Why American Eagle’s New Teen Brand is Doomed to Fail

No one likes a copycat.

Advertisements

With the Brandy Melville teen takeover, American Eagle won’t win back their teen customers by being a copycat.

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-10-41-27-am
Image source: American Eagle ae.com

According to the most recent research by Piper Jaffray in teen brands and spending, it looks like the #1 hot spot for teen apparel has been filled by none other than Brandy Melville. For many years, Forever 21 and American Eagle were the top. But like all things, what goes up, must come down. Nowadays, everything is fast and attentions are short. It’s not even enough for brands to stay abreast of trends. Sometimes, generations stick with brands they grew up on and often times, new brands are adopted by the next generation. It’s a cycle, like everything else. And I think Big Corp needs to accept they just can’t stay on top forever.

piper-jaffray-brandymelville
Source: Piper Jaffray

Brandy Melville seemed to emerge almost overnight (although it’s been in USA since 2012). The beloved teen brand went viral thanks to Instagram and swooped in to take center stage of American Eagle’s teen audience.

So how did AE react to the competition? By creating Don’t Ask Why, a collection initially launched as the ‘Made in Italy’ collection in August 2013, and re-branded September ’14.

The motivation was to shift the collection to a brand to compete with Brandy Melville – and in doing so, they created some of the exact same styles, with the exact ‘one size’ sizing model, also made in Italy, and with similar pricing.

On the Left: Brandy Melville styles, on the Right: AE’s Don’t Ask Why styles

Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of the styles from this collection. And I love AE jeans a lot – which is what Brandy doesn’t have. There’s the weakness the execs missed.

So why do I think this new brand strategy is not going to work?  Because of several factors:

  1. The name is bad. ‘Don’t ask why’ What does that even mean?  Don’t ask why –what? Don’t ask why you’re knocking off a teen brand? Who came up with this? Using a negative or sarcasm in your brand name probably isn’t a good idea. I know, teens are sarcastic. But unless you are trying to hang with Nasty Gal, Local Heroes or Dolls Kill, I don’t suggest it. ‘Don’t Ask Why’ does not suggest: Made in Italy, sophisticated soft basics.
  2. Teens are not dumb. They can see what’s going on. Some will care, some will not. But for those who do, it’s kind of an insult to their intelligence.
  3. Brand Loyalty, Respect, Trust, Authenticity. Teens like Brandy because it is something to call their own, within a network that’s all their own. And it feels authentic to them. Teens like American Eagle for what it is. Awesome jeans and shorts. They may not be keen on a mainstream big box brand taking on an indie vibe for the masses. Just like Snapchat, teens like things where adults aren’t. 
  4. Collabs and social media works pretty well. Working out an underground collab with teens and teen models on IG with Brandy and AE jeans and shorts would have been a much better strategy to win back teen audience and gain influence as one of America’s #1 denim brands. Perhaps a strong social media strategy including hundreds – no, thousands of awesome shots of top influencers wearing your AE brand with the Brandy Melville brand. Brandy doesn’t do denim. But a lot of their shots on IG are girls in denim. The question you should have asked is, “why aren’t they wearing AE denim, and how can we fill that gap?”
  5. Unique is important for teens. Teens like finding clothes that set them apart from the others, mixing and matching styles they like. Teens like vintage, new, obscure, different and trendy. Jumping on a bandwagon, creating almost the exact same styles and competing with their favorite brand (and in some cases, charging more) may not win them over. It’s not original. It looks like a desperate attempt. If they want a mainstream brand to wear that emulates Brandy, they will head to Forever21, who is the queen of cheap, knock-off styles.
  6. Leader or Follower? Again, everyone expects F21 to knock off everyone, and it’s pretty much OK because they are a fast fashion company whose schtick is to offer whatever is trendy. But coming from AEO, the biggest American brand, it’s surprising, and may raise doubts.
  7. The brand message is confusing. I don’t understand how the one brand “Don’t Ask Why” can be a testing ground for your main brand “American Eagle”, with two separate labels. In an interview with Racked, Chad Kessler, AE Global Brand President states, “We use ‘Don’t Ask Why’ as a kind of testing lab for the American Eagle brand. For example, the team came back from Coachella with new silhouettes we hadn’t incorporated into the American Eagle collection yet, and now we have those in the works with ‘Don’t Ask Why’. We’ll bring those into ‘Don’t Ask Why’ stores in the next month or so, and if they work, we’ll roll them out for American Eagle.”  Man, WTF?
  8. Stick to What you Know. Denim is the key AE product and their kryptonite; not many big box retailers do it quite as good as AE in fit, quality, variety and price. Girls, teens and adults LOVE American Eagle denim. They just need to stick with that and not be something they’re not in an attempt to gain customers by “chasing” what’s already being done well. Teens love vintage high waist jeans. Don’t believe me, check out these vintage AEO shorts.  AE should do more of that.
  9. Many may not be OK with the ‘one size fits most’ strategy. In fact. Brandy has faced a lot of backlash from news, bloggers, customers and moms with it’s ‘one size’ (which is Small) strategy. A petition was launched at Change.org against American Eagle and Brandy with a “Stop the misrepresentation of women by the “One Size Fits All” label in clothing stores”

That’s my two cents. We all understand that imitation is the best form of flattery, but..no one likes a copycat.

