May 10, 2018
Perfectly styled and ahead of her time, Jeanette Johnson was a Midwest farm girl turned style maven for the everyday woman at a time when mainstream media dominated the fashion scene. Read on to see how social has changed the life of a professional blogger and to find out what a fashion blogger really does.
Before Instagram, and the ubiquity of fashion-related amateur personalities, there were fashion blogs. In all likelihood, the origins of fashion bloggers can be traced back to 2004 when one of the original personal style websites called StyleDiary.net was founded by Patricia Handschiegel and then sold a few years later. This is an amazing feat given the state-of-the-net back then. Myspace was in early days and mobile was nonexistent.
The platform was still in its infancy when Jeanette Johnson launched J’s Everyday Fashion. Originally, it was a side project at the recommendation of one of her full-time jobs’ co-workers. She began to share personal style tips for the everyday girl on her Facebook page. In the back of her mind, her assumption was that it wouldn’t go anywhere …
Wait, you know what would make this story truly remarkable? If there was a big bad recession going on and she lost her job, so she went “all in” on the hobby, and it all worked out, and she became super successful, and then she got featured on my blog so that I could make a crazy run-on sentence to add drama.
Yep, that all happened!
I was very excited when Jeanette agreed to the interview. It was the first time that I would be interviewing someone in this space and so many questions swirled in my mind. What’s it like to be an established fashion blogger? Has your ‘why’ changed? What’s in store for the future?
Bloggers, and social micro-bloggers, will either nod their head in agreement and take away key lessons in this interview! Enjoy.
[Setting: If you’ve been following OR then you’ve noticed a recurring theme: there is no theme when it comes to where I interview. In this case, we agreed to meet at East End Market in the Audubon Park neighborhood of Orlando. BTW, when you next stop by the market check out my friend Tonda’s cheese shop.]
Dean: So, I have to tell you, here’s the only fashion thing that I have talked about on my blog, so far. In every interview, I’m wearing this [leather] jacket because it’s my only memorable schtick. I wanted to tell you that my wife talked me into going to Dechoes [vintage resale store] and I didn’t want to go. As soon as I walk in there, I see this jacket. It’s made in 1976, I put it on, and it’s like tailor-made for me. And it was $25. Meant to be, right?
Jeanette: That’s amazing!
Dean: I grabbed it off the rack and I’ve worn it ever since. My wife brings it up every time that I didn’t want to go [both laugh] so this is the only fashion thing that I’m going to mention about myself today.
Jeanette: How did you know what year it was made?
Dean: It has a label and I looked it up online. It was made in Spain and within a year of my birthday, so I just felt this connection with it.
Jeanette: I love that.
Dean: Okay, so I have a question to ask you because I don’t know why, but this is one of those like fashion blogger things that was in the back of my mind that I have to ask.
Jeanette: Please do.
Dean: So when you go out of the house …
Jeanette: He’s still going to fix my hair, I’m sorry. He knows this so well …
[Our photographer, Josh, comes over to adjust Jeanette’s hair. I know, what a hands-on guy, right? I kid. Josh is actually Jeanette’s husband! This is why I called him “our” photographer for this blog only. Catch that?]
Dean: Like little hand signals?
Jeanette: Okay, so when I leave the house …
Dean: Yes, so I get scrubby sometimes on the weekends, right? When you leave the house, do you feel this pressure to dress with intention every time you leave the house because you don’t know who you’re going to run into?
Jeanette: That’s a great question. Yes and no. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t feel that pressure completely, but everything about my blog is sort of meant to reveal the entire process of fashion. I post things that I think were fails and I really view fashion more as an art form … You know, you don’t want to paint every day, know what I mean? I feel the same way about fashion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the grocery store in workout gear and no makeup and have been recognized. I sort of felt myself immediately start to apologize, like I’m so sorry I don’t look like me, and then I realized this is real. This is what real women do and that is what my brand is all about and what my blog is meant to explore is the ‘real fashion’ or what I call ‘putting your pants on one leg at a time.’ And so in some ways, I definitely give myself permission to run around … I think you called it scrubby? I’m all for scrubby! [both laughing]
Dean: Maybe that can be a post, like ‘Everyday Scrub.’ So, why did you start your blog?
