Happy Anniversary to me!
No, I’m not married obviously. But this past week marked one year since I spent my first week full-time blogging. 1st February 2017 was the official first day of working for myself as a full-time boss-lady thing. But how did I get there? How did it all happen? Was it my dream to be this full-time blogger? How long did it take me? I’m always being asked these questions for interviews or by other gals who want to know my back story and what the secret is to succeeding in this industry, so I figured I’d do a play by play post on exactly how I ended up here. Grab a latte from your local coffee shop and a pen and paper – this post is a long one.
I’m actually going to take this way way wayyy back to when I was 14, when everyone had MSN messenger. Do you remember those MSN live spaces? It was like your MSN profile page thing, and there was a blog section on it. This isn’t overly important, but I like to feel these little back stories kind of make it as though I’m destined to be doing this role as a bonafide adult. Anyway, I used to write on that blog and I remember doing a fashion report on everyones prom outfits which caused a semi-scandal when I said how well all of the boys had dressed – apart from this one particular guy who showed up wearing shorts – and not in a Pharrell at the Oscars circa 2014 kinda way. He caught wind and wished terrible brain cancer upon me. What a dick – but I guess I was dealing with those haters on the internet from an early age? Then, as Myspace became a thing, I used to love taking photos of my outfits and uploading them on there too, and started getting more and more into blogs and other fashion sites.
I continued to read fashion blogs and get inspiration from websites like Lookbook.nu and Chictopia throughout my later teenage years. This was before Instagram was the giant it is today – some of you will remember these sites, some of you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about, so for the sake of you who don’t know of these websites, they were basically platforms where bloggers would post their #ootd’s and people could discover bloggers from across the globe, all the way to their hometowns.
I admired and followed people like Audrey from Be Frassy, Anouska Proetta Brandon, and Lydia Millen, thinking to myself all of the time “Jesus, they’re so cool I wish I was just like them” – literally. Actually who am I kidding? I’m still sitting here 5-6 years later thinking the same damn thing so that’s proof nothing changes. I was desperate to start a blog but:
a) didn’t know how and
b) thought that the market was oversaturated already and it would be pointless
c) was terrified of everyone thinking I was a massive loser.
Even today in the selfie-obsessed culture that we live in, I will always maintain that it takes a certain amount of balls to put yourself out on the internet, because the bottom line is “who cares?” – and the blunt truth is nobody cares until you post enough until people start to. So when I was doing my dissertation on fashion bloggers, it gave me a kick up the arse to start a blog of my own, whilst also giving me an amazing and productive method of procrastinating from the actual job itself. It’s funny isn’t it – how the big things usually start when you’re meant to be focusing on something else, right?
And thus, the blog was born.
And I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing. I knew nobody else doing this, and if I did I would have been to embarrassed to talk about it. But it was a game of trial and error, and I would take my outfit photos oh-so-humbly against a white bed sheet pinned across the door of my box-room in my shared university house – #goals or what?
But speaking of goals: what were they? What did I want to achieve from blogging? And what did I want to do for a career? Truth was, I wanted to be a big time fashion journalist, and this little blog would hopefully give me some form of credit on the side of my studies.
When I first started my blog I was studying journalism, media and cultural studies at Cardiff University. From around the age of 14/15, Sex And The City had absolutely marred by brain as it has done with so many women, giving them dreams of moving to the big city to become a fashion and lifestyle writer for a glossy magazine or newspaper. I don’t quit my dreams easily, so I had the determination to do so. The thing is with Cardiff, as much as I loved the city to its core, the fashion opportunities were practically non-existent. Blogging was a chance to show I had some initiative to do something creative on the side of my studies, so that when I’d apply for jobs or further study, it would show I had some form of fashion knowledge and interest.
Confession: I’m a bit of a geek. I love studying, so when my 3 years of uni were ending, I wasn’t ready for them to be over. That, and in fairness, I didn’t feel I had the knowledge or confidence to jump into the world of fashion journalism. So I applied to London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins to study an MA in Fashion Journalism (the courses have now changed title and format since I went). I luckily got an interview at LCF, which I thought I ballsed up so badly for saying Elie Saab was one of my favourite designers and I was chastised instantly for being a basic bitch (I know I hate that term too, but it’s how it made me feel), and then I got a last-minute phone interview at CSM too, several days after my fuck-up of an interview at LCF. Somehow I wangled offers from both, but chose CSM as it was a smaller class (8 instead of around 20+) which felt as though it would be a more intense experience, and it was seen as the more prestigious and more difficult one to get in to within the industry.
