: A Guide for Defining Your Style, Reinventing Your Space and Entertaining with Ease” in 2012. That year, she enlisted publisher Say Media, which owned XOJane and other sites, to manage her ads. While she joined the highly-photographed blogger milieu outside fashion week shows in the first years, she quickly realised that it wasn’t for her.
“It’s always been a little bit less in the spotlight a little bit more about like reaching every every day girls,” said Schuman. “Our kind of motto is ‘elevate everyday life.’”
In 2015, after considering several different apparel brand partners, she launched the Cupcakes and Cashmere fashion collection with BB Dakota. The line of dresses and separates is priced between $80 and $450 and debuted exclusively at Nordstrom and Shopbop.
“One of my strengths is being able to almost recognise my limitations and that I have a very specific aesthetic,” said Schuman, explaining her decision to pursue a licensed collection over starting one on her own. BB Dakota also offered her complete control over everything from patterns to pricing. “I've always wanted to maintain a certain accessibility,” she said. “The idea of being aspirational yet attainable is really important.” The apparel collection is now also available at Bloomingdales, Revolve and over 500 specialty stores. She added a bedding and lighting collection — in partnership with Kiko and Evolution Lighting, respectively — in 2016, exclusively at Nordstrom’s and Bed Bath & Beyond.
Penchansky, who has been working with Schuman since 2015, says the timing is right for the launch because she has been designing her products for several years, and has demonstrated a conversion rate of about 10 percent for products linked on her site. “Once we took that level of conversion and that level of engagement from her audience and paired it with the right time to pull together her vision … it’s the perfect storm of things,” said Penchansky.
Cupcakes and Cashmere’s shopping platform will launch with 200 SKUs in categories of fashion, home and gifts. The shop will carry a selection of Schuman’s licensed collections, but not the full ranges.
“One of the things that I think differentiates us from everything out in the marketplace is that we didn't want to launch with a ton of brands,” said Schuman. “The goal was to have a very curated, tailored perspective on it so that people didn't feel as though they were missing out on other things: this is the one brand that I'm committing to and here are the reasons why I love it.”
Cupcakes and Cashmere’s single denim partner for the launch, for example, is Mother. “Ultimately the goal is to potentially move towards exclusives, whether that's colours or cuts with a lot of the designers that we'll be carrying.” Other brands on the site include Dress the Population, Twenty, Meri Meri and Milo House.
To operate the platform, Digital Brand Products has hired a logistics partner to handle the backend operations. The inventory is equally split between pieces bought outright, on consignment and fulfilled directly by third-party brands. “We were very specific in terms of where we took that inventory risk, in making sure that it was in categories and with pieces that we felt very strongly about,” said Penchansky.
Meanwhile, the blog must go on. Schuman’s editorial team includes two more full time employees and two interns, and she still takes most of the photographs herself. And while more and more of Schuman’s time is taken up by the new e-commerce venture and her licensing lines, her very personal essays and features are key to the success of the rest of her business.
“There was a period of time when content and commerce were the buzzwords that everyone was using — I think that went away when everyone realised how difficult it was,” said Penchansky. “I think you can only really have that conversation, significantly, when the content is coming from someone who … has a tried and true content platform.”
“I feel like this community that I almost helped create — it's such an incredible sounding board for what other women want and what people are looking for,” said Schuman. “And in a way, I feel like we’ve really grown up together.”