You think you know, but you have no idea. The style blogger talks about what it really takes to run a site and earn a seat runway-side.
Eight years ago Claire Sulmers was one of the first style bloggers on the scene when she started The Fashion Bomb. Now, she's one of ninety-nine most influential bloggers in the world, attending Fashion Weeks from New York to Australia. Here, we sit down with the writer to share her story on what blogging is really about, and how she broke into the fickle world of fashion.
ESSENCE.com: Everyone has a blog today. Can you talk about what your experience was, and your background before you entered into the blogosphere?
CLAIRE SULMERS: I majored in French and African American studies at Harvard. I always loved to write and I was like, I want to work in media. So I tried to get into TV, behind the scenes. I was a page at NBC for like two seconds, but I couldn’t get a job in that. So I went back home to Atlanta, and was like, 'what magazines are in Atlanta?' Let me just see what’s going on. And, I ended up writing a letter to Upscale magazine and I sent them a chapter of my thesis…and they were like of course, come. We want you to intern with us. Plopped me in the fashion closet and I started writing small articles, captions. By the end of it I was writing full-page articles for them and I started thinking maybe I want to work in magazines.
So I moved to New York and I did a series of internships, one at New York Magazine, one at Newsweek. I interned at NBC for like a month, and then I got a job at Real Simple and was there for four years. And while I was there, I figured out I wanted to work in fashion and started freelancing for several different magazines like Essence and New York Magazine, and random small magazines. I tried to get in the fashion department. I was sending my resume to Conde Nast and they were like 'We don’t want you.' They were literally like 'We don’t want to meet up for an informational with you... You aren’t a candidate that we would want to ever hire, basically.' It was awful.
ESSENCE.com: When did you officially start the blog?
SULMERS: Two years after I was at Real Simple, I went to Human Resources. I used to carry around my published articles in a binder, and the lady was like, you should put it on a website. I did that, but I felt like my website, which is still up (ClaireSulmers.com) was too impersonal. I wanted to put up funny quotes, similar to a Tumblr, if Tumblr were around. But my web designer at the time was like, start a blog. So I started a blog and it was FashionBomb.blogspot.com. It started out with me, mostly about shopping. I did the Brooklyn boutiques off 5th Avenue, but Yelp already does that. And then I really don’t know how it got to celebrities, but someone asked me where Ciara got her dress, and I did that. And the incorporation of celebrities was slow, but I figured out that that’s what people really wanted, and I was a researcher at Real Simple, so I knew how to find stuff or ask for stuff.
I was one of the first bloggers at the Baby Phat show with my digital camera filming the final walk or taking real style at Baby Phat. Just being one of the firsts to do it, when everyone else was like, 'What are you doing? We’re all here in magazines.' Most times I wasn't invited to these shows. I would be like, 'I’m with so-and-so' or somebody else would bring me in. It was like a lot of that, for a long time. Just kind of being fearless with it.
ESSENCE.com: Can you talk about how you've turned blogging into a job versus a hobby?
SULMERS: I mean, blogging is like any other job. I mean, granted, I don’t have to go into an office, I can take a nap every day––I try to. I can work from anywhere –– I mean, there are obviously great perks to it, but I try to update the site at least, every hour a day, starting at 9 a.m. I want to have at least ten posts up, the most we’ve ever had up was twenty-eight posts, in one day. But I try to have from eight to ten posts up every day. And just treat it like a job. The thing about it is that you get out what you put in.
ESSENCE.com: How were you actually able to monetize FashionBombDaily.com?
SULMERS: There are several streams, but it’s mainly ads. I’m part of an ad network and they pitch the site to different vendors. Say, Tide or I have something with IKEA running right now, and they negotiate the price and I get a monthly check. Then I have Google Ads, our affiliate sales, where say, for example I blogged about Rihanna and she was wearing Phillip Lim sunglasses and New Balance shoes, I can get a commission based off of what people buy. I sell my own ads on the sidebars to people who don’t have big budgets. And then, being an influencer is kind of the new thing. So I’m working with Toyota. I’m an ambassador for them and CoverGirl. And those are actually the next steps, the next avenue that I’m exploring.
ESSENCE.com: What is a day in the life of Claire Sulmers?
SULMERS: It varies. I try to wake up at 7:45 a.m. and see what’s going on. I try to have my first post up by or before 9, hopefully by 8 or 8:30. I eat breakfast and lunch at my desk and it’s just a matter of making sure that there’s something new and interesting up there. If it’s not a celebrity look then, you know I’m answering a “Mail Bomb” or covering some shoe designer. I have sort of a schedule, the first post goes up by 9 and then the bombshell goes up by 12:30 and then we have the “Bomb Product of The Day,” we have a few daily features you know, so every Monday is the "Weekend Round-Up." Thursday is another week roundup. Friday is “The Bomber of The Day.” So we kind of have a rhythm, so that people know what they can expect on what day. People also know what's going to be updating throughout the day. In the afternoon, I could be doing anything from going to the gym to getting my makeup done for an event. More and more recently, it’s a lot of events.
