This year, Fashionista turned 10, and we celebrated by looking back at how we started. Now, we're chatting with the people in the industry who were right alongside us forging the path for fashion on the internet in our series, "A Decade in Digital." Today, Bryanboy tells us how he went from starting one of the world's first fashion blogs to becoming a front row staple.
If personal style blogging had a godfather, it would be Bryan Yambao, who founded his namesake blog Bryanboy all the way back in 2004. He soon went from minor internet celebrity to fashion industry sensation who reportedly inspired a Fendi campaign, and he would go on to have Marc Jacobs name a bag after him in 2008 and land a judging spot on "America's Next Top Model" in 2012.
Of course, these days Bryanboy is a front row staple at all of the best runways, from Louis Vuitton's blowout in Tokyo to Gucci's cruise show in Florence. He's also a regular at all the luxury boutiques — yes, he wants you to know he does still pay for much of his wardrobe. But he still wouldn't call himself an influential figure in the industry he's loved for so long.
"I feel in my mind and in my heart that I'm still the same person from 14 years ago; nothing changed except my circumstances in life," he says. "I got older, got a little wiser, but it feels like I'm still the same person with the same excitement. I still get super excited when I go to the shows. I still get excited whenever I go to the shops and whenever I go see new designers and celebrities. I'm still the same kid inside of me — it's so weird."
Thankfully, Bryanboy also hasn't lost his passion for being honest. When Vogue snapped back against influencers in late September of last year, he was one of the first to stand up for his field. "It's schoolyard bullying, plain and simple," Bryanboy said on Twitter at the time. "How satisfying it must be to go for the easy target rather than going for other editors." He is also one of the few influencers who is vigilant about disclosing his sponsored posts, something he's been passionate about since the beginning.
Between his jet-setting schedule, Bryanboy chatted with us about his regrets over being so open at the beginning of his career and where he sees the future of personal style — all with his usual candor.
What first interested you about fashion?
What really made me interested in fashion is that I went to a Catholic school and we had to wear uniforms, day in and day out. I was about eight or nine, and I was reading my mom's magazines; while a lot of my classmates were into toys or games or what have you, for me, magazines provided me that window to the world. I just hated the idea of wearing my uniform. I hated the idea of conforming to my school. In a way, magazines gave me that escape from my reality.
I loved looking at beautiful people and beautiful things and models. It's just an access to a different world; the idea of fantasizing that I could be this person that I'm looking at in a magazine. That's what really drew me to it. Looking at clothes in a magazine as a child, it inspired me to do something about what I was wearing. For example, even if I was wearing a uniform, I would go to the craft store and ask my parents to buy me glitter glue and I'd cover my shoelaces in glitter — small little things that allowed me to express myself.
Why did you start blogging?
It was a travel journal. I went to Russia for a month and a half; I was 22 and I'd never seen snow in my life. I was living in the Philippines and I saw pictures of Moscow and the Red Square on Wallpaper and I thought, "Okay, I'm going to save some money, go to Russia, and start a travel blog." At the time, I was a freelance web designer; I would create websites for mom and pop businesses like my dad's dentist [business], things like that. The idea was just having a website or a blog on TypePad that everyone can go to, no matter what time of the day, and I could just update my pictures — I don't have to send emails to my family, asking me, "Are you okay in Russia?" I thought I'd create a diary.
When did you pivot to what we know as Bryanboy now?
Probably a year later, in 2005. I remember the first person who featured me: Danica Lo when she worked at New York Post. It was even before the Marc Jacobs bag, but I remember one of the headlines: "Pop Celebrities on the Web." It was really ridiculous at that point; a year after I started, with the way my blog was, it was very outrageous. I would post pictures when I was drunk, post pictures when I was partying, or just goofy things that a young person would do.
At that time it was new, so I was very out there and people just started reading it. I remember Perez Hilton would always link me or write about me on his blog; Dlisted would write about me. That's how I got traction, when all of these celebrity bloggers would write about me — "Who's this crazy guy from the Philippines?" In a way, it helped me form an identity online.
