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.
Lunch with Nadia Fairfax, (left) Sara Donaldson and Zanita Whittington at Woollahra’s Hotel Centennial, Photo: Mimi Liu
Bloggers Zanita Whittington, Sara Donaldson and Nadia Fairfax are carving out a career in blogging and rank among the most influential online voices in Australian fashion, with a combined reach of over a million followers across their social-media platforms. They are also my co-stars in the coming season of reality TV show Fashion Bloggers, which goes behind the scenes of their lives. I caught up with the girls to chat about the life as a super blogger, the hurdles they have faced in the industry and starring in their own reality show.
Tell me a day in the life of you?
Zanita: I usually struggle to get out of bed – but always set my alarm around 6.30am. I spend about an hour on social media and emails in the morning and then I’ll probably dress up in my gym gear and mean to do some exercise but really just try to touch my toes for two minutes and get some coffee. From there I’ll start working on posts and major correspondence. If I’m not working from home I’ll be out shooting on working on projects and If I’m not doing that, I’m likely on a plane.
Sara: It usually starts with answering emails and posting the first social media post of the day. Every day is different but mostly it’s spent in front of the computer, otherwise it’s on the phone with my managers, attending meeting with PR’s and brands and coordinating my content.
How did you get into a blogging?
Sara: I started Harper and Harley over six years ago while I was completing my marketing degree up in Brisbane where I grew up. I knew I wanted to work in fashion but had no idea how to go about it, so the blog was a pure hobby and blogging wasn’t what it is now.
When did you realise you could make blogging a career?
Sara: I had a few years behind me when the industry changed and blogging in itself had developed into its own industry and brands were looking to work with bloggers to tap into their audience. Because I was once of the few fashion bloggers that had been around for some time I had gained the followers that these brands wanted to speak to.
Nadia: Before I even started my blog! I was lucky enough to have a growing social media following before Fairfax Journal began.I was being approached to work with brands on a regular basis. It was a very organic process. Having a blog was the only next step.
What is the best part about what you do?
Zanita: The best part about what I do is really just being the master of my own destiny. My blogging career has been a slow burn, building up from a hobby and I never became fully aware of how great it is to have you’re own business until more recently. You get to reap the whole rewards of your own hard work.
Sara: The best part is that I’m able to run my own business and have the freedom that comes with that. It really is quite remarkable that this industry has evolved and young women have the ability to be their own bosses.
What is the worst?
Zanita: Personally the absolute worst thing is when you hear about the distain that’s held for fashion bloggers within the industry, particular when it’s like ‘X’ brand or magazine won’t work with bloggers. We all got into this business because of how much we love fashion and this industry, it’s a bit of a stab to get that kind of feedback.
Sara: The worst part is that you can never switch off. There is always something to upload or post. Say goodbye to weekends, evenings and no holiday goes by without posting.
Nadia: Our world is filled with social media platforms so there will always be some negativity and a couple of trolls. I unfortunately get a little criticism about my size, I am very petite (and proud!) so is my mother and my mothers mother. It’s unfortunate that there is a stigma that comes with working in the fashion industry – that all l girls are starving themselves to look a certain way. There are also a lot of girls / women who are just genetically thin who are made to feel like they need curves like Kim Kardashion to feel attractive. Body shaming works both ways, people need to be aware that it is extremely rude to write “Eat a steak” on ones social media platforms, especially when it was what I ate for lunch today – With a side of fries!
So many people are bloggers today, what do you think is the secret to your success?
Zanita: It’s tough for me to share the method to my success because it was really just about feeling it out. You need to be both genuine and original.
Sara: Being consistent is key. Not just with the quantity of posts but the quality as well. you need both, not one or the other.
Nadia: Not being afraid. I am not adhering to any pre-conceptions about blogging, or following the “norm” in our industry. I make my own rules! I feel a lot of aspiring bloggers are mimicking some of the big names. Find your own aesthetic, there is a giant gap in the market for emerging bloggers, someone step up to the plate please!
Being such a successful blogger, what is the most exciting opportunity it has opened up for you?
Zanita: Two things, being part of Fashion Bloggers and being on the cover of Conde Nast’s Lucky Magazine alongside Nicole Warne and Chiara Ferragni.
Sara: Being on a reality TV show that is viewed in over 100 countries around the world is hard to beat to be quite honest. However, being about to design my own range of shoes with Tony Bianco last year was quite amazing.
