Much has been made of the fashion magazine’s last stand--the dying-off of print, thanks to digital platforms--for some time now. And while it's been encouraging for print enthusiasts to see sites like Style.com and Net-a-Porter turn to print once their digital assets succeed, these instances are few and far between.
Count 18-year-old blogger and North Carolina native Willie Greene as one of those rare instances. He's the man behind one of Tumblr's most followed fashion blogs, WeTheUrban. And he's turned it into a magazine--marking the first time a tumblr has ever turned into a serialized print publication.
Greene, along with pal and WeTheUrban cover star, Nicola Formichetti, toasted the mag during fashion week at a party atop the new Hotel Americano. We spoke with the entrepreneurial wunderkind on the eve of his sixth issue’s release (featuring Formichetti posing with legs wide open in a bed of toys on the cover), about growing up blogger.
What made you start your Tumblr WeTheUrban, in 2009? In 2009, I had already been a huge internet enthusiast and I had wanted to start a blog of some sort for the longest time. I was 15 at the time and after experimenting with other blogging platforms like Blogger and LiveJournal, my good friend Aly Silverio (of Shop Jawbreaking) finally convinced me to join tumblr. And my life has changed ever since! No other blogging platform, creatively, is on the same level as Tumblr. The real sense of community really drew me.
How did you then turn this platform into a widely-read force? If you go back and look at the first posts ever on WeTheUrban, you'll see that there was no clear direction. It wasn't until a few months of having the blog that I decided to post specifically on fashion. Then it all eventually turned into all of my loves: music, design, art, and fashion. I jumped aboard Tumblr right as it was popping off, so starting early and ahead of the game was a big plus for me. This helped me get placed into Tumblr's first-ever directory (if you can imagine a Tumblr with no ‘Ask boxes’, directories, or radar... that’s the way it was) which quickly started getting me hundreds of followers a day. After staying consistent with the blog for about a year, I decided I wanted to take a stab at making an online magazine. The first few issues were real learning experiences, but people seemed to really like them. Fast forward to today, we're now nationally distributed in print, have over 270,000 Tumblr followers, and over 10 million page views since the site's inception. It's amazing what you can do when you have a clear vision and are smart at utilizing the internet.
What made you turn your blog into a full-fledged print publication? Why go into print when it's dying? No matter how digital my life becomes within the next few years, there is not one person on earth that can convince me that holding a magazine in your hands isn't a different experience from reading it online. Fashion and magazines to me are tangible arts that should never be limited to the confines of an iPad or computer screen. Secondly, I think a part of me did it as a symbolic way of commenting on the way our insanely fast and often vicious industry works. Maybe I'm doing it just to say that I could? That an 18-year-old black kid from the middle-of-nowhere North Carolina can be one of the youngest Editor-in-Chief’s in history to create a nationally distributed publication. Don't get me wrong, though... I still realize that it’s business at the end of the day, and I definitely want WeTheUrban to push things forward.
You're from North Carolina and still live there. What's the fashion like? Pretty much just as bad as you could imagine [laughs].
How do you keep your site and magazine afloat, both staff-wise and financially? This is probably the hardest part of doing all of this. I actually have no clue! [laughs] I still handle all of the postings on the site along with all social media accounts and that’s not including the strenuousness work it takes to actually create and edit a magazine, practically by myself. I do have a Chief Operating Officer (who also regularly contributes to the magazine) who has been a dream in helping bring in sponsors and get the magazine in front of the right eyes. I also just hired a new Executive Editorial Assistant, who is basically both a godsend and a second pair of creative hands that actually lives in New York while I'm still in NC. Right now, we're all just going with the flow and it seems to be working!
You have a great relationship with Nicola Formichetti, as he is your Issue 6 cover star. Tell me about how this blossomed. This actually came about in a really genuine way. I had met Nicola about a year before the cover shoot (we shot Issue 6 last April) and to my surprise, he had already been following the blog. One thing about Nicola is that his taste is always ahead of the game – whether it's fashion or technology, Nicola, by nature, just knows what's good before the rest. So after chatting with him a few times through Tumblr messages, I finally got up the nerve to ask him if he'd like to be our Issue 6 cover star and he was 100% down and really into the blog, which is still really surreal for me. He ended up letting us get really intimate and shoot inside of his home and ended up giving a beautiful in-depth interview. He’s really one of the most inspiring and down-to-earth people I've met in the industry thus far.
Within this short time, what have you learned about the industry and more importantly, about yourself? I've learned that you absolutely have to follow your gut, watch your mouth, and stay humble. About myself? The main thing I've learned is--cliché I know--that with enough hard work, literally anything is possible. Anything.
What's next for you and WTU? This year’s going to be really exciting. First thing's first, I need to finally move to New York. After that, we’ve got a pretty big site re-design and some great events this April.
WeTheUrban Issue 6, comes out this Spring.