(from November 5 2004, via the wayback machine)
One of the AMA’s recently was about my “job” and if I worked outside of the blog. I haven’t worked outside of Grechen’s Closet since I quit everything else and made it my full time job in 2006.
But here’s the WHOLE story…
In 2004 I started Grechen’s Closet as an online “magazine” featuring outfit pictures (with my head cut off) and a designer database. I was inspired to start the designer database after searching for a particular Ella Moss dress online and being frustrated there wasn’t a better way. So I created it myself.
When I started, I was working as the Director of Business Development for the Israeli Economic Mission in Atlanta. I was managing our office at that time, and responsible for helping Israeli companies work with Southeastern US companies, get venture funding, find customers, etc. I had been doing that since 1998 and was finding it less and less fulfilling, so I worked on Grechen’s Closet on the side, just as a hobby, never hoping to take it anywhere.
By 2005 Grechen’s Closet had become rather successful and was making money from selling advertising and a little from affiliate commissions, so I planned on quitting the Economic Office full-time and continue to consult for a US-Israel R&D fund, allocating more time to Grechen’s Closet.
Then, I got divorced suddenly. I lost the financial support of my husband’s income, but I stuck to the plan and quit my full-time job anyway. In 2006 was able to quit the part-time consulting gig and only focus on Grechen’s Closet. Once my health coverage via Cobra ran out from my ex-husband I started working at Starbucks again part time (I’d worked at Starbucks off and on before) for the health insurance benefits.
A year or so after that I was making enough money to get health insurance independently (I never went without insurance) so I quit Starbucks and have never had a second “job” since.
Great, but how exactly do you make money from a BLOG?
A few months after I started, my first advertiser approached me. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I came up with a pricing structure I thought made sense and away I went. After a while I had more demand for advertising than I could keep up with, so I increased my prices and had a waiting list.
At the same time, I started working with affiliate companies (back in the day it was CJ, Linkshare, share a sale, and now it’s almost exclusively reward style – if a link is rstyle, that’s an affiliate link) so I could make commissions off things I linked to that my readers purchased. It took a long time to start making much money from those, but I was linking to things I was wearing/buying/shopping for anyway, so I used affiliate links whenever I could and started earning commissions from sales.
I displayed google ads also, and those made really good money for a while, and then fizzled out, so I stopped using them. I also didn’t like them aesthetically, and a few times, I was frustrated by the content they displayed.
I decided early on that I wanted to work with independent designers I liked, so I started reviewing items they would send me. I selected an item, or items, to review and would wear it, photograph it, use it, and then give my honest review. I never tried to take money for doing those, my only “payment” was the item to review. I thought it was a win/win for me and the designer: I got product and content, and they got exposure for not a lot of initial outlay. And they got A LOT of exposure.
When bloggers started doing sponsored posts (paid posts, basically), I refused. Getting paid for a post, to write about something in a positive way, didn’t feel right to me at all, so I didn’t do it. I tried one with Rebecca Minkoff once, but it felt ALL WRONG, so I didn’t do anymore.
I know that’s a point of contention among bloggers (something non-bloggers are probably not aware of), and I do agree that everyone should be “paid” for their time, but I see getting “paid” in a very different way than many newer bloggers see it now.
First of all, I did a whole lot of shit for free in the beginning and worked hard doing it. You don’t just start fresh in a new industry and NOT do that. I wanted to prove my worth and create a name for myself, which I did. I never expected to make money doing this; I was so honored and grateful when I did, that I was very careful to do only what felt right to me, and never compromise my editorial integrity. If a designer or boutique was making more money off me than I was earning for my work, I was okay with that for a while. It was a learning experience, and helped me make better decisions later on. (sorry to be THAT person, but all the work I and the other OG fashion bloggers did paved the way for the new ones launching now – the ones that jump right in and feel entitled to make money from the start…)
Second, blogging wasn’t really even a thing back then and no one knew what they were doing. We just tried things and learned as we went along. After a while, I learned that advertising worked for me, and I was making more and more from affiliate commissions, so that’s what I stuck with.
Third, I struggled with what was a “fair” way to make money off a shopping blog. In my opinion, it was always by selling advertising (like magazines did), and affiliate commissions. If you’re not aware, affiliate commissions are what I earn when one of you clicks on an affiliate link on my site and then you BUY SOMETHING. I don’t earn money if you click the link, only if you buy.
There are some problems with that, because you could click my link and go to Shopbop for example, and then click on another blogger’s link thereby negating mine. So even though you clicked on mine first, I don’t get commission for that sale. I never did shopstyle links either, those are the ones that bloggers get paid for just by clicking on, not based on sales. Those were just clickbait in my opinion, and never felt right to me.
Ultimately, I really do think affiliate commissions are the best and most “fair” way to make money writing a “fashion” blog – if your readers won’t buy what you’re writing about, if they don’t trust you enough, or value your opinion enough, then you’re doing it wrong.
I worked really hard for a lot of years to build Grechen’s Closet up into a nice “business” – if you can call it that – things went really well this way for years. I was making upwards of 50k a year doing what I loved and life was good.
Then, in 2014 things shifted. I changed focus after living in Texas for a while and losing my beloved dog Ozzie. I started The Minimal Closet series chronicling my efforts to minimize my closet, buy more sustainable clothing, and overall, buy much less, so I didn’t write about shopping nearly as much as before. Now, I make less than half what I used to on both affiliate commissions and on advertising.
Haha…talk about biting the hand that feeds you! But I was SO TIRED of all the mindless shopping I and everyone else was doing, an really didn’t want to just talk about buying and shopping, and buying, and shopping anymore. So naturally, I started making less money. I also started featuring more and more designers and boutiques who don’t work with affiliate programs, so I don’t make any money at all off purchases via those links. But I didn’t think twice about the direction I chose to go in. If anything, I always do what feels right to me, and this new focus felt right to me.
Slowre supplements my decreased income from Grechen’s Closet now, but not by much (it’s really hard to make money in retail!!!), so things have changed a lot. I am grateful that Leo continues to support my work though, both financially and otherwise. I couldn’t do it without him at this moment.
It’s challenging though, and I wonder how long I’ll be able to keep it up. I will need to get my income back up soon.
I do know that I am proud of everything I’ve done these last 13 years. I have written with integrity and have always only been myself. I could have continued to make the income I did by taking sponsored posts, or using more affiliate links, but I have chosen instead to do what is right for me. And I am grateful to you for standing (or sitting, as it were LOL) alongside me while I do so.