 

Image sources: Brandy Melville, AE.com

Why ‘Intuitive Entrepreneurship’ is Crucial

Sometimes it means moving rapidly on an idea that sparks almost out of nowhere.

Lately the phrase “intuitive entrepreneurship” has been popping into my head.  Perhaps these are buzzwords which are being used more often. Or perhaps, the need to employ this way of thinking is more crucial than it has been before. Letting go of old paradigms is really hard, but I guess it’s much harder when you find yourself left behind because you were afraid of change and taking a risk.

“Entrepreneurs are different. They have the ability to deal with uncertainty, to take risks and tolerate ambiguity. They usually have a personality that is mercurial, and they have highs that are really high and lows that are really low. There’s good evidence that they have strong self-confidence but also tend to be overoptimistic. They rely extensively on their own intuition.”  -James V. Koch
Old Dominion University

As natural-born entrepreneurs, we are kind of wired to take risks and be rebellious.  We learn really early in life what interests us and what doesn’t.  This is probably why I sucked so much in school.  I never understood the point.  I was incredibly bored. I saw myself, my life and my future in a space that had nothing to do with anything going on in those classrooms.  Life was more interesting, more intelligent and grander than the education I was getting there. I couldn’t wait to get out of school to actually create my life the way I saw it. 

I think this is one trait of an entrepreneur that really stands out. If you are a natural born entrepreneur, you probably know you are a bit of a stubborn individual. You live in a bubble of your own ideas, often times feeling like you speak a different language than others.  You are totally driven and would rather stay up all night planning and doing research than sleeping.  And for anyone who tries to sway you from your vision, your hustle and gut instincts -well, that’s all but impossible.

I have been exercising my intuition and trend forecasting skills for a long time now. So the methods and skills I use are pretty natural to me.  My career as a fashion designer has meant that using intuition, and awareness with research is vital to creating collections or pieces that are relevant. I was told in my career that, “If it didn’t scare me, I wasn’t thinking big enough”. A design manager at a company I worked for wanted us to “make him a little uncomfortable” with our designs.  So taking risks has been a huge part of my life in my career and in my own entrepreneurship.  And I embrace it wholeheartedly.

What exactly does it mean to be an intuitive entrepreneur? Sometimes it means taking a little time to think over and research an idea, and sometimes it means moving rapidly on an idea that sparks almost out of nowhere.  With so much information being served to us on a daily basis, sometimes all we have is our intuition to go on. Taking your time on an idea just for the sake of pragmatism isn’t the wisest choice, even if it sounds wise to everyone else.  If you feel deep in your gut that an idea is a hot one, I encourage you to go for it.  This, in my opinion, is the purest form of intuitive business strategy, and the nature of an entrepreneur.

The ability to be creative, think on the fly and make key business decisions with little time amidst the tsunami of external information is vital. Intuition is the natural intelligence that allows us to see ahead of the curve, to generate innovative ideas, to communicate powerfully and to do so without having to study spreadsheets or gather piles of data.  -Simone Wright

On more than a few occasions, I was designing 3-6 years ahead of the game.  And because of that, I either hit it out of the park or swung too quickly and struck out.  In 2008, a collection I worked on wasn’t market relevant, yet. Prospect Denim, a denim collection I helped create and launch in 2008, become relevant – 5 years later.  In fact, every denim company launching in 2013 offered that ‘homespun, made in USA the old fashioned way’ branding message that I created for Prospect in 2008. My partner at the time had the foresight to predict the laser technologies in denim finishing long before any other mainstream denim companies were doing it.  In 2007-08 I foresaw the return to the small batch, USA-made apparel roots happening before it did. Collectively, we saw the direct-to-consumer selling approach. Unfortunately for Prospect Denim in 2008, the rest of the denim world needed more time to “catch up”.  We made our dent in the fashion industry with our innovative thinking and award winning website but it wasn’t enough to translate that into multi-million dollar conversions.  Had we launched two years later, we would have completely crushed our competition.

Being too far ahead isn’t aways a bad thing, but timing is important.

I struck at the right time in 2009 with my first real apparel company, Berry Jane.  At the time, the ‘leggings as pants’ movement was still really new.  It was Berry Jane and Black Milk who were paving the way.  It was hugely successful in it’s first 6 months, and by month 7, we were already on our way to multi-million dollar revenues by year 2. My only kiss of death with that brand was allowing three of the four devils of branding and the wrong partnerships to enter into the picture.

