Okay, so I have put off writing about my experience at Texas Style Council which happened last weekend in Austin. Just like I felt going into it, I still have mixed emotions about this “lifestyle blogging” craze and how I as a person, a brand, and a business can even fit into this world. On one side, you have women dressed to impress (mostly with clothes their “sponsors” provide) who seem to be doing things just for the sake of writing about them later. Then you have the group of women who aspire to be in that circle, still snapping pictures of their outfits in the middle of the street and desperately handing out their business cards with their witty blog titles and tag lines. Then there’s me; I have a blog, and a business that fits directly into this “new domesticity” wave of style, DIY, homemaking, and child-rearing. Spoiler alert! I found myself wanting to get to know these women in all categories, and I love reading most of their blogs! I think it is nice to notice the small beauties of life, and how cool is it that they make a living at it? I want to make a living owning a DIY makers space and shop. I am going to post a picture of the cutest garage apartment, a fantastic cocktail I enjoyed, and I do hope a few people notice, so I am really no different. But where does the line of authenticity get crossed? I actually really enjoyed my time at the conference, learned a few good tips, but was terribly out of my comfort zone for 3 days straight, and the preconceived notions I held about this alternate world were mostly confirmed. So this is my attempt to stay authentic: a break down of my time in Austin, along with my evolving thoughts about this microcosm of sweet and simple lifestyle blogging.
I got in on Friday and met with a few potential and current artists we have in the shop. (I am going to feature my visits to Son of a Sailor, Bee Amour, Satchel & Sage, and Little Low in upcoming posts, plus the trip to my store crush, Nannie Inez!) Then I got to the garage apartment I found through Airbnb, and it was perfect! I enjoyed the quiet alone time in the trees the apartment offered, and it offered me the opportunity to shamelessly watch Orange is the New Black on Netflix. The apartment had so much charm (look at that bath tub!), the host was really sweet, and it was under a $5 cab ride to get anywhere.
After checking in, there was a clothing and book swap at Lulus. This was one of my least favorite parts of the conference; there were way too many people crammed into a small space, and it was a bit uncomfortable (plus most of the clothes were for tiny people). I did run into an old friend of mine, Abby, who now blogs at A Geek Tragedy so that was a nice surprise. But the anxiety of being around a lot of really beautiful and fashionable women brought out the introvert in me, and I even shied away when a woman asked me about the book I was holding. Looking back, I am mad at myself for not engaging in a conversation, especially about books, and introducing myself, talking about my brand, etc. I got more comfortable with this as the weekend progressed, but it was surprising to feel a bit inadequate, when on a daily basis I am fairly outspoken and lively. I did end up going to dinner with my friend Abby, and new acquaintances Meg and Amy as we finished the night out on 6th Street. It was a good start to a very interesting yet trying weekend.
My new friends Meg, Abby, & Amy © Peter Tung
Saturday it was “back to school” at the conference, and in the morning sessions I attended iPhoneography 101 led by Carli fron Inked Fingers and eCommerce 101 led by Tasha from Imperfect Concepts. It was interesting to hear from Carli-mostly the tools and apps she uses, and how she built her business. I was intrigued that both sessions were filled and everyone seemed really engaged: taking notes and asking questions. It was nice to be around women wanting to learn from each other and taking the sessions seriously. But it was still a bit strange to be around these rockstars of the blog and social media world. We as a society have this peculiar obsession with being able to peer into someone else’s life. I am no exclusion. I secretly love seeing pictures of people with their new families, wedding photos, recipes they are trying, and I also secretly hope they are paying a little bit of attention to me, my hottie husband, and my new business. But then it gets a little bit crazy, when you see the image of these neat, bright, and effortless lives splashed all over these blogs. As Holly points out in a 2012 article in Frontier, “How is it possible that so many women and their toddlers spent their Saturdays in blanket forts made from vintage quilts found at a swap meet? And does the world really need more Instagram shots of early-morning trips to the flower market?” I thought that this conference would dispel the myth of this perfection, and that just didn’t really happen for me. I thought some of the information was really generic, and nobody got into the struggle in maintaining this online life, sponsors, and the risks (family, financial, personal) that go along with this lifestyle of putting yourself out there. “These women don’t just maintain squeaky-clean, camera-ready homes and adorable families, they also run independent businesses, wear perfect outfits, rock exquisitely styled hair—and find the time to blog about it.” I think it is all really amazing, but I wish I saw a bit more authenticity throughout the weekend. Bottom line, it’s a weird way of becoming famous. But it’s happening, and I support these women over other ways of gaining celebrity status. (And I found myself in awe most of the weekend.) “There’s something ineffably appealing about perfectly puffed pie crusts, pigeon-toed fashion shoots, and sweet, uncomplicated musings on vintage hairclips.” I am still in a state of heightened awareness as I peruse these blogs, read about their experiences at TXSC, and sort out my feelings about it all. In the meantime, here are some shots of Austin and the “classroom” from the Hyatt Regency.
