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.
Aimee Song, known best for her online moniker "Song of Style," is one of the few fashion bloggers who have risen to mega-influencer status. But like any other blogger who got into fashion game nearly a decade ago, Song's now-full-time job was merely just a passion project on the side. "When I first started, I was a freshman in college. I had two part-time jobs and I was going to school full-time," recalls Song. Even after getting a job at an architecture firm — her studies focused on interior architecture — she continued to maintain her fashion blog as a hobby.
"There wasn't much room for bloggers because we weren't really considered a job. And in the fashion industry, nobody took us seriously," says Song. "Even when I was going to my first fashion show, nobody knew what a blogger was. I was sitting sixth row at Betsey Johnson." These days, you can spot Song in street-style galleries and front row at nearly every major runway show during fashion month.
"Song of Style" has expanded into its own online platform, too, including a relaunched website and a YouTube channel she's been actively updating for the past two years. "Instagram, photos and blog posts are just so instant and quick, but if you're really invested in somebody, you'll watch 20 minutes of something that they produced," says Song. "Video has enabled to share my personality and my views in a different way, so I've been really enjoying doing that."
There's also the fact that Song is The New York Times bestselling author for her debut book Capture Your Style, which she's following up with her newly published Aimee Song: World of Style, a travel diary of sorts with images of Song from across the globe, along with her best travel tips and personal anecdotes for the aspiring jet-setter.
And if you think Song's mega-influencer status will slow down anytime soon, think again: She recently hit the 5-million-followers-on Instagram mark.
"It's incredible and I don't take it lightly, as well, at all," she says of her growing audience. "Whether I have five followers or five million, I think it's important that with that big of a number of followers, I have a social responsibility to raise awareness on certain issues and to use my platform in a better way and not for selfish reasons. Every day I've been thinking about what can I do more of that’s good. So I now have 5 million reasons to do better."
We caught up with Song to chat about the early years as a fashion blogger, the challenges behind creating content, expanding her team (she's hiring!) and her ultimate goal for Song of Style.
When did you know that blogging could become a full-time career for you?
It was only three and a half, four years ago, when I decided to no longer do interior design and focus solely on blogging and create a business out of it. I could have became a full-time blogger six or seven years ago, but I continued to treat it more as a passion project because I love doing interior design, as well.
Having [the blog] as a passion project helped me leverage it in a way where I was a little bit more authentic because I didn't have to take on jobs I didn't want to or didn't speak to me or my brand or who I was. My audience trusted my expertise and they knew I wouldn't sacrifice my integrity for a quick paycheck.
Since you started blogging before Instagram even really took off, how has social media changed what you've been doing?
Being able to get paid to do what I'm doing. It's also created a lot jobs, as well. Social media has allowed this industry to become a bit more inclusive. People are able to speak up about injustice and if they don't see representation, they're able to speak up about it, whereas before, we didn't have that platform at all. It's become a more democratic place. And although social media can be a scary and mean place, it actually has become a kind place in my world. A lot of people are very, very encouraging and supportive of one another. Before social media, I don't think people were like that.
How has the day-to-day of your job changed over time the past four years?
I now have a team, whereas before I didn't have one. It was just me, and either I'll have a random person take my photo, or my boyfriend or my sister. But now I actually have a team, so I have somebody on the blog side — writing, posting the photos, linking the images. Then I have a photographer who I work with for bigger shoots. For Instagram photos, most of them are just taken on the whim, so it could be my friend Jared, my sister, my boyfriend or somebody who I'm with. I've had a manager for the past seven years, but my management team has grown because the social media industry is changing all the time and there's such a huge demand in it. And then I also have somebody who helps with my strategy.
What do you look for when you're hiring for your team?
I'm still learning, but I try to hire my weaknesses. I'm very much a creative. I'm good with coming up with ideas and concepts, but what I suck at, honestly, is the organizational skills, the analytical parts and executing it. Somebody who has a can-do attitude and is a problem solver. A lot of the times when we're hit with a problem, some people are like, 'I don't know what to do.' I would rather work with somebody who, if they can't get an answer immediately, they'll try a different way and find a different type of answer. I appreciate people who have those skills. Those are the type of people I try to look for. And if you know anybody, I'm hiring, so please send them my way!
How have you seen blogging in general change since you started out?
Less people are blogging now. I don't know that many people who still have blogs. Instagram has taken over, and I don't think that's bad at all. Most of us are on mobile instead of a computer or laptop. When I was starting out, it was still very computer-based, but now everybody is consuming blogs and any news situation via phone. I'm actually relaunching my site, and the design has changed completely, so it's very mobile-friendly. Plus, before, my blog was really just me, but now we're trying to include different topics — a lot of mental health and self-care, which is very important for me.
You've been vocal about anxiety and mental health. How do you cope as an influencer?
I cope with it on a daily basis. How we take care of our health and body — it's not something where you're like, "Today, I'll just eat vegetables and for the next week, eat french fries every single day," and pretend that you're healthy. It doesn't work that way. Mental health is exactly the same way where you have to nurture it on a daily basis constantly.
I try to do that because with my industry, it's hard not to compare myself to other people. I have to remember that I, myself, have to be happy and good and in a stable place because when I'm insecure, that's when I start comparing myself to other people and start judging people or judging myself. I try to be kind to myself first and try to maintain a healthy mind, and then it all becomes so much easier.
What were and are your major challenges in creating fashion and beauty content, then and now?
The biggest challenge was trying to break social norms and what traditional media said was beautiful because I didn't fit into that box. Now everybody sees more representation, body positivity or racial inclusiveness. It's just become more diverse and people are more honest.
The challenge now is this market is saturated, so a lot of people are creating similar content — trying to be a little different is the biggest challenge. Trying to remain raw and true and authentic is a constant challenge because if you see something more glamorous and pretty, you kind of innately think, "Oh, do I have to do that?" And I realize that there are people who are going to chase trends and do the things that are popular. I think there are enough people doing that and I don't need to be one of those people.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start today?
If you want to blog or try to be an influencer, there's nothing wrong with it. You can do it. There's still room for more. The biggest challenge is you have to find your own voice and try to not see what everybody else is doing and try to follow what everybody else is doing. Because then you're only going to be second or third best.
What is your ultimate goal for Song of Style?
My ultimate goal is trying to use my platform to do better for the greater good. I love doing what I do now and how I get to take charity trips. It's such an honor. Sharing that with my audience — I love being able to do that and I want to do it at a bigger scale. I want to change lives. I want to change this world and make it a happier and brighter place — that's not just for myself.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.