They were:

COMMITTEES (water down inspiration)
BUREAUCRACY (rules override initiative and the ability to think)
RED TAPE (not being nimble and adding layers just because we think moving slowly is somehow smarter than moving swiftly)

As a creative entrepreneur, you simply can NOT let other people into your sandbox or business before the vision (or business) is fully realized.  I can’t stress that enough. Your brand and vision cannot afford to be compromised before it is fully realized. As an intuitive entrepreneur, you can seen how this will play out. Chances are, you have visualized the success of your project like no one else can. You can’t let other people change that. Most importantly, if you are going to change anything, it needs to be because you saw the areas that needed improvements or changes and you did it.  Use your intuition.

Be brutally honest with yourself. This is lesson #1 in intuitive entrepreneurship.

Be OPEN to seeing, hearing and feeling when something isn’t right and quickly adjusting or tweaking areas where you feel it needs to change.  If you discover that your idea simply sucks, or there is just not enough white space for your brand or business, it’s OK to adjust the sails or just fucking scrap it.  Spending time beating a dead horse or living in the past keeps you in that present state: beating a dead horse that will never rise and living in the past that will not propel you forward.  If you see something changing, or if the old ways of doing things aren’t working anymore, you owe it to yourself and your company to figure out why. Spend some time observing and taking it all in.  Pay attention to what is going on around your space.

Ask yourself: What does this project feel like?  Am I doing everything I can with it? What are the successful people doing?  Where is all of this headed?  As a consumer, what do I want? What does all of this feel like?

When you tune in more, you will get better at it.  Take time to be alone with your thoughts and meditate. Analyze your questions and answers.

In my past experiences, I learned to strike when it felt right and to avoid big decisions if I felt hesitant.  I also learned to avoid too many naysayers or partners who tried to change or complicate my flow of things. I learned how to walk away quickly from a person who felt “off”, or a project that just didn’t have the legs I thought it would have. Nor did I partner up with a person because I was desperate for funding or creative collaboration.  I was not attached to the projects or brands simply because I had invested so much into them.  That’s not a good enough reason to continue investing your time, your life, energy and money.  If it’s a project that needs changing in order to be successful, do the necessary changes that it needs, otherwise, be OK growing it slowly or toss it.  There has to be a return.  If it isn’t paying you back financially or emotionally, it’s not worth it. This is another area where your intuition will not lead you astray.  If it feels sucky, let it go and move on.

You have to be willing to hear and see what’s going on around you and predict what’s coming next. Where do you want to be in that game?  In 2008, Tony Robbins hosted a seminar on entrepreneurship. He talked about the economy in the USA, starting a business, and how it was going to challenge all of us.  He also spoke about the power of giving back and truly connecting with our clients and customers in a very personal way (through social media). If you have 30 minutes to spare, I highly recommend this video.

Anticipating is the ultimate advantage in business and in life.  Be ahead of the game, don’t wait to react.  Play the game. KNOW the road ahead.

 

What is the cost of social media marketing?

Make sure you budget for marketing, because a funny thing happens when you don’t do it: Nothing.

 

How much does social media marketing cost?  That seems to be a burning question everyone is asking.  Ok, now don’t freak out…

But the short of the long of it is:

A minimum of $2,500-$5,000 on average per month, depending on where your target audience is and what you want to achieve.

Sometimes, you have to pay extra for PR or blog content writing. A lot of those $2,500K-$5K prices may or may not be all-inclusive deals.  And it’s not unusual to find many agencies who charge $10,000 per month for social media marketing & management.  

According to some data findings, the cost to create and establish just a new Twitter account with targeted Followers and a little bit of content is anywhere from $2K-$7,500.
So I guess the average $2,500-$5,000 isn’t so bad when you consider the fact that some agencies charge $5,000 – just to manage your Facebook account. Nothing else.
Just Facebook.

$5,000 per month for a Social Media Marketer seems “high” because we spend so much time online, doing just that: interacting socially and participating in social media.  Our perception of social media is “fun time”,  it hasn’t registered to us that this is THE advertising platform. 

Wherever the audience is, advertising follows. Once it was Newspapers, Magazines, Radio, TV.  Now, it’s online through our news and blogger channels and our Social Media feeds.

If we can look at it from a media platform we are used to, such as Magazines, we can truly see the value and the difference: We have magazine readers, and we have magazine creators.

We don’t see all of the behind-the-scenes magic that happens to make that content available and in our face. That is what advertising is, and what Social Media Marketing is all about.

Ok, I get it.   But.. Why so much?

