Meet the founders of 30th & Weldon, Strangers with Style and Beaute' J'adore, some of Baltimore's most prominent fashion blogs. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun video)
Last November, BMW flew Brian Sacawa to Europe to test-drive a BMW 7 Series and photograph his adventures doing it. As a result of her robust social media following, Nikki Brooks-Revis is coming out with a pattern line under the McCall brand this month. And the blogging trio known as 30th & Weldon has teamed with national brands such as Templeton Rye and Souza 901 Tequila to produce local events.
Successful fashion bloggers are not confined to cities such as New York, Los Angeles and London. They're also flourishing right here in Baltimore.
Take Sacawa, for example. His website HeSpokeStyle.com and social media handle @hespokestyle focus on menswear. His Facebook followers, Instagram audience and monthly unique website visitors all register in the six figures, an impressive benchmark for someone who's not a celebrity. In some cases, sponsored posts earn him $3,000 to $5,000, he says. He has a staff of six, has teamed with luxury brands such as BMW and has inked deals to become a contributing editor for several luxury-centric lifestyle magazines such as The Rake and Robb Report.
He works out of his Clipper Mill apartment.
"What I like about Baltimore is that it's big enough so there is room enough for everyone to do their thing. But it's small enough for people to make an impact in a very real way," said Sacawa, who is signed with DBA, a Los Angeles-based talent agency.
Although fashion bloggers have been around for the better part of the past decade, most of the Baltimore-area crop has emerged in the past five years. They represent an array of interests: street style; men's fashion; DIY, quirky, artsy and edgy.
The majority of successful Baltimore-area fashion bloggers are in their 20s and 30s. They're digital natives who have taken advantage of available technology to localize global fashion content and disseminate it to followers in a way that reflects their unique style and taste.
Some have yet to make significant amounts of money — though some are compensated with merchandise. Others are able to make a living as a result of their social media personae and self-reported unique visitor numbers. (The bloggers we surveyed generally would not share revenue figures.)
And none of them have to make frequent trips to fashion hot spots like Los Angeles, New York and Paris. They're all able to claim stake of their own slice of the blogosphere.
Olivia Obineme runs Strangers With Style, a blog that focuses on the style of everyday people.
"This is my day job, as a part of the multimedia work I do throughout the city," said Obineme, who has 3,100 Instagram followers. "Strangers With Style is not a hobby — it's a young business that's growing, and I'm excited for what's ahead."
Established names such as Man Repeller, Bryanboy and The Blonde Salad still garner a lot of the major deals, partnerships and press in the fashion blogosphere. But this growing group of locally based personalities is attracting their own followers and fame.
Aesthetic Distance is a fashion and pop-culture-focused blog. In addition to writing all the content, Romero-Kovalsky is the photographer and creative director for the blog and social media platforms. Recent posts include instruction on how to achieve lazy style and a "Thelma and Louise"-themed fashion spread starring the founders of fellow blog 30th & Weldon.
Launched: February 2015
Sample audience: 5,500 unique visitors to the blog monthly, according to Romero-Kovalsky; 1,740 Instagram followers
Approach: "It has to be fun to read and look at," she said. "If I wouldn't want to read it myself, I'll trash the whole thing and start over. I want my readers to feel excited every time I publish a new post."
Sense of style: "I'm eclectic and overdressed," she said.
Tricks of the trade: The key is knowing her strengths on each platform. For example, she post lots of Prince GIFs and fashion inspiration on Tumblr. Slice-of-life and behind-the-scenes images and videos are saved for Snapchat. Her "editorial-worthy" photos go to Instagram. Her blog posts are sent to Facebook. She converses more with followers on Twitter.
Biggest project: "Each photo shoot gets bigger and more complicated so the answer is always, 'my next shoot,'" she said.
Style icon: Nobody. "But I've always been caught between trying to look like a '90s hip-hop honey or a Prince girl [Vanity 6 era]," she said.
What's next: "I never know when an idea will come to me, and that's sort of the magic of creating anything — that mystery and excitement," she said. "When the inspiration comes, it overtakes me, and the next thing manifests."
Day job: Public relations officer for the Katipunan of Maryland, a nonprofit that focuses on developing social and educational programs that promote Filipino culture in Maryland.
Strangers With Style
Olivia Obineme, creator and managing editor
Obineme is a Charles Village resident who has a background in multimedia and has worked for news organizations and fashion-related businesses. With a focus that incorporates street style and Humans of New York-style storytelling, Obineme homes in on sharing the sartorial stories of Baltimore.
Launched: July 2014
Sample audience: 4,000 monthly unique website visitors, according to Obineme; 3,100 Instagram followers
Approach: "Staying true to your individual attributes keeps you from fearing you are competing with everyone else," she said.
Sense of style: It varies. "I put on what I like. I like being comfortable — and that doesn't exclude heels and a tight dress … sometimes," she said.
Tricks of the trade: Obineme doesn't believe in tricks. "I do and cover what I love, working with some awesome people and do my best in putting up some awesome stuff," she said. "It's been amazing … the support from the local community and beyond."
Biggest project: Creatively Cool, a recurring feature on her blog that showcases local stylish types through engaging Q and A's. And CollaBmore, an annual event series Obineme co-founded that she hopes will become a "stepping stone" for aspiring designers and makers in Baltimore.
Style icon: "Everyday people," she said.
What's next: Obineme wants to work with companies beyond the Baltimore city lines. "That should be a grand experience," she said. "It can only make for even more awesome things to come on the site."