Nadia: Why thank you Kate, Most certainly being invited to join the Fashion Bloggers team, being able to share our story with people all over the world is wild! The show is aired in over 100 countries now! I am also the Australian Fashion Ambassador for Samsung, I am very fortunate to work with one of the worlds largest and best technology brands, what we do is highly focused around technology and its very special to “be in bed” with the best. I have creative input on the projects we work on together and the content we create, It’s quite surreal.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
Zanita: That we’re in it for free stuff!
Sara: I think the media and peers in general find fashion bloggers an easy target because we’re mostly young women, and the notion of being sent product and flown around the world and be paid for it is actually quite hard to digest, even I think it’s incredible. What they don’t see though is the work that goes into creating a brand that is able to generate the following to be considered influential. At the end of the day bloggers have something brands want, and thats why they work with them.
If you hadn’t gone into a career in fashion, what would you be doing?
Zanita: Probably a personal trainer or nutritionist, its a pretty common segue for former models.
Sara: My family owns and runs a kitchenware wholesaling business, so there is a high chance I would be selling spatulas and apple peelers if I wasn’t as determined to be in fashion.
Nadia: This one is easy! I’d be an Olympic gymnast or a Sports Journalist. I was an elite athlete at the Australian institute of sport for many years and my father was a wallaby. Although sport isn’t present on my blog, it is still such a big part of my life. GO the TAHS!
What has been your biggest pinch-me moment?
Zanita: Being flown to Paris to be part of the Lucky Magazine cover shoot… I may have ugly cried with excitement and happiness. It was beyond surreal.
Sara: Every time someone comes up to me and says they follow my blog I honestly am blown away. It’s a very strange situation to have online relationships with hundreds of thousands of people but see them as a number. It’s when they break that down and I can put a face to them that it all becomes real.
Nadia: When my wonderful parents realised that blogging was an actual career![laughs]. I think they thought I had just been taking selfies in bed for the last year! I love that the generation above us have started to use Instagram and follow blogs etc, it’s fantastic! I think it is always a “pinch yourself” moment when you have been found credible by those ahead of you.
You have readers all around the world, where is the strangers place you have been recognised?
Zanita: It’s always bizarre being recognised in another city outside of Australia… strangely enough it happens for me alot more in New York than it does in Sydney! Maybe its because Americans are more forward about approaching you.
Sara: I was crossing the street in London and had some girls come say hi. That was really nice. But also when I’m in my neighbourhood doing my normal non Harper and Harley stuff like picking up some fish and chips for dinner and get recognised I get taken aback. I’ve learnt that you should always make an effort… just in case!
Did you ever think when you first started your blog, you would be starring in a TV show?
Zanita: When I was seven years old, I decide my three options for career were model, actress or singer. I feel like I ended up in some kind of middle ground. Can’t say I would have predicted this when I started my blog!
Sara: If I could tell my 19 year old self that this was going to happen I’m not sure I would have gone ahead with it!
Nadia: Never in a million years, but in saying that I never been one to shy away the lens of a camera. It’s no surprise to me that I have moved in this direction. I am thoroughly enjoying the process of making the show and feel strongly about the messages we are conveying to the world. GIRL POWER!
Have you enjoyed being on the show?
Zanita: Enormously – I had no idea what being part of it was going to be like but between the other girls in the cast and the production team, we are like a little family.
What is it like to watch yourself on TV?
Zanita: Half the time it’s really fun and half the time I hate it with a passion. With my blog and even my youtube channel, I can filter anything about myself that makes me uncomfortable, but with the show I have no control over that. Even some of my mannerisms make me cringe.
Sara: Watching yourself on TV is the worst part, you pick apart everything you’re doing from the way your face moves, what your hair looks like to the sound of your voice. I just love watching all the other girls. In particular I can’t wait to see Nadia on the show, she is hilarious in person so I hope that she’s really welcomed and loved by the viewers.
Nadia: I only made a few cameo appearances last season and I was left wanting more. I can only imagine I won’t mind it! Gosh, How vain do I sound? It is mostly because we have a very talented production team working behind the scenes and as a cast we are very natural. There is not much to be afraid of.
What should viewers expect to see you do on Fashion Bloggers this season?
Zanita: I can’t even remember. I’ve had the biggest whirlwind few months – all I can say is it’s just pure craziness.
What is the secret to a good Instagram shot?
Zanita: Good editing! It needs to be bright and punchy. You only have a second to make an impression on Instagram so your pictures need to be really striking. No pictures of friends out partying! Those pics never get the likes.
Do you have any tips or tricks for taking a great selfie?
