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, Leandra Medine tells us how she took Man Repeller from her personal blog to a fully-staffed editorial website of its own.
When Leandra Medine launched the third version of her blog in early 2010, she quickly became the poster child for a certain type of fashion girl. "Man Repeller" was more than the title of her blog; it was a term that entered the fashion vernacular to describe the clothing that defied standard (read: man-set) definitions of beauty. But Medine had no idea it would become the juggernaut it is today.
"I hoped that it would help me get a reporting job once I graduated college, but I think that I was really lucky in terms of timing," Medine says. "I launched around the same time that Fashion Toast and Bryanboy and The Sartorialist and Mr. Street Peeper were blowing up, and Man Repeller was really one of the only fashion blogs that wasn't a street-style blog or a personal style blog that had such a pointed and niche perspective. It was so singularly about one thing: Trends that women love and men hate. I really clung on to that, and I think that people did, too."
Over the past seven years, Man Repeller has turned Medine into something of a reluctant influencer. She's been vocal about her unease with the idea that brands want to align themselves with her, to pay her to get dressed in their clothes or to sit in their front row. It was an unexpected result of sharing herself so fully with her readers, but it has paid off for Medine in more ways than the financial benefits. "I wouldn't take any of that back, because I think that, if I'm being really honest, that's a really natural part of who I am," she says. "I think that at my core, I'm really an entertainer."
The blog has also given Medine the opportunity to branch out into other things she was interested in doing, like writing a book and launching a line of shoes. More important to her is that Man Repeller has become bigger than herself; Medine now leads a staff of writers and editors who contribute their own "man-repelling" voices to the website. She's proud of the fact that Man Repeller has attracted such a loyal following of women who feel like the website represents them just as much as it does her.
"All I want is for Man Repeller to outlive me," she says. "I want it to be able to thrive without me."
Until then, though, Medine will be sharing her unique take on the world of fashion. She tells us when she figured out it was time to expand the voices on the website and what Man Repeller has meant to her.
What first interested you in fashion?
I think that I've always had a really deep curiosity about aesthetics. I don't know, necessarily, that I was able to compute that it was fashion when I was really young, but I know that I always cared about how people looked. I noticed shoes on women when I was walking home from school, and I took great interest in my mother's closet. But I don't think I knew that it was fashion that I was interested in until I was a little bit older, maybe like 12 or 13.
What made you want to get into personal style blogging?
The personal style blogging piece was actually a curiously happy accident. Before Man Repeller, I ran a site called Four Months in Paris, which was just documentation of the time that I was spending during my semester abroad. I was studying journalism in school and I really loved that the site was giving me an opportunity to write edit-free, because I'd submit something for publication and then it would come back with so many red marks on it, and I was like, "Oh, you're ruining what makes this piece interesting and funny. Why are you watering it down?" The fact that I was able to write without anyone reading it before I could hit publish just felt super, super liberating.
When I came back from Paris, I was like, "I've got to keep writing for me." I changed the name of the site to Boogers + Bagels, and I ran that for about two months before I landed upon an entirely new name, which was Man Repeller, and then I launched that site.
Man Repeller took off pretty quickly; how did you feel about the reaction?
To be honest, it was wild. Six months after I launched, The New York Times profiled me, and I was like, "Well, this is as good as it's going to get, and if this is as good as it's going to get, that's good enough. How many people get to say that they were profiled by The New York Times? This was such an incredible and happy accident that happened to me, and for sure it's going to help me get a job." Then the opportunities just kept rolling in and rolling in. Of course, I had no idea that it was going to turn into anything. I definitely knew that I have a smart and strong business mind, and that if it did gain traction I would absolutely figure out a way to monetize it, but I didn't launch it with the intention of it becoming a financial pursuit.
What's really unique about that New York Times profile is that, in the first six months that I was in business, there was a ton of interest about Man Repeller, but nobody wanted to be aligned with a name like Man Repeller. There was definitely a lot of market teaching that was required. But after The New York Times gave me that fashion thumbs up, I feel like brands felt a little bit more comfortable aligning themselves with me.
But I was super, super clear from the beginning, because I knew that Man Repeller, it sounded quite cynical and skeptical, and it could've been really negative. I always wanted it to be a love letter to the industry, because I respect and admire fashion so much. I never wanted it to be a cynical and outsider take.
What was it like to be in the digital space at that time?