Let’s break it down:

  • Graphics and Social Media Ad Creatives  The cost of social media graphics and ad creatives – this includes a professional graphic designer with marketing knowledge to create visual ads that deliver results.  There is a psychology behind an ad creative that works. This isn’t the job for just any Joe Schmo Photoshop Pro when it comes to creating a fine-tuned ad creative. The average salary of a Graphic Designer is anywhere from $45-$60K per year, with some earning as much as $75K.
  • Market research  This is a very important aspect of advertising.  You have to zero in on your target audience. It makes no sense to shoot your product out into the universe if it’s not aimed at the right audience.  Market research answers: Who is your audience, what do they want, what are the buying, what do they respond to, where do they hang out and who are your competitors?
  • Ad rates The costs of promoting you or your business. Ad rates are generally included in a market budget, and an average and conservative cost can be anywhere from $250-$500 month for Twitter and Facebook Ads alone.
  • PR Writing and crafting the perfect pitches, reaching out to Bloggers, Editors, Magazines, Influencers and even celebrities.  This aspect is HARD WORK. A lot of PR agents I know charge $5K per month, just for PR.  Nothing else.
  • Creating Marketing Campaigns, Calendars + Strategies. Sometimes creating a marketing campaign can take days (or even weeks) to not only research and plan, but to write it out. (One simple 3 month marketing campaign I created a few weeks ago took me over 16 hours to research, create and write.) This takes a lot of time, but executed well, it pays off.
  • Writing Press Releases
  • Writing Blog Posts – Rich content blog posts are worth their weight in gold to the tune of saving you about $250,000 in Google Adwords costs. A well-written blog post with organic traffic can harness as much, if not more traffic, as an expensive Google Adwords campaign. One single blog post I wrote in 2011 has generated 256,000 hits for my blog so far.  If I would have paid the average $1 CPC (Cost-per-Click) with Google Adwords, it would have cost me $256,000! 😮
    Blog writers know their stuff when it comes to SEO, and they craft their posts to maximize search results.  According to ClicktoTweet and HubSpot, “Articles with a word count between 2,250 and 2,500 earn the most organic traffic”.  A good blog writer will charge around .45 cents per word on average, so a 1,000 word post is $450. For example, this post you’re reading right now is 1,326 words (or about $600).
  • Social Media Manager A full time (daily) social media manager to monitor your accounts, create engaging posts, interact, respond to positive (and negative) feedback across all channels.  I’m talking about a dedicated person who not only knows the ins and outs of social media, but one who works on all your social media accounts all day (Instagram, Reddit, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook), and knows how to track and analyze the data.  This is a full time job and if you were to pay him or her a salary, it would probably cost you a minimum of $45K/yr. ($3,750/mo)


What the hell? Now, I’m kinda bummed.

If you already have an established Twitter or Facebook account, it could be a little more cost effective, because you won’t have to start from scratch and what you’ll need is a social media manager to maintain and manage your accounts: (i.e. keep them flowing, interact, grow your followers, establish relationships, and build brand awareness).  So, If you were to hire someone full time to manage your account, not create contests, promotions or ads, it would most likely cost a minimum of $40K per year, which is a salary of $3,300/mo.
(If you want someone part time, you can probably find a SMM who is good at what he/she does and is just starting out.)

 

Snapchat_Logo

$750,000

This is how much Snapchat costs per ‘Brand Story’ ad, which is a branded post that appears within the app’s ‘Stories’ feed.
(update: 12/2015 The minimum budget for advertising on Snapchat recently dropped from $700,000+ to $100,000)

141010153604-snapchat-gasp-1024x576

Scared yet?  Don’t be.  Advertising has always been costly but it’s vital to business growth.
And sometimes, businesses just aren’t ready yet.

People scratch their heads in confusion when things aren’t selling, or when customers aren’t responding.  I’ve been there before.  I’d think, “I’m doing everything right!” when the truth is, I was just not giving enough to my marketing budget or plan.

We all want to see fantastic results, but what we don’t see is the costs associated with the results we want.  And it can be overwhelming at first, but once the momentum starts, it all starts working pretty harmoniously.  Better budget for advertising = more sales = more advertising budget = even more sales, etc.

“It’s nearly impossible to do PR and Social Media Marketing on your own, unless you have tons of time, are super-savvy (creatively), and have a team to help out.
Make sure you budget anywhere from 15-20% of your annual income for marketing, because a funny thing happens when you don’t do it: Nothing.   Meanwhile, you see competitors with the same products as you doing it and going global.  If you want to succeed, there is no other choice. It needs to be a financial priority in your business plan and must be factored in as a cost to doing business”.

In the quickly moving digital world we now live in, we simply can’t wait for our audience and business to come to us. Social media is where all of the attention is these days. We stream Netfix online, Hulu, YouTube and Amazon.  We are plugged in to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.

This is where the audience of the world is today, and if you aren’t finding a way to reach them through these channels, you’re kind of on another planet.  If you take your business seriously, find a way to either amp up your social media marketing time per day or hire a professional to help you grow your business.  You honestly can’t afford not to.

 

15 Ways to Think Like Coco #Chanel and Be Successful

One doesn’t have to look too hard to see that Coco Chanel was a successful woman. And here’s why

Coco Chanel was a exceptional woman who became one of the most influential designers in the fashion world. When I think of her, I imagine her to be this driven, independent, slightly withdrawn and cranky woman.