Saturday afternoon was filled with a thrift field trip to Savers with Jentine of My Edit and a resale shop tour at Moss and Ragalicious with a pop-up shop from Janette of Fashion Loves People. I had a great time, found some fantastic clothes, a purse, and a vintage Singer sewing machine (which led me to be nominated for “Best Treasure Hunter” at Prom, haha), and appreciated that this was a part of the conference. It was nice seeing trend-setters talking about how you can gain a modern stylish look with well-made clothes from our past. The only session I was able to attend Sunday was Purchasing with Purpose led by Janette and Merl of Clyde’s Rebirth which continued this conversation of conscientious consumerism. I was so happy to have this part of the larger conversation, and will devote an entire future blog post to it. Here are some shots of our outing, and of the session with Merl & Janette.
Holly goes on to say, “It’s not surprising that as a blog becomes more popular, its authenticity becomes more circumscribed. And for bloggers with an eye on leveraging their work into bigger, more mainstream venues, the balance of professionalism with authenticity means less critical discussion, fewer acknowledgments of bad days or insecurities, and less humor. And because the lifestyle blogs that receive the most attention (and opportunities for more revenue) reflect the most limiting vision of traditional femininity (conventionally attractive, straight, happy white women with beautiful homes, playful children, and quirky recipes), it isn’t surprising that this formula tends to be the most emulated one within the world of lifestyle blogging.” I wonder how authentic the bloggers at the conference were, and I never really got to find out. There seemed a large disconnect between the power bloggers and the rest of us, but the bloggers that I met were really genuine. Here is a snapshot of some of us at lunch, and of course everyone was on their phones tweeting, blogging, texting, instagramming, and whatever else. It was quite comical, and yet really nice to meet other women and hear about what they do. My favorite was Hilary from Our Style Stories (pictured on the left in the middle). She was so sweet and told the story of how her car broke down on the way to Austin. I loved her style, her personality, her genuineness, and I am totally going to start reading her blog! This peer to peer contact was the most useful for me, and I wish I had dedicated more time to reaching out to other conference attendees.
I’ve been back in Houston and at the shop this week and lots of people have asked me about the trip and the conference. I stumble through the good and the bad, because I think it is important for me to communicate how I feel about it all. Will there always be a disconnect for me? I own a craft studio, started blogging, and do have an interest in the resurgence of domesticity that lends itself to this life of making and baking and taking notes on how to raise an independent child. But I am a late twenty-something, “childless and overeducated” female, and it would be silly of me to compare my life to these heavily mediated and “carefully arranged” lives you see on these blogs. But the basic message seems to be to enjoy the small beauties in life, to embrace womanhood and motherhood, and I am down with that. In fact I think it is quite lovely. In a 2011 Salon article, writer Emily Matchar describes this mood as “very romantic, soft-focused, aesthetically pleasing images of home life, that is very DIY, very home-oriented and nostalgic.” And I agree with Emily, there IS something vaguely uplifting about these blogs. I have a lot of respect for women who can portray this life, that counters the tough work-life balance the rest of up seem to be struggling with. So as I am falling a little in love with these well put-together women we get to the Sunday convocation by Elsie and Emma from A Beautiful Mess and their “What We’ve Learned from Blogging” speech. I like these girls, and think what they do for a living is pretty dan gum awesome (and there are a lot of connections, they own a small boutique, online store, etc). But then it happened. Elsie suggested an example of getting over a hurdle was trying on a color you didn’t think you looked good in. I was hoping for a little financial distress, a death in the family, even a spat with a sponsor, anything worthy of “a major obstacle.” not “I don’t think I look good in chartreuse.” [Insert disconnect.] But I did get to see behind the veil a bit, and understand that these women are not trying to make it seem like they live larger than life in fabulous attire with perfectly coifed hair. They have just been good enough at it to get noticed, and now get paid for it. That’s great. I think women should look to these blogs for inspiration, book recommendations, recipes, whatever, but not get caught up in comparing their lives with what is portrayed in the these blogs. I would also encourage bloggers, especially the power players, and especially at conferences, to keep in mind their authenticity and letting their walls down a bit. I will definitely attend again next year, and I have a better sense of what to expect. I enjoyed talking about my brand and the shop, and did learn that personal style is an extension of you. I also learned that I can only do what I can with what I have, and that is okay! I think the topic of authenticity should be one of the sessions next year; I think it is something all brands, bloggers, and businesses all need to revisit continuously.