Fashion blogging sounds like a pretty sweet gig, right? How fun would it be to sit front row at the shows, be flown by brands to exotic locales for events and spend a good chunk of your time playing dress up while your boyfriend snaps photos of your outfit combinations?
And while fashion blogging is all of those things in the eyes of many, it's also a profession for a select few. As one rises up the blogging ranks, the job becomes a job -- with real responsibilities. And a significant amount of expenses.
There's no denying that bloggers do score a lot of free stuff, as well as fancy dinners and five and six-figure advertising and marketing deals. A series of quickie sponsored posts can easily land a blogger $25,000. Long-term marketing partnerships and collaborations might result in hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most of the big-time bloggers -- and a decent amount of the midlevel ones -- are certainly making over six figures. A few surely make over $1 million.
But as small business owners, the top bloggers end up putting quite a bit of their earnings back into operations.
"It's hard to put an exact figure when it comes to the percentage, but I'd say most of what I earn definitely goes back [into the business]," says Bryan Grey Yambao, known to the fashion world Bryanboy. The blogger, who launched his namesake site in 2004, is arguably the most famous of the lot. Over the past decade, he has parlayed his popularity into a collaboration with furrier Adrienne Landau, a regular spot on America's Next Top Model and hundreds of other interesting projects. He cites the typical freelancer expenses for draining his banking account; taxes, most significantly, since he lives in the U.S. on a visa. But most of what he's spending money on is related directly to fashion blogging.
"Fashion Month is a huge business expense for me," Yambao says. "The notion that bloggers are being flown left and right, all expenses paid, by brands during fashion week is simply not true for everyone. I'll never forget my first Milan Fashion Week -- I stayed at a friend's apartment for free because I couldn't afford to pay to stay at a hotel for 400 euros or more a night per room. Nowadays, I always rent three-bedroom apartments, especially in Milan and Paris -- and split the costs with a blogger friend, like Rumi [Neely, of the blog Fashion Toast]. This way, we have tons of space, living area, fast Internet and we also have a room for our assistant. The costs are still expensive but it's much better because we don't have to get three separate rooms."
Yambao does not have a full-time assistant -- some bloggers do, but most don't -- although he does hire one on a project-by-project basis. He'll pay them an hourly rate, but also their expenses -- "travel, meals, lodging, cabs, airport transfers, etc."
"Travel is my biggest expense," says Phil Oh, the photographer behind the street style blog Streetpeeper.com. "I fly something like 100,000 miles a year and spend almost a third of the year in hotels. I’m really good/obsessive with airline miles though, so I save a lot on airfare. But yeah, travel gets really expensive."
Another major investment: your actual website. While a generic Tumblr might work fine for a couple of years, eventually bloggers need to upgrade. "I’ve paid for web developers twice now: once in 2006 and then a refresh in 2009. I’m way overdue for a relaunch, but I’ve been saying that for like two years now," Oh says. "I hired a friend to create my logo back in 2006. It seemed expensive at the time, but now that I know how much agencies charge for 'brand identity,' I got a huge bargain. Especially since I love the Street Peeper logo so much, and my pal is now a top creative director at one of the major agencies, so yeah I got a good deal!"
As a professional photographer who shoots for Vogue.com and Lucky, Oh also spends quite a bit of money on equipment. "Cameras, lenses, external hard drives, and I’m always buying memory cards off of other photographers because I keep leaving them in hotel rooms during fashion weeks. And I have a shoebox full of international adapter plugs because I always forget to pack those and have to buy new ones. Basically, the cost of being forgetful starts to add up," he jokes.
"Like any business, you can invest as much - or as little - as you want, and to create the kind of work life or client experience that you desire," adds Nicolette Mason, a Marie Claire contributing editor at the blogger behind Nicolettemason.com. The writer's daily and weekly expenses include "transportation to meetings with clients or showrooms, a photographer whom I shoot with on a weekly basis, and my agency who receives a commission from my consulting and brand-partnership projects," she says. "When I'm hosting an event or doing on-camera work, there's also an expectation that my hair and makeup are done professionally and I arrive 'camera ready.' Thank god for Drybar!"
What a blogger spends money on varies. Mason mentioned her agent who, much like any Hollywood agent, takes a commission on projects. Yambao has both an agent and a manager. Talent agencies often take 10 percent, 15 percent or 20 percent commission on each project -- sometimes more.
There's also the matter of the actual fashion that goes into being a fashion blogger. No, not everything is gifted. "A huge chunk of my personal income without doubt goes to clothes," Yambao says. "I believe in spending my own money on clothes and accessories that I love because it's the only way to show authenticity and passion in what I do. Designers are dressing a lot of bloggers -- yes, I'm one of them sometimes. But in the end, you have to return [the clothes]. A smart reader can tell who's wearing clothes that aren't theirs because they shoot them once and you'll never see them wear it again."
As for the gifts he does get to keep? "They're also being sent to a dozen other bloggers," Yambao argues. "How can you develop your own sense of style or identity when you are not wearing clothes that are really yours? In the end, I don't want to be a modern-day Cinderella."
And then there are the unexpected expenses. "When a computer broke in my previous work-life, the IT department swung by, picked it up and replaced it with a new one in the matter of a couple hours," Mason says. "Now, when a computer -- or camera, or faulty lens, or tablet, or iPhone, etc., falls victim to the fold (or mercury retrograde), it's all on me to act as tech support and fund the replacement, repair or repurchase."
Yambao has similar complaints. "I had to buy a new laptop because my trolley case fell on an empty escalator after a long, sleepless flight, and to buy a new camera when a former assistant dropped it while shooting."
Oh's costs are a little more surprising. "I have like over a hundred pairs of Uniqlo underwear because I always forget to pack them when I leave for London Fashion Week so I have to buy new ones there, and then by the time Paris rolls around I’m out of clean underwear again but there’s a Uniqlo by the Opera metro so I buy like 10 more," he says. "Someone needs to start a vending machine so people can buy used bloggers underwear, like those ones in Japan."
Of course, a drawer full of skivvies is not the worst problem to have. And the bloggers we spoke with all get that they're incredibly fortunate. But they also emphasized that a job is a job is a job. "To be clear, I don’t really consider any of these expenses as unique to blogging. Just the cost of doing business," Oh says. And for aspiring fashion bloggers out there, it's a good lesson. You might get away with not declaring that gifted handbag to the IRS, but you sure do have to report the $10,000 fee the handbag brand gave you for writing up a couple of posts.