How I Did It: Shauna Miller, Founder of Penny Chic
Ever since I was a little girl, I considered myself a fashionista. Like many girls, I dreamed of working at Vogue and sitting in the front row of New York Fashion Week.
By the time I graduated from New York University in 2008, I had what I thought to be a strong resume under my belt, having interned and worked at Emanuel Ungaro (the couture house in Paris), Time Out NY Magazine, and Surface Magazine.
My goal was to be a stylist or editor at a high fashion magazine, but for those who remember, 2008 was also the year the economy collapsed. As you can imagine, it was not exactly the best time to be searching for a job in the luxury and editorial fashion world.
I still spent the next four months looking for a job unsuccessfully, until I came to the conclusion that in order to survive in this struggling industry, I had to get real and create a niche for myself that was relevant in the current economic landscape.
Expensive fashion was not interesting or relevant anymore. I was more excited by the idea of putting outfits together that were accessible to everyone, regardless of where you live or how much you can spend. That’s when I came up with the name and idea behind my blog, Penny Chic.
My mission was to democratize fashion and make something positive out of a time that was less than ideal. In order to achieve that goal, I was going to use the stores that are accessible to everyone and are within 10 miles of every home in America (think Walmart, Kmart, Target, etc.).
I was living in New York at the time and still felt eager to prove to myself that I could find a job and make a living. I put the blog idea on hold and spent the next 2 years doing every random job in the book from being a nanny to becoming a real estate broker.
As random as it was, I’m thankful I had those two years to experience working in the real world and learning how to function as a professional in the “system”.
Finally, after two years of working in the professional world, I quit my job, said goodbye to New York and moved back in with my parents in Los Angeles to start the blog.
In November 2010, I started Penny Chic and took a leap of faith in myself that I was capable of creating something out of nothing. Within 2 weeks of launching it, I quickly realized how hungry women were for a voice that made fashion accessible.
Along with believing in my idea and myself, here are some important pieces of advice that helped Penny Chic thrive:
1. Listen to Consumers.
When I had my mind set that I wanted to do something in fashion, I read Women’s Wear Daily every morning and tracked which retail stores were doing well, which stores were struggling, and which marketing and advertising strategies seemed to be working. The bottom line was that luxury brands were performing poorly and social media as a method of marketing seemed more compelling to consumers than the traditional advertising model.
2. Find Your Niche.
Once you hone in on what the demands are, try to locate where there’s a void for what consumers are looking for. In my particular case, I saw a need for an authentic yet credible voice in fashion that made women feel empowered by the stores they were forced to shop at because of financial reasons or location access.
Next, start brainstorming ways you can fill that void. For me, it was always about fashion, but I knew that focusing on the luxury market was a dead end so I found a way to combine fashion in a relevant way (by focusing on affordable fashion) through a platform that was free, interactive and relatable.
3. Just Do it.
In order to begin your entrepreneurial journey, you have to shut out all the noise and all your insecurities about doing something different and just do it (to quote Nike). I spent months trying to perfect the web design for my blog and get everyone’s opinion about everything. After a certain point I just realized I had to start somewhere and go from there.
I‘ve made plenty of mistakes, trust me. But I’ve also learned that making mistakes is the best way to become an expert in your field, because you experience firsthand what works and what doesn’t.
4. Deliver Authentic and Quality Content.
Always remember to “own” what it is that you do and only put out content and/or product that you are proud of. I spend a long time styling the clothes that I feature, investing in great photography and writing my blog posts in a way that is both compelling and transparent to my readers.
My readers are looking for something aspirational and someone they can relate to. From day one, I have always been transparent with my readers and because of that, they are loyal and dedicated to the mission behind what I do.
5. Monetize Wisely.
Technology and the Internet have forced most industries to re-evaluate how to monetize and create mass appeal for a new generation. Magazines and newspapers have had to make the switch to online, which for most of them is more widely read than their print editions. Consumers are shopping more and more on their phones, which has forced retailers to have to invest in new software to keep up with the trend in consumerism.
Bloggers, like myself, have had to completely think out of the box, because let’s be honest: 7 years ago most people didn’t really know what a blog was let alone understand how you could make money from it. It used to be that media companies would make the bulk of their money from just one thing...ads.
Now it’s all about becoming a “brand” which is what I have set out to do. I consult big box retailers on design. I partner with brands on my blog and do sponsorships. I do television appearances and online video campaigns. I host events and fashion shows. I’m working on writing a book on style and hoping to get my own show and clothing line!
Oh, and did I mention take over the world? No just kidding...but that’s the mindset you have to have. I’ve been able to make money without having a single ad on my site and that’s because I’ve gone about my monetization strategy in an inventive way.
I hope you find my words of advice helpful, but I would also recommend you take my advice and everyone else’s with a grain of salt. I made up my own rules based on my own intuitions and you should do the same.
LA-based Shauna Miller is the founder of the budget fashion blog PennyChic.com. Prior to waving her stylish wand over affordable fashion, Shauna studied at NYU and honed her skills at Time Out NY magazine and Emanuel Ungaro, one of Paris' leading fashion houses. Shauna's frank and frugal assessment in the fashion world can be found on her blog and media outlets such as Good Morning America, Time, CNN, Glamour, Huffington Post, and more.