Zanita: Stand in the window, looking into the light. Works everytime.
Sara: It’s all about finding good light, it’s make or break. Face a window is your best bet!
Nadia: Just keep snapping…. The more you take the higher the chance is you’ve captured a great one, and of course, just like your teacher told you about handwriting – Practice makes perfect!
Who is your favourite person to follow on Instagram and why?
Zanita:@snoopybabe – it’s my favourite inst-cat. Instagram is amazing for people with pet envy.
Nadia:Lena Perminova, she is a Russian socialite / model / Mother / theralantropist etc, She has divine style and she is surrounded by many interesting people.
What do you do for fun in your spare time?
Zanita: Spare time? What is this concept?
Nadia: I “Date with Kate” – in real life! I am a very social being, I love to lunch. Sydney is sprawling with incredible eateries and I try my best dine at them all.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Zanita: My dream is to have my own photo studio, so hopefully I’ll have that.
Sara: The great thing about blogging is that your blog and readers grow with you, so If I was still contributing content to Harper and Harley in 10 years time and still enjoying it then I would be quite happy with that.
Nadia: Married with children! Of course continuing working on my site and all things fashion, but creating a family is certainly number one for me.
With so many fashion bloggers out there, you really have to stand out from the pack if you want to turn it into a full time career. Harper and Harley’s Sara Donaldson’s is one such person who has managed to turn her blog into her day job and she couldn’t love it more. Here she shares the secret to taking a good photo, how she feels about starring on Fashion Bloggers and the best piece of fashion advice she has ever received…
What got me started as a blogger…
I was studying marketing in Brisbane and knew I wanted to work in fashion but wasn’t quite sure how to get my foot in the door, especially in a city that didn’t have the biggest fashion industry. I started my blog after getting hooked reading a few international blogs and thought if they can do, it I can do it.
Turning blogging into a career…
I’ve been blogging for coming up to six years and have seen a lot of friends go full time with their blogs, so I knew it was possible if you gave it 100 per cent of your time. As I was also in the first few years of my marketing career I didn’t want to give up on it too early on without gaining some industry experience. After five and half years of blogging and working full time I felt I reached the tipping point where I was earning more from my blog than I was at my day job and it just made sense to make the move and making my blog my full time career.
A typical day for me involves…
Emails and lots of them! Back and forth calls with my management and a meeting with a brand or PR agency. Perhaps an event in the evening and working on upcoming posts and updating the many social media platforms that Harper and Harley is on.
Making Fashion Bloggers…
I have a few friends in the TV production industry so knew there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that no one knows about. I think the hardest thing for me is that balancing act of trying to be real and let people into your world, but at the same time editing yourself as at the end of the day you have a business and that needs to be the focus.
If I could raid anyone’s wardrobe…
After getting a look into Mandy’s (of the blog Oracle Fox) new walk-in wardrobe on the show I’m itching to rummage through it!
My style is…
Black, white grey. Clean lines. Relaxed.
The best piece of fashion advice I’ve received…
Never wear more than three colours at a time.
My style icons are…
Emmanuelle Alt, Caroline de Maigret, Elin Kling.
Caroline de Maigret
One thing I own too much of but won’t stop buying…
Black midi skirts and black dresses.
My biggest fashion splurge…
A Proenza Schouler leather jacket. But worth it!
My game plan for beating an “I have nothing to wear” day…
Go onto Pinterest and get inspired.
How I avoid wardrobe boredom…
Accessories can be the most simple way to make an outfit feel new again. Invest in a great bag, a simple ring or a new pair of sunglasses.
The key to a good photo is…
Know your angles and lighting is key.
My guilty pleasures…
Chocolate and bad TV.
My beauty routine is…
Tone morning and night with SKII and also take off my makeup before bed. I use simple cleansers like Cetaphil that aren’t full of nasty chemicals and one of my favourite moisturisers is Clarins Beauty Flash Balm. Plus I never leave the house without filling in my brows.
Photography: Harper and Harley, NY Mag, Street Peeper,
Me with fellow bloggers, Sara Donaldson, Margaret Zhang, Zanita Whittington and Amanda Shadforth.
Hi guys, I’m super excited to announce that I am a part of the TV series Fashion Bloggers, premiering on October 15 on The Style Network. The Foxtel series will follow me and fellow fashion bloggers – Zanita Whittington, Margaret Zhang, Sara Donaldson and Amanda Shadforth – during our day-to-day lives and travels. I’m extremely nervous but so excited to give an insight into the crazy lives we live… Stay tuned! Kate xx