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.
When Claire Sulmers was applying to Harvard, she met with a recruiter at a college fair and took the initiative to ask if there was anything she could do beyond the traditional application process to catch the attention of the admissions office. After writing an additional essay with her application, Sulmers was admitted into her top choice, later majoring in African-American Studies and French. While she can't recall if her "extra credit essay" actually garnered her an acceptance letter from Harvard, she's sure of the success that can come from simply going above and beyond what you're expected to do.
"Every year, the world continues to open up for me, and so for those starting out, just don't get discouraged, and if you really love it, then do the work and be consistent and persistent," says Sulmers. "You will break through."
This type of work mantra has been applied well throughout Sulmers's career, including her blog Fashion Bomb Daily, which she started while working in the editorial department of Real Simple in 2006. The platform's first two years involved Sulmers balancing both her full-time job and her side project, which served as a means to explore her growing interest in fashion blogging. "If you go back to some of our first posts, it's pictures of some of my coworkers or pictures of people on their lunch break outside in Rockefeller Center," recalls Sulmers.
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In 2008, her hard work paid off, and she decided to branch out on her own and run Fashion Bomb Daily full-time. Over the course of 13 years, the blog has evolved into a full-fledged media brand, covering not only women's fashion, but also childrenswear, menswear, weddings and beauty, as well as hosting live events and launching an e-commerce component.
"I was one of the first bloggers at fashion week, and I didn't even realize that at the time," says Sulmers. "There were other bigger sites like The Young, Black, and Fabulous and Concrete Loop, but they wouldn't be in the room. In the beginning, we were one of those blogs that was communicating urban culture to the rest of the world, and we were inside fashion week and taking it from a consumer's point of view."
We chatted with Sulmers over the phone to learn more about how she decided to pursue fashion as a career, what went into growing Fashion Bomb Daily and her best advice for young fashion bloggers.
When were you first interested in fashion?
I've been interested in fashion for a long time. I grew up in Atlanta, Ga. — actually in Stone Mountain, Ga. — but I went to school in an area that was 45 minutes away from where I lived, so I had a lot of weekends to myself to get dressed up, put clothes on, make shopping lists. Down south, it's recreational to go to the mall, so I've always been one of those girls who was into fashion, but I never, ever thought that fashion would one day become a career.
So when and how did you pursue fashion as a career?
My initial goal was to go into television, but I didn't have as much television experience. I was able to find a job in journalism and get an internship at Upscale magazine. It was an unpaid internship, and, honestly, I still didn't think that fashion was going to be the track I was going to take. I was interested in political issues and civil rights issues, but there was an opening in the fashion and beauty department. I started off writing captions and captions become articles and then it became cover stories and op-eds. I really excelled in that first internship, and I loved the environment of it. It was a very small staff. Everyone's thoughts and opinions were valued, so I would say that was the point where I was like "OK, fashion writing is what I want to do."
What were the early years of fashion blogging like, and how has it changed?
Obviously it's gotten way better now, but before, it was hard for us to get accredited, to get invitations, to be taken seriously. I would say that it's interesting now. When I first started blogging, there was this one group of really big websites, and a lot of those websites didn't transition over to Instagram. So now there's this whole new crop of huge sites that everybody goes to, and I think Fashion Bomb Daily has been able to survive because we're always willing to evolve. We're not holding on for dear life to one thing. You just have to see where the trends are going and stay with them, and then as much of a grind as blogging is and as much of a grind as fashion week is, show up and make sure you're there. Don't quit.
How were you able to finally turn Fashion Bomb Daily into a profitable business?
Long story short, I ended up leaving my job [at Real Simple] and moving to Paris. I had a lot of free time to do nothing and work on Fashion Bomb and updating it several times a day. I did a lot of researching about how to make money from blogging. I signed up with a blogger network, and I started to put different things into place for advertising. By the end of my time in Paris, Fashion Bomb finally started to make money. That was in 2010, so it took me four years of basically making zero before my first check for $5,000, and I moved back to New York City.
Where do you want to see Fashion Bomb Daily going next?
We do see that the trend is towards video and podcasts. We're expanding into video, and "Conversations with Claire" lends itself easily to a podcast because what we do at these events is that we talk to industry insiders, whether they're designers, stylists, hair stylists or makeup artists, and we have one-on-one conversations with them. I want to pour more energy into that.
We're also expanding into many sister sites. We have Fashion Bomb Daily, which now has a staff of five just for our Instagram page, but we also have Fashion Bomb Kids, Fashion Bomb Men, Fashion Bomb Beauty, Fashion Bomb Hair. We're going to do Fashion Bomb Weddings and more events. We're planning a huge event for the end of the year, but we definitely want to dip our toe into putting on our own fashion show. We have the designers, so we're just continuing to grow everything that we have.
Inclusivity and diversity have been at the root of Fashion Bomb ever since it started, so how have you seen inclusivity and diversity evolve in the industry over the years?
It's definitely evolved in a positive way. I think it's important for brands and the fashion industry to not to get too detached from the people. I don't know where this whole idea of it being super-duper exclusive and keeping people out came from, but I think if you can afford it and if you like it and if you support it, you should be able to participate in it. There needs to be more respect given to that and to not always be like, 'We're up on our high horse looking down at all these people who are helping drive sales.' No, let's embrace them and start to change. Change the dialogues, change the way we think about the industry.
What do you look for when you're hiring?
We're looking for hard workers with a can-do attitude. For us, I'm looking for little me's, basically. Those who are doing it for the passion and know that the money and the accolades and everything will come eventually. It's really about your intelligence and your knowledge of fashion. Are you able to look at something and tell that this is Versace, Balenciaga or Chanel? Knowing the key players, knowing the brands, being willing and open to discovering new things and just having an appreciation and respect for style.
What advice would you give to those starting out in fashion blogging now?
I would definitely say do the work. I think that a lot of young people might see people on Instagram and think that they can just do it without interning, assisting or working for somebody else. There are a lot of things to learn from those who have been in the industry for quite some time.
Be humble and open to learning — assist, intern, just be a sponge — and be as professional as possible. That might sound cliché, but it's the little things, like showing up on time, or early, doing exactly what is needed, being able to follow instructions. Go over and above in everything you do; be exceptional even if somebody doesn't ask you to do something. Anticipate what they might want.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.