It was like the Wild West back then, because you'd go viral for having good content; it still felt a lot like a meritocracy in a way that it doesn't anymore. It was really cool and really special. I remember some mornings waking up and having, like, 2,000 new Twitter followers because of some random blog that had linked to me the night before, or a Twitter celebrity who had @-ed me in a tweet. Those kind of things just don't happen anymore. I remember those moments as being like, "Wow, I can't believe this can happen on the internet."
What was the importance of social media at the time?
When I launched Man Repeller, Instagram didn't exist yet; the main portal I was using to promote my content was Twitter. When I launched Man Repeller, what I was doing was essentially just commenting on fashion trends that I found to be man repellent, and every now and then I would post a photo of myself in a pair of shoes or trying on a jacket. They were really low-fi pictures, but those stories always gained so much more traction than the ones without pictures of me in them.
I was like, "Oh, the internet is voyeuristic. If I just keep posting more pictures of myself, this site will get bigger." So I started doing that. I tried to be really self-deprecating and sardonic about it, because it felt too real and too serious if I wasn't. After Instagram started to become popular, and organic virality was happening on that platform, too, I thought to myself that it was not going to be long before websites or personal style blogs would become extinct, because all of the intrinsic benefits, or all of the inspiration that you were able to cull from a website, you could now cull from your mobile device.
That's when I started thinking about the future of Man Repeller and whether it was worthwhile for me to try and build my own media outlet. I thought to myself that I had a journalism degree, and I knew people who worked at other publications, and it would take a little bit of persuasion, but I could probably get them to come and work for me if I could sell them the vision. That's when I started building my team, around early 2012.
When did you realize that the site was going to become your full-time job?
I feel like that pivot only very recently happened. Even after I started hiring people and started building out the team and finding salespeople, I still felt a little bit like at some point, eventually, someone was going to come into the office and turn out the lights and be like, "Alright, party's over, show's over, everyone go home." It felt very surreal — and it still does feel surreal, a lot of times.
But probably around last spring when we started poaching people from places like College Humor and Racked and different proper magazines, and I had to sell a long-term vision, did I realize that Man Repeller wasn't just going to be mine anymore, that it was going to hopefully become a property of a generation. It definitely took me a minute.
Man Repeller was so much about your voice. How do you choose the people that write for you?
Well, here's the thing about having a distinct and unique voice: I believe that the best editorial leaders are those who allow their writers to explore their identities, to jump out of their comfort zones, write what feels right and especially what feels wrong — to really expand the boundaries of what they believe makes good writing, but to never forget where they're writing for. When I'm looking for new writers particularly, I'm always looking for perspectives that are completely different from my own and that are completely different from the writers that we already have on staff, but who really understand the thing that is hard to describe about Man Repeller. It's a feeling, and I still don't know how to put it in words, but when I meet someone who gets it, I know pretty quickly.
You've talked about your discomfort with the term "influencer"; do you ever regret putting yourself out there the way you have?
No, I don't think I would've changed any of that. Amelia [Diamond] interviewed me for a story about being an influencer, and something I said to her — which I had never really said out loud, but which I still think is very true — is that if I could do it all again, I wouldn't bat an eye before becoming an influencer again. I really am quite narcissistic. I'm comfortable seeing myself on camera and in photos, I like hearing myself speak and I like to write and to share my experiences. Mostly, the reason I like to share my experiences is because I hope that they'll resonate with other people and help the people who read the content say things that perhaps they don't even know they're thinking, or help them articulate what they are thinking, but don't know how to say.
The piece that's been really hard for me has been transitioning into a businesswoman; that is the part that feels most uncomfortable and unusual. It's the part that forces me to learn and feel unlike myself every single day. But that's obviously also the more important part.
How have you learned how to be a businesswoman along the way?
It is just trial and error. You could read all the business in the world, but nothing teaches you like firsthand experience. There is a natural savvy about me. I understand what makes a company valuable and how to figure out how a company could become profitable, or how they could determine their revenue streams. Those things are quite natural to me; they always have been. I'm a pretty creative and strategic thinker in that way. But in terms of processes and management and all of the detail-oriented, operational stuff, the nuances that really define a healthy operation, that's been incredibly tough for me, because I'm super big picture, and when I'm in the weeds with that stuff, I feel that my soul wants to crawl out of my body.
Do you miss being able to write often?
