Many fashion bloggers started their blogs hoping to get discovered and become glamorous overnight. Indeed, Manolo from Manolo’s Shoe blog reputedly earned a six figure annual income from blogging. Susie from Style Bubble got a job within the industry because of her blog, and is now a frequent guest at international fashion events. Jane, a regular Texas girl from Sea of Shoes, was even invited to the annual Crillon Ball in Paris as one of the twenty four debutantes along with the likes of Stanley Ho’s granddaughter and Princess Diana’s niece. Free samples, fashion shows, magazine and newspaper features, maybe even a book deal- it was all within a few clicks of the mouse. The upside in fashion blogging seemed limitless relative to the low cost of entry. But you can’t expect to simply arrive in Hollywood and become a superstar. It takes a bit more to reach stardom.
In 2004, since the idea of blogging about clothes and accessories was still fairly new, it was relatively easy to establish yourself amongst the handful of fashion blogs out there. Sign up for a free user-friendly blog account, churn out a few blog posts, exchange links with other fashion blogs to make yourself known and you are a fashion blogger. You didn’t need to be in the industry or even be terribly fashionable- that was what magazines were for. You just needed to be interested in fashion, have an opinion and a voice that readers can relate to and consistently publish up-to-date posts. There is nothing more detrimental to a blog than a blogger who disappears for weeks. No matter how much they like your blog, they will not come back to a fickle source.
Eventually, traditional publications started to take note of this growing community. Published articles, like the New York Times article titled “Online, Feisty Critics” in 2005, helped jump start interest in these blogs and contributed to the rapid growth in the fashion blogosphere. For brand managers, it was a whole new channel for fashion marketing that they fully intended to take advantage of it. Fashion bloggers were flooded with press releases, advertising inquiries, invitations and free sample offers, all vying for a spot on their blog. Towards the summer of 2007, even big international brands that had previously scoffed at fashion blogs started paying attention. Chanel offered to fly select fashion bloggers from around the world over to Paris, for an all expense paid trip to view their collections and tour the private apartments of Coco Chanel, in an effort to promote their brand in this new media.
But if glamorous perks and fame are considered as an abnormal profit, then it cannot be expected to be sustainable in the long term. With the cost of entry into the fashion blogosphere next to nothing, infinite would-be bloggers and the transparent nature of blogs, the only thing differentiating each blog is its unique human capital. As with all such monopolistic competition market structures, eventually abnormal profit will attract more producers to enter, creating competition that will drive down the abnormal profit. And indeed, that was what happened.
Not only were there more independent fashionista’s trying to get a piece of the glamour, but fashion insiders as well. Fashion magazines launched fashion blogs, featuring real editors mimicking the friendly and down to earth tone of bloggers, providing readers with first hand insider news and analysis. Some even adopted this style of writing in their magazines. Fashion brands, especially the lesser known ones, also introduced fashion blogs in an attempt to promote their products. The fashion blogosphere exploded, making it increasingly difficult for new bloggers to differentiate themselves from other blogs and reap abnormal profits.
Established fashion bloggers benefited immensely during the boom. They easily expanded their readership from a few hundred to a few thousand hits per day, through incoming links from magazine and newspaper features, blog networks and newly set up fashion blogs. With popularity came more popularity, as their ranking in search engines also improved. More traffic was organically directed towards them from keyword searches, which is a powerful source of traffic. If you Google search “Fashion Blog” right now, you will find that I am Fashion, a blog that stopped updating early 2009, still ranks number five in the search results, despite their inactivity. Newcomers on the other hand, do not have this competitive edge.
The only recourse for new fashion bloggers without the financial backing of large corporations to buy them search engine rankings and publicity, is to find increasingly innovative ways to set themselves apart. It is not enough now to simply have a relatable voice and opinion. You must have a unique selling point. Manolo from the Manolo shoe blog for instance, writes in the third person. His witty yet brutally honest observations makes readers return for more of his distinctive brand of humor. Alternatively, the Sartorialist, a man of few words, is selected as one of Time Magazine’s top 100 design influencers. The focus of his blog is photographs of stylish people on the street that caught his eye. His talent for capturing these people at their best, most inspirational moment keeps reader coming back for more. Then there is Jane from Sea of Shoes, a seventeen year old blogger from Texas, who is arguably one of the most successful newcomers coming in towards the end of the boom in 2007. Her unique sense of styling, inspirational home-made photo shoots and charming commentary won her a loyal following. After all, not many teenager girls can make an ancient granny sweater look stylish.
