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Between e-commerce, blogs, apps, and the vast world of social media, fashion is as much about technology these days as it is about style. In a new series, we sit down with some of the many women who are killing it in the fashion-tech industry and find out how they're kicking ass in their careers. Their worst mistakes, their best advice... it's all here. This is Ladies Who Launch.
Fashion Indie and Socialyte Founder Beca Alexander, via @Racked/Instagram
Beca Alexander is the co-founder of Fashion Indie, a style blogger collective, and Socialyte, the agency responsible for landing brand partnerships for those bloggers. She built the company from scratch with her husband Daniel Saynt, and then sold it in 2011. Beca and Daniel both went on to corporate jobs in the fashion industry—only to buy the company back in November of 2012. To hear Beca tell it, the second time's the charm.
Here's what she has to say about growing up as a fashion geek, the genius of Kate Upton, and why she regrets walking away from Twitter.
Do you consider yourself a fashion person or a tech person?
I was never a tech person. I was super late to Facebook, I didn't get on Facebook until I was 23. I've always been this crazy fashion geek who's followed Alexander McQueen shows since I was 13 years old. I feel like social media has made me a tech person because I think it's incredible that you can have half a million people follow you.
How did you get your own start in the fashion industry?
I went to school for fashion design and halfway through I decided that I didn't want to be a fashion designer, I would rather work more behind the scenes with the designers. I wanted to produce fashion shows and marketing and branding. I wanted to work more with the talent but not be the talent. After going to school for fashion design, I got my first job at Saks Fifth Avenue doing windows, which turned into personal styling. This was all in Cleveland, Ohio. Don't tell anybody.
Do you see yourself as a mentor to people who are getting into this business?
Definitely. I think that's a huge part of what we do and I feel passionate about seeking individuals who need mentoring and trying to get them what they want. I go through about two thousand bloggers a day—through RSS feeds or different blog networks, however it may be that I discover them—and I try to identify the next up and comers. So we'll say this girl just launched her blog, but she's beautiful, she's stylish, she has good photos, she wears great things, and she produces a lot of content. She might not have that 50-thousand fan base yet, but she will. And we know that she will because we know the steps that a blogger takes to be more successful, and we take her under our wing. We'll coach her. We'll tell her how she should interact with other bloggers, which platforms she should focus on, etc.
Is there a formula for a great blogger?
There's always that special something that puts someone over the edge. I'll use Man Repeller as an example. Yes, there were some big things that she did along the way that helped her to get the success she has, so, yes, there were some things that can be replicated as a formula, but there are other things that make her incredibly special. So we try to find those things within the bloggers that are unique and special to them, and really showcase that.
It seems like the people who were early on social media—model Coco Rocha, DKNY's Aliza Licht, Man Repeller—are the ones who are still the most important. Without that early adapter advantage, can anyone catch up and reach their level?
I think that's where innovation comes in. Someone like Kate Upton is a huge phenomenon, not even through Twitter, but through YouTube. She has really created a huge sensation for herself through a platform that a lot of people almost forget. Most bloggers aren't on YouTube, they don't create videos, and here's this girl who comes out of nowhere, this little swimsuit model from Florida and she's a sensation on Youtube and she's everywhere now. She's on the cover of Vogue now. It's doable. You just have to be very smart about it and have a strategy for yourself of what you want to do and who you want to be and use social media to leverage that.
Is there anything more important to the success of someone aspiring to work in fashion than social media?
Yes and no. Obviously think you can go the traditional route, and go to a good school like Parsons. You'll get an amazing internship and you'll work your ass off and you'll get an opportunity and you'll succeed through that route. So I'd like to say that you can still do that, but I think it's easier if you go the non-traditional route of really showcasing who you are on your social media. We look at resumes all the time, and now resumes have a blog. I'm not even talking about a link to an account. Now we see, 'Here's my blog, look at the content I've created, I have this many people who follow me on Twitter, and this many people on Instagram.' That says something about an individual that you can really gain a following and maintain that following. For a brand, it's incredibly important to hire an individual like that.
Can you give some examples of how you help bloggers develop?
So for example, Instagram is the easiest profile to grow on, so we'll coach them on that, which then relates to more Twitter followers and traffic. We've also redesigned bloggers' websites, which is a big deal for us. There are a lot of bloggers out there who produce the content but just don't know how to make a pretty site, and they don't know anyone who can help them to make a pretty site. So we'll go to them and say that your site looks like pink vomited all over it and you have an opportunity to become a high fashion blogger, do you mind if we clean it up. And then that's what we do. They might not be a socialyte yet, but we know that's one step further that will take them to the next level.
What's the most common question you get from the bloggers you work with?
It's a huge risk for them to leave their jobs to focus on blogging fulltime. And that's something we try to coach them through and to say, be comfortable with this risk, this is something you want to do and we'll help you make money. It's usually about money and security for them. I feel like I've taken a lot of risks with my career, some of which were good and some of which were bad, but I think it's done something different for me as an individual. I want to help people learn from my mistakes or learn from my success what they can do for themselves.
What's the best advice you have for anyone aspiring to a career in fashion?
You really need to focus on your own personal branding and your own personal identity within this industry. I think everyone looking to get into this industry needs to create a voice for themselves and personality through content production. I think everyone who wants to be in the industry needs to be on social. I think you need to have a Twitter account. I think you need to have an Instagram account. If you don't want to have a blog, you need at least some form of personal identity.
What's the biggest mistake you've made in your career?
I personally regret not continuing having a voice after selling Fashion Indie. I went from blogging like crazy and people sort of knowing who I was, right at the cusp when bloggers were starting to get invited to fashion shows and people were starting to kind of recognize digital publishers in some capacity. When we sold, Daniel and I went cold turkey. We were not involved in any type of blogging platform or any sort of media at all. And I feel like just personally that was the big mistake on my part. I needed a break, but I should have taken a small one.
And what's the best decision you've ever made in your career?
Taking the risk—again—to leave sort of a cushy position where I could have grown and had a long term career to go back into the startup world, even knowing what the startup world is like. I've always wanted to make a mark on the industry and I really started feeling as though that would be impossible without starting something of my own. Even if I climbed the corporate ladder, even if I got to the top, I would technically still not be someone who had made an impact on anything besides the one company that I was with. And I didn't want that. I want to make a change, or I want to be involved in changing the industry in some capacity and really innovating the industry in some possible way.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.