Abandoned by her father when she was a girl, and raised in a convent probably emphasized her need for self-sufficiency. Being born in an era where most women weren’t on their own financially, set her apart. She never wanted to be with a man out of financial need, although she was accepting of the help she received along the way from the male suitors in her life.  I find some parts of her story to be a little vague, but one doesn’t have to look too hard to see that Coco Chanel was a successful woman. And here’s why:

  1. “I don’t care what you think about me.  I don’t think about you at all”.
    She didn’t really care what people thought. Period.
  2. “A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”
    She wanted to be who she wanted to be, and she wanted to do what she wanted to do. She did not waste her time or energy being concerned about other people’s opinions of her (see #1).
  3. “Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.”
    She understood her worth.  She believed in herself beyond belief. She knew she was talented and had every bit of opportunity as the next person. She didn’t let negative self-talk dictate her life.
  4. “My life didn’t please me, so I created my life.”
    She didn’t let her past create her future. Although she grew up in an orphanage, she knew her life story was waiting to be written. She never let her humble beginnings be her obstacle, but a driving force to create the life she wanted.
  5. “I wanted to give a woman comfortable clothes that would flow with her body. A woman is closest to being naked when she is well-dressed.”
    She wasn’t afraid of taking risks, nor did she let people intimidate her or sway her creative direction. Coco created clothes she wanted to wear, she created clothing that she knew women wanted.  Her ideas were radical for the times and there were many people who didn’t understand the way she did things, but she remained true to her visions and stuck with it. (And it paid off!)
  6. “I don’t do fashion, I AM fashion.”
    She believed in her craft, she embodied her work heart and soul. Quality and personal creativity was one of her top priorities. She wasn’t going to sell her soul just for the sake of higher profits.  Her name was attached to every piece she made, and she was known for a relentless drive for perfection, whether in construction, design or fit. She had a strong opinion in all matters of style and taste, and backed her clothing with authority.
  7. “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” She knew when to let go.  When her life wasn’t taking the shape she wanted, she knew how to recognize it, let go and move on-even if it meant letting go of a cushy life. She wasn’t one to waste time and energy beating a wall and waiting for it to turn into a window.
  8. “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
    Speak up.  She was not afraid to speak her mind.  There was probably never a question of Coco’s position or opinion on something.
  9. “It’s probably not just by chance that I’m alone. It would be very hard for a man to live with me, unless he’s terribly strong.”
    Independence was very important to her, and she knew her emotional limitations. She knew that living a life where she had to compromise what she wanted meant she wouldn’t have her freedom.  For Coco, being with a man out of need was not an option.  She was hellbent to make it on her own, or not at all. Once her business became financially successful without the help of Boy Capel, she stated, “I was my own master, and I depended on myself alone”.
  10. She believed in magic. If you visit Coco’s apartment in Paris, it is as it was when she lived there: lucky symbols are everywhere, such as a frog with its mouth open and a crystal placed inside (a symbol of love, luck, money and health), pairs of Japanese deer and wheat motifs (a sign of prosperity) are scattered across the apartment.She believed in the healing power of crystals, so there are crystal chandeliers in every room.  Lions are also scattered throughout, a reference to her sign, the Leo. Mirrors placed on the walls are octagonal in shape, which was also significant. The shape of the stopper for the Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle was also octagon, and even the number “5” of her perfume has special meaning in Numerology. The number 5 is the most dynamic and energetic of all the single-digit numbers. It is unpredictable, always in motion and constantly in need of change. Sometimes believing in the magic that we possess will get us over humps when we feel like quitting.
  11. “There is nothing worse than solitude. Solitude can help a man realize himself; but it destroys a woman.”
    She believed in surrounding herself with inspirational and like-minded friends. She befriended artists such as Dali, Picasso, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Cocteau, Jean Renoir, Visconti – all of whom she collaborated with.  It’s well-known that Coco didn’t like to be alone. Find your “tribe”, and you will watch wonders unfold creatively.
  12. “There is a time for work, and a time for love. That leaves no other time.”
    She knew how to manage her time and energy. She knew what was most important to her and she neither deviated from that or tried to combine them all. As a business woman, Coco wasn’t one to waste valuable resources with endeavors that did not serve her higher purpose. Her only focus in life was her vision, her brand, her company (and occasionally love).  What are your priorities?
  13. “Luxury for yourself” Chanel believed in pampering herself.  Don’t be afraid to be a little selfish sometimes. When we feel spent, and our venture feels like it’s failing, we have to look at our life and see where our daily energies are going.  Chances are, you probably aren’t devoting enough of your time to yourself, or to what YOU want to do, because you’re too busy trying to do too many things, or you’re too busy cleaning up everyone else’s mess.  Focus on taking care of yourself, and on the things you want to accomplish, and don’t be afraid to tell others “I’m sorry, I just don’t have the bandwidth”.
  14. “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
    Simplicity without “decision fatigue”.  Coco was known for her simple, but elegant design aesthetic. She didn’t overcomplicate her designs because that wasn’t who she was.  Most days, Coco wore black, because it was simple, elegant and easy.  She was, what we’d now call the “Capsule Movement Wardrobe”.  It’s the trait of highly successful people like Mark Zuckerberg and Barak Obama, for example. In an interview, President Obama stated, “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”In a 1969 interview with Micheline Sandrel, Chanel was asked, “You have this suit, this Chanel on you, what else do you have nowadays in your own wardrobe?” Coco Chanel: Two suits I’ve had for three years, a beige one and the one I wore yesterday, with a small pattern, three is good.
  15. “In order to be irreplaceable one must be different” Don’t spend so much time trying to do what’s working for others, or do what you think will sell. Follow your passion, explore your own talents and ideas, no matter how different they may seem from mainstream.  Carve your own path.  After all, there was only one Coco and there is only one YOU.