A lot of it is very city-centric …
Jeanette: I started my blog because I sort of felt like fashion journalism just wasn’t for somebody like me. I felt like I loved fashion magazines in a way, but it just didn’t answer the practical things I needed answered and it didn’t help me with being on a budget and how do you spend that really small budget and what does life look like for someone who lives in the suburbs? A lot of it is very city-centric and it just doesn’t make a lot of sense for your real life, so when I heard about the idea of a blog, I thought, “Well this is genius.” This is the democratization of communication and now anyone can talk about it, so why don’t we hear from a very different viewpoint, which is a girl who grew up in farmland Kansas and has no idea what she’s doing when it comes to fashion, but really enjoys it and why don’t I start blogging that story because I would love to see that so I felt like somebody else would like to see it, too.
Dean: Was this around 2010 when you started?
Jeanette: Yes, 2010.
Dean: How has your mission changed since then? Or I guess I should ask has it changed? I’m making the assumption that it’s changed.
Jeanette: Yeah, it has changed a little bit because in 7.5 years, just authentically, you change as a person. That’s a long time. I’ve learned a lot. It started to shift slightly because in the beginning, budget fashion was so much of the focus and it still is by all accounts. However, I sort of started to realize as I learned more about fair trade and the environment, and I watched the True Cost documentary and realized that it was consumers like me who were pushing for lower prices that have sort of gotten us into this issue now where clothes are cheaper now than they were 20 years ago. So while I’m certainly not going to be buying luxury brands anytime soon, at the same time, I sort of just shifted a little bit. I think that also goes along with getting older because as you get older, you start to crave things that will last a long time and you sort of trust your own taste and you think that I can invest in something that’s $300 and not feel strange about it. With that said, my clothing budget is the same. It’s been the same for ten years. It’s $250 a month.
Dean: Not adjusted for inflation or anything?
Jeanette: No, not adjusted for inflation yet, maybe someday I’ll get my big girl raise. Not adjusted for inflation because I do wind up with free things due to my career and so the way that I look at it is that I’m already getting more than that and there’s no reason to increase it.
Oh, but, so I guess the other part of that is that I wrote a book, which is a very big departure for me. My blog is, by design, fashion fluff. It’s meant to be the lighter side of fashion and positive and uplifting and just a super fun place and I came out with a book a few months ago that is a philosophical discussion and a lot of that is through the lens of faith, which is once again not something that I normally talk about on my blog, so I just felt personally that it was a conversation that I was dying to have and not one that we really see very often. So that’s just sort of the way it’s changing, too.
Dean: It’s evolved with you.
Jeanette: It has, a personal brand tends to, right?
Dean: I have another sort of philosophical question for you, too. Who is your customer? Is it brands or people?
Jeanette: Definitely people. Definitely the everyday woman, which is reflected in the title. It’s meant to also reflect that I am the everyday woman talking about it, not from a place of, you know, a fashion editor in New York, but just an everyday woman writing about everyday women for everyday women. I don’t think that’s changed. I think that’s the same.
..it really has sort of fractured the audience..
Dean: Now, since you started, social has changed a lot.
Jeanette: Oh my God, yeah, it’s changed like five times over. [laughs]
Dean: So I want to know how have you adapted with social? Does it help accentuate the blog, is the blog now a part of a bigger thing? What has social done to your overall trajectory?
Jeanette: You know it really has sort of fractured the audience I think because now, a lot of people aren’t as interested in reading on the blog and they just get their content on social, so I prefer to use it as a way to send people back to the blog just because I want to give you all the information. That’s maybe my personality or I just want you to see the whole thing, I want you to see the entire outfit, I want you to have all the links to shop it, see all of the thoughts in full detail, but you have to sort of be willing to realize that people are only going to get what they get in that one moment and to try to approach each audience differently on each social platform and realize that it’s a standalone piece. I’m preaching to myself right now because it’s something that I could work on.
