Lyn started her blog, Accidental Icon, when she was looking for a way to combine and use her interests and creative skills independently outside her full time role as a professor. She managed to grow her blog and Instagram profile super fast and was soon supplementing her income with substantially from modeling contracts from major brands.
In this interview with Lyn Slater you will find out how she did it.
Want to listen to this interview? You can listen on Itunes here.
The interview has been edited at places in its written form to make reading easier and more enjoyable. If you prefer to listen, you can also listen on the site here.
How to stand out from the crowd and grow your blog and instagram super fast! – an interview with Lyn Slater, the Accidental Icon
Sylvia: What got you started on your journey to becoming a businesswoman?
Lyn Slater: I am a professor of social welfare, but I have always been very interested in expressing myself in creative ways, and even brought that into my profession and into my teaching. I‘m always taking classes and wanting to learn something new. I had been feeling very frustrated with academia and how many rules there are around how you can talk about things.
I started to take courses at our local fashion school in New York City on topics like opening your own vintage store, how to do social media, etc. In every class that I took the students and the professors would say: ‘you should start a blog, you have amazing style’.
When I would walk in the street or go shopping, people would ask if I was in fashion. I thought, I do have two kinds of skills; I can write, and I also know how to engage people because of my experience being a social worker and a professor. So it felt like the blog was a good structure for me to try to do something independent.
I had also taken courses and jewelry fabrication and sewing, and I realized that those are crafts that you have to practice over and over again. I could never be the craftsperson I wanted to be in a year. I got very pragmatic and I said, let’s start with what you can do well.
Being an academic, I started to do a lot of research. I looked at all of the blogs that were out there, I looked at a lot of fashion magazines, and I really didn’t find something that spoke to a woman like myself. There were many, many blogs for all kinds of women, but really not something that had an urban avant-garde intellectual aesthetic.
There was a lot of good style information, there was a lot of good beauty tips. But there wasn’t a platform for women who wanted to have conversations about fashion, and who were also interested in art and literature and culture at the same time.
I also noticed a lot of the blogs were very, very busy with a lot of the advertising and banners and I found that a little overwhelming.
After doing that research, I made my blog the opposite of what everyone else was doing. I’m an oppositional character so that worked too for me.
Sylvia: So what exactly did you do?
Lyn Slater: Number one, my blog is clean. It’s very minimal. Just photos and text, no overt advertising.
Even to this day, I don’t do banners and I don’t do ads. Rather, I’ll work with a brand to write a story about them, and to create a photo shoot where I might be wearing their clothes. I might do an interview with the designer and link to their site as a way of working with them. So generally, I haven’t really done affiliate marketing.
I charge a fee to the brand for my creative direction, and my writing about them and telling a particular story about the brand. For me, that was really critically important. Because my first reason for doing this was to be creative.
Sylvia: How did you get traction? There are millions of people launching blogs all the time. What did you do to get noticed?
Lyn Slater: I did the opposite of everyone else. My blog was very clean, very minimalist. For the first eight months we only shot in black and white. So when I was on Instagram, I looked so different than all the other blogs that I think just even visually, it made me stand out. So it was actually me doing way, way less, that made me noticeable in a very crowded field.
Sylvia: I also think it’s because of the way that you look. It’s the way that you stand out because of your unique sense of fashion, unique sense of style, and the photography.
Lyn: I’ve been fortunate my partner Calvin has been my photographer. He’s not a professional photographer, and his photos of me are just right out of the camera. Because in his own work, he shoots with film and he does not know photoshop. There’s absolutely no photoshopping. It’s all very, very real.
I think the person that I have been in my blog and the person that I am in my life are the same. In my personal life of course, people know way more about me than in my public life, but I am the same person. I think that my authenticity and my being real, is something that struck a chord. That and my attitude.
Sylvia: I believe it’s also your writing. I visited your blog and thought, wow, this woman is something special. I could see it straight away. I immediately thought this is an interesting woman. I want to know why you started this blog.
Once you started to get a little bit of traction and got approached by more people and magazines, what happened then?
Lyn: I think I just sort of continued to be my own authentic self. Once you start getting approached, and you start seeing your numbers go up, it’s very, very seductive.
