Leandra Medine: When you told me you were in town I thought this could be a great opportunity to sit down and talk about the evolution of personal style blogs. Your site and mission have changed so much since you launched Gary Pepper Girl — as has Man Repeller’s — so I wanted to get your perspective on that evolution. I don’t really know your full story, though. When did you launch the site?
Nicole Warne, Founder of Gary Pepper Girl: I actually started in e-commerce. I had been planning my business for around six months while interning full time at places like Grazia and Harper’s Bazaar. Then I launched my eBay store, and after about eight weeks it was doing so well that I quit everything
About four months later it was registered as a company and had staff, and we transitioned to our own e-commerce site. It was called Gary Pepper Vintage.
LM: Sort of similar to Nasty Gal’s beginning.
NW: Yeah, exactly. Then we transitioned to our own site, and it grew really quickly, and it was basically the largest online vintage retailer in Australia.
AD: When you started on eBay was your intent to start a company, or did it start it as a hobby?
NW: It was kind of just something that I started for myself, I guess. I never expected it to grow so quickly. But at the time, vintage was a trend and eBay stores were very accessible. It was really right-place-right-time. I launched my blog, Facebook and Twitter all on the same day as my eBay store, and with the whole social media phenomenon, it just exploded. I was getting a lot of commercial opportunities and I found that I had to make a choice because I couldn’t really scale my online store with vintage pieces, so I needed investors, and had to find out how to change the strategy.
It kind of became this machine. I’d never been overseas, so the first holiday I took was in 2011 to New York Fashion Week. Then when I met everyone, I realized that I could grow my brand through different platforms. When I figured out that I could make money through these different platforms, I closed the store. That was about three years ago. By then I had already built my customer base, or what we call a community.
I feel like I kind of did the opposite of other bloggers. A lot of people begin their personal blogs as a hobby and then transition into something else. Whether it’s product, or e-commerce or an agency that acts as an “umbrella” of services. I started with product and then transitioned into a full-time blog.
LM: A lot of people look at their personal sites and think “How am I going to scale this?” and that’s why they start thinking about taking different avenues.
NW: Yes. Like scale the content, but then also the collaborations. Everyone has a different business plan. Because I went from e-commerce into a personal blog, I realized that the one thing I struggled with the most wasn’t the transition — my community came with me and they were so supportive, accepting, and they loved everything that we were doing — it was more the industry perspective. In the beginning my interviews were about being an entrepreneur and building a business from the ground-up. Now it’s like, “Oh, you have a blog,” followed by an eye roll. But “blog” is really another word for “business.”
LM: You know, sometimes I wonder if the whole negative connotation tethered to the concept of blogging is sort of a feminist issue. And people don’t take it seriously because it’s an industry largely run by women?
AD: From an outside perspective…say you were at a bar or something and you said to someone that you were a blogger, it’s almost like the 21st-century version of being a homemaker. Or at the very least it’s perceived that way. Like “sure, she has a blog, but it’s not a real job.” But as we’ve seen, it’s a 24/7 job. It’s a job that you don’t get to shut your computer and leave your desk for, you know?
NW: Well, in that way I guess it is kind of like being a homemaker because it’s like you have a child.
LM: Do you ever feel “otherized” as an Asian Blogger? I think about the sites that have really catapulted themselves to success — or the counts I should say — and it tends to be a pretty homogenous group of white girls.
NW: I’ve honestly never felt that. I am thinking of some of the girls off the top of my head that have quite large accounts, and I would say that a lot of them to come to mind are white, but there are quite a lot of Asians as well. I just don’t know if it makes a difference.
AD: I’ve never thought, “Oh my favorite Asian blogger is…” or “Oh, my favorite white blogger is…” It’s just: “one of my favorite bloggers.” I don’t think these categories exist in the personal style industry they do in the general world. Or maybe I am just begin very naive right now.
LM: How important do you find your brick and mortar — well, it’s not brick and mortar obviously — website relative to your mobile strategy?
