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Back To Basics: Confessions Of A Fashion Blogger

Let me be the first to tell you that being a fashion blogger is not all the glitz and glamour that it appears to be.

Human Interest

Let me be the first to tell you that being a fashion blogger is not all the glitz and glamour that it appears to be. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of perks to being an influencer, from the free clothes to event invitations to being in the same room and connecting with fashion's cool kids.

There are, also, a lot of sleepless nights spent plotting, planning, and producing. So, why do it, you may ask? Because the reward is so much greater than the risk and the work. Let me tell you about how I look forward to Mondays now. For the first time in my life, I'm doing something that I actually, dare I say it, enjoy!

Almost nine years of my life was spent building a very dry career as an Engineer in Corporate America. After obtaining a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Howard University (Aww HU!), I obtained what most considered a "good job". The paycheck was great, the benefits were amazing, I had three or more weeks of paid vacation but I was 100% and absolutely miserable. It was the very essence of square peg round hole!

A few weeks after celebrating a pretty monumental birthday in Paris and Rome, I had a very real come-to-Jesus moment in my life. Someone very close to me had a completely unexpected near death experience. The realization that death can come at any moment has a funny way of shifting your perspective on life. About a month or so after breaking down, jumping on plane last minute, and braving through the severity of the situation, I got a knock on my door. Life showed up and asked me, “Are you going to continue to be miserable or are you going to try to turn this thing around? It's your choice."

A huge part of who you are is how you react to moments of adversity. That situation forced me to be more involved with the direction of my life. I did not have to keep showing up at that job, looking at those gray walls and being stationed at that cubicle for hours doing work that gave me not one ounce of joy. I actually had the power to change it.

I did, however, have to figure out how the bills were going to get paid because they don't stop showing up just because you've had your “Aha" moment. I spent a few more years working and simultaneously building the foundation for my personal style blog, The Werk! Place.

Along this process of continuing to walk in my purpose and getting these bills paid, I've learned a few key lessons:

Lesson #1: It Will Take Some Time Before You Are Paid For Your Work

I learned very quickly as an influencer that just because you've invested time, energy, money and resources into your craft, doesn't mean that people want to pay you for it. You may have to do some a lot of work pro bono.

Starting out, not one person is going to be familiar with your brand, work ethic, or finished product, so you're going to have to show them what you're werking with! Find the right contacts, do the werk and build the portfolio. Once you've shown the consistency and quality needed to sustain your business, then you have the tools necessary to ask for what you deserve.

Lesson #2: Your Network Is Your Net Worth

I'll be honest, I still struggle with this one a little bit. I absolutely hate asking people to connect me to a person, event, or a project. I will do everything in my power to try to get what I need before I go to someone else for the plug. Just know, If I'm asking for help, I've exhausted the possibilities on my own. One day, I'll spend some time on someone's couch and get to the root of it all.

As of late, I'm learning that some people are placed into your life to be vessels. They are meant to take you to a level that you can't reach on your own. So get out there and network at events, mingle with other influencers, publicists and brands on social media, and utilize the network you've already built. Once you reveal to others what you are trying to do, you'd be surprise at how many people are willing to help you get there.

Lesson #3: You Have To Be Your Own Publicist

As an influencer, it goes down in the inbox (and sometimes the DM). If it's set up well, the site and the accompanying social media channels can serve as a living resume. Brands will reach out for collaborations based on what they see online.

Brands were reaching out but they were not always brands that I wanted to align with The Werk! Place. I had to be more active about seeking out the companies that I genuinely enjoyed to create organic partnerships.

I put on my Public Relations hat and called on my best friend Google to create a media kit that would represent my aesthetic. Shortly after I sent it out to potential partners I wanted to work with, it lead to projects that made more sense for my brand.

Lesson #4: You Will Have To Put The Balance Back Into Werk/Life Balance

When you've finally started to enjoy what you do, your brain will always be churning with ideas. You will find that you can literally work for seven days straight if it were not for needing sleep and taking showers.

I learned that while that sounds good in theory, in practice, you can't be very productive if you work all the time. You will burn out and begin to despise what you do. You have to give your body and mind time to rest. I've gotten some of my best ideas in the middle of a run or in the car on the way to an event. Take a break, live a little.

Lesson #5: You Can't Be A Jack or Jill Of All Trades All The Time

I'm pretty independent and have prided myself on being able to do all of the things at the same time all by myself. I mean, my favorite bible verse and one that I repeat several times throughout the day is Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!" As a small business owner, you're going to have to wear many hats (like all of them). You are going to have to be your own accountant, publicist, manager, assistant, social media manager, and so forth until you start bringing in enough income to hire on people to help you. You'll soon figure out, however, that in order to stay ahead of the game, you're going to have to eventually outsource and delegate some of those tasks.

So much of my time has been spent on the business of blogging that, at times, the actual blogging gets left behind. How Sway?! If you can get someone to manage more of the business, social media scheduling or accounting, you can actually get back to the core of the business.

Lesson #6: Scared Money Doesn't Make Any Money

When I started out as a Personal Style Blogger back in 2012, I set myself up pretty well. Due to my certifiable shopping addiction, I had the clothes, shoes and accessories to create the looks necessary for three years' worth of blog posts. However, I wasn't completely prepared for the other business expenses that I would incur.

If you are going to be successful as an influencer, you will absolutely without a doubt have to invest money into your brand. Your site design, domain name, logo, trademark, (hair, makeup, manicure, pedicure --if your brand is based off of your personal appearance), business cards, thank you notes, media kit, accounting software and continuing education courses will all be valid expenses when starting up your business. Before the companies start blowing up your inbox and sending packages to your P.O. Box, you will have to be your own biggest supporter and sponsor.

These are some of the biggest lessons I've learned during my time as a fashion brand, and tidbits I wish I had known ahead of time.

For more style tips and advice on starting your own fashion brand, follow @tiffanymbattle on Instagram.

Originally published April 13, 2018

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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