Emily Schuman, Cupcakes and Cashmere, Part 2

1
2
3
4

"I have been running Cupcakes and Cashmere for five and a half years. I just turned 30. I guess I got my start by studying sociology and media studies at Scripps College in Claremont, California—I was the head of sales at the school newspaper. I would go to a cute boutique or think of a storage facility that all of the students would need to use at the end of the year, and get these places to place ads in our paper. The experience was minimal at best, but it helped me get a job after college.

During my senior year, I decided that I wanted to work at Condé Nast—I didn’t even think of having a backup plan. I looked at their journalistic integrity, the quality of their photographs, and I was just like, 'This is where I want to be.’ So I went through the magazines’ mastheads, called the LA office and said, ‘I would love to meet with the HR director.’ I didn’t have a car at the time, so even getting from Claremont to LA involved walking to the bus station, taking the Metro Link in, then the subway, then a bus, and then I walked the rest of the way. [Laughs] It was bananas how much determination I had. Even now I’m like, ‘Oh god, if I couldn’t valet my car I probably wouldn’t do it.’ [Laughs]

The day after I graduated, a really great position opened up at Condé Nast—sales assistant for Teen Vogue and Domino. My parents had driven down to Claremont to bring me back home to Marin County [in Northern California], and we stopped at Condé's LA office along the way so I could interview. I had my fingers crossed, because if I didn’t get the job, I would have gone straight to living in my parents' basement. But, I got the job.

I didn’t fit into the editorial side of things at all at Condé. My style wasn’t there yet—I’m talking Rocket Dog platform flip-flops. And I was so worried about looking like a college student that I ended up looking like a frumpy grandma in long pencil skirts and oversized blazers. I just didn’t look the part; I’ve always been more business-savvy than fashion-forward. But being there and seeing everyone in the hallways, the gorgeous racks of clothes, the Allure beauty closet, it made me step up my style game. And though I always thought my natural career progression would be on the advertising side—I saw the sellers taking people out to every meal and doing really well for themselves, and it seemed like a straightforward job—I became enamored with style. I was reading so many magazines every week, and developing my sense of what I like to wear, what I felt comfortable in.

I also knew I would get bored in sales eventually—that’s kind of where the idea started to come to me, to combine the two sides [editorial and advertising], melding my business background with defining my own editorial identity: to create a site, understand the value of it, know the demographic I reached, and then be able to monetize it. But it wasn’t until I was working in ad sales at AOL in 2008 that I got the idea for Cupcakes and Cashmere. I would get bored at work, and for fun, I'd write online restaurant reviews that encompassed the food, the décor, and the vibe. But I wanted to create an online destination that combined all my favorite things—fashion, beauty, interior design, and food. You didn’t really see all of those elements intertwining anywhere online. And, as much as 'food girls' love food and 'fashion girls' love fashion, a lot of girls share those passions.

So I designed the original Cupcakes and Cashmere. It was quite literal—I think the header was an actual cupcake and a goat to symbolize cashmere. It was absolutely atrocious. [Laughs] It’s come a long way. I had no idea what I was doing, and Googled something about HTML and back-end questions about 150 times a day. I think if you’re dedicated and proactive enough, you can really figure it all out for yourself.

I started by setting a goal to write something every day, and stick to it. It’s funny—I thought I was successful when I wrote consistently for three months. That felt great, even though my parents and husband were the only ones reading it. I just kept writing and eventually garnered a big enough audience that I was like, 'OK, I can start monetizing.' I started incorporating ads in a really subtle way.

I developed a business strategy early on, to the point where I was able to match my AOL salary and eventually leave my day job. That was the first time I sensed any hesitation from my family—when I told my parents I was leaving AOL. The timing worked out really well, though, because AOL was offering voluntary layoffs. My job was secure, but the idea that I wouldn’t have to be fired and would have a little bit of a severance package cushion made me think, ‘Why not give it a go?’ It was a nice way to gently push me off.

I was getting 3,000 page views a month when I first started to gain traction, which seemed huge. But my husband, Geoffrey, who also works in media and has always been able to offer great guidance, told me I would need a million a month to make it work. At the time, it felt like I would never get there. But, really gradually, that’s exactly what happened within a year-and-a-half. I think you can do anything if you work at it really hard—but, in order to have sustainability, it should be an organized system and not something that you’re trying to do to be the next ‘it’ girl. It just takes a little bit of time.

