There was a moment after New York’s 2009 Fall Fashion Week when fashion bloggers had officially, as the press likes to call it, “arrived.” They had blogged their way to the front row of Bryant Park’s most exclusive runway shows; they were the new army of digital Anna Wintours. They wrote in Internet slang and posted photos of themselves mixing vintage with Valentino. They were so quirky! And also, influential! Or so news outlets gushed. Stiff, walled-off fashion editors, once secure in their self-preserved ivory towers, were trembling in fear of a coup.
Fast forward two years and fashion’s digerati have shown they actually have no interest in Wintour’s job. They’d rather sit across the table from her, as the faces of the companies whose ads keep publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and W in the black. Bloggers don’t want to be editors, because they’ve built something much more valuable: brands.
For the past four years, Midwesterner Jessica Quirk’s blog, What I Wore, has featured photos of her wearing outfits she’s styled. She details the origin of each item, lending an implicit endorsement to the brands she’s sporting. It’s not journalism; it’s talking about oneself. Which is to say, it’s branding oneself.
The explosion of this type of blog and the influence of the women behind them are due, in part, to readers of magazine glossies wanting to see relatable ladies in “real world” clothes. Independent Fashion Bloggers, an online community, has more than 30,000 members; Technorati lists 8,117 fashion blogs in its directory. Sites like What I Wore garner 20,000 unique visitors per month, according to Web traffic measurement site Compete; around half of those readers return daily.
Now fashion bloggers are leveraging their followers to become marketing machines for brands other than their own (in other words, to earn money), augmenting those companies’ advertising and PR strategies. They’re taking on numerous roles including guest bloggers, models, designers, and endorsers. They’re maintaining credibility with fans—they hope—by choosing partnerships discerningly, while discussing deliverables, audience composition, ROI, and conversions with their sponsors. The opportunity to convert their readership into customers for brands is huge—apparel and accessories was the second-largest category for e-commerce spending in 2010, beating out even consumer electronics with $20.5 billion in sales, according to comScore. “People are doing their best to find an audience like mine, a 25- to 34-year-old woman who spends X dollars shopping online,” says Quirk, who blogs as a brand ambassador for Timex on its website and on What I Wore, and has blogged for Ann Taylor LOFT on its site while posting photos of herself in LOFT clothes on her own. A former designer, she also designed a bracelet for charity that will sell in LOFT stores this fall.
These brands could hire a celebrity spokesperson. Instead they’ve hired a celebrity spokesperson who has her own distribution channel.
Coach probably started it. In 2009, its marketing execs noticed that bloggers, not magazine editors, were driving social conversations online. To put it in corporate terms, “they adeptly used the aspirational and visual nature of blogging to share a unique and authentic perspective,” David Duplantis, evp of global Web, digital media, and customer engagement at Coach, told Adweek. Last year, the company recruited four bloggers to custom design, for pay, limited-edition Coach bags. Karla Deras, Kelly Framel, Emily Schuman, and Krystal Simpson worked with Coach to create purses named after their blogs, which they promoted on those blogs, and on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. (They quickly sold out.) Coach is expanding its design collaboration concept to a larger group of global bloggers, Duplantis says. It also features bloggers as models in digital and in-store ad campaigns and has a monthly Guest Blogger. For last week’s Fashion’s Night Out, blogger partners, including Framel (The Glamourai), hosted an in-store party featuring clothing displays they styled around Coach bags.
The blogger-brand marriage reaches the highest of high fashion: Susie Lau of Style Bubble has worked with Valentino and Furla for events and editorial features. Rebecca Minkoff even hired Daniel Saynt, founder of blog network Fashion Indie, as its CMO earlier this year.
It cuts across the spectrum to mass market brands, too. Blogger/designer Keiko Lynn Groves hosts Facebook chats for CVS Beauty Club. Framel and Schuman modeled in ads for Forever 21. Gabrielle Gregg of Gabifresh collaborates with The Limited on designs and promotions for a plus-size brand, eloquii, launching in October.
Juicy Couture even turned to bloggers to reverse an unsavory image when it found itself boxed into a tracksuit ghetto of sorts. Through blogger outreach like events featuring after-hours shopping with DJing by India Jewel-Jackson of Glam.com, it massaged its image. “Many of my peers have a new respect for them . . . and they did it without forcing themselves on anyone,” Framel says.