MR Round Table: The Evolution of Personal Style Blogs

Nicole Warne of Gary Pepper Girl joins today’s chat

05.29.15
TommyTon

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.

Follow Nicole on Instagram here and check out her website here. Feature image by Tommy Ton for Style.com

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  • This is such a great interview, thank you both! It is interesting to hear your thoughts and experiences, given that you have both been in the blogging world at the forefront for so long- yet from completely different parts of the world/ different brands.

    There is a real evolution, I notice particularly in Australia in that brands are finally starting to understand the value of collaborating with bloggers. Some brands got on board really quickly, but even now there are some who don’t have much of an online social presence themselves, despite being trusted household names. In rebranding, looking at my blogs identity and coming up with our own business plan things have moved a long at a really quick pace. A year ago I could have only dreamed that I would be earning as much as I do through collaborations and building such a rewarding community.

    Thank you again for this great read and solid insight!

    x Jenelle
    http://www.inspiringwit.com

    • Patricia_ksampson

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    • Patricia_ksampson

      ✔☴☑☵☑☷☑✔ ➤➤ Use Your Free Time At Home And Make A lot Of M0ney✔✔✔✔…… Last saturday I got a great Alfa Romeo after I been earning $9498 ✌✌✌✌ this past four weeks and a little over 10k ✌✌✌✌ lass month . with-out a doubt this is the nicest-work Ive ever had . I actually started 4 months ago and pretty much immediately began to make more than $89.. per-hour . find out here now ->

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  • Terrific interview –momo

    http://www.bluebangle.com

  • Hamlet Stark

    ∎✈✈✈✈✈It’s very Easy with google and manrepeller < my buddy's step-mother makes $74 hourly on the computer . She has been without a job for 7 months but last month her paycheck was $14216 just working on the computer for a few hours.

    official website ===►►►►►► SEE MORE DETAIL

  • i couldn’t agree more with Nicole, but the problem is in how to discover what market needs, and when you discover it, how to get the strategy. I mean people who know how to that are successful and people who don’t know are not.

    http://thestylecter.blogspot.com/

  • mack nielson

    I really like AD’s comment about people who find [something] and love it forever. That’s how I feel about MR! Following your evolution has been so fun.

  • It’s such a great interview. I love Nicole and I’ve been following her adventures and her work for a long time. I’m not an Australian but as French, her story is so inspiring and well different from others bloggers. Of course, motivation and passion are important elements to consider in a scale of evaluating the value of your business / blog, but I guess working as hard as possible is something you can deny. I’ve been reading MR for so long and I feel like it gave me more and more motivation to keep going with my personal style blog.
    But yea, there is a real evolution in this world and its starting to change – people and brands are starting to take attention to bloggers because they are real people and they can have a huge influence on their audience. So thanks Nicole and Leandra, working on a business plan – even though it’s quite new – will help the growth of my business! Those advices were so needy! x

    http://www.tomboychronicle.com

  • Maliha Mohiuddin

    I freakin love this! Gary Pepper Girl has been one of my absolute favorite blogs to follow from the very first time I popped on Instagram! And I read The Manrepeller back when I first started blogging. I completely agree that you have to keep evolving and creating your own niche in this industry. What began for me as a small blog going through my own clothes is now a digital magazine taking on beauty, menswear, music, and really fun editorial content! These Round Table discussions are such a pleasure to read! Hope you guys do a Snapchat while she’s around!
    http://www.thehareandstyleblog.com

  • I loved reading this! It was great to hear from Nicole’s perspective on her career and blogging especially since I view yourselves (MR+GP) as being towards the beginning of the bigger blogs. I definitely agree that without continual development blogs often fall by the wayside but also that if you start having a lack of connection that you once had that you start to lose readership. Interesting discussion, great piece as always,
    Jessx
    therealjlow

  • arione

    this is a filling interview! the number of blogs etc. gets annoyingly overwhelming but like stated its girls like you that take it and flip it and its those loyal gals like me that find a good one and stick to it!

  • Allie Mackin

    Great interview and so interesting on how Nicole got in blogging the other way around. And people may roll their eyes but there are some fairly successful bloggers out there and like it was mentioned it can lead to other jobs or career paths.

    Allie of ALLIE NYC
    wwww.allienyc.com

  • Gabe

    I agree, this was a very interesting interview. A minor point though: perhaps the reason for the “eye roll” and perceptions that blogging is not a real job, has something to do with the fact that blogs such as Gary Pepper Girl appear to be based on being paid to fly around the world and be photographed wearing beautiful clothes. I’m not suggesting that is actually an easy life, just that it probably creates a certain perception in the eyes of many people.

  • Alba B.

    Dear Leandra,

    I might not be a single post reader of your blog, but I am a great follower of your blog and of you (damn nothing new in here yet). So despite of what you advised us (me) the other day that I if I didn’t know what you were referring to on one of your pics on Instagram than it was time to should pass by your blog, that is what I did. There were days that I didn’t have the chance to pass by, and you know what is the feeling every time I come in? That of feeling always home and above all being inspired. So returning to this post I was so inspired that I wanted to make a self assessment to myself as a blogger as well, is it blogging a profession? Should it be considered as such?

    Even if I still have a lot of doubts, but as you said there is a transformation going on in here that the difference among blogs and bloggers comes out not only through an evolution process but also through “that desperation that they (people) cannot fail.”

    Thank you for being so inspiring and always welcoming.

  • As someone who is shifting her own blog in a new direction, this was the perfect read for what’s going on right now! It’s great to hear where we are as an industry…and that it is slowly being recognized AS an industry!

  • Great interview with really interesting perspectives. As a fledgling blogger myself, I feel like I’m constantly having to explain to people the reason for starting my blog. Honestly general public assume it’s to just get free stuff, get invited to cool events, or take pretty photos. It’s so much more than that. It’s strategy, branding, and constantly reinventing yourself to keep your content fresh. I guess we don’t realize this is something popular, or more established bloggers sometimes struggle with too.

    http://charmystique.com/

  • Sofia

    I SO loved this conversation about the personal style blogs and the evolution of the style blogger in general. It’s going to be interesting to see where this all takes us. As a style blogger who is developing her own brand (swimwear) this really resonates with me. But I also stopped being afraid of the word ‘blogger’. Slowly but surely it’s becoming more and more accepted in the fashion world as people see the amount of work and dedication it takes from taking it from a hobby to a full blown business. It is after all, a 24/7 job where you’re doing everything from brand building, PR, Social Media relations, Photo shootings, locations scouting, styling, trend scouting, writing, linking, retouching, accounting… the list goes on. xxSofia http://www.she-comes-in-colors.com (soon SCIC Swimwear!)

  • Such a great interview, with interesting views and sides to the larger picture!

    xo http://www.stylefile.in

  • ChicCityLife

    Awesome interview and great points made in this article. I like how Nicole Warne pointed out the fact that one must be unique and create their own strategy and plan to fit into this extremely large and growing marketplace. This is something I am constantly thinking about. Thanks again for being so honest in this interview.

    XO,
    Vanessa

    http://www.chiccitylife.com