In our long-running series "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.
In the world of fashion blogging, there are mere influencers, and then there are mega-influencers. Arielle Charnas officially launched herself and her website, "Something Navy," into the latter stratosphere when her collaboration with Nordstrom netted the retailer $1 million in less than 24 hours. Not bad for someone who first launched a fashion blog to impress a boy.
"I started for all the wrong reasons," Charnas admits with a laugh. "I was dating someone who was going into a family business; he was five years older than me — I was in college still — and he would always say how attractive it was for a girl to have her own career, her own passion."
It was her sister, a stylist herself, who suggested that she should start blogging all the way back in 2009. Ultimately, that boy broke up with Charnas, and she harnassed her heartbreak and built the website into the powerhouse it is today.
"I kept posting outfits, and then I started meeting all these women all over the world who were writing me every day about my outfits — where they can shop, styling advice — and I became obsessed with it," she says. "Six months later, a woman approached me and told me she was going to start the first-ever influencer, digital marketing agency, and I was one of the first girls to sign with her."
The rest, as they say, is history. Charnas was able to switch from a career track in psychology to one in fashion blogging, where she's become one of the industry's top earners. And it's only going to get bigger from here: She's joining the ranks of mega-influencers like Chiara Ferragni, Chriselle Lim and Julia Engel in launching her own fashion line, also dubbed "Something Navy."
We caught up with Charnas ahead of the line's launch to ask her how motherhood has changed her job, where she got the inspiration for her fashion line and why she never wants to retire. She even shares her best advice for becoming an influencer in today's crowded market — but if you're looking to make $1 million in one day, you'll have to figure that one out on your own.
What were those early days of fashion blogging like?
Oh my god, it was so much fun. It wasn't easy — I definitely got made fun of a lot. No one really understood what I was doing. It was really difficult with my dad because I spent a lot of time focusing on the blog instead of trying to carve out my career. It was hard for everyone to understand what it was that I was actually doing by posting myself on the internet. People thought it was weird.
Even after a year or two, it still was difficult because a lot of brands and businesses didn't understand digital marketing. It was all about print and billboards and TV commercials; the internet was not the place that people wanted to invest their money in for marketing. The first three to four years were tough, especially for business, and then Instagram launched and everything changed.
When did you know this could become a career for you?
I was working at the Meatpacking Theory store, and my manager came in and told me that she got me a job on a shopping website and that they wanted me to style the clothing and be the model for their website, and they offered to pay me — it was a couple thousand dollars per month, which was insane. The second I got that job, I was like, wait a minute: I can live my life doing this and I don't have to work retail in the store anymore.
I left and did that, and then as I was doing that, I started getting side jobs on top of that for blogging. Then I booked a four-year contract with TreSemmé. I think that's when I was like, this is it for me. I can do this.
How do you decide who to partner with?
In the beginning, I always admit to my followers, we used to take on any job because it was new and exciting and that's how we were making money. But as your followers grow, and grow with you, it's really important to make sure that everything is on-brand and are things that I genuinely use or tried out and love that I think that they would love. If we get approached with a project, we discuss internally if it makes sense; we ask for the product to each of us two weeks in advance. We see if we like it; we discuss if we think our followers would like it.
We take on smaller, one-off jobs, but we like to do long-term partnerships now because it feels more organic, especially when you're posting about a beauty product. Posting about it once and then going onto a new product the next week can sometimes turn off your followers. We still do those one-offs, but we're definitely more selective about how we partner in terms of it being on-brand and being something that I genuinely use and love. Sometimes if it's a brand that I'm absolutely obsessed with and it's a start-up, we try to invest so that it also feels like our baby and we want to see it grow and help it grow.
How did social media change what you were doing?
Social media is everything for me. It's how I made a career. It's how I built my business. It's how I created a brand. I don't know what I would do without it. But it really took off when Instagram launched. The blog was great and it was sustainable, and I think that after a few years, it kind of plateaued where I had my frequent website visitors, but I didn't have as big of a reach as Instagram has allowed me to.
How has the day-to-day of your job changed over time?
At first, it was really just about shooting five outfits a week with a photographer. That was pretty much it, because with the blog, there was no documenting every step of your life; it was just photos that could be taken a week in advance. Now, oh my god, it's a completely different ballgame.
We shoot almost every single day, whether it be on the iPhone or the camera. We go to press previews. We get on calls with so many different brands and just people in general, learning about different services — it could be anything from restaurants to hotels to clothing lines, jewelry, sunglasses, anything — so we're always on the phone with different people, going through a million emails a day. We're actually relaunching a brand-new website in October, so that and my clothing line has pretty much taken up my entire day.
What I just explained to you was more so before I started my Something Navy brand and before we decided to relaunch and revamp our website. I had to hire five people so everyone can do all those things at the same time. Right now, it's coming up with inspiration, designing the new collections — we have eight different collections coming out over the next few years — different categories, coming up with strategic ways to market those pieces, creating content for the launch of our website, designing the new website, getting content with my family, with my husband. Planning travel — we're doing a lot of meet-and-greets and trips for the Something Navy brand launch.
And now we're super busy with fashion week, which is a big time for us. Recently, we've been testing out different services, so the girls will go to try different workout classes or facials, different restaurants, to report back. We're really trying to build content for our new site and make it a place that people can go to and learn about all different kinds of services and brands.
How has starting a family changed your job?
It's definitely a challenge, but I'm always, always busy. I really feel like I don't ever have a second; if I'm not working, I'm being a mother. It's definitely taught me to be patient and prioritize and try to balance out my days. It's not impossible because I do it, but it feels impossible.