So London, 2013 (oh my god that was so long ago???) I began studying an MA where I was taught far more practical journalism skills and was pushed out of my comfort zone again and again. It was an amazing but terrifying experience. I didn’t fit in at CSM at all – I’m not your typical arts school student. I went from being at preppy Cardiff, hanging out with rugby guys and friends who were cheerleaders (no, I promise I haven’t replaced my university memories with that of an American high school film…) to being surrounded by people who were like, pre-hipsters. They were hipsters before hipsters were hipsters. Like, the embryos of hipsters. It was only after graduating I realised that you’re sort of not meant to feel as though you fit in there, and most people felt that same way too.
18 months later, I graduated with a scholarship win under my belt (for that I had to endure a gruelling 7-person-panel interview to gain – one of those 7 people being Sarah Mower, the Vogue editor who hates bloggers) and a distinction in my masters. Oh, and a surprisingly limited amount of job prospects! I hate to do the whole spoilt millennial who expects a job straight out of uni thing, but I’d done two degrees, a little bit of interning and freelancing, and it still wasn’t enough to get a job or paid position – even paid internship – on an editorial team. “You’re insanely qualified for this role, but you need to go away and get another years worth of internship experience first”
Fuck fucking fuck my life. How can I afford to work totally unpaid, again, for another year before getting a job which is most likely going to be paid so poorly that I’ll be surviving on a diet of Sainsbury’s own brand baked beans and whatever’s the cheapest in the reduced aisle? You can read my blog post about unpaid internships here for my full declaration of emotion…
It has to be recognised that the journalism industry has been in flux in the wake of digital since the invent of the internet. There have been team cuts and redundancies happening for years and years, and it hasn’t slowed down – just look at Glamour magazine recently. It made job opportunities less frequent, made them more popular than avocado on toast on a Sunday morning, and also made them more difficult to hold on to. It’s also an industry whereby often jobs don’t even make it to being advertised before being filled by an intern, or ex-intern, or someone somebody in the editorial team knows. “It’s not what you know but who you know” is a term I became too familiar with over the years that followed.
After a stint of freelancing for start-ups, a more permanent role came up as a product writer for the online team of a luxury department store. It was a job my tutor recommended me for to one of his other previous students. You know when you go on a product page on a website? And there’s a little section telling you about the item, the designer, and how to wear it? So I was the person that would write that.
“But who even reads that?” you ask.
To be honest, I still don’t really know. In fairness, some people definitely do (mostly product writers or ex-product writers like myself – top tip, if you shop from Nasty Gal, whoever their copywriting team is, they need an award because it’s full of sass and puns). It certainly wasn’t writing features for a glossy magazine’s website, but it was a job and a start – one I was super appreciative of, especially as the majority of my team were so lovely.
But truthfully, there’s only so much product writing you can do. With a limit of 232 characters (that’s less than a tweet) per item, you can only get so creative in telling people how to style things. And with daily targets, you felt like a creative robot churning out copy. I would never not recommend people accepting jobs like this when trying to get on to the ladder, because you learn so much about businesses and jesus, my fashion knowledge was totally encyclopaedic – I could pick any high street item and tell you what designer collection had inspired it. Oh and did I mention the discount? I may have spent a months rent on buying my first Gucci bag but honey, if I hadn’t got my discount it would have cost me almost 2 months rent… So there was definitely bonuses. But unless you have a team hierarchy where you can move up the ladder to deputy editor, or editor, there isn’t much career progression.
After applying for editorial assistant roles on the side at other companies and being constantly turned down as nobody wanted to pay more than an £18k salary, I felt at my lowest point. I felt like a failure, and that I was in this big city earning hardly any money and this big education and creative mind was going to waste. Well, if I even had a creative mind. You question everything – your own abilities and talents and wonder if your parents have already blown all of your inheritance from paying off your tutors to give you good grades all throughout your life. Everyone goes through this in their early twenties – but I only realise this now (and if you are going through this too, I promise you things will get better.)
So I worked. I worked and I worked – probably even harder than that Rihanna song. I sacrificed my social life so that I could blog – not with the intention of being able to take it full time – I still just wanted to be a journalist. But I did it to give myself a sense of purpose rather the sense of failure that constantly hung about me. Balancing a blog with a full time job was a monstrous task at hand – and I wrote about this ages and ages ago – But in time, being that dedicated began to pay off. I grew my stats and my following to a point where after 3 years of hobby-blogging, I felt like I could start earning some good money on the side from this. So even though I’d been charging a little bit for most projects, at the start of January 2016 I said to myself that I wouldn’t work for free again unless it was a super special circumstance.
