Black Fashion Bloggers, Rise Up:
The Black Blogger Blueprint for Blog Excellence
I am not a black fashion blogger who writes about the latest looks. I own four pairs of shoes. My daily makeup routine logs an even lower number of steps. I am, however, a digital business coach, which means I teach bloggers how to create income with their websites. And I also happen to be black.
I’ve been online since the internet was invented, and I’m especially fascinated by the plethora of Next Generation black fashion bloggers and beauty influencers on Instagram and YouTube. I am so proud to see my sisters in all shades, shapes, and sizes strutting their stuff online, melanin popping!
With New York Fashion Week Fall 2018 recently behind us, I’ve also found myself deeply saddened. TheCut.com published a super intense and well-researched article on what it’s really like to be black and work in the fashion industry. It took me two days to read it. Even longer to work through the heartache, anger and tears that it brought up.
That article launched a tsunami of others: Hautemommie.com’s powerful post, “How the Blogging Industry Continues to Fail Black Women”, which detailed how black beauty influencers have been excluded from mainstream blogs. In one particular example, Hautemommie mentioned an Instagram influencer getaway sponsored by an online retailer. The photo shoot featured women who were mostly white and “sample size”.
“Clearly we aren’t their demographic and they could care less”, one of the commenters wrote.
“Maybe these are their top influencers”? another commenter added, attempting justification.
Curious, I went to the fashion retailer’s site, and discovered that while some of the models featured on their home page were women of color, the main clothing models were skinny and melanin-free.
The exclusion of black fashion bloggers and influencers from mainstream beauty and fashion has caused me to question everything I believed about online marketing.
Why do women of color need to chase a clothing brand that doesn’t include us?
I spend a lot of time on Instagram, and I adore my sisters (and brothers) blogging in beauty and fashion, some of them with followings in the hundreds of thousands – which blows my mind. How dare anyone reject the idea that a black blogger isn’t powerful, or cannot influence consumers – or the fashion industry? Challenge accepted.How dare anyone reject the idea that a black blogger isn't powerful, or cannot influence consumers - or the fashion industry? Challenge accepted. Click To Tweet
So I started brainstorming and strategizing. And after a little over 2 weeks of additional research, I turned my frustration into a love letter to my sisters, nieces and fellow bloggers of color.
This blog post is dedicated to all of you.
My intention is to provide tools to overcome online obstacles when the rainbow is enuf.
Rule #1 of Online Marketing: The Riches are in the Niches
The internet is a wide, impersonal, and vast space. One of the best ways to make a dent in it, though, is to narrow your focus to a particular audience.
In my view, HauteMommie’s hard-hitting blog post about how the blogging industry is failing black women doesn’t tell the whole story, because the exclusionary practices mentioned are still derived from the fashion industry specifically. To blame racism on the blogging industry is like saying that the Internet let you down, while, in reality, the internet is just made up of gazillion niches. Your job is to find your niche, and blog the hell out of it. THAT is how you become an influencer.
That said, being a black fashion blogger may not be enough of a niche.
If someone asks who is your target market, your answer should never be “EVERYONE” either.
Find Your Online Tribe of Raving Fans
You may want to consider having a particular sphere of influence. For example, you can focus on curvy women, corporate clothing that’s not boring, or even how to mix designer brands with vintage wear. You might only wear yellow and black. You may blog about Black women in Atlanta, Houston, or wherever you live. Your focus is only limited by your imagination. Just make sure that it’s a topic that you are passionate about writing about all year round.
By the way, when you choose a primary audience, it doesn’t mean that other audiences won’t read your blog. But it will be easier to build a buzz for your blog because people keep talking about the cool things that you’re doing in your area of specialty.
When you decide to blog to a specific reader, you will lose some folks for sure. But the new readers that you gain will be the ones who LOVE your blog and share with their friends. Drawing a line in the virtual sand means deciding who you’re writing for, and most importantly, who you aren’t.
Don’t be afraid to focus on a particular audience or specialty.
Black Niche Power
Here are some examples of successful African American entrepreneurs who created lucrative businesses by targeting their own communities:
Madame CJ Walker
Born in 1867, Madame CJ Walker was the first African-American millionaire, of any gender. She developed her own line of hair products, and sold them from door to door, teaching other black women how to groom and style their hair. In addition to having a mail order business, she opened several beauty parlors around the country and trained other black women to be “hair culturists” who used “The Walker System”. Walker later built a factory, hair salon, and beauty school to train her sales agents, and added a laboratory to help with research. Many of her company’s employees, including those in key management and staff positions, were women.