Dean: Hey, you know, self-fulfilling prophecies. Sometimes if you talk about it enough … I was wondering also when social started changing a lot, did you find it to be an opportunity or a threat to the blog?
Jeanette: I think, for the most part, we view it as an opportunity. I mean, the thing about being an influencer is that you have to be willing to roll with the punches and you have to recognize that your social accounts are essentially not your own. You’re never going to own them fully, but you own the blog.
Dean: This is part of the reason why I started this [blog] as well …
Jeanette: Yeah, so it’s important to be flexible enough with that, but at the same time, some of the changes have been incredibly frustrating. The algorithm changes of Facebook, specifically, were heartbreaking, to be honest, and you work really hard to build an audience there and then they’re telling you that you no longer have access to them in sort of what feels like a landlord who is bullying you in a way. I don’t like the approach to it very much. And so we started to focus more on email signups, I’d always had the email list, but I’d never really pushed it and so … you have to be flexible and willing to roll with it. I would never stop doing social media, but at the same time, there’s pros and cons and you have to kind of be wise with what you’re picking and choosing, I think.
Dean: So after reading parts of your blog, I noticed that there was a recurring theme where you can tell that you love what you do. So, you know, we were just talking about entrepreneurship and everything and I’m about 10 years into my business and there have been so many times that I’ve wanted to quit. Actually, one of my blogs that I was just writing was about that. And so, I wanted to know … and I’m sure there were times since 2010 where you might have hit certain dead ends and had challenges … What has motivated you to keep going?
…I would be running around looting mannequins and making outfits.
Jeanette: I love that question because I think it all boils down to … I love the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, who so eloquently puts her relationship with writing and her creative craft. She has an awesome relationship with it and I love it, but Stephen Pressfield in the War of Art says that if you’re the last person on earth, what would you do or would you still do it, rather. He says Arnold Schwarzenegger would still be in the gym, Stevie Wonder would be playing the piano, and for me, I realized that I would be running around looting mannequins and making outfits. I would just be having the time of my life and there’s something that is so sacred about that to me that it doesn’t matter if anybody is watching or reading, it doesn’t matter if anybody else likes it. I call it ‘the audacity to enjoy myself’ because I don’t blog about fashion from a place of thinking that I’m good at it or that people should follow what I say, it just comes from a place of enjoyment, from this completely pure excitement about the art form of getting dressed. And so no matter what happens, the hard days … no matter what happened in my life, I would still be doing that so I might as well share it, too. I would already be doing the base of it, so the blogging part is just the decision to share that art, which also comes naturally to any artist, right? If you’re making art, usually at some point you put it on display or you share it with a friend and so, it’s like I would always be doing this so I might as well share it with people, too.
Dean: Have you seen that internet meme, it’s an old meme, that shows what people think I do, what my family thinks I do, what I think I do, what I actually do? What do you actually do as a fashion blogger?
Jeanette: Hmmm, it’s a good question.
Dean: What would be in that bubble there because you know people are thinking it’s like not much work and all glam and taking pictures, but what’s the gritty part? What’s the work part that maybe people are missing?
..the people who think that I’m J.Lo would be surprised to hear..
Jeanette: Well, it’s funny because the ‘what do people think I do’ would be very split in that some people tend to think it’s like you’re like J.Lo, you’re off on a jet somewhere and your life is amazing and perfect and you’re so famous and all this … and the other half tend to, no matter what happens, they just don’t believe you’re successful. They’ll literally comment and say things like quit kidding yourself, we know you’re not making any money from this. And you’re sort of like, okay … What’s funny is that I think both of those extremes aren’t really correct. I think that it really lies somewhere in the middle in that the people who think that I’m J.Lo would be surprised to hear that I’m in my pajamas working on my computer and it’s not glamorous and it’s a ton of work. Fame and blogging, in general, is so fractured, right? There’s a lot of people who follow and know who I am, but there are more people who don’t, of course. And on the other side, it is sort of glamorous at times, maybe more glamorous than they realize, it just depends. It’s really a mix of both. So, it just depends on whose impression you’re dealing with, both extremes don’t quite nail it.
