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How One Newsletter Captured a Massive, Dedicated Audience

A case study of content creator The Refashionista


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Tealfeed Guest Blog

3 years ago | 5 min read

How many newsletters in your inbox get trashed? I constantly erase and click “unsubscribe” only days after handing over my email address. So many newsletters fall short — they don’t live up to their promises, they recycle the same common knowledge as every blogger, or they scream at me with too many ads, offers, and links.

But buried in my inbox are a few gems. One, in particular, stands out in the crowd. This is a newsletter I happily open. I get excited when I see it and almost always click that “Read More” link we all want our followers to use. The woman who writes it is a personal hero of mine and I make it a point to read her newsletters and blog entries with a critical eye.

Who Is This Magical Unicorn?

She’s Jillian Owens, AKA The Refashionista.

Owens runs and authors The Refashionista, a twist on your typical style blog. She writes about her love of thrift stores and how she upcycles second-hand clothing into beautiful, modern outfits that look amazing on her petite frame. She also lists prices, (everything in her world is a dollar), and includes tons of photos. I seriously cannot get enough.

What makes this blog, which goes beyond niche into the realm of super-niche, so compelling? I’m no seamstress, I can’t even hem. I don’t even have access to thrift stores. But The Refashionista blog taps into something unique and fun and try as I might, I cannot look away.

I called Owens up on Skype to talk to her about how she took this basic idea and turned it into ten years’ worth of posts. After I was done gushing over how much I love her stuff, we talked about the realities of marketing herself as a brand, time management, and what makes a lady appreciate her discarded shoulder pads.

Her Take on Her Career

“Starting a new outfit from a thrift store find is so much easier than starting from scratch,” Owens said. “I would wear a refashioned piece and people would say, ‘holy cow! Where’d you get that?’ I explained that I’d made it. Soon everyone was saying, ‘you should start a blog’.”

That was back in 2009 when Owens worked at the South Carolina Arts Commission. Her full-time job meant she could only dedicate a few hours a week to her online work.

“I’d wake up and start around 5 a.m. and work until 7, then get ready and commute to the office,” Owens said. “And then I’d do my refashions over the weekend when the light was better (for photos).” The Refashionista kept her posts simple and straightforward out of necessity, but the format proved to be the optimal choice.

Each post features a single project or shopping trip. Paragraphs are short and broken up with ten or more photos. She keeps her images as natural as possible, and I always love how she’s not afraid to look a little goofy in her oversized, 80s dresses. Her simple formula helped Owens go viral more than once. Her visitors get so enthusiastic about her new content they sometimes crash her server.

What Makes Her Followers Fall in Love?

Simple. Owens’ passion and authenticity.

“You have to care about what you’re doing,” Owens said. “The reader can tell if you don’t. Some bloggers hire virtual assistants to author their content. I see that and I am appalled. That’s something I would never do. Authenticity should be one thing you absolutely stay true to.”

I caught Owens just after a marketing job laid her off, along with most of her team. Today, she’s made the shift from part-time blogging to full-time writer and self-promoter.

“I’m working on my new, customized newsletter. Which will be way better,” she assured me. She wants to add better visuals, (she currently uses a cheap point-and-shoot camera for her creations), and more conversational content. She also plans to revisit old posts and revamp her Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for each post.

“I want to do more than just send people to the blog. It’s going to have more messaging, some additional earlier posts for them to read and enjoy. And if, say, somebody subscribes during my 365-day project, I can say ‘Hey! Want to join in?’”

On top of her marketing prowess, Owens is hilarious. When she finds a bizarre patch job in the center of a skirt, she photographs that “huh?” moment and celebrates it. The effect makes you, the reader, feel like you’re back in your local Goodwill, laughing with your friends at the crazy stuff people used to wear.

Owens’ followers love giggling along with her, seeing what cocktail she drank in her newest outfit and the reminder that beautiful looks can be affordable. Her approach also reminds us that fashion has a silly side and doesn’t need to intimidate us.

The Shift to Full-Time Blogger

To do all this, Owens will have to leave behind her basic set-up. She’s used WordPress’ plugin JetPack to automatically generate a post-preview, (you’ve seen something similar if you subscribe to any Medium publications) so followers can click “Read More” to see the rest of her latest thrift store transformation.

This automated workflow kept Owens’ blog updated and exciting for her readers. She wrote new pieces between two and three times a week, “which is a good cadence for a blog,” Owens said. Her click-through rates average about 20% from over 16,000 readers, a staggering number for a blog on any topic.

“Anyone managing a newsletter needs to check their open rates, the click-through rates, and look for a trend,” she said. “Then just optimize accordingly.”

The Future of Refashionista

With her new shift into full-time refashioning, Owens is feeling precautious, but also excited.

“I’m scared at the loss of security, but then again, I just got laid off,” she said. “Security is a myth. No company is not going to care about me as much as I care about me. And I’m very confident I can make the blog work. I’m ready to go full-time. I’ve worked really hard on this and I think it’s there.”

Owens added she and her husband set a timeline of three months to grow the blog audience and add video content to grow her following. If those three months are more plateaus than spikes, she’ll return to full-time work and keep blogging on the side.

“What gets the best results,” she said, “is to keep creating content. That’s the most important thing a creator can do to get a following.”

The Refashionista blog hopes to expand into a YouTube channel and take on more unique challenges in the year 2020. You can find visit her site and witness the evolution of her newsletter.

This article was originally published by Lindsay redifer on medium.

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