When did you feel like it was really taking off for you?
I mean, 14 years later I still feel like I'm in awe. I'm very privileged and grateful for everything that's happened. I would say about 2009, 2010 is when it felt like [I was getting] validation from my peers. The brands sit you in the front row and establish you. Marc Jacobs named a bag after me in 2008; after that, it went to different heights.
What was it like to be a blogger when it was so new?
At that time, it was very, very organic. A lot of brands were still hesitant or they didn't know what to do with bloggers or influencers. It was pretty much based on your relationships. No one really cared about metrics or how many followers you have — it's about who your friends are, and it felt like working with your friends. There were definitely fewer restrictions on what you could do, and it felt more creative and more exciting working with a bunch of us. It felt like you have the freedom to do whatever you want to do, and to get a message out there about the brand.
Whereas now, there's a certain standard; you have to do things at a certain scale. You have to produce things with a certain mindset that's just not the same. The standards are definitely higher.
What challenges did you face early on?
In the early days, I wasn't really living in New York, so for me, it was the physical aspect of things. I was living in the Philippines at the time, and I had to travel a lot. I couldn't do interviews; I could do interviews over the phone but, at that time, people could only see me through online. People didn't know me in real life, per se.
Moving to New York changed a lot for me because it was the center of the world; that's when I developed a lot of relationships. Now I have more friends in the press, I can do more branding. It became more professional for me.
How has social media changed your job?
In 2004 when I started, Facebook was not even open to the public, it was open only for college students. There was no Instagram, no Snapchat, nothing. It was more personal and really more intimate, because of the way that we produced content. I would post 25 pictures; I would take me five hours in front of the computer to write a nice post or funny post.
Now, the way we consume information, everything's so instant, everything's so fast. It loses a personal touch. When it first started, I was more passionate in what I put out there. Now people have such short attention spans — a lot of people probably don't even go to websites anymore. People want the information fast and quick. You only have five seconds, if you're lucky, to get someone's attention online.
How do you use Bryanboy.com today?
I mainly use the website for sponsor posts, I'll be honest. I use it for livestreams, I use it for sponsored posts, whatever brand wants to work with me. It's more of a value add for me, as opposed to Instagram or other social media channels. Sometimes I feel like maybe I should go back into writing because I really love writing; but then again, I have Twitter and I can just post all my thoughts there.
I don't have a team; I don't have someone ghostwrite it for me; I don't have a full time photographer. My photographer is my husband or my friend. I've had many opportunities where I could have expanded, but I don't want to lose that personal touch, because for me, my currency is my voice. I've had it for so long, it's something that I really consider unique to me. I have so much respect to a lot of girls out there — they started creating their identities. But in a sense, it's just an identity. You have other people writing for them.
Why is it important for you to disclose your sponsored posts so clearly?
It's something I've always been passionate about. For me, it's more of a personal standard. I love the idea of working with brands; at the end of the day, without brands working with me, I wouldn't have any resources to create content or create things for my readers. I really value that, but I also value my relationship with my readers; I value their trust. I want my readers to be able to make the distinction whether something's sponsored or whether it's a gift or whether it's a purchase. At the end of the day, it's all about trust.
At the same time, I'm also in the business of endorsement, so I want to make sure that I only endorse the products I believe in or the brands that I love — or even the brands that don't pay me, that I spend my money on. In a sense, my word is my value.
Do you ever regret putting yourself out there on such a personal level?
I do. I definitely have a lot of regrets. When I first started, I really didn't have any control, because at that time, I thought everything was so new. I thought, "Okay, I'm going to write about all my personal relationships and what happened to them." I have lost a number of friends, because in a sense, I violated their privacy by exposing too much. I've lost so many friends back home; I was also young.