Fashion blog/social media idol: "I don't idolize. That word and its action can be mentally dangerous," she said. She does admire such sources as sisters Chidinma and Chuckwunonso Dureke of Nkem Life, Cheyanne Givens of WarDrobe and Lawrence Burney of True Laurels.
Day job: Full-time blogger.
30th & Weldon
Danielle George, Julie Laufer and Shae-li Liang
The trio met in 2012 while working retail at Towson Town Center. Each had previously developed individual blogs unsuccessfully; they decided to join forces. The Baltimore residents blog about food, travel, gardening and other lifestyle topics; their fashion content focuses on personal style and trends. For example, the recent post "Festival Feels" gave readers tips on how to dress for Bonnaroo, Coachella and the like.
Launched: January 2015
Sample audience: 1,120 on Instagram; 3,000 monthly uniques
Approach: The three tout their original content. "We write things that we would want to read and write through a filter of what is interesting and relevant," said Laufer. "We've thought a lot about who our reader is and we try to stay true to that voice."
Sense of style: They believe fashion is a form of self-expression. "While we all have an individual sense of style, we can all agree on a few things," Laufer said. "We believe in comfort. We like floral prints and enjoy fashion from the '90s. We tend to gravitate toward black and neutrals, even in the summer."
Tricks of the trade: Posting honest and original content is first and foremost.
"We make sure our Instagram is appealing visually," Laufer said. "Our followers recognize that we are genuine and appreciate the integrity we bring to our work."
Partnering with brands — Templeton Rye, Souza 901 Tequila, clothing company Never Elsewhere and Gundalow Juice — that are "doing big things," according to Laufer. "We make sure our partnerships are mutually beneficial — while we want to grow our own business, we make sure the people we are partnering with are able to grow as well."
Biggest project: Sunday at the Mill, an event they put on last summer with Artifact Coffee at Union Mill. The event paired vendors favored by the trio and food provided by Artifact Coffee. They've also hosted several happy hours at Blue Pit BBQ & Whiskey Bar.
Style icon: The three list such disparate names as Audrey Hepburn, RuPaul, "American Horror Story (Coven)" and Chloë Sevigny.
What's next: A second Sunday at the Mill and other collaborations this summer. They also plan to launch an online store of curated items such as candles, Baltimore prints, bottle openers and other artisanal items this month.
Fashion blog/social media idol: A Beautiful Mess, Luanna Perez-Garreaud of Le Happy, Yara Michels of Chapter Friday, Jessica Kirby of Prosecco & Plaid, Tia Newton of Four One Oh!.
Making money: Sunday at the Mill was their first opportunity to make money — all of their previous happy hours had been charity fundraisers. The three hope to profit from their online store.
Day job: All three work jobs in retail.
Nikki Brooks-Revis, founder
Brooks-Revis started the blog five months after her mother died of cancer after being diagnosed two months prior. Her mother's death made her realize how short life was. She launched the blog as a way to honor her mother's creativity and resourceful nature. Brooks-Revis' social media platforms primarily focus on DIY fashion mixed with lifestyle elements. Recent posts include how-tos on creating oversized shorts, a wide-sleeve top and a sheer cover-up.
Launched: January 2012
Sample audience: 13,400 Instagram followers
Approach: "Consistently create new content while staying true to my lifestyle and personal aesthetic," she said.
Sense of style: Classic with an edge, according to Brooks-Revis.
Tricks of the trade: "Staying consistent, engaging with followers and producing good content along with good photography," she said.
Biggest project: Producing a pattern line under the McCall brand due to launch this month.
Style icon: Miroslava Duma and Giovanna Battaglia
What's next: The Bowie resident is working to further her online presence with a DIY channel that focuses on fashion, food and home decor.
Fashion blog/social media idol: "They're too many to name one," she said.
Making money: Collaborations, advertising, sponsorships and pattern sales.
Day job: Full-time blogger
He Spoke Style
Brian Sacawa, founder
The professional musician and former elite-level bicycle racer dissects and celebrates menswear on his site, which spans from Father's Day gift guides to recaps of social soirees.
Launched: February 2013
Sample audience: 122,000 Instagram followers; 400,000 unique visitors to his blog monthly, he said.
Approach: "Inclusive, approachable aspiration," he said.
The blog and brand are about readers, according to Sacawa.
"It's not about me," he said. "To the end we always seek to provide practical style advice and to offer approachable, honest and relatable content for regular guys interested in menswear."
Sense of style: "Classic with a modern sensibility," he said.
Tricks of the trade: "Be consistent; have a unique voice and/or point of view; write well; post only high-quality photos that tell a cohesive story," he said.
Biggest project: BMW collaboration
Style icon: Giampaolo Alliata
What's next: A number of active projects. "My short-term priority in terms of growth includes adding a couple new team members to allow us to continue to expand horizontally," he said. "I've also been signed on as a contributing editor to The Rake and Robb Report."
Fashion blog/social media idol: Kelly Framel [The Glamourai] and Anne Street Studio for styling and storytelling; Leandra Medine ['Man Repeller"] for "relevance and point of view"; Chriselle Lim ["The Chriselle Factor"] for "beautifully produced content that is also practical and useful," he said.
Making money: A combination of sponsored content, advertising and affiliates (sending online traffic to retailers mentioned in the content).
Day job: Full-time blogger
About the shoot
Bloggers photographed June 21-22 at Betamore in Federal Hill.