I feel like I'm a lot more motivated, a lot more driven when it comes to work, to build my business and to be able to show them what a working mother is like. Now, since I have kids, I got an office space so that we can be out of the house and I can actually focus. At home, it was really hard to be all in when I had my kids running in or I heard her crying in the other room. Getting an office was a huge shift for me in the best way possible.
What made you decide to start your own clothing line?
It was a dream for me to start my own clothing line. I think that having an Instagram platform and being able to engage and interact with my followers, and learn what they want and what they're looking for in the market, it was my duty to be able to take that information and do something with it. I was noticing all these girls DM-ing me, asking about a really great white T-shirt or where they can get a really good pair of jeans that are distressed, but not too distressed, or a coat for the winter that's done in a really bright color that makes you feel happy in cold weather; they wanted pieces that you could take from day to night. I was like, "Why am I not doing this? I have all the tools, I have all the information from these girls." I just felt like it was time.
We did a collab with Nordstrom last year with one of their in-house brands and it was their most successful collaboration in the history of Nordstrom to date. It was a no-brainer. They were like, "We need to launch your own brand," and it was the perfect place for Something Navy. I felt like they totally understood me, understood my vision; they understood my follower and they really let me take the reins.
What's the vision for your brand?
The vision and design inspiration comes from my followers. I basically just listened to everything they asked for, everything they're looking for and I create it, but with my own little twist on it that I know that they would appreciate.
But also, we get really great data from affiliates, as well, so we see what they're swiping up on when I'm wearing something — we see what sells out — and then we just take all that information and we make edits to it to make it more affordable and comfortable for the everyday girl to wear. I know that my follower really appreciates fashion. They love looking at the runway, they love looking at celebrities wearing runway looks, but they're afraid to wear that themselves in everyday looks, so we just made it more approachable, but still on-trend.
How have you seen blogging change since you started out?
It changed so much. First of all, everyone's doing it now. Honestly, anyone can be an influencer. It's definitely made the market a little bit more competitive. When I first started, it was really about the actual idea of blogging. Chiara [Ferragni], [Aimee Song], we all launched around the same time, and I think we all genuinely loved putting looks together, posting them, engaging with our followers. Now I think it's more about the fame and money you can make off of it; I don't know if there's the passion behind it.
I don't think many girls even tend to their blog anymore; t's more just Instagram-focused. It's not even just about fashion anymore; it's about people who are trying to incorporate other things from their lifestyle. Even me — mine obviously started out more as outfits, and now my followers care more about what I'm wearing that day and what I'm doing with my family or what restaurant I'm going to. It's definitely shifted to a style platform.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start today?
Find something that makes you different — bring something different to the table — because so many people are doing it. I know it's hard to post all the time and always capture content, but I think the more consistent you are, the better chances you have at succeeding. For me, and I'm sure for anyone, you go to an Instagram account, and if you don't see something different after two days, you're not going to go back to that account. I think some people get discouraged and they fall back or they stop posting.
And go to any Instagram class you can go to: networking, hashtags, the Explore page, all those tips that Instagram gives out are so important, and incorporating video. Video is making a huge mark on the social media platform right now.
What do you look for in the people who would be a part of your team?
We're definitely a business of women. Every single girl here, their skill sets are so different. But what's really interesting — and I shouldn't even say this — but two of them, I didn't even look at their skills, I just loved them when I met them. It wound up being really great in the long-term, because the girl who I did that with is running my entire Nordstrom account now and she's incredible. What really was so great about her — and I didn't notice when I was meeting her for the first time — was that she was my follower, and she fully gets my followers. It's been a blessing because she understands what it is that they want to see and what they want us to create.
Then we hired a photographer who's now our social media coordinator. Normally, I would definitely look at college credits and all that kind of stuff, and she actually never went to college; she went to Paris to study photography, and we thought that was different and special and cool.
[We're looking for] someone who brings different skills to the table — and, of course, loyalty. That's a huge thing because it's a lifestyle blog now and we definitely are open. We talk about everything and anything. All the girls in the office, with our new website, we're going to talk about personal stories and be able to run ideas by each other. With Nordstrom and our Something Navy brand, [it's about] keeping things confidential, so loyalty is a huge thing that we look for.
What has it meant for you to develop such a loyal following?
It's incredible. It's hard for me to really grasp the concept. I really notice it when I'm out and I see someone who is a follower and the way they react, it definitely opens your eyes to who's watching what you do every day, how much they appreciate things that you talk about, that you share. I post all the girls in my office, I post my family, and they've all grown loyal followings, and those girls are my followers since before I met my husband. They'll write me and they'll say, "I've been following you since you were single." It's crazy — they've been on my entire life journey with me.
It definitely speaks to me when I'm picking out which partnerships to explore because at the end of the day, I don't ever want to steer them in the wrong direction, I don't want to ever lie to them or make them feel like they should buy something when it's not good.
What is your ultimate goal for Something Navy?
I grew up in a bubble where none of the women work. They're mothers — being a mother is a job, but they don't have jobs outside of being a mother. Even if I could get to a point where I could retire, I don't think I'd ever honestly want to. If I continue to stick to what made me do this in the first place, it does not feel like work to me. It's a hobby. It's something I genuinely enjoy doing.
I really want to grow the Something Navy brand. I want to introduce new categories. I want to make it an all-around lifestyle brand and I want to launch a website that's purpose is to tell stories that need to be heard. I want to create a platform to allow other women to speak through and gain exposure from. I want to make that website a really special place that people feel like they can go to and pretty much get anything out of.