I stuck to it, negotiated, and started doing more YouTube too, and by part-way through 2016 I was often matching my monthly salary with blog earnings. It was time to really reconsider my options –
a) stay in a role with 0 chance of career progression
b) keep applying for editorial assistant or staff writer roles which were so competitive and where I would most likely have had to take a pay cut
c) ask to go part time in my current position so that I could spend more time blogging.
It was obviously going to be option c.
My boss couldn’t have been cooler about my request to go part-time. She totally supported what I did, and admitted she felt that it would be a stepping stone to them losing me completely as it would allow my blog to flourish and become a full-time gig. At the time I laughed in her face and thought LOL R U JOKING AS IF but then 5 months later I was earning almost more per blog project than I was a month working 3 days a week.
Well, weighing up my finances made this a little bit of a no-brainer. I was matching my salary with my side-job, and if I had those extra 3 days a week I could only push it further.
But I didn’t just think YOLO – and this next bit is super important. I knew that I needed to be able to stand on my own two feet if things fucked up. I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I like nice things and a certain level of living, so I made sure that I had at least 3 months worth of living expenses – so rent, bills, and the extra cash you need to be able to survive – in my savings just in case.
Would it have been different if I didn’t live and work in London? Possibly. I could have started blogging full-time far sooner had I lived with my parents, or in a cheaper town/city where I wasn’t shelling out £900 a month on rent and bills a month. But I think living in London helped develop my personal brand and gave me more opportunities that I perhaps would not have had otherwise.
I’d made my mind up and on the first day back in the office in January I handed in my notice. My parents and I are super close – my dad is an editor, so he gets the industry a little more – whereas my mum still saw it as a hobby. She’s very traditional – you get a job, you have kids, pay your taxes, and you die – so when I told her I’d handed in my notice she completely hit the roof. That’s fine, I thought, just gives me more of an incentive to prove I can do this.
It turned out to be the best decision I made in 2017. Work didn’t stop coming in, I invested time on developing my YouTube, I got to go to more events and got to travel more. I was earning more money doing something I loved an it was amazing.
My biggest growth period, however, came mid way in the summer. I was dumped. I talk about this break up quite a lot on my blog as it was huge for me for so many reasons (you can read more in my end of 2017 recap post) but after the breakup I channelled all of my energy into working and things completely took off more so then they had before. I’m not telling you all to quit your jobs and break up with your boyfriends – but for me, the relationship had been sapping all energy and enthusiasm for some time – and he cited my job as one of the reasons why he didn’t want to continue the relationship. So what was I going to do? Make my career even more successful. Like they say, success is the best revenge!
That brings us to here, 2018, a year on from blogging full time – I’m simply sitting in my bed in my pyjamas writing. When you put it like that, not much has changed to the nights that I spent doing this when I was in university having just started Fashion Slave. But now I’m living in a gorgeous (albeit totally rented, sadly…) flat in London, writing and taking photos for a living – doing things I felt I was weirdly, strangely, destined to do from my first foray on MSN live pages and MySpace.
I never ever EVER thought I would become a full time blogger. I didn’t think the industry had any space for me to even start – let alone make a living from it – and that was 5 years ago. Industries change, technology develops – just look at Instagram and how it’s changed the game, and made influencer marketing a thing! Things will continue to change, so you have to be able to adapt.
I feel so lucky that I’m doing what I love doing every single day – and I don’t ever want it to stop. I’m living the life I dreamed that I would live, although instead of doing it for a publication, I’m doing it off my own back which only makes it feel even more of an achievement (although actually, quite terrifying…) Even though often it’s exhausting (early mornings and late nights editing), and you have to constantly be switched *on* (being your peppy and confident internet self at events and work things when you’re so exhausted or going through difficult times in your personal life…) Sometimes it’s frustrating (standing out in the freezing cold to try get the shot for a Christmas party campaign just to have some dickhead comment “omg aren’t u cold” – well fucking duh Susan but this is my job? Would you say that to a model doing the same thing?) and other times it’s plain soul-destroying (hate-comments on the internet – need I say more?) and you feel you’re constantly having to prove your worth to everyone who doubts you and your abilities by saying to you this isn’t a “real job” – but the bottom line is that it’s an incredibly creative and exciting, fast-paced role that I feel so #blessed to call my job. I work all hours of it because I love it. I see the success and I want to grab it by the balls and be like “YES SUCCESS!” and as they say, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”.
Create the life you want to lead, and don’t ever think that just because your path is taking you on what looks like a detour, that it’s not the right direction.
For more information on the courses I studied, you can find out about Cardiff University here and my MA at Central Saint Martins here (the course has now changed to a 12 month programme under the title MA Fashion Communication)