Make Money As A Fashion Blogger: 8 Lessons for Going from 0 to $50,000 per Month

Not possible? Just ask Chiara Ferragni, who pulled in a reported $8 Million in 2015

Nobody believes a blogger can make any money, let alone $1 Million a year. If you ask most people, they will say, “Don’t quit your day job”, or “That’s just a pipe dream.”, or my favorite:

“Blogging?  That’s not a “real” job, it’s a hobby, right?” 

I don’t know, just ask Aimee Song, The Man Repeller or the Chiara Ferragni of the Blonde Salad, who by the way, pulled in a reported $8 Million in 2015.  And those are the top fashion bloggers right now.  Think about even the successful bottom tier bloggers and what they are making.  According to research, the average blogger with 40,000+ page views per month are pulling in anything from: $5,000 to  $40,000+ per month.  You read that correctly.

Still think you can’t make money blogging? 

My Tween Fashion Blog makes a good chunk of change and has over 44,000 visitors per month. And I don’t really feel like I do anything. Or, at least all I could be doing.

How?

I’ll be happy to tell you. First of all, most of the advice you’ll read out there is crap or outdated.  All of that “monetizing your blog” info is complete nonsense.  Monetizing your blog does nothing for you except clutter up your content with annoying ads.  The money you get in return is pennies —literally.

For example, do you see any giant ads on this site, or on my Tween Fashion Blog?

Not really.  There’s a reason why.

I am a Fashion Designer and Fashion Consultant.  My blogs are my platforms to offer my expert opinions, reviews, advice and products. I have been designing professionally since 2003, and I have been marketing and selling online since 1999. In fact, I began my fashion career in similar ways as Sophia AmorusoFounder of Nasty Gal. 

I began buying and re-selling clothes on eBay in 1999.  I would visit my local thrift stores and find used, designer and vintage clothes to resell through my eBay store.  By 2001, I had worked my way up to buying and reselling in large quantities, and importing stocklots from factories overseas.  In fact, one month I made $60,000 in sales.  After only one year in business I had sourced and collected literally hundreds of businesses across the USA who were wholesale apparel sellers, liquidators, outlets and resources for B2B sales.  And then I realized there were thousands of new eBay sellers every day begging for information that I had to source their inventory.  I realized I was sitting on very valuable information. I compiled my first Wholesale Apparel eBook and sold it online through my first ecommerce site I built with Dreamweaver. I sold a lot of these at $49 each.  A lot.

You see, Bloggers don’t make most of their money selling ad space or earning dimes for clicks. Bloggers are essentially teachers, and fashion bloggers are a branded platform.  What they sell are their ideas, a feeling, expertise and eventually products. Fashion Bloggers are the experts and trendsetters in their field. They start with rich, relevant content to target their audience and work their way into building up that audience to — you guessed it: sell their product, or sell other people’s products. Chiara Ferragni started off as a Look of the Day gal in 2009, but she now has her own collection and a few million per year with The Chiara Ferragni collection. THAT is where her money comes from my darlings.

That is where I am these days.  I no longer work for any corporate entity except for my own.

If you are reading this, you have probably dug into every piece of information you could get your hands on about quitting your job and making a living blogging.  But the truth is, until you figure out how to sell what you know,  you probably aren’t going to make money blogging. Building up your readership is key. And you can’t build up that readership if you aren’t providing information that’s useful or relevant.

People want information.  And information sells.  Stories are great, but stories don’t make bloggers wealthy–unless they turn the story into a tangible product
(a book, or movie)
.  

Fashion provides a steady, constant moving stream of information.  People want to know what boots are hot this season, what dress to wear to the holiday party, what to wear, how they should style their hair, etc.  This is where the fashion blogger comes in.  

For me, my blog provides info on the best brands, the best stores, what’s trending, what’s awesome and what sucks.  And my niche happens to be the Tween, Girls and Juniors market. Yours may be completely different, but that’s up to you to decide and refine.

My head is full of useful information. I have been involved with the fashion industry for 16 years and a fashion designer for over 10 years.  I have taken my knowledge and skills and transferred that energy into teaching what I know, creating products and helping others create their own collections or products.  

Your head is full of useful information, too. It can be niche, too. 