In the beginning, I would get kind of attached to it. But I realized numbers are really not the important thing, the important thing is your content. So every time I would find myself feeling too caught up, I would just disconnect and say, okay, let me go look at my pictures. Let me look at my writing. Let me do something interesting. Let me do something a little different.
I still do that process to this day, and I think it helps to ground me and to keep me very real.
Influencing is now a profession, whether people like it or not, I think like any other profession, you need to have ethics and values. I’ve always been very clear from day one about what I will do and what I won’t do. That helps me make decisions.
I can’t even tell you how many no’s I’ve said, compared to the yesses. For people just starting out, you have anxiety that if you say no, that you’re going to lose out. What I’ve found is, it’s the exact opposite. If you’re clear about what your values and ethics are, and you make decisions around that, you become very attractive to people.
For example, my bottom line is, I will not promote a garment or a beauty product or any product that I myself would not wear or use in my everyday life. And I think that has served me really well.
Sylvia: On my blog, I have an article about how to become a model after 40, and it’s very, very popular. A lot of women ask me, how can I become a model and you have of course achieved that in a big way. You’ve done shoots for Valentino, Mango & other brands. What would you say to those women that would like to do this kind of work or that want to make it as a blogger or as an influencer?
Lyn: Again, I’m going to be 100% honest, I didn’t start this to be a model. Because I had no knowledge of the world of fashion, I didn’t know one person in the world of fashion, I really had no plan. I was basically taking photos and writing, and just really doing my blog and my Instagram every single week, consistently.
Then people approached me, I never intended to be a model. I’m more interested in the content creation, the writing, the creative direction. That’s more exciting to me.
So part of it is not wanting it and just putting yourself out there and showing yourself in the best possible way you can. I would say, do it on Instagram, because 95% of my work comes from Instagram. Again, it’s not just you taking a picture of yourself and an outfit and throwing it up on Instagram. It’s what story do I want to tell about me? What is my goal? if your goal is to be a model, then you have to work at it, you have to study models, you have to look at models.
Because I’m an academic, everything I do, I do research about. And I think that’s another thing that distinguishes me. For example, I did a blog post for a brand the other day, and it was a very deconstructed flowy, beautiful dress. In the blog post, I did research about what the origin is of this type of dress in America, and added that to my blog post.
So I’m not just taking a picture of me in an outfit. I’m crafting a whole story about me, and about the clothes, that I’m telling either with words on a visual or a visual only. So I guess for me, even now, I don’t have a plan. I just continue to put good content out there and see what happens.
Sylvia: What are your plans for the future? Do you have ways that you want to grow your business? I know you are working with interns, maybe you’re thinking of maybe hiring more people?
Lyn: I really do need to hire someone. It’s like having three full time jobs. Some of that will ease when I’m not teaching full time anymore, but it it takes a lot of work to produce the kind of content that I now have to generate. When I get hired by a brand to do a whole campaign over a series of months, it’s very time consuming. Calvin has a full time job, and his time is limited. So I have had to get more backup.
Sylvia: What do the people that you hired do for you?
Lyn: First of all, one of the things that I think has helped me in this initiative is, that I’ve always spent more time with people who are younger than me, than people my age. I’m the oldest of six children, so from the time my brother was born, I was always around people younger than me.
As a social worker, I worked with young girls. As a professor, I’m working with young students. I have to be honest, and say that many of the people who hire and promote me as Accidental Icon are young. I find that has helped me to stay relevant, because I’ve always had to push myself to understand the culture and the ways that these new generations are communicating if I want to be an effective professor. I’ve always wanted to be an effective professor, so that meant I had to learn technology very early, because the students were coming in, and that’s how they communicate.
So they’ve always pushed me in a way to be ahead, seeing what the new trends are. I have two interns and they are both young. They have a whole skill set because they are of this generation. They know every single Adobe platform from InDesign to Photoshop to Lightroom to Premier Pro, they know how to make videos, how to do graphic design, and they’re not even out of college.
The two interns I have are minoring in fashion studies and majoring in new media. Because they’re in fashion studies in a rigorously intellectual school, they’re learning and thinking in a similar way that I do as an academic. So it’s a really great match. I’ve been working with one of them for the last three weeks, and she has already created something that was exceptionally popular. So I’m really excited about it.