You know, I made an active decision to not write through the month of June, and then start to bring down the cadence of my writing for July and August and see how it goes. It has definitely made working on the other stuff much easier because I'm not on consistent deadline anymore. But it took a lot of courage to finally make that decision, because I'm such an oversharer and it's hard for me to be quiet. So yes, I do miss it. I'm still writing regularly; I journal and all of that. Not having it published has been tough, but I think really important, because I almost forgot that I can write for myself and not an audience. It has been a really nice exploration in rediscovering my voice to be writing just for myself, as opposed to for anyone else.
That's the other thing with Man Repeller: I've been running it, essentially, for seven years, I've been writing for this site for seven years, and there are expectations that I've bestowed upon myself about who I am and who I've been, and I'm at a crossroads where I'm reaching the end of my 20s, and I feel that I'm a different person now than I have been for the past 27 or so years. I'm trying to reconcile the identity that I'm coming into, and taking a step back from writing is helping me with that.
How have you seen fashion change since you started Man Repeller?
My perspective is going to be different from the perspective of someone who was a consumer seven years ago and is still a consumer today, because there's a veil of access that I've been granted that I think has made approaching fashion in the same excited, invigorated way that I used to approach fashion a little bit more challenging.
The thing about New York fashion is that we've always been the best at contemporary wear. That's what makes American fashion so special: We can take the complicated ideas of the couturiers in Paris and turn them into these really digestible and wearable concepts here in New York. That's a talent in and of itself, and I don't think that it should be scoffed at. But because of the immediacy that has become so important to the average consumer because of brands like Zara and H&M and Forever 21, it's tough to reconcile how fast you need to see contemporary before you can actually buy it. That seems to be the real crux of the problem in New York, and it's not a problem that you see with international labels, because those clothes are so much more complicated, and they actually do take a lead time for consumers to get used to.
I remember when I was much younger, I would look at Marc Jacobs' clothes, I would look at the runway collections on Style.com as they were happening, and I was like, "Who the hell would wear this?" Then six months later, I'd be in a store, and I'd be like, "Oh, I get it now." It took a minute for the concepts to seep into the zeitgeist. We just don't have that minute anymore. People want it immediately, and brands are reacting to that immediacy, and it's just a little bit messy. There's too little thinking and too much doing, in my opinion.
What made you want to start your own line?
I've always known in the back of my head that I wanted to make shoes at some point. They're my favorite category in fashion, because they do all of the things that I want fashion to do: They're escapist; they allow you to slip in and out of identities; they're super luxurious; they can make you feel exclusive, like you're in on a joke or part of a club, but they're also super inclusive because it doesn't matter what you look like. Shoes fit everyone. That was a really important piece for me, and shoes have always been the first thing that I gravitate towards.
What has Man Repeller meant to you?
Man Repeller is such a unique and special place to me, and sometimes I feel like I don't actually give it the credit that it deserves. I know that sounds silly and weird, but we've been going back and forth internally so much about our mission statement, and it's been so hard to come up with something that is finite and conclusive, because to define a property in a few words is to put it in a box. The best thing about Man Repeller for me is that it kind of doesn't fit in a box — our Instagram bio is, "We're a fancy media brand that does so much more than just write shit."
There's the sense of humor and an intellectual curiosity and fuck-it attitude, but also this really thoughtful inclusiveness about Man Repeller, and, paradoxically too, this exclusiveness about it, this sort of members-only club — I don't want to say "cult," but an in-on-the-joke-ness — about Man Repeller, that I think makes it really special. It's the kind of place that I wish existed when I was in high school and didn't know who I was.
My mom tells this story about how, when she was pregnant with her first child, she was 23 years old, and she was so nauseous and throwing up all the time and gaining so much weight, and she had this hot husband who was 23 and didn't know how to address the fact that his wife was growing, because he was 23 and wasn't mature yet. She often talks about that time and says that she wishes she had Man Repeller to remind her that everything was going to be okay and that it's temporary. I was like, "Yeah, that's exactly right. It's like a friend in your pocket."
What is your ultimate goal for Man Repeller?
It feels like such an important voice of our generation, and I want it to continue to do that whether or not I'm involved and invested. If I, for whatever reason, am no longer involved in Man Repeller but I continue to see it flourish and prosper, that will be the best thing for me.
I used to be really obsessed with setting goals and trying to hit them, but what I'm learning late into my 20s is that the only goal we need to set, and the only thing we need to check in with ourselves on, is personal self-satisfaction and happiness. Everything we do is to feed those two things, so as long as you can remember that those are the two important ones, nothing else really matters.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.