Dean: If you were starting a blog online today, full-time, and it wasn’t your current blog and you had to start today with not many resources, what would that business look like to you?
Jeanette: I think I would probably start with the same principle in mind, which is to try to invent something new and not recreate the wheel and identify what voice is missing from fashion, or whatever subject it was going to be, and to fill that hole. What’s funny is I say that and my blog now seems like a dime a dozen. There are literally thousands of blogs along the same lines, but when I started, I didn’t know of any that were even remotely similar. This was years before Pinterest, years before Instagram, and even the idea of just a regular person putting outfits of themselves on the internet, I didn’t know where to find that. Actually, a lot of people started around the same time I did, which is really cool because I do think that a lot of times in the world, everyone kind of gets the same idea and it’s really cool to watch that and be a part of that movement. But now, it’s just not that unique, which would be the number one thing. I’d be thinking what voice is missing and how do I approach that and fill that hole. I always think about what would I like to read that’s not out there and then go create that, which is really what birthed my book, to be honest.
Dean: You mentioned earlier that everyday people are your customer. Do you view kind of yourself as your own customer? Do you create for yourself and then whatever segment identifies with that?
Jeanette: Yes, I think I’m almost like fiercely protective of the idea that I am on the same level as everyone who is reading and in some ways, I’m sure that is great for some people, but it’s almost an impediment sometimes to success because a lot of bloggers blog from this position of ‘I am up here and I am someone to look up to’ and sort of position themselves in a different way and they don’t really respond to comments. For me, I will always be that girl from the farmland in Kansas and I will always be the everyday woman and it doesn’t matter how many people read my blog so I definitely still follow that.
Dean: Now this is totally off the top of your head, but what would you say has been your most successful post or like social object that you’ve created? I use the phrase social object loosely.
Jeanette: You know, I actually think it’s a post I did, I believe in 2013, and it was about being bullied. What’s funny is that people now will still come up to me and it’s the first thing they bring up even though it’s been awhile. I mean, I totally understand that because my blog is fashion fluff. I don’t really share a ton of personal stuff and so, it was very vulnerable and personal in nature and something about that post very much resonated with people. It’s a very long post and so, yeah, I think maybe because it was such an intimate look into my world. I was going to first say that my post on how to set a clothing budget is the most popular, and it is, but it’s not something that would resonate with someone deeply and they would come up to me and be like that post on how to set a clothing budget really changed my life. [laughs] It’s more just informational and it’s popular because people Google that, but I think there’s probably a lesson to be learned there about sharing and authenticity.
Avante Garde spin on classics…
Dean: I have a question about the future of fashion. Do you think that we’re going to continue to recycle retro things and tweak them or do you envision a future that gets really Avante Garde and weird, which is the future I’m expecting? Or maybe I’ve been watching too many movies for too long about what the future is supposed to look like. What do you think?
Jeanette: It is possible to have both. We could have an Avante Garde spin on classics, but yeah, I’m sure it will look totally different. I agree. I’ll be running around in Star Trek outfits or who even knows. If we’re in flying cars, that might change what footwear we’re allowed to wear, for example. And the technology in fashion sector is blowing up, so that right there, even thinking about how much watches have changed in the last two years. I had a watch when I first started blogging that was analog and it was so popular and everyone kind of had it and now, I think people are buying digital watches that look analog. There’s the whole crossover right now. Will we ever go back to that? Probably not, so there’s so much that can be affected by … now we have belts that have technology and now we’re wearing shirts that have … I mean, who knows.
Dean: It’s funny that I’m meeting with you one of the only days that I’m not wearing a wooden watch. I almost always wear one of those wooden watches. My wife got me a couple and literally every day that I wear them, someone is going to mention something just because it’s different, I guess. It’s a little bit more remarkable than my usual watch.
Jeanette: Now you need a wooden watch with a digital face.
Dean: I always have my FitBit on. I don’t know, I always have two things. It feels awkward, but I just do it. Okay, who is your professional hero?
Jeanette: Well, my style hero is Iris Apfel. She’s 96 years old now, I think. I just love the way she does style. Professionally …
Dean: Any bloggers out there that you would say are your hero or maybe not even a blogger, maybe in general, who is your hero?