Sylvia: If you are going to be full time with your new profession, what would you call yourself?
Lyn: Influencer has both positive and negative connotations. I call myself a cultural influencer. Because I think I embody the two potential aspects of influencing.
One is when you are hired by a brand to influence the consumer. At the same time, if you’re creative and thoughtful, and if you do your research, you can do it in a way where you can influence culture. I think one of the things I’ve done that for people of all ages is I’ve begun to disrupt some of the ways that people have thought about aging, and that’s changing culture.
I think that we all as influencers have a responsibility to know and understand the research on the positive and negative aspects of social media. I’m aware of it.
So when I’m doing a post, or I’m writing a blog, and I’m thinking about it, I am always thinking, how is this productive? Is this going to make a woman feel bad in any way? If so, how can I change what I’m saying in order to not have that happen.
I initially never paid attention to Facebook. Now, I kind of have to, because it’s just about to hit 100,000 people. There’s a lot of women who felt very constrained by a lot of messages society gives you about aging and how you should dress. These are all women that had a very strong sense of style throughout their lives and wanted to continue, but then they would hear things from a neighbor or a colleague like, should you really wear that at your age? They’re finding this is a community that really supports them and saying, yes, I’m going to wear whatever I wish to wear. I am not going to follow those rules. But I had to work very hard to make that a space where there is no judgment or critical comments.
I have a manifesto. It took me so much work. I addressed any negative comment, and basically said, look, I’m not putting myself out for praise or criticism. Frankly, I don’t care what anyone thinks of what I wear, except for me. I’m putting this out to inspire you. So I’m wearing this because I really wanted to make an entrance, what would you wear if you wanted to make an entrance?
I feel like I’m empowering them to go back to their own innate sense of style that they had. In the beginning, a lot of women asked me things like, I’m going to my son’s wedding, tell me what to wear. I’ve been very clear, that’s not the purpose of this page. There’s many many wonderful sites, including yours, where you can get lots of help like that if you wish. But that’s not what I do. I don’t tell other people what they should wear.
I presented the research on my Facebook page about social media. I said, do you want to be part of making women anxious, depressed, and have body image issues? Or do you want them to feel supported, and be part of a community that helps you to take risks? Now the community is monitoring itself, but it was a lot of work to get it that way. Again, I guess that’s where the social welfare professor, part of me comes in. I do have a skill set from that work that has been extraordinarily helpful in making me successful in this venue.
Sylvia: Yes, I’m sure it has. One thing I always tell my audience is that over the years, you’ve built up so many skills that you’re bound to have something that you can teach others, or skills that you can share with others. You, of course, have many skills, and one of them is most certainly style.
I wanted to ask you: were there any moments in the last couple of years that you found it tough? Were there difficult things, and how did you overcome them?
Lyn: I think the hardest thing for me was feeling overwhelmed with work and balancing these two careers as Accidental Icon began to take up more and more time and energy and started to involve traveling. Over the past year, I’ve done an enormous amount of traveling. I’ve been to Shanghai, Tokyo, Lisbon, London and Madrid three times, LA several times, all the while teaching full time and still having to produce.
Sylvia: That’s amazing, where do you get the energy from?
Lyn: I do take good care of myself, and I have priorities. So even in the midst of it, my first priority every week, is when am I going to make time to visit my mom and see my daughter and granddaughter. My partner is extraordinarily supportive, and the fact that he’s my photographer saves so much time.
Sylvia: Yes. In marketing terms, he’s what we call one of your unfair advantages. That you have your wonderful partner and he can do that. I think one of your other unfair advantages is that you are a professor, because it’s a great story, and you live in New York.
So it’s mainly been time that has been the main challenge to mix the two?
Lyn: That’s really been the hardest struggle for me. I’m finally at a point where I can just do this full time, and I’m really looking forward to that. I think one of the challenges I found, and this is sort of a subset of the time issue, is that being creative, you need to have time to daydream. And you need to have time to kind of go out and be fed.
The other day, for example, Calvin was busy doing something, and I happened to have the whole day free. I went to the Whitney and I just spent a few hours there, and it was delightful for many, many reasons. I find when I have the time to do things like that, it comes back and appears in my work, and I can become more creative.