My first ads were through an advertising network, BlogHer, because I could quickly go through the reports to see the average CPM [cost per thousand impressions]. Because my background was in advertising, I was able to know my worth pretty early on and I was able to see the different cuts, so I went out on my own for a while and started selling ads by myself, though I work with SayMedia now.

So I started getting a steady paycheck, partnering with a handful of  brands—for example, I designed a bag with Coach in 2010 and ran their ads exclusively for two years on my site. Now I’ve been working with Estée Lauder for over a year. That partnership started because I was writing about their lipstick and nail polish, which I loved. I guess those posts got some traction, and the company reached out and said, ‘Let’s find a way to work together.’ It’s a really fantastic collaboration, not because I’m supposed to write about anything—that’s not even part of the contract. I think they really respect my vision in the same way that I completely admire everything that they’re about. It’s been a really good way of creating beautiful videos and tutorials. I am their once-a-week guest blogger, and I even took over their Instagram for a week. At the end of the day, it comes down to partnering with brands and products that I love and actually believe in.

Content-wise, everything is very thoughtful. The goal, of course, is to make it look easy and seamless. I think people look at blogs and think that we’re sitting in our pajamas writing about whatever comes to mind, but so much work goes into it. There are no accidents—from content to social media. When you are really passionate about something, you’re thinking about it all day, you’re living it, you’re breathing it.

Of course, over the years there are things I would have done differently—mostly the unfortunate outfits. [Laughs] But I am very conscious of how much of myself I expose. I share parts of myself, but not everything. Not only because it leaves something to the imagination, but also because it gives me peace of mind that people don’t know absolutely every detail about my life. It’s very important for me to open up in personal posts, and to show the inside of my space and photographs of myself, but there’s a way to open up without being overt. I never feel like I’ve been too exposed.

My favorite part about doing the site is hearing from my readers that I’ve inspired them. Because what else are you doing if you’re not out to inspire someone? I want to affect people in a positive way, whether it’s how they decorate their homes or how they deal with going on a date. When that happens, it’s the ultimate compliment.

I love my readers, and it’s kind of creepy, but I know them pretty well. I’m a little bit Big Brother-ish about it. She’s mainly between the ages of 18 and 34, she wears high and low [brands], and she’s looking for a balanced life—balancing her career, her friends, and her relationship with the things that she loves, all tied together in a pretty bow. It’s the idea of having it all—throwing an amazing dinner party with a great smoky eye, or mixing vintage pieces with Barneys. No one actually has it all—it’s a bit of a façade—but that’s what it looks like.

Now Cupcakes and Cashmere gets about six million page views a month. My husband runs the business side of things, and we have a creative designer, who helps with the content and is my right-hand woman. It’s so amazing to have team support and people to work with. I am still floored that I've been able to turn this into a full-time job. I just wrote my first book last year, and am working on my second now. I’m looking to take Cupcakes and Cashmere to the next level—it’s not just about me, but more about a certain kind of lifestyle. It’s about elevating everyday life. I’ll still be behind the aesthetic of everything we do, from flower arrangements to discussing cheese plating at dinner parties, but I don’t necessarily need to be the face of every single entity that comes out of Cupcakes and Cashmere.

I am a huge perfectionist, which, as much as people consider it a downfall, I think is a big reason for my success. But, it’s important for me to remember I’m not going to be perfect every time. You can’t be ‘on,’ spitting out great ideas, at all times of the day. It’s just not going to happen. I had to learn how to be okay with taking a step back. My state of mind is important. When I’m feeling happy, energetic, and stress-free, that’s when I get my best ideas."

—as told to ITG

Emily Schuman photographed by Emily Weiss in Los Angeles, CA on August 12, 2013.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • meghanr

    Where is her shirt from?? I need it.

    • lindenen

      Yes, I love it.

    • http://cupcakesandcashmere.com/ Emily Schuman

      Hey Meghan,

      It's from Mason by Michelle Mason (silk camisole).