Jeanette: I used to, in the beginning, my elevator pitch was that I was the Rachael Ray of fashion because I love that she doesn’t have any professional training in food and that her thing very much is the practical side of food, right? She’s not a chef telling us how to do something that’s way above our budgets or time constraints, she’s someone who is really in the trenches and helping you make food practical so I think that she’s definitely somebody that I would model my career after.
Dean: Somebody audacious enough to say hey, I have a perspective on this that I want to share.
Jeanette: Yes, from the everyday person perspective to an everyday person. Exactly.
Dean: So if you could put your humility aside for a second, what makes you outrageously remarkable?
Jeanette: Can my husband answer that question for me? [laughs]
Dean: No, this is a question that you got to look at it from the third person. Nobody likes answering this question, but you know what, I like asking it.
Jeanette: A very good uncomfortable question. Um, I think probably my willingness to go against the status quo. You know, from day one, it was all fashion media looks like this and I’m willing to put something out that’s different. There’s a conversation that we really need to be having about fashion even though it goes against the status quo, I think we should put that out. It’s a bit of a respectful rebellion that I somehow managed to master and maybe inspire people to do the same.
So you’re completely boring to mainstream…
Dean: What media out there for you represents the status quo?
Jeanette: In fashion, I think there’s kind of three main groups that we’ve identified. There’s mainstream fashion, which usually tells us that a woman’s appearance is the most important thing about her and they really try to get you to spend all of your time and money chasing this ideal that doesn’t exist. Then you have the minimalist movement, which sort of tries to tell you not to care about your appearance at all based on things like caring about the environment and fair trade, you know, very good moral reasons for bucking mainstream, but they kind of take it to the extreme where you shouldn’t care about it at all, right? And then another one for me personally would be religion, where they also tell you that you shouldn’t care about it or that you shouldn’t spend any time on it, but from a very different reason, which is just to say that it’s vain, superficial, you should be helping others. Ultimately, there are two extremes, which is spend all your time on it and don’t spend any time on it at all. [Dean laughs] I actually just wrote an article on my blog last week about that because what’s interesting is that I really think there’s so much grey area in the middle that we should feel completely free to explore as women, but being in the middle is often the hardest or the most controversial place to be because in essence, you’re upsetting both sides. You’re not quite mainstream, but you’re a little bit vain, and then you’re caring about it too much. So you’re completely boring to mainstream and they’re rolling their eyes because you’re irrelevant and then the other side is just horrified at how you’re spending time and money on this. It’s insane because the middle is what we should be talking about, but most of the media and the messaging out there come from one or the other.
Dean: I never thought of it that way. That’s really cool. I never thought about those three positions from that perspective. Okay, so I’m a self-proclaimed amateur blogger. I guess this interview will probably be coming out as the blog is getting close to a year. Any tips for me? Drop some knowledge on me so that I can get it written down and I can look back on it and soak in it.
Jeanette: My advice is that having a passion for what you’re doing is the thing that’s going to get you over anything else. So if your website crashes, if Facebook shuts down your page, if you write something that winds up being controversial and you have a million trolls on your page … the thing that will get you through those tough times is definitely sort of having your own little protective bubble around it and that you have a relationship with that and that you enjoy it. It’s meaningful to you and it brings meaning to your life. There’s a part of it that sort of always has to be passion project worthy no matter what happens because you can monetize and you can have all the success and all these people, and as long as you’ve got that relationship and it’s healthy, then it just sort of is a buffer for anything good or bad that happens to it.
Dean: That kind of reminds me of what Seth Godin has said many, many times and that’s just ‘that’s who it’s for.’ Everybody else, they’re just visiting temporarily.
Jeanette: He summarized it way better than I did. That’s a great way to put it. [laughs] I love that quote. I need to read that particular book.
Dean: Thank you so much, Jeanette!
Jeanette: Thank you.
Check out Jeanette’s website “J’s Everyday Fashion” for more fashion tips.
Pics at East End Market by Joshua Johnson! Check out his photography work here.
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