Apart from standing out, new fashion bloggers must also work harder to gain the reader’s trust. Previously, one of the charms of blogs was the way bloggers expressed their opinion, unconstrained by advertisers and sponsors. Now, the commercialization of fashion blogs has put the writer’s integrity into question. It provokes readers to wonder whether a fashion blogger is promoting something because they believe in it, or because they derive some sort of incentive from it. Some fashion bloggers try to use honesty to gain their reader’s trust, telling them in advance whenever a potential conflict of interest is involved. Most leading independent fashion bloggers however, choose to keep their advertising to a minimum, and try to generate revenue from other sources that do not compromise their integrity and the visual of their blogs. The author of The Sartorialist for instance, has only one advertising banner on his site. He generates most of his income through guest blogging for Style.com and a monthly page in GQ. Still some fashion bloggers, like Jane mentioned previously, choose not to advertise at all. Instead, Jane blogs for the pleasure of blogging and enjoys the perks that come along with reaching stardom. But then few bloggers can afford that luxury when maintaining a popular blog is almost a full time job.
With the explosion of the fashion blogosphere, glamorous perks are becoming much rarer. There are simply too many fashion blogs out there for brand managers to effectively identify which one suits their target demographic best. Consequently, firms previously offering free samples, now send out mass electronic press releases instead. Affiliate programs were introduced, where fashion bloggers are paid by commission when a customer directed to the parent site makes a purchase, instead of by the amount of traffic directed. Traffic based advertisements are typically more profitable, because consumers usually do not buy big ticket fashion items online. Companies specializing in blog advertising were also launched trying to bridge the gap between advertisers and fashion blogs. The intermediary fee charged by these companies took yet another bite out of the abnormal profits previously enjoyed by fashion bloggers.
Once the idea took hold, it didn’t take much to foresee the rapid growth of the fashion blogosphere. But like most up and coming industry with low barriers to entry, there was inevitably competition that drove out the weak and forced the survivors to move forward and evolve, even at a lower profit margin. As Warren Buffet recently said in the Berkshire 2009 annual report:
In the past, it required no brilliance for people to foresee the fabulous growth that awaited such industries as autos (in 1910), aircraft (in 1930) and television sets (in 1950). But the future then also included competitive dynamics that would decimate almost all of the companies entering those industries. Even the survivors tended to come away bleeding.
It seems that the fashion blogosphere is no different.
* This article is obviously a generalization of the fashion blogosphere and is not a complete representation of all fashion blogs/bloggers. There are also areas of fashion blogging that I have missed out on, simply because it didn’t really flow well with the main theme and lack of time. Hopefully, I’ll touch on those some other time. If you do get through reading this whole article, your thoughts would be appreciated!
 Manolo’s Shoe Blog: http://shoeblogs.com/
 Style Bubble: http://www.stylebubble.co.uk/
 Sea of Shoes: http://seaofshoes.com/
 Online, Feisty Critics: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/08/fashion/thursdaystyles/08BLOGS.html?_r=1
 I am Fashion: http://iamfashion.blogspot.com
 The Sartorialist: http://thesartorialist.blogspot.com/
Very good piece, you clearly explained the evolution of fashion blogs and how bloggers are now very influential,as much as regular editors at a magazine, if not more. Bloggers are now invited to runaways, seating even front rows, which is amazing as they are “the voice of the public”, however I admit being repelled by blogs containing too many ads and sponsored posts. Too many fahion blogs are out there, I just wonder how long can this keep on? I believe that the ones who have a true passion for fashion will stay, not those out there who are doing it just for the gifts, invitations and so… Readers tend to get bored with this kind of post if too repetitive, at least I know I am ^^
Everything Pretty said:
I don’t like reading fashion blogs even though I have always been interested in fashion, cause a lot of them are just re-posting pictures from style.com…. I find most fashion blogs too amateur and they all lack a unique point of view in fashion.
amy gruenhut said:
Love your blog!