  • Charlotte

    This is really inspiring, I love the professional posts and understanding how bloggers have worked really hard to get to where they're at. Great post ITG.

  • http://www.kayliwanders.com/ Kayli Schattner

    What an inspiring story from an inspiring woman! It really goes to show that with a little hard work and determination, you can accomplish anything.

  • thunderlegz

    Lovely gal. Very inspiring.

  • Jill S

    Impressive. I've read her blog off and on for a few years. And I respect her more now for sharing the hard work behind the success. Great job, ITG!

  • Lauren

    This is so interesting - thank you for sharing your story, Emily, and thank you to ITG for posting it!

  • Kasey Michelle

    Emily is so inspirational, I loved reading about her journey. Thanks for sharing her story!

  • http://LuxeLifeAspirations.blogspot.ie/ Michelle

    Love this, very inspiring.

  • Behind the Mirror

    I also read your blog Emily, and I find it so interesting! I love that you understand your readers so well.. and take the time to get to know them. It is great!

  • http://www.downtownhautefashion.blogspot.com/ Leslie

    I love her blog!
    Awesome post.
    She has a great story.

    <3

    http://downtownhautefashion.blogspot.com

  • ritournelle

    Love this post!

  • Heidi

    This is a great in-depth look at what it takes to make blogging a full time profession. I'm not there and most likely will never be there, but I admire those folks who go for it and do it well.

    http://jax-and-jewels.blogspot.com

  • Miller and Max

    Thanks for this post. It's really insightful for a beginning blogger such as myself!!! Love your blog.
    xxx Axelle Maximilian

  • amandachristinesmith

    Great post. Been a follower for over 4 years now. I'd be cautious about becoming more behind the scenes. I'd hope that all content would still be written by Emily and not ghost writers or content interns. Otherwise, what would differentiate this blog from Lauren Conrad's for example? I think a big part of her followers identity is that they identify with and love that she ditched the 9 to 5 and was able to go out on her own and work for herself. So that's why I'd be careful about Emily distancing herself from the content, the site really is about her too inherently.

    • http://cupcakesandcashmere.com/ Emily Schuman

      Hi Amanda,

      Thank you for your comment and we're very much on the same page. To provide some clarity, I will always be in control of everything that is featured on the site and would never allow another person to oversee the content. However, to be candid, I don't see myself doing "outfit" shoots when I'm in my 40's, as an example of how I would expect to decrease some of my involvement. Ultimately, my goal for Cupcakes and Cashmere is to build a holistic brand, which encompasses multiple product lines and media properties (i.e. web site, books, etc.) and if those efforts come to fruition, I'd simply need to adjust how much I focus on a single site. Hope this helps and thanks again for your support! x

  • http://seelark.com/ knivesliao

    This is an excellent piece. I think the way Emily summarizes her audience is spot-on!

  • http://www.ofstrangersensibilities.com/ Joy of Stranger Sensibilities

    6MM per month? Dang.

  • be

    Interesting to see how a few years later, so many sites (and brick & mortar stores, too!) combine fashion, beauty, interior design, and food. For many, it's crucial for success.

  • http://modetteblog.com/ Kate | Modette

    I love this post! It's very inspiring to hear about Emily's journey. xx

    Kate | M O D E T T E

    http://modetteblog.com

  • http://stylecontext.com/ Style Context

    Very inspiring post. Just reminds me of the need to be patient and work hard on my blog. Thanks, Emily! http://stylecontext.com

  • Fashion Parfait

    Great post and as a newbie blogger I can relate to the struggle with how much of myself I want to expose, which is why my blog has been faceless thus far. I may change my mind down the road.
    http://fashionparfait.com

  • Layla

    Cupcakes and Cashmere has been my favorite blog that I check every day for 3+ years. I absolutely love it. I start my morning with my blogs and a cup of coffee- and C&C is the first blog I check when I get up. I am alway sos excited to see what Emily has been up to. Keep it up! You're an inspiration!

  • Jessica

    This is a very interesting and helpful interview! I got a lot out of it, thank you, Emily Schuman for being so candid about your career and how you got to where you are now. Really great and informative. Thank you, ITG!!

