Colleen Patterson is the content marketing manager for Muses, the only digital growth app focused on building long-term relationships. She’d love you to get involved.
BY COLLEEN PATTERSON
Jena Gambaccini collaborates with her friends. She just so happens to be friends with fashion breakout stars, Azeeza Khan, Dana Rebecca Gordan, Rhea Fernandez, and Angela Brantley, all of whom started on the same ground floor: Chi City.
If you follow ChiCityFashion, you know Jena's story. In 2009, she joined Twitter as a lark intending to tune into celebrity gossip. She ended up sharing her style advice. Fast forward seven years to today and the voice who once guided a hundred some-odd Twitter followers toward refining their wardrobe has established herself as the editor of Chicago's longest-running fashion blog and creative director of Giuliana Rancic's HSN clothing line G by Giuliana.
“I created ChiCityFashion for two reasons,” says Jena. “One, I wanted to [help create] some sort of fashion presence in Chicago, and also because fashion is very personal to me.”
At the time that she began her blog, Chicago's fashion scene was fledgling at best. It had passion but very little participation — that was in the works.
“Just looking at how much it’s grown [since] 2010 to now and how everyone has really raised each other, whether they’re bloggers or designers or stylists, there’s such a growing creative community here. It’s really awesome to be a part of it.”
Hear it from JENA:
One of Jena's favorite designers and Chicago native, Azeeza Khan echoes her appraisal of Chicago’s early fashion scene, particularly the power of its online community. As Khan told Fashionista this fall, “my first blogger support came from Chiara Ferragni. Back then, the bloggersphere was much more limited, but she was really at the top of her game. We connected through social media; she wore [my line] over a dozen times that first year — and I think that helped establish some awareness in the industry. I got thousands of emails the first day she posted.” The retail inquiries poured in, among them launch partner, Barneys New York.
That's the secret to Jena's success: connecting with friends of friends. She'll tell you that Chicago is an open city built on local connection. It's an city where word-of-mouth marketing is a rule of law, where a blogger will go to an event, meet a designer, hit it off, post their work to Instagram, and drive sales to their opening store on Michigan Ave.
It’s also a city where two strangers with the same jacket on will introduce themselves and shortly decide to start a brand together. That’s the story of HERO/BLACK, one of Jena’s personal favorites new lines.
Rhea Fernandez and Angela Brantley started as friends. Then they started a business based around their shared vision for a luxury street brand. There’s no secret to establishing a partnership. It all happens on a local level.
Take Dana Rebecca Gordan, whose line of fine jewelry took off on social media among local fans before catching the eye of Oprah.
“I love Dana Rebecca. She actually designed my engagement ring. I’ve been a fan of hers for a really long time,” says Gambaccini.
Gordan, the designer behind the brand started out very small, as a one-woman operation working out of the back of her dad’s office. Then, at age 24, the producers of HARPO rang her up with a request to include her among Oprah’s Favorite Things. Since, celebrity stylists Rachel Zoe and Petra Flannery have shared Gordan’s line with the likes of Mila Kunis and Demi Moore whose own followers have taken it from there. No matter where you're located, online audiences will transcend your home base.
The same pattern holds true for Jena’s own work. From a Twitter following of a couple hundred, to a blog which garners three thousands unique visitors a month, she owes her eventual partnership with Guilana Rancic to her grassroot fans. After all, they encouraged her to begin the blog in the first place.
“Working with Guiliana Rancic is something I never even thought would happen," says Jena. "I was writing every single day for 6 years... so I’m very grateful that I have this other avenue to pursue that I love and I hope to continue for a long time.”
While Chicago may not be recognized as a fashion hub yet — all the mechanisms and opportunities for success are there. Its fashion industry is small but supportive and close-knit. Its participants are vocal and open to collaborations. For Jena and each of her favorite local designers, they didn't just get their start in Chicago, they got their start one person at a time. Arguably, one person at a time is the only place to start.