Jessi Afshin, owner of fashion blog The Darling Detail, strolls into Gearing Hall with a grace paralleling that of a ballerina. Though rather petite in frame, her mere presence seems to liven the room instantaneously. The murmuring chatters cease as she positions herself center stage. Right leg bent faintly, hip settled in comfortably to one side, head cocked ever so slightly — it is as if she is effortlessly ready for a photo at any moment. Afshin, a University of Texas alumni, is back on campus today to recount her rise to fame in the fashion blogging industry. Four years prior, the twenty-something merchandising major had established The Darling Detail merely as a means of creative escape from what she calls a “state of unfulfillment.”
Today, Afshin heads a team of five in her brand new Austin office. Her Instagram has amassed over 200,000 followers and she has successfully shifted into a financially sustainable, full-time blogger. And she’s not the only one.
These days, Afshin is one of many responsible for the most recent revitalization within the fashion industry: the new era of “style influencers.”
Fashion blogging is not a new phenomenon by any means. Historically, the concept of independent writers who share their personal style opinions online is nothing unfamiliar to the industry. Nowadays, it’s the newfound respect and relevance that bloggers have earned from the industry’s formerly skeptical elites that has shaken the fashion world’s hierarchy of power to its core. Long before the rise of hot-shot digital mavens like Leandra Medine of Man Repeller and Bryan Grey Yambao of BryanBoy, the blogging community was rather outcasted; highly-revered industry nobility regarded these creatives as “tryhards” and “wannabes,” unfit of esteemed acknowledgement amongst the weathered professionals. At the time not a serious full-time career option, bloggers were discredited by the seemingly mindless nature of their work. After all, anyone can start up a website and post random nonsense.
Not until a new notion was coined, and then popularized, did this stigma around bloggers start to fade. The birth of the “style influencer” thus revolutionized blogging into a modern and much real round-the-clock force felt by the entire industry. Rapid rises in social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram were perfectly suited for the blogging type: an online, interactive community where casual documentation of your daily whereabouts, trend reports, and recommendations was not only encouraged, but essential. As Afshin said, “Instagram really changed the game.” In a time of information overload, where the average consumer is exposed to over 1,000 advertisements per day, bloggers provide real time, honest, and seemingly intimate glimpses into the “normal” life of a sartorialist. While Vogue increased their September 2014s ad page count to over seventy percent, the blogging community was investing in personalized, reachable relationships through easily navigated social mediums.
As the number of self-made bloggers promptly escalated, so did the competition. Forerunners quickly emerged. On an international scale, Aimee of Song of Style is chief amongst this exhaustive, exclusive list. Her Instagram alone has garnered over four million regulars. “The hustle is real,” Afshin said. “Everyone’s blogging now, it’s the cool thing to do. You have to find a way to separate yourself from the rest.” Nonetheless, these newly minted “style influencer” types maintain one common objective. Despite the fierce competition to preserve and further cultivate an active following, the collective goal is to mesh high street and luxury fashion in an approachable, engaging context.
In an effort to legitimize blogging as a full-time pursuit, creatives have begun implementing business strategies into their editorial calendar. Affiliate programs like RewardStyle and ShopStyle, through which bloggers earn commission from clickable links on blog posts and Instagram captions, now account for a considerable portion of the full-time blogger’s revenue. Early designer endorsers of the blogging movement, like powerhouse Diane Von Furstenberg and all-American Levi’s, have also paved the way for an increase in brand sponsorships and collaborations.
Once considered a rare sighting, well-established bloggers are now some of the most sought-after, tangible testaments of brand value and appeal. They populate coveted fashion week front rows, co-host collection launches and special events, address fashion icons on a first-name basis, and even walk the damn runway themselves (see: Aimee Song in Rebecca Minkoff, Spring 2017). A single, positively captioned Instagram review reaches an influencer’s own audience, their mutual connections, and newcomers all within a click’s reach. Incorporating these mass-mediated ,relatable, walking ad campaigns into a successful promotional strategy is really just good business.
Like any industry, however, blogging does not come without its personal sacrifices. The style influencer community projects a rose-colored-glass facade of glamour and effortless beauty. After all, it’s the so-close-yet-so-far-away lifestyle they’re selling, and we’re eating it up. The truth, however, is harder to digest: a successful career in blogging is proving to be just as labor-intensive, cutthroat, and fast-changing as the likes of traditional modeling and design. Afshin has only recently been able to stop working week nights and weekends. “People tell me I have a dream job,” she said. “But in some ways it took away my youth. I mean, I wasn’t out getting margs, was I?”
To gain a sliver of perspective, a single blog post typically takes a combined total of five hours to curate from top to bottom: conceptualize, write, incorporate affiliate linking and sponsored credits, edit, photograph, approve by any brand sponsors, post, promote via social media. And that’s being rather modest. Normally assumed to be a one person job, imagine the round-the-clock time commitment the modern blogger must uphold.
Even so, many traditional fashion professionals still remain skeptics — or even cynics — about the relevancy of blogging within the industry. The largest obstacle of all proves to be the ambiguity in definition; how does one distinguish when an individual is deemed worthy of the “style influencer” title? Some say by profit. Achievement in full-time status is proof of sustainability, and thus influence, within the industry. Others argue by dialogue. After all, word of mouth is the driving force propelling any industry icon. Still, conservatives insist that neither are true — some are simply not convinced that seasoned experts should be replaced with these trendy “It Girl of the Moment” sorts. The blogging industry, with all of its improvements in reputation and worth still has a long way to go with some nonbelievers.
Whether you like it or not, however, the “style influencer” movement is just beginning its momentous conquest. One fact remains certain: the blogging lifestyle is most certainly attainable. “Do it because you love it — not because you want to be on crazy vacations in the Bahamas or because you want the money”, Afshin said. “That comes later.”
Writer Joanne Xu / Copy Editor Aiden Park / Stylist Emma Raney / Photographer Marybeth Schmidt / Model Angela Montalvo / HMUA Rachel Cook / Layout Natalie Berry
page 58, as seen here