Between 1911 and 1919, during the height of her career, Walker and her company employed several thousand women as sales agents for its products, and claimed to have trained nearly 20,000 women. Walker showed other black women how to budget, build their own businesses, and encouraged them to become financially independent.
In 1917, Walker established The National Beauty Culturists and Benevolent Association of Madam C. J. Walker Agents, whose conference is believed to have been among the first national gatherings of women entrepreneurs to discuss business and commerce. During the conference, Walker gave prizes to women who had sold the most products and brought in the most new sales agents. She also rewarded those who made the largest contributions to charities in their communities. At the time of her death Walker was considered to be the wealthiest African American woman in America.
Founded in Detroit by Berry Gordy, Jr. in 1959, Motown was the first black-owned record company in the US. Originally a songwriter for local acts in Detroit, Gordy later realized that the more lucrative end of the business was in producing records and owning the publishing.
Gordy bought a property which became Motown’s Hitsville USA studio, and his family moved into the second-floor living quarters. Motown’s Hitsville studios remained open and active 22 hours a day, and artists would often go on tour for weeks, come back to Detroit to record as many songs as possible, and then promptly go on tour again. Berry Gordy held quality control meetings every Friday morning, and used veto power to ensure that only the very best material and performances would be released.
In addition to the songwriting process of the writers and producers, one of the major factors in the widespread appeal of Motown’s music was Gordy’s practice of using a highly-select and tight-knit group of studio musicians, collectively known as the Funk Brothers, to record the instrumental or “band” tracks of a majority of Motown recordings.
The Motown label popularized soul music, producing artists like The Supremes (including Diana Ross), Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye. Motown artists were fastidiously groomed, dressed and choreographed for live performances. They were also trained to think, act, walk and talk like royalty, which created an elegant style of presentation long associated with the label. Motown played an important role in the integration of popular music as an African-American owned record label that achieved significant crossover success into the white popular music market.
For many decades, Motown was the highest-earning African American business in the United States. Motown had hired over 450 employees and had a gross income of $20 million by the end of 1966. From 1961 to 1971, Motown had 110 Top 10 hits.
In 1998, Gordy sold Motown to MCA. Inc. and Boston Ventures Limited partnership for $61 million.
FUBU (For Us, By Us) Clothing and Hip-Hop Apparel
Co-founded by Daymond John (now on TV’s Shark Tank) in 1992, FUBU was born when he mortgaged his own home in Hollis, Queens, New York for $100,000. With that seed money, he and his three friends and co-founders, turned half of his house into a factory and the other half into living space.
Launching the line with t-shirts and hats, the FUBU philosophy of “For Us, By Us” meant that they were designing clothes that they and their friends wanted to wear. On the weekends, John would take out the seats of his 15-passenger van, pack it full of FUBU clothing, and go to a festival to sell his wares. He’d sleep in the van, and then go to another festival.
Co-Founder Keith Perrin placed FUBU in dozens of music videos, photo shoots, concerts, TV appearances, and movies. His relationship with music artists like rapper LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige, TLC, and P. Diddy and other celebrities was the mainstay of FUBU’s marketing strategy for years.
“One of the most well-known hits we had with LL Cool J was during a Gap commercial,” John remembers. “LL was wearing a pair of Gap jeans and a Gap shirt, but he was somehow able to sport one of our hats during the commercial. Then during his thirty-second freestyle rap, he looks directly into the camera and says, ‘For Us, By Us, on the low.’ No one at Gap, nor any of their ad execs, thought anything of it. It wasn’t until a month later that someone at the Gap found out, pulled the commercial, and fired a whole bunch of people after they had spent about $30 million running this campaign.”
By 1998, FUBU’s reached its peak with sales over $350 million USD. Not surprisingly, FUBU clothing eventually crossed over, and could be seen worn by pop stars and boy bands such as N’Sync (including Justin Timberlake).
By 2003, FUBU left the U.S. market completely – except for its footwear division – and built business in Europe and Asia. To date, over 5,000 stores have carried the FUBU collection and more than $6 billion in merchandise has been sold at retail.
Black businesses that target a black clientele can be successful, even lucrative.
Nurturing your audience builds brand loyalty
Don’t be afraid to bootstrap your online business from home.