ESSENCE.com: What has been most instrumental in making your blog successful?
SULMERS: Consistency, having a formula but also keeping it fresh. I’m always open to new voices. I know that mine can get stale or I can get stuck in a rut. I just had an internship contest, and there were over three hundred entries and then I narrowed down to fifty and then I narrowed it down to ten. I was going to chose two, but readers voted overwhelmingly for three. These are younger people. They’re getting their first shot in the industry. A lot of interns have moved on to work for fashionista.com and xojane.com. It’s kind of been a launch pad for them. But I always making sure that I have fresh voices and fresh ideas.
I have this motto that 'it’s just one more post.com' and there have been situations where I’m so tired, it’s two in the morning and I’m just like here’s a picture of somebody. I’ve gotten real quick at posting, it’ll probably take me 10 to 15 minutes for an outfit post. Let me just like, go that extra mile and I feel that I try to go the extra mile all of the time. For so long it’s persisted where I’ll go to fashion abroad. It’s a whole other beast. It’s like 3 or 4 weeks of traveling, being that person that goes, even if no one is paying me, finding a way to make it happen.
ESSENCE.com: What are the operating expenses that you’re incurring that everyone doesn’t see –– from traveling to fashion week, writers and photographers?
SULMERS: I pay everybody who works for me. So I have a staff. I have a photographer, I have a makeup artist, a hair stylist that I work with frequently, then there’s a clothing budget, which is crazy. People send me stuff, but they aren’t sending me my whole wardrobe. So I’m continuing to invest in my appearance because I understand that it’s part of my brand. I do it because I understand that to be part of this industry, you have to do it, for good or for bad. It’s worth the sacrifice.
ESSENCE.com: And to your mention of freebies, because bloggers have a great of amount of freedom with content and working with various brands there’s the question of journalistic integrity.
SULMERS: I think it’s hard for people to avoid it, but I think it’s in the best interest of the readers. And I’m always for the best interest of the readers. And one thing that I love about the readers of Fashion Bomb Daily, whether it’s for better or for worse, they are so transparent and honest. They’ll be like, 'How much did you get paid?' For me, I’m not being courted by these designers, so I don’t have the same impotence to shower praise on them unless it’s genuine. I think that’s one of the benefits of not being one of the flouted and the mainstream, yet. It still allows me to be honest. I’m trying to give people the most honest expression.
ESSENCE.com: What was the turning point for the fashion industry starting to take bloggers seriously?
SULMERS: I think that editors for so long felt their dominance and power, but when a brand like Dolce & Gabbana sat BryanBoy, Garance Dore, and Scott Schuman in the front row, that’s when people started to notice and see that they have a following and buying power. And the web is like the universal equalizer. So if you have intriguing content, you could have potentially as many eyes as instyle.com has. And that’s what people don’t understand, like, it’s a very democratic situation. And so that’s what actually inspires me. My next step of turning the site into a destination or site on par with Conde Nast. That’s the goal.
ESSENCE.com: Let’s talk about bloggers versus editors. We often hear of what the editors’ perceptions are about bloggers, what is a bloggers perception about editors?
SULMERS: Well, I was not an editor, but I used to work in that world. So a lot of my friends are still editors, and I think we both contribute equally. You know, they might have to tone it down a bit because there’s corporate structure. But, I respect what editors do and what they contribute. But I think, you know, I could do it too.
ESSENCE.com: Most bloggers work independently. How is the relationship among the blogger community?
SULMERS: I’d say generally speaking, we all get along. There are obviously instances where people are extremely competitive. I’ve dealt with both situations. The competition is really sad to me because I think that, we all bring different things to the table. I’ve had bloggers yell at me like, 'I know more about fashion than you do.' Or like try to derail me, writing emails to publicists that are false. I’ve dealt with a lot of stuff with other bloggers, even other gossip bloggers. I just try to stay positive and keep it classy, always.
ESSENCE.com: What’s the one thing you’d want people to know about being a blogger and what's next for you?
SULMERS: It’s hard work, and there are times when millions and millions of people are visiting, and then there are times when things fall off. And I pay close attention to analytics. When things go down, I start trying to brainstorm ways to bring people back or attract a new audience. It is a grind. It’s like everyday, I’m the hustler. But I think every website deals with this, how to keep people engaged. But, I just work really hard and there is an end date. After 10 years of blogging I want to be able to move on and live my life. And that’s why I started the bomblife.com. If I still want to tell people what I’m doing, which I still will because I plan on traveling a lot, then that’ll be the outlet for that. I know I can teach people to maintain the site like I do. And I know I can train, not the McDonald’s formula to blogging, but I know I can tell people what to do, and how to do it, and how to find it and hopefully one day be in a position where I’m completely hands off of it and I can just let it run itself. So that I can start the next phase.