So now, I feel due when it comes to myself; I'm very careful and more responsible on what I put out there. Of course, I'll still indulge myself from time to time by drinking a glass of wine, and drunk-tweeting is my favorite hobby. [Laughs] But I'm still very careful not to violate personal relationships with the people around me. It comes down to being able to make that distinction on what to put out there and what to keep for yourself.
How have you seen the landscape of personal style blogging change since you started?
Oh my gosh, it changed so much. I mean, it isn't even personal anymore. There's this question that people are always asking: "Is it really personal? Is it still their authentic self? People are being paid." It's the ultimate question. A lot of people who are personal style influencers that you see nowadays, I'd consider them models. They'll wear whomever is paying them. They'll create an image of themselves based on the image of the brand. There's definitely no problem with that!
There's still a lot of people out there who are definitely authentic; Susie Lau is still the same, same with Jane Aldridge from Sea of Shoes. I have so much respect for them for remaining true to their style.
What do you think the future of the field is?
I don't think it's going to go anywhere, it's just going to remain the same. There will always be a lot of girls out there who will continue doing the same thing. I think it's just about developing your own brand; Chiara [Ferragni] launched a successful line for herself, Rumi Neely created her own line.
The future is about getting into merchandising and using your image to sell more products. For the longest time, a lot of the influencers were working with brands; it just makes sense to create their own brand and create their own merchandise and start promoting and selling it.
Do you want to get into that?
No — but never say never! I've thought about getting into merchandising, but it was a lot of responsibility. It takes a lot of guts to be able to be successful at that. I have so much respect for the girls who are doing it, they work their asses off. For me, I love the idea of being small and being personal, being me. Maybe someday, you never know. But for now, there's no plans for me of getting into merchandising.
Why do you think style bloggers are still so controversial?
They're controversial because they're the ones getting business. A lot of these influencers, I don't even call them bloggers anymore — they're bigger than that. These social media influencers, especially the high-profile girls, they have huge followings. They're eating up the budgets that should be going to magazines. It's unfortunate that the whole magazine industry is fading away and becoming irrelevant, day-by-day. Are style bloggers controversial? I don't think so. It's just media hype that fashion editors like to create because digital is eating up everyone's budget.
How has Bryanboy changed your life?
Oh my God, it changed my life immensely! It made my world smaller; it really brought me to a lot of different places. I remember 14 years ago, I was a 22-year-old kid who was online in front of the computer 18 hours a day trolling the internet. Now I'm 35; I'm here in Stockholm in my house overlooking the lake with my husband. It just transformed my life completely in a million different ways I couldn't possibly imagine.
What is your ultimate goal for yourself?
I want to explore more what I could do creatively in the fashion space. I started getting into videos. It's something I never really knew I was going to like. I recently produced two videos for Gucci at Chatsworth House. Of course it was sponsored, but for me, producing video is something that I definitely want to get into more.
Do you ever see yourself not being Bryanboy anymore?
Definitely, all the time. Sometimes I would have a group chat with Susie Bubble and some of my close friends, and every once in a while, we'll have moments of thinking, "Oh my God, what's next for us?" There's always this weird feeling at the back of the head: How long are we going to last and how long are we going to be in this? Are we part of the history books? Did we actually make a change or a difference in the industry? It feels like we're scamming people and the sham is about to implode tomorrow.
What if one day you don't get jobs? What if one day brands don't believe in you? There's always that fear. But, knock on wood, it's what 14 years have built; I'm extremely privileged, the brands are still working with me and I hope they'll continue working with me and getting their message out there.
Will you ever become Bryanman?
I think I am now! [Laughs] Yes, I think I'm going to be Bryanman soon — probably when I turn 40. I actually never really thought about it; can I be Bryanboy when I'm middle-aged? I feel like age is just a number. It depends on how you look and how you act. In my heart, I'm still that 15-year-old kid inside of me.
But I'm definitely going to be Bryanman at some point. Maybe not today, not tomorrow, but at some point.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.