Consistent Effort and Hustle produces sales
At the recent 90th annual Academy Awards, Best Actress winner Frances McDormand ended her speech by calling for Inclusion Riders. An Inclusion Rider is a clause actors put into their contracts to ensure gender and racial equality on movie sets, as a solution for improving diversity in Hollywood. Black Panther actor Michael B. Jordan quickly adopted an Inclusion Rider for his production company. In professional sports, the NFL has the Rooney Rule, an NFL-wide commitment to considering people of color for head coaching positions.
More fashion designers are requesting diverse representation in fashion shows and marketing campaigns. Support from allies is crucial when it comes to standing up for diversity, and it’s also important for black bloggers to understand, as well as flex whatever influence that they have.
As a black blogger, you can adopt your own “Inclusion Rider” strategy on your blog, highlighting black designers, stylists, and other businesses that support diversity and inclusion.
Black Shopping Power & Influence
Note the power of black readers, influencers, and consumers:
While African Americans make up just 14% of the population, we are responsible for some $1.2 trillion in purchases annually. A Nielson study showed that African Americans have cornered the ethnic hair and beauty market, ringing up $54 million of the $63 million total industry spend in 2017. But marketers should find it interesting that Black consumers aren’t just spending on products created specifically to appeal to them. In fact, in terms of sheer dollars, African Americans spent considerably more money in the general beauty marketplace last year. Black shoppers spent $473 million in total hair care (a $4.2 billion industry) and made other significant investments in personal appearance products, such as grooming aids ($127 million out of $889 million) and skin care preparations ($465 million out of $3 billion).
Furthermore, Black consumer choices have a ‘cool factor’ that creates a halo effect, influencing not just consumers of color, but the mainstream as well.
A Simmons Market Research study discovered that Blacks are the most fashion-conscious of all racial and ethnic groups. In fact, 34 percent of black consumers say they like to keep up with changes in trends and fashion. Blacks are the most likely of all groups to be willing to travel an hour or more to shop at their favorite store and almost twice as likely as the average consumer to go out of their way to find new stores.
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll discovered that Black teens are more likely to use certain social media platforms—especially those designed and optimized for mobile use—and to use Instagram and Snapchat more frequently than white teens. Black teens are also particularly connected to messaging apps. They are also more enthusiastic about video chatting and live streaming video.
Black shoppers spend billions of dollars annually in beauty and fashion.
Black consumers are purveyors of “cool” which often influences mainstream culture, not the other way around.
Black Blogger Blueprint for Blog Excellence
Be Unapologetically Black
To quote Oprah, “Self-esteem comes from being able to define the world in your own terms and refusing to abide by the judgments of others.” Be who you are, and shrink for no one.
Develop a Specialty/Find Your Niche
Consider specializing in a particular style that you and your brand can be known for. You can focus on curvy women, corporate wear, styling an outfit multiple ways, etc. Choose something that you’re excited to blog about all year round, and create your own audience.
Support Each Other on Social Media
- Shout out other black bloggers, stylists and designers on your blog
- Follow, Like, Comment, Repost their comments
- Do “Shout Out for Shout Outs” with Instagrammers with similar following size as yours
- Do Instagram Story Takeovers with other black influencers
Support Black Businesses & Business Owners
Feature black designers, stylists, beauty supply stores, manufacturers, etc. whenever possible. Support other black folks, and the people who support us.
Honor Black Girl Magic
Black Girl Magic is REAL. We have something intangible and intriguing about who we are. We do not need our beauty standards dictated upon by people who don’t look like us. We have the power to decide for ourselves what beautiful looks like. Use it 24/7.
Do Your Research
Visit the websites of the fashion designers that you enjoy wearing, and pay attention to their use of people of color in their campaigns, as well as behind the scenes.
Bloycott or Blogcott Companies Lacking Diverse Models
Avoid wearing clothes from designers who don’t use people of color in their marketing and shows. If you absolutely have to include a particular piece of clothing from your collection, simply don’t mention or tag them. If someone asks, tell them it was a gift from your Aunt Carla. #bloycott #blogcott
Call Folks Out On Social Media When Necessary
If you feel compelled to give social media a piece of your mind, use the #blogcott or #bloycott hashtags so that those who are researching can find you. But don’t be passive- aggressive about it. Also take the time to publish a blog post that explains your viewpoint in full.