NW: Well, my website is incredibly important, but I think, for me, I am not at the same point as Man Repeller. Like I need to also scale the content — get more contributors. So for me the website has been a focus but also building out the Gary Pepper Aesthetic as its own entity, if that makes sense — which the website plays a part, social media plays a part — but that’s kind of the direction that I take is that Gary Pepper can kind of creative a number of services for a brand. It’s that I can create content that doesn’t necessarily live on the site, I can create content for a client with these services and it can live on their platforms or their advertising strategy. If that makes sense.
LM: Do you ever find yourself feeling disheartened when people recognize you solely from Instagram as opposed to the larger website that you’ve built?
NW: No, no. Not at all. If anything, Instagram is such a large focus for me because you can grow so quickly. It’s kind of like a news outlet now. It’s the first thing you check when you wake up and the last thing you check when you go to sleep. And it’s something that I can update far more frequently than my website.
LM: The reason I asked if it was disheartening is because it was disheartening for me at first — I had a hard time letting go of words as the traditional and only way to share a story but I am coming to terms with it. Because we are storytellers, right? Where our stories are heard loudest is where we need to tell them and right now that is through, say, Snapchat and Instagram. The thing with personal style bloggers though, is that I sort of feel like they aren’t really being umbrellaed under the fashion industry anymore, right? Like, there’s fashion and then there’s shopping. And [the personal style bloggers] fall into the shopping industry.
AD: Fashion bloggers in the beginning — Tavi, Bryanboy, Jane Aldridge — they were people who loved and consumed and lived fashion, but were either so young that it wasn’t even a dream yet to “be in fashion,” or were so far removed from the industry that blogging was their way to participate. These were the first bloggers to attend NYFW, who entered the industry from a different door.
Now, people aren’t using blogs just to find their unique way into the fashion industry. They are entering it to be a blogger.
LM: Generation-wise, blogging has become the equivalent to reality-TV stardom, too. There are so many celebrities being bred out of Instagram. I wonder if all of that is sustainable.
NW: Personal style blogging has been around for so long now that unless you evolve into the next phase, I don’t know if you remain relevant. I think you can engage with your audience, but unless you grow it at the same rate that you did, say, a year or two ago, everything slows down. You’re following someone’s life and if you sit still and do the same things for so long it becomes uninteresting. We are all consumers. I follow people and get excited when they’re approaching the next chapter. Blogs are like diaries, so there should be a constant evolution.
LM: The thing about Instagram is that it has facilitated and perpetuated this consistent ability to discover. We are always discovering things like jewelry or swim brands on Instagram. But after a certain point, what you discover is no longer discovery, you know? It’s not fresh or exciting anymore, and you are more inclined to let it fall by the wayside. But how do you get past point?
AD: Think of people who “discover” bands. There people who thrive off of discovering bands and who are OCD about it — they need to know the next band, then the next. But, there also are people who take lots of pride in having discovered their one band. Those people will love that band their entire lives.
I think that that’s similar to bloggers. There are still the people who are either of the discovery camp and “I need to know who the next blogger is,” and then there are going to be people who are ride-or-die, old-school fans for life.
LM: This conversation about the evolution of personal style blogs, it doesn’t quite get old because we are at a funny inflection point where many of the personal style blogs are no longer operating as such. The ones that are, are largely powered by Instagram, proving that Instagram can be monetizable in a very meaningful way.
Then there are the bunch who go the other route to build media companies, like we are trying to do with Man Repeller. Or product lines like Rumi Neely is doing with her clothes (which are awesome by the way). I guess it’s hard to talk about the evolution of personal style blogging because–
NW: We’re still going through it.
LM: Right. We’re in the process of evolution and we’re not humans yet, we’re still in monkey-mode, you know?
NW: Everyone has come very far in the space of three to five years. But I agree. I think everyone still has a long way to go, and everyone is kind of just making it up as they go. When people ask for entrepreneurial advice, I tell them to be realistic and map out what makes your brand unique, and how you’re going to compete with a huge marketplace. I honestly believe that people that have started such successful companies have that desperation that they cannot fail. I feel as though you really need that as a key ingredient to be successful. You can’t teach motivation and passion.
I always advise people: “If you have a dream and it is realistic, go for it. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll get another 9 to 5 job.” But that’s just my story.