Sara Donaldson and I having lunch at Four in Hand, Paddington
Sara Donaldson is the blogger behind fashion and beauty blog Harper & Harley and has a combined reach of more than 800,000 followers across her social media channels. She was among the main cast on the reality TV show Fashion Bloggers and recently launched an online fashion store, The Undone, with business partner Georgia Martina. Donaldson, 27, chats to me about blogging fame, why finding balance can be a struggle, and her biggest surprise at having an online shop.
How did you first get into blogging?
I was at university and I was reading really old school blogs. Growing up in Brisbane, there was nothing really going on there, so I just started blogging while I was at university and working part-time as a sales assistant … Then I moved to Sydney and I had a full-time [marketing] role but I was still blogging … And then I finally gave it all up and just did my blog.
What was the defining moment when you decided to take on blogging as a full-time career?
Five years into Harper and Harley, it was at a point where the industry had changed [so] I could monetise my blog in such a way that I was earning more from my blog than I was with my full-time job … I was quite reserved in stepping away from having another job because I felt like it was a safety net. I didn’t want to launch into it because I wasn’t quite sure where it was going to go.
What are the main ways you monetised your blog?
Affiliate networks like RewardStyle or ShopStyle, and then also doing sponsored posts for the brands.
What opportunities and doors has blogging opened for you?
Well, being part of Fashion Bloggers was incredible… [and] it’s just wonderful that I can call amazing brands and designers my friends.
What is the secret to your blogging success?
I’m was an early adopter. It’s also about having consistent content and making sure that content is really premium. You can’t just throw up a bunch of stuff in the air and hope that does well. You have to make sure it’s all done professionally … You have to give your readers advice or give them something that’s a bit special.
With so many blogs out there, what sets you and your blog apart?
I think it’s the black, white and grey [colour scheme].
What is the best thing about what you do?
Being able to travel, just being independent, not having to work for anyone else but yourself. It’s wonderful. Everyone should have a chance to do that, if it works for them.
What’s the worst part about what you do?
I think it’s just not being able to stop. Even if you want to, you can’t stop.
What is it like to have a career that many young girls dreams about?
I receive emails all the time from girls in high school that want to be a blogger and they want advice on how to do that.
What is your advice to an upcoming blogger?
Create great content … [But] don’t think you’re going to get instant readers or instant followers. It’s not about getting the highest number of followers on social media … The industry is very fast and, just like a model, your lifespan is quite short. So make sure you have the education. I feel like I’m really successful because I had my marketing background and my experience in the workplace.
What’s your plan for life after blogging?
I feel like there will be a time in the next few years [when] the industry will change or maybe I [will] have moved on to something else. Running The Undone is so important, and making sure the business doesn’t have my face all over it, so that I can step away, because I do struggle with the fact that I can’t step away from blogging. I can’t take a holiday… It is a 24/7, 365-day job.
You launched The Undone in July. How did you transition from fashion blogger to online store owner?
I built [Harper and Harley] with an online shopping angle and it was about building a wardrobe that was really diverse and everything paired up with each other. I was able to divert sales on Harper and Harley for other online stores, up to a point where I’m like, “Well, why am I sending it to someone else when I could have it myself?”
Was it always your career goal to open a fashion store?
No. I’ve been [a blogger] for 7½ years and I needed the “phase two” to happen … It’s a big deal for anyone in their 20s – or anyone really, these days – sticking to something that long. So I just needed something else to re-energise me.
How is The Undone performing as a business so far?
We’re really happy with our first few months of trade. The Undone has such an advantage compared with other new retail outlets, with a ready-made audience due to the Harper and Harley platforms, and we’ve definitely seen that come through via our sales for the store.
What have you found most surprising in terms of having your own online store?
I thought I knew how fast the fashion industry operated, but now that I’m part of the retail-buying process, it’s becoming much more apparent to me. It’s a never-ending cycle, you’re constantly working on two or three seasons at a time: the one you physically have on hand for your customers, the one that’s about to arrive and the one you’re buying for.
Will you still concentrate on your blog now you’ve got The Undone?
It definitely is a struggle because The Undone is so exciting and I want to be doing that full-time and give that all of my attention, but I can’t forget about Harper and Harley. It’s still such a big part of what I do. I have to definitely balance between the two for a while.
What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
Hanging out with my dogs and my boyfriend … We go to the dog park in Manly with a coffee and just chill there for a little bit until we’re exhausted … We’re not big party people.
WE WENT TO Four in Hand Hotel, Paddington
WE ATE Spanish Mackarel, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Anchovy Butter; Pumpkin, Chessnuts, Endive, Kombu Butter; Iceberg Lettuce, Egg, Radish, Chives
WE DRANK Sparkling Water
SARA WORE Natan and an Iro leather jacket