Hold Clothing Exchanges
Refusing to wear the same outfit after being tagged in it on social media leads to 11 billion pounds of clothing waste each year. Why not swap and share clothing with other fashion bloggers and DIY fashionistas? This helps everyone refresh their wardrobe without spending money – or adding to landfills.
Start a Blog on Your Own Domain
Having your own home on the web builds authority for your brand. Your words, your pics, your links, are like votes sent out into the Internet. Your content will live forever – somewhere – and they may come to the rescue to someone looking for an answer that only you can provide.
Publish a Blog Post
If you want to write a blog post, but aren’t ready for a website of your own, you can open a free account on WordPress.com. This will provide an online place to put your words and pics as you develop your writing voice. You can also offer to write a guest blog for bloggers who seek outside content. Whether or not you have an established blog, you can also share your blog posts on a curated site like Medium.com
Aim for Blog Excellence
- Blog consistently
- Seek inspiration from successful Influencers, But BE YOU
- Take great photos. Get quality digital camera, although iPhone works well too.
- Unsplash.com and SheBold.com offer stock photos of people of color.
- Create a Brand by using consistent colors and fonts.
- Proofread for spelling and links.
- Learn Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques to attract blog traffic.
Build Your Own Email List
Building your business on someone else’s website is digital sharecropping. Having lots of followers on social media is not the same as having a list of people who have given you their email address. An email list is the one thing that you own and control. While social networks all use algorithms to determine who sees your content, an email list enables you to reach your fans instantly, and build a stronger relationship with them. If/when you decide to create a product, conversion rates for email are higher than social media.
Promote Each Blog Post on Social Media
For each blog post that you write, create multiple sized images that can be shared on various social networks (Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc) by your readers.
Apropriators Gon’ Appropriate
Black culture has a history of being caricatured and exploited for the enjoyment and profit of white audiences. The Amos ‘n’ Andy radio show, which ran from 1928 until 1960, featured two main characters living in Harlem, was written and voiced by two white actors. In 1927, the very first “talkie” movie, The Jazz Singer, featured Al Jolson, whose character left his Jewish upbringing to become a jazz singer who performed in blackface.
Don’t worry about the “culture vultures” who borrow because they can’t create themselves. Instead, focus on what you can control. Keep innovating. “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” – Maya Angelou
Create a Digital Product
Sponsored posts aren’t the only way to create income. You can transform your knowledge and expertise into an ebook, online course, DIY sewing pattern, sheet music, stock photos, and other digital products that can create passive income 24/7.
For Our Allies:
If you aren’t black, and would like to help further the cause of diversity, your involvement is also needed and appreciated:
- Speak up on our behalf when things don’t look or smell right.
- Adopt Inclusion Policies, publically or personally.
- Please don’t touch our hair without our permission.
“What It’s Really Like to Be Black and Work in Fashion”
“How The Blogging Industry Continues To Fail Black Women”
“Bloggers & Body Image: Are We Helping Or Hurting Ourselves?”
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf’s Wikipedia Page
“Meet the Woman Behind “Black Girls Who Blog”
“Let’s Talk About It: Diversity in Fashion”
“White, Slim & Pretty! But What About Me?”
“Afropunk Street Style Continues to Be Unmatched”
“The True Story Of How Afropunk Turned A Message Board Into A Movement”
Madam CJ Walker’s Wikipedia Page
Motown Records’ Wikipedia Page
FUBU’s Wikipedia Page
“What is an Inclusion Rider? Frances McDormand’s Oscars Speech Explained“
“Michael B. Jordan Adopts an Inclusion Rider for His Company”
“Hey, Hollywood: It’s Time to Adopt the NFL’s Rooney Rule — for Women”
“raceAhead: A New Nielsen Report Puts Black Buying Power at $1.2 Trillion”
“Race, Ethnicity, and the Way We Shop“
“Instagram and Snapchat are Most Popular Social Networks for Teens; Black Teens are Most Active on Social Media, Messaging Apps”
How the Fashion Industry is Ripe for Disruption
“Unfashionably Late: How Digital is Disrupting the Fashion Industry“
“5 Ways to Reduce Clothing Waste”
“Beyoncé and Lamar Show What it Means to Be ‘Unapologetically Black'”
“Why Email Marketing Is More Effective Than Social Media”
Amos ‘n’ Andy’s Wikipedia Page
The Jazz Singer Wikipedia Page
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