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Op-Ed | Why I Chose Journalism Over Influencing

As part of our series reflecting on the 2010s, BoF’s Rachel Strugatz examines how fashion blogs went from creative outlets to multi-million dollar businesses — and why she decided to write about it rather than live it.
Chiara Ferragni (left), Emily Weiss (middle), Leandra Medine (right) | Source: Getty Images
By
  • Rachel Strugatz

As the 2010s come to a close, BoF reflects on how the past decade transformed the fashion industry — and the culture at large. Explore our insights here.

NEW YORK, United States — The Man Repeller was born in my tiny, midtown studio apartment on April 10, 2010.

On this day, Leandra Medine and I wrote the site's very first post, following a trip to Topshop in SoHo where she was drawn to a pair of drop-crotch denim shorts resembling a diaper. Together, we defined "man repeller" as an individual who dressed for themselves, even if it resulted in "repelling members of the opposite sex" (or whomever the wearer was attracted to).

"Such garments include but are not limited to harem pants, boyfriend jeans, overalls, shoulder pads, full length jumpsuits, jewellery that resembles violent weaponry and clogs," read the post, which was structured like an entry in a dictionary.

Our lexicon — first published via the now-antiquated platform Blogspot — became a cultural touchstone, coinciding with a new wave of feminism. And I helped create it.

But before I could even begin to imagine what Man Repeller could (and would) become, my freelance gig at Women's Wear Daily turned into a staff position. Blogging was not yet a “real job,” and I was hungry, determined to climb the ranks at what was known as the “fashion bible.”

However, Medine, who was still in college at the time and living with her parents, kept at it. Within eight months, Man Repeller caught the attention of The New York Times, which published a story about the then-21-year-old. And then she flew.

Blogging was not yet a 'real job,' and I was hungry, determined to climb the ranks at what was known as the 'fashion bible.'

Man Repeller, which today has 2.3 million followers on Instagram, changed many of its readers’ relationship to fashion. Through confident writing and unselfconscious selfies, Medine championed unbridled fearlessness when it came to dressing that still doesn’t exist in traditional media. Her commentary is smart and never vapid.

Over the past decade, Medine nurtured her wildly popular blog into a media property that has 16 employees. She's one of a handful of early bloggers — along with Chiara Ferragni, Emily Weiss and Aimee Song — who have become industry mainstays, thanks to their ability to tell stories and make images that their readers believe in, all while preserving the voice and style that catapulted them to internet superstardom in the first place. They've built media platforms, personal brands and product lines simultaneously, constantly iterating their strategies to complement the high-speed, digital-first world we now live in, where instantaneous feedback is non-negotiable.

While I stepped away from Man Repeller all those years ago, my career ran in parallel to Medine's: She was blogging, I was reporting on bloggers. I chronicled the activity of bloggers and the way brands, particularly luxury ones, embraced — or failed to embrace — social media. In May of 2010, Coach became one of the first fashion labels to collaborate with bloggers. It was big news at the time, even if none of the participants — Krystal Simpson, Kelly Framel, Karla Deras and Emily Schuman — are big news today. Then there was OscarPrGirl — a publicist named Erika Bearman — who built the brand's social media persona via Twitter with the support of both its namesake Designer and Chief Executive Alex Bolen.

Bearman would scour Tumblr for bloggers and photographers she could invite to the brand’s Midtown Manhattan studio for informal conversations, and also to the runway shows during New York Fashion Week. She saw it as a PR opportunity, one that would get more (and younger) voices talking about the clothes, which were associated with rich, stuffy old ladies.

"I would ask, 'Do you want to take pictures? Do you want to meet Oscar? Do you want to see the clothes?' And they would die," Bearman said. "We let them have the access that Bill Cunningham had."

It would be years, however, before the brunt of luxury players would fully embrace the blogosphere. Today, "influencers," as once-bloggers are now called, are integral to the marketing strategies of brands from Dior to Louis Vuitton.

For as much as the concept of the 'fashion blogger' has evolved, the crux of the work hasn't actually changed.

But for as much as the concept of the “fashion blogger” has evolved, the crux of the work hasn’t actually changed. Influencers are still doing exactly the same thing bloggers were doing a decade ago: posting their outfits. It’s just happening on Instagram and YouTube — rented properties, instead of owned URLs — and it will happen on whatever platform comes next. What’s different is the amount of money fuelling it.

What started as a creative outlet for most turned into a six — and then seven! — figure profession. And the more popular bloggers became, the more backlash there was — from the public, the brands and the editors, who were threatened by their new front row seatmates at fashion shows. Turns out they had reason to feel threatened. In the years to follow, many editors lost their jobs as influencers became the preferred expert source.

I started to write about bloggers as businesses the same way reporters chronicled the rise of Donna Karan or Tommy Hilfiger in the 1980s.

And what a rise it was. While Bryan Grey Yambao, aka Bryanboy, caused an uproar in 2010 when he proclaimed he made over $100,000 in one year, it didn't take long for six-figure salaries to multiply, with top content creators starting to cross the million-dollar earning threshold through a combination of on-site ads, affiliate fees and brand partnerships, including appearances at events.

Rachel Parcell, who started Pink Peonies blog in 2010 at the age of 19 to document her first year of marriage, first hit it big by promoting the wares of others, reportedly making $80,000 per month in affiliate fees. By 2017, popular influencer Arielle Charnas launched a collaboration with Nordstrom that drove over $1 million in sales in 24 hours. Last year, the debut of her standalone brand, a licensing deal with Nordstrom, raked in four times that in its first day. In May 2019, Danielle Bernstein, creator of WeWoreWhat, sold $2 million of swimwear the day her new collection launched.

Now, a top influencer can make as much as $125,000 to $150,000 for a single sponsored post.

Now, a top influencer can make as much as $125,000 to $150,000 for a single sponsored post, according to a source with firsthand knowledge of these dealings. Influencers today also sometimes play the role of investor, accepting equity in start-up brands rather than (or in addition to) an upfront fee, which leads to a far higher upside than a paid post ever would.

Many content creators are realising they don't have to simply promote other brands; they're powerful enough to be the brands themselves. As a result, a barrage of blogger-founded or fronted lines, especially in the beauty space and at Nordstrom, are fighting to build businesses in an already crowded, influencer-driven economy. This brand boom shows no signs of slowing — if anything, it's picking up — but whether these internet famous entrepreneurs can survive the retail apocalypse remains to be seen.

It’s been riveting to watch, and oftentimes shocking. So, do I regret my decision not to pursue Man Repeller or become an influencer? Early in my career, when my paycheck barely covered rent, cable and electric and it took six months to pay off a PS1 bag, I often questioned my decision. But looking back 10 years later, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve had the best vantage point of all.

Rachel Strugatz is the Beauty Correspondent at The Business of Fashion..

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

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