When I have no time to do anything, except just produce after a while, I feel I get a little stale, and that gets frustrating.
Sylvia: What do you think you’re going to do when you quit your job, and you spend full time on the Accidental icon business?
I’m not naive. I know that things like Instagram, and that sort of thing are going to be fleeting. I think I’m in a really lucky cultural moment. I’ve been exploring multiple ways to diversify what I do so when I’m no longer an Instagram darling, that I still have sustainable businesses that I can do.
Sylvia: Do you want to share some of the things that you are planning?
Lyn: One of the things that I am working on is I’m writing a book and that can spin out into multiple things. I’m also speaking, I’ve had some paid speaking engagements.
Other things that I’ve been working on is planning events, with brands and with stores for this kind of woman who is into art and literature. It’s kind of minimalist and experimental. So thinking along those lines.
I would love and I have been approached by a couple of people and I’m seriously considering doing a small capsule collection. These are some of the things I’ve been thinking about.
Part of what I’m looking forward to, is having the time to go out and continue to meet people and spend time with them figuring out some of these plans.
Sylvia: I think you’ve developed such a strong brand that you have so many opportunities, so many possibilities. Like you say, you could do a capsule collection and can write a book. I think I read somewhere you also working on a course. You can do speaking, you can do more in the modeling area. You are really very diverse. You could even consider, creating your own line and collaborate. I think you’ve all also worked on jewelry with a designer. What your path shows is really how many possibilities there are, if you just put yourself out there, because I don’t think you even imagined that this could happen when you started.
Lyn: That’s exactly right. I think sometimes, I compare this to my earlier career, where I would have this five year plan, and I would be very, very focused. Looking back now, I didn’t see other roads or other opportunities that might even have worked out better. This is very improvisational.
That being said, you have to be just like an improv actor. They train their body for a long time. They work with their emotions for a long time. It’s only then that they can jump in and be improvisational. So I really do consider my life up until now, particularly my work as a social worker, as a professor, to be my training of my muscles that allowed me to just jump in and improvise.
I think that goes back to your earlier point. For women to who want to start an entrepreneurial venture, believe me, with technology, there are no five year plans. Things change so fast that what you think will happen in five years, is happening in six months. So I think women should really reflect: what muscles do I have, from my past life and my past experiences, that will allow me to jump in and be somewhat improvisational and respond to opportunities in the moment?
People don’t really understand. They think it’s about taking a good picture and putting it on Instagram. I spend an hour every morning reading. So I’m staying on top of trends and fashion, I’m staying on top of trends in technology, I’m seeing what is happening in the world of design, what innovators are doing. This did not just happen by chance, it’s improvisational, but again, I’m exercising my brain and my muscles every day with a lot of hard work to be able to do what I’m doing.
Sylvia: I think it’s also important that this is a passion of yours, right? You never set out to do this purely because you wanted to become a model or because you wanted the extra income, you did it out of your love for style and fashion. For the whole experience with it. That, of course, is very important for almost any kind of business, certainly online businesses.
Yet, so many people believe that it can all happen very quickly.
Of course, in your case it actually did happen quite quickly. Most of the time, it’s actually quite a slow process. If you don’t love what you do, are passionate about what you’re doing, it will show and it will not work. And I think that also comes across in your story that you do it for the love of producing. You create those images and talk bout what it means for you to wear something. That’s also what many women including me thought was so interesting about your blog, because you approach fashion from a very intellectual level.
Lyn: Yes, and for me, it’s all about identity and using clothes as a tool to express who you are, who you want to be in the world. So for me, it is a personal thing, someone said to me, why don’t you try going into styling? Do some styling with some photographers. I don’t think I’d be good at it. Because I don’t think I could really style someone else.
For me, it’s more about who I am. I’m experimenting with who I am today. All of these different selves that I want to express at any given time. I think that is what makes it powerful. For me. It makes me feel empowered, because I’m in control of it.
Sylvia: Where do you think you will be in five years?
Lyn: Ahh, I have no idea.
Sylvia: As you said, you will stay open to technology. That’s also what you advise for other women. Stay open to what the world brings, stay in tune with what you already know, what you have, and then stay open to possibilities.
Lyn: And I think the biggest thing is, don’t be afraid of change. And don’t be nostalgic. Because the world is going to march on while you’re sad about the past not being here.