If you take some of what I learned and apply it to your blog, it’ll pay off for you.

Because here’s the thing:

You can make money blogging.   A million bloggers out there can’t be wrong.  What everyone wants is information.  All the time.  And of course you can be the person they come to for that information.  

So, here’s the beginning to what you need to know to get started making money as a blogger.

Lesson #1:  Realize That You’re Not “Just a Fashion Blogger”

You’re an expert, a teacher, a mentor. Your blog is simply a springboard for all of those things. Perhaps you can offer more than just daily posts, right?  You have a bigger goal, a bigger vision, it’s just not incubated long enough.  But it will.  Keep your head and your eye on the bigger picture.

Look around, and you’ll find nearly all fashion bloggers who make a decent income have an active Instagram account full of fantastic product and lifestyle shots, fashion show attendance, product endorsements, their own fashion collections, books, a consulting or trend forecasting business, side gigs etc.  THAT is how they make money. Their blog and their Instagram account is just the platform where they introduce themselves, give away cool stuff or talk about the things that spark interest to attract followers, customers or clients.

Their interesting ideas and perspective, coupled with rich content = Followers, which equals audience.  And as we all know, audience = influence = $$$

Lesson #2: Don’t Sell Advertising

Selling ads can be attractive, because it’s income that generates without you really doing anything, but it’s generally minimal unless it’s ad space bought by  Gucci.  (Or you have a million followers and you are using a platform like RewardStyle.me to sell OPP – Other people’s products).

So, unless your ad space is purchased from someone like Gucci or Prada, say “nada”.
Why push someone else’s product for pennies, if you can make 5-10 x more money using that same “ad space” to sell your own products or services?  At the very least, promote an affiliate product that is either cohesive with your blog theme (i.e. health and wellness, fitness, high fashion, etc.) or a brand that you love -and one that will make you a significant profit per month. 

For example, try signing up with shareasale.com or Rakuten Marketing.  Some fashion brands will pay up to 20% commissions in sales. When I first started out, I signed up for big brands for the names, but they barely paid 3% commissions and although I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth,  it just didn’t add up.  I discovered after my first year that I had been pushing their brand and watching their sales increase based on my efforts, and I was literally getting a few dollars in return. In the first year as an affiliate, I generated 1.3 million impressions and $17,200 in sales. My commission for that was peanuts ($605).

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 3.21.28 PM
Example of Affiliate Program Sales

 

What I realized was if I applied that same effort to my own products, I could make what they were making.  Viola!  Do you see how it works?

People were coming in for my content, but spending dollarinos elsewhere.

If you do choose to go with affiliate marketing (until you get your own product, of course), set your baseline commission standards to at least 15% or don’t waste your time.  Your time is extremely valuable. Crafting awesome posts takes you hours, and pushing a brand for pennies is just not worth it.

After all, your goal is to make $50,000 per month right? Right!

Stop working for free.

Now, If you consider the possibility of a $25,000 month of sales for all of your affiliates combined, and your baseline is 15%  Your monthly commission is $3,750.  Makes a bit of difference, doesn’t it?

I reiterate, you CAN make money as a blogger.

On my blog, I mostly promote my own brand, products and design services now, but I am also in the process of writing a book about How to Start Your Own Clothing Line.  The bottom line: Think bigger than ad space or paid reviews. Sure, you may get free stuff and that’s totally fine if you’re going for that. Free stuff is fun but it’s not going to allow you to quit your day job and really earn a living blogging, or send you and your family on vacation. So if your goal is to earn a 6-figure income blogging, set your standards high.

 

Lesson #3:  Build Your Content

Your an expert, give the world your expert knowledge.  Don’t hammer your readers with sales pitches, or too many ‘buy me, buy me’ posts.  Your whole point for being here is to offer valuable information.  The good, the bad, the ugly – Not a car salesman pitch at every turn. Be polite. It’s much better to build relationships and trust by giving readers some valuable content before you begin talking about or pushing your products and services. Yes, you might make less money in the short term, but the long-term profits are so worth it.  

In the Fashion world, photos are everything.  So, make sure you partner with a good photographer who can work with you often to create the overall look and mood of the clothes you may be presenting.  Reach out to stylists and brands to collaborate.  I cannot stress enough the need to collaborate.  It is vital, especially if you are going for stylistic shoots, and highlighting products.

Lesson #4: Don’t Be The “Bottleneck”

Time is your biggest obstacle as a blogger. There just isn’t enough of it.  Not only are we expected to publish a continuous stream of photos on Instagram and publish content on our blogs, but we also have to make time to create creative assets, giveaways and promotions, schedule styling shoots – if you do that sort of thing, deal with technical issues, read books and articles about the industry, design, create new products to sell (I certainly do, anyhow) and answer questions from readers.  Did I mention social media management also?  The list really goes on and on for days.  It is more than a full-time job, and you have to be prepared to put in the work.

Many days, my job as a Designer and managing my business starts at 6:30 AM and doesn’t end until about 8 PM.  I have found myself literally doing E V E R Y T H I N G.

