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, Jane Aldridge tells us how she went from teen blogger to grown businesswoman.
At just 15 years old, Jane Aldridge started her now-famous blog "Sea of Shoes" as a place to document her love for vintage clothes and up-and-coming fashion designers. She figured it would last two weeks.
Instead, it catapulted her into the fashion stratosphere, landing her profiles in magazines like Vogue and opportunities like being dressed by Chanel at the exclusive Crillon Ball. Not bad for a teenager from Texas. Of course, with that kind of success comes negative attention too, and Aldridge certainly suffered her fair share of haters who dismissed her as a spoiled kid.
But Aldridge weathered it all from her home in Texas, where she has remained even after she became an adult who could move to New York City and live in the thick of the industry. "I really love it here," she explains over the phone. "As much I love fashion, I'm not the fashion girl, I'm not someone who really even wants to go to the runway shows. I appreciate it from afar."
And in addition to staying true to her Texan roots, she's kept Sea of Shoes largely consistent as well. Unlike many of her peers, Aldridge continues to regularly update the website with outfit photos and personal style posts, a rarity in the age of Instagram, Snapchat and pressures to become a multimedia brand.
Now a young adult with plenty of business experience under her belt, Aldridge tells us what it was like to achieve fashion notoriety at such a young age and why she'd be happy to run Sea of Shoes for the rest of her life.
What first interested you about fashion?
I grew up in somewhat of a fashion family — as much as you could living in the suburbs of north Texas. My mom was always into fashion. My grandma owned an antiques store, so she started collecting vintage clothing at a really young age, then she was a model in Japan, and she came back and started her own fashion line, so she's tremendously knowledgeable about fashion. I grew up always looking at magazines, and on the weekends starting when I was nine years old, we'd go thrifting. We were getting all these cool clothes, and we were selling them on eBay a bit, and then we had a little web store.
Then I started Sea of Shoes. I was 15 when I started it, and I didn't really have any friends that were interested in fashion. I followed Susie Bubble and Bryanboy and a couple others, and I thought, "You know, I can do that too." So I started a TypePad blog, and I really didn't think I would do it more than two weeks, but I kept getting views and people were commenting. I had a relationship with my readers, so I kept at it.
Were you surprised by the reaction at all?
Yeah, definitely when it was more than 100 people looking at my blog. [laughs] That was kind of crazy. When I was in high school, of course there was a lot happening, and I'd get requests from magazines to do quotes or provide images; they'd want to do a story on my blog, so that was taking up a lot of my time about a year in. I did take a little break at the beginning, then I got back to it. But it got pretty busy pretty quickly.
How were you balancing the blog with being in high school?
Well, I had kind of a weird class structure. We had these two-hour class periods in this city-run charter school, and they thought that it would be progressive to let us use our laptops for two hours, so honestly, I just worked on my blog in school. [laughs] I don't know if that's a healthy school-work balance. I had to go home and produce images. I remember having to shoot things for Marie Claire, and I would go home from school early and do that.
What were those early days being in digital like?
It was all so innocent. There was truly no glamour, no, "This is a photo shoot, I have to make this look good." It was an outfit picture in the mirror — it didn't matter. I kind of miss those days where it was like, this is really what I'm wearing; Susie was working a cubicle job at that time, and I'd love to see what she was wearing to work every day.
How did you decide what you were shooting back then?
It was whatever I'd just found at the thrift store, or bought — whatever I was into. I did a lot of coverage of runway fashion too in the beginning; those years — 2006 to 2008 — were such amazing years for fashion. I'm feeling so nostalgic for them. I was really excited about Christopher Kane and a lot of cool designers, and what Junya Watanabe was doing around that time — I'm still a big fan, of course.
What was it like to have success at that age?
When something that crazy happens to you, you don't know how to take it. It was all so surreal to me, but I was like, I guess I'll run with this opportunity. But it was hard, doing that at such a young age. I thought I was going to be on this traditional path, going to college, and then this crazy thing happened and I would have been dumb to let those opportunities go. It was a lot of decision-making.
How has social media changed your job?
Instagram didn't really come around until three, four years of me doing my blog, and Twitter had just started when I started my blog, so it's been crazy to see how that's changed. But you know, that first wave of fashion bloggers really loved fashion and blogged about the collections that we loved and designers we were really excited about. Now, you get on Instagram and there's so many bloggers who don't truly blog about fashion, in a way. It's more like, this is what I'm wearing, this is my lifestyle; a lot of people are doing fashion crossover with wellness, crossover with mommy blogs, interiors. It's interesting to see that shift. A lot of those bloggers have been successful, and good for them, but I do kind of miss that old-school way; it was a bit more like reporting.