  • Emma and Emily

    This was absolutely fascinating. I am so grateful that you write this! I am most definitely in your demographic, writing as much as I can while doing my final year at University. You are a massive inspiration!

    http://www.emandthem.co.uk

  • Robin

    Off topic, but I'm someone who is just getting into makeup and would love if intothegloss did a "one stop" post that could be the "essentials" of makeup from season to season. So far I've got a highlighter and wine lipstick in my essentials bag, but I'd like to see something like this. Just an idea.

  • Nina

    I LOVE Cupcakes and Cashmere! Emily is so inspiring. She is so sincere in everything she does. Thank you for sharing her story. She proves that dedication and REALLY loving what you're doing can make you successful. Thank you for sharing!

    http://itsazooatthezoo.blogspot.com/

  • Jade

    I love reading about her business-side of the blog since she's so classy and has never really talked details about the number of visitors/money/etc. It's so interesting to me! It really shows if you're consistent and genuine your blog can be successful.

  • amelia

    emily is the best. all bloggers getting popular today have borrowed from either her business or aesthetic philosophies, even inadvertently. ive been reading her since 2010 and her quality has never been compromised as she grew in popularitly - in fact, it just keeps getting better.

  • Ivy

    That's a very inspiration story I would say, I am also working on my side project and hopefully I can leave my day job to pursue my passion like her!

    http://www.mykindofchic.com

  • stephanie sjoberg

    LOVE this post! I find it very motivational. I think it's hysterical about the tadpole "slutty" eyebrows! People can be so mean! I've had one rude comment as well, and it turned out to be from a very miserable person who tortures others online as well, so it didn't bother me as much! (Misery loves company.) It's interesting that Emily points herself out as not being perfect. Just because you blog, doesn't mean that you think you are perfect. It's not really about the blogger...but about what they like and why they like it!

  • Leana

    This is a wonderful interview. I feel very inspired after reading it. She definitely shows that it is possible to create a successful blog while remaining true to herself - or rather - out of remaining true to herself and expressing and creating. Kudos on a great interview! http://lipstickjunkie.com

  • http://www.kpfusion.com/ Kimmie

    this was such an inspiring post. When I was debating on starting a blog in 2010, I didn't tell anyone, but a friend recommended her blog out the blue and reading it let me know that I could blog in "MY" voice, as opposed to someone else. That I could be real in my writing. I read all of the archives and it really is one of my favorites. I see the changes that she's made content-wise and I still enjoy it. I hope she continues to do all of the writing (no ghostwriting PLEASE!!!) bc it's the main reason I go back to it. On another note, I'm happy that she was honest and open about what it took for her to go full time. She planned things out instead of going on a whim and it's paid off. Hard work is the name of the blogging game!

  • http://www.glitterinthegrey.com/ Morgann

    What a fantastic article! C&C is like the benchmark for style/lifestyle blogs. I adore it and Emily is such a trooper in all the work she's taken to build her career and her brand. I admire her so much and wish I had half that gusto when I was her age.
    She's a total inspiration for me and even though I started my blog when I was 40, I fully believe anyone can aspire to 6m page views/mo and provide unique and inspired conent their demo wants to read!

    Other Emily, your blog pretty much rocks too. :)

    xoMorgann
    http://www.glitterinthegrey.com

  • Jacqueline Jax

    What a wonderful article. I enjoy reading about bloggers. Although I'm a clothing designer, I love to blog. It's my relaxation so I started blogging about fashion and style. A natural use of my time. My newest blog is at 3,000 page views a month and climbing fast since starting it just a few months ago. Looks like I'm on track for success. ;0) Jax
    Wow.blondibeach.com

  • Glamour House

    I love her blog, and she seems really sweet! Inspired to head down a similar path, wish me luck!

    http://www.glamourhouse.com

  • Reportista

    This post is so inspiring. I started my own blog, Reportista, little less than
    2 months ago and even though my blog is at 2,800 page views in the last 30 days reading a story like hers only pushes me to keep doing my best. I've never read Cupcakes & Cashmere but I will start now after reading her story.
    Great post ITG! Thanks!

    Veronica

    http://www.reportista.com

REPLIES

Dearest ITG Reader,

We're working on something new called Glossier. It's launching soon(!) and we want you to be the first to know updates.

xo, Emily