But you will learn quickly, and maybe you already have, that you CAN’T do everything.
You just can’t. And you shouldn’t if you want to succeed as a fashion blogger.

So, what’s the answer?

Your job as a fashion blogger is a lot like the manufacturing process. If one machine is down or working slower than others in a factory, it can literally cost the company tens of thousands of dollars per hour. If something slips up and a batch of tees get dyed the wrong color because someone was overworked, it will cost another several hundred thousand dollars. 

To make sure snags don’t happen, manufacturers and brands have Product Developers and Production Managers,  Why?  Because they are worth every penny of their $100K+ per year salary, and they  eliminate these snags or “bottlenecks”.

The same is true for us, except the solutions are a little different.  We will want to focus in the area(s) where we are the most bottlenecked and find a solution to free up that valuable time.  We might sign up for a service or purchase a new software that automates some of our social media work flow, or we might hire an assistant. It can be expensive, yes, but it’s worthwhile if it saves you time. because you can then dedicate that extra time to higher value activities that yield better ROI.

Lesson #5:  Time is Money

Put a price on high value activities.  What are “high value activities” anyway?

Well, it depends on your goal. If your goal is to increase your blog traffic, then start measuring the ‘visitors per hour invested’. For example, if you invest three hours in writing a post or shooting a post for Instagram and it brings you 100 visitors, and you invest five hours in writing a guest post (or collaborating with another Instagrammer) which brings you 500 visitors, the first post has an hourly rate of 33 visitors per hour. The second post has an hourly rate of 100 visitors per hour. Guest posting and/or collaborating with an established blogger, therefore, is a better use of your time than writing content on your own blog (in the beginning).

Anticipation builds momentum.

Consider the possibility of building up your content and following before launching your blog.  The last thing you want to do is post regular content if nobody is reading.  Get you visitors and followers ready with a ‘coming soon’ page and collect emails for the next 30, 60 or 90 days while you build out your blog, take photos, create content and make connections with other bloggers as a Guest Contributor.  I took this strategy with my Berry Jane website and the response was astounding.  I had a ‘coming soon’ page up for three months before launching and I was able to grow my email list to nearly 1,000 in no time flat.  

Lesson #6:  Facebook, Twitter, Google+ may be a waste of time.

Wait, does this mean having followers in those places is useless?   No. Facebook is OK because you can advertise to your followers. Google+ can help boost your search engine rankings. Even with those benefits though, it shouldn’t be at the top of your priority list. In my opinion, you shouldn’t think about them at all until you hit 10,000 followers/subscribers, and then you can outsource the social media management to someone else. Use your time more efficiently in other places, such as Instagram, YouTube, Stylish Shots, Product Reviews and Writing Longer Content.

Why longer content?

Longer content gets much more traffic, and is more SEO friendly than shorter content.  The sweet spot seems to be about 2,000–3,000 words per post (This post, for example, is appx. 2,817 words).

Lesson #7:  Promote, Promote, Promote!

Promote the heck out of your content.  I’m not talking about just sharing your posts to your Followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I’m talking about blogger outreach. Build relationships with influencers and asking them to share your work.

You should spend just as much time on blogger outreach as you do creating your own content. So, if you’re spending 5 hours a week writing blog posts, you should be spending 5 hours a week on outreach too.

It comes back to TIME.  When your blog is new, the most efficient uses of your time is: building relationships with influencers (including guest blogging), creating content worth linking to, and selling your products and services. I have worked with a broad range of brands and companies from Target to Simon and Schuster, Pac Sun and even Dollar Shave Club. 

If you follow just those three things well, not only will your blog gain traffic and prominence, but you’ll also start getting search traffic (organically) without doing anything.

Lesson #8: Build Your Email List.  It’s More Important Than You Realize

In my experience, your email list is the most accurate predictor of how much money you’ll make blogging.

A successful Blogger makes around $3 per subscriber per month. If you’re new to this, I would aim for $1 per subscriber per month in sales. In other words, an email list of 1,000 subscribers should result in at least $1,000 per month in sales,  10,000 subscribers would result in $10,000 per month and so on.

The more subscribers you get, the more money you make. If course, your relationships, quality of content and products are key for success.

Sell “You”

Don’t just turn your blog into a big sales pitch. I see that with so many bloggers and it gets annoying fast, plus its just not very personal.  And “personal” is what got a lot of these fashion bloggers where they are today.  They created content that made followers feel connected.  I see this with Aimee Song.  We love to see her photos on Instagram, but her blog and Instagram account is basically a show and tell platform to sell what she’s wearing.

Be real and personable. Sell your knowledge and ideas, but don’t become just a machine for selling. 
Nobody likes that.

Remember to keep offering something your audience wants and needs. I’m interested to hear your comments on this subject and see what has worked for you, and what hasn’t!  If you’re just starting out, keep plugging away.  Starfruit takes time to ripen.  

You’ve got this.