Why is it important to you to keep updating the website?
Oh my god, well, just having been doing my blog for 11 years, I have really strong web traffic and I think it's so important to tell that visual story. I don't want to just throw something up there without a story behind it. There is a story behind everything. I find my blog is really important for me to develop my own plot line and what's inspiring me, and I wear so much vintage that truly there are so many stories with the outfit that I'm wearing and what goes into them.
Did you ever want to move to New York from Texas?
No, I really didn't; it's just something I could never do. I'm not that person. I got to see so much of that at such a young age and I just really realized that it wasn't for me. It's not really my place to be there, I feel like. And truly, I'm a vintage person at heart, and those are my people. We have such good vintage here, and I can travel to LA and New York if I want to.
Where do you think the future of the personal style blogging industry is?
It's hard to say. I can't even keep track of the way that it goes. So many of the bloggers have created their own lines — Rumi is doing Are You Am I and Sincerely Jules has hers — and that's really cool. I think we'll see a lot more of that, but I don't know. I also wonder about the longevity of Instagram, too, like what's next after that, because there's going to be something. I think it will reach a saturation point at some point. The whole logarithm thing and all of the bots are such a problem too, the bot followers; it makes it hard to keep track of what's real anymore.
Do you feel like you're someone with a very engaged core audience?
Yeah, I do. But some days I wake up and I've gotten 30 bot followers. I can tell they're bots. I didn't ask for this! [laughs] I don't want them. I was kind of naive about some of the practices, but some of the other bloggers, like Park & Cube, she's always blogging about some of these practices that other bloggers or brands will take where they buy engagement and likes, and they'll pay for their account to do something like two thousand likes that day, and they'll go like a bunch of random photos to help them get followers. It's really weird; it's very dystopian.
Were you ever interested in having your own line?
I've thought at points about what it would be like to have a line, and for so long I said no; production is just such a nightmare, and it's so hard to do it ethically. But, you know, as I'm getting older and thinking about some of the things that I love about fashion and the things that made me fall in love with it and the times that I'm nostalgic for, I do dream about launching a capsule collection of re-works of my favorite vintage pieces. But if I did, it would be very small; it wouldn't be by season. It would be very simple.
How has what you do and how you run Sea of Shoes changed since you started?
You know, I want to say that it hasn't. It stayed very true to its core. I run it with my family; I started it with my mom, so at first we were taking each other's photos. It was a style diary of both of us, and then of course it became more me because I had the technological skills to take the photos and do the blog. But, for the past eight years, my mom was my main photographer, and we would go do a styling together and take on all the projects together. We still do have creative meetings once a week, but now I work with my fiancé full time, and my dad is a lawyer and he still handles some of the business side of the sponsored posts and things. So it's very insular business. [laughs] Not a lot of overhead, and I like that.
What advice would you give to someone who is hoping to start a fashion blog today?
You really have to hone your skills; it is so many things that you have to be on top of. You have this image in your mind that you want to create, and really, there are so many steps that go into that. Practice your photography, go on YouTube, watch the tutorials — learn web design too. I was so naïve about that; that was one of the hardest things when I started out. As it got more big business, people want to know what your views are and your traffic, and I didn't know how to do any of that. I'm lucky now that my fiancé is a web designer, so he was able to rework my site when I needed something changed and stay on top of my Google analytics. But that's another thing that you have to be on top of too, because the website is so important to so many people still.
How has Sea of Shoes changed your life?
Oh my god, it is my life. [laughs] It's hard to even say that it changed it because it started when I was so young. I don't know of a life outside of this, in a way, which is scary but also cool. I've had to learn so many skills running my own business for 10 years, and I'm thankful for that.
Do you think that you'll ever stop running the blog?
I had a scare — this has been a really hard year for me personally with some health problems, and I thought, oh my god, I might have to stop Sea of Shoes. I had an episode about two months ago; I'm dealing with endometriosis and PCOS. I've been dealing with it for a few years, but the pain just got so debilitating that I didn't know if I could move on. But, it gave me pause and I had to consider what a life would be like without Sea of Shoes. You know, people change in their life, and if it had to be that, I'd make it happen, and I'd be excited; I have some ideas that I'd want to work on. But luckily I think that I'm finally at a turning point, and hopefully for the future that trend will continue.
What is your ultimate goal for Sea of Shoes?
You know, I love Sea of Shoes so much because it hasn't changed radically, it's always been about vintage and connecting with people who love vintage the way that I do. I have so many special relationships with the vintage community, and being part of that is just the thing that makes me happiest.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.