Sylvia: I couldn’t agree more. So many people stick to the past and think that things were so much better then, but it’s the future where it’s at. It’s the future that you can shape yourself and that you have a lot of control over.
Lyn: That’s right, and that’s why I’m not a fan of and have never engaged with groups of people that are on a mission against ageism. I think that it’s not helpful. I think people don’t like lectures, I’ve learned that from being a professor. They want to be engaged and thinking about something in a different way. They want to be engaged in a pleasurable way. So I rarely, if ever, have mentioned the word age in my blog. Yet, I’ve become this person who’s confronting notions of age or stereotypes about age, and I’ve done it visually.
I am unapologetic, I just put myself out there. I think you don’t have to be in that box if you don’t want to be and that women can have power. Because, 10 years ago, a woman like me, wouldn’t have been let in the door of fashion. It is because of technology. Because I did not say, ah, that’s not for me, I’m too old or whatever, that I was able to use it to get into a field that I would have been totally excluded from, or was excluded from up until I started to do this.
Sylvia: Recently I talked on the blog about imposter syndrome. Have you ever experienced feelings of Oh, my God, can I do this? Or maybe the fear that you’re going to fail? What kind of things are people going to say about me? Did you ever experienced feelings like that?
Lyn: No. First, I’m very clear about who I am. Most people advocate all their good points. For me, it was the opposite. I embrace my flaws. I do try to address these and be the best person I could be. But at the end of the day, I’m a human being. I know what I’m not good at, I know when I can be bitchy or whatever, and I’m okay with it. With this whole thing, because I didn’t know what would happen, I didn’t really attach to it in a huge big, emotional way. Even now, it still feels very special to me.
Wherever I go, and it’s happened all over the world, someone inevitably will come up and say, can I take my picture with you, you’re the Accidental Icon. It still feels bizarre to me. I try not to take myself too seriously about it. I also know that it could end tomorrow. So I think that’s been very helpful. Again, my go to position when I’m feeling anything about this project is to say, I ‘ve got to go back to my content. I’ve got to go back to my creativity. That’s how I manage.
Sylvia: For any women that are thinking of starting a business, or that find it difficult to get something started, what are some words of wisdom from you that can help them get it going?
Lyn: Well, these words of wisdom actually came from my partner, Calvin. We were at home, it was Saturday, and I had been talking for a year about starting a blog. He basically turned to me and he said, you need to stop talking. You need to just do it. Go put on some clothes. I’m getting my camera. We’re going out!
Sylvia: That’s the best advice for sure. That’s what I always try to encourage everybody to do. Do something. It doesn’t matter if it’s not right, if it’s not perfect, just do something. Because only through doing will you actually learn.
Lyn: I’ll just share a story. When I first started, it was the beginning it was September, which is when Fashion Week is. I know nobody. Because I do scan fashion news, I got something in my inbox about a show called Tranoï that was coming to New York for the very first time. It was one of the market shows. I said, all right, I’m going to ask for a press invitation. Because they were brand new to New York, and they were just looking for anybody to come, they gave me an invitation.
So I went and I barely had maybe three posts up. But I walked right up to these independent designers, and said, I’m a blogger, I’d love to feature your clothes, because I really like them. It was clothes that were my aesthetic and these were also emerging designers starting out. So I would do interviews for them, and take pictures with them. Some of them have gone on to be quite successful and we remain really close friends.
I think if I had stayed at home, waiting for invitations to come to New York Fashion Week, I wouldn’t have had any interesting content. What would I be writing about? So the doing of something, no matter what, is absolutely the most important thing.
Sylvia: Totally agree. Thank you so much Lyn for being on the podcast. Maybe we’ll talk to each other in a couple of years to see how far you’ve gone.
Lyn: Thank you Sylvia and thank you for being my very first press as a blogger!
Sylvia: It was clear you were going to be a very big star to be honest.
Lyn: Thank you.
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Lyn Slater, the Accidental Icon. Let me know what you learned or what you enjoyed in a comment below!
Links mentioned in this episode
- Listen to this interview
- Accidental Icon
- Accidental Icon Instagram
- Accidental Icon facebook
- Lyn’s style interview on 40+Style (the first interview on style she ever did!)