Fishin' for Fashion said:
I really enjoyed reading this post. Many of these thoughts coincide with my own but I liked the way you presented it. What you pointed out is actually happening amongst many blogspheres, not just fashion. As a blogger myself, I have to admit, it IS extremely difficult to stand out amongst all the blogs out there now. The switching costs is just too low for a reader to switch from one blog to another. It’s so hard to establish loyalty of any sort. The March issue of American Vogue actually had an article towards the end titled, “Logged on” which features six or seven men and women who have managed to weed themselves out of this blogging crowd.
And yes, like Shital March, I too hate those blogs that are filled with ads, sponsors, even giveaways and other marketing tactics to lure readers to come back. I mean, if your content is good enough, that in itself should be enough to keep a reader coming back for more. If they don’t, that’s not the type of reader you should target anyway, unless you want to start pulling your hair out. All that extra stuff just takes away from blogs for me!
Also like Everything Pretty, I hate bloggers who simply repost things. It’s one thing to talk about a popular topic in your own words and add in your own opinions but, it’s annoying when I see the sammeeeee things across so many blogs with no new information. There are a lot of blogs I “visit,” but there are only a few that I am loyal to. I think the art of blogging is getting lost. I miss when blogs used to be raw, filled with content, opinions, comments and debates. (I think I’m indirectly saying that I miss “I am Fashion”) lol!! Seriously though, from the moment I stumbled upon that blog a few years ago, I was addicted. Time and time again, you and HG posted EXACTLY my thoughts! In fact, it’s what inspired me to start my blog! Me, I’m just a plain old fashion blogger. I do it because it’s my education, it’s my industry, it’s my passion. It lets me speak my thoughts, and pushes my creativity in presenting, communicating and writing. I don’t expect to make a six-figure income out of it (maybe a quote in WWD like I am Fashion had would be nice!) but I still love it and love it when my readers love it.
Great post ☺
P.S. – Can’t believe it’s been a year now since I am Fashion stopped…
very interesting article. It’s true there are more and more fashion blogs and often with the same content.
Great piece. Its been a long time since i read something on a blog that was clear, interesting and tackled a subject that most blogs avoid. Blogging has been compromised, I can tell you now that in the UK, high street fashion brands have paid bloggers on their books that do “stealth” promo, freebies fly around and most bloggers will write and place products even if they are not into the item. As a communications and marketing officer, I read through some blogs and they sound like open invites for future prospective projects and jobs, some are very good and subtle at how they approach. What saddens me is that fashion schools now openly encourage students to start blogs and invite bloggers to give talks and judge fashion shows..come on! What ever happened to learning how to use a sewing machines and the creative thinking process…!!! One thing we all know about the web is how easy it is to re-invent yourself (everyones beautiful and sucessful on dating sites etc ) Fashion on the web is no different – everyone is edgy and bigger online and can talk good fashion, but natutral style, talent, is easily overlooked in favour of hype “look at me”, wacky outfit ensembles etc etc. The next evolution? Fashion Bloggers trying to turn into brands – I can see it coming if the industry keeps bigging them up!
Purse Party said:
I have to say, every time I come to teawithbg.com you have another exciting article to read. One of my friends was talking to me about this topic a couple weeks ago, so I think I will e-mail my friend the url here and see what they say.
Very insightful. My favorite quote “[N]ew fashion bloggers must also work harder to gain the reader’s trust.” This spoke volumes to me as new fashion blogger. It is necessary for new bloggers to internalize this sentiment.
Brooke Jenkins said:
I love your blog! I’d love to work with you on a little something – email me if you’re interested! Visit my website in the meantime 🙂
Having a opinion on one’s unique fashion sense and perspective should’ve never been put up for sale. That’s where the problems began. When what started out as women having a creative outlet to voice their opinion about their own particular brand of fashion started sliding down that slippery slop of fame whoring for the fashion industry and brand love. That was salt in the entire game.
Blogging has evolved and so have commercial interests. A well written blog can have tremendous impact on the readership.
Love to hear from you in future.
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