By Meg Jones
“I recently found this quote on Pinterest that said if your dreams
don’t scare you, you’re not doing something right.”
-Amber Venz, president of rewardStyle
I walked up the red brick steps and twisted an old-fashioned key to ring the door bell of a charming house on Boll Street in uptown, home to rewardStyle.
As I peeked in, I knew I was in the right place when I saw a backdrop with the rewardStyle and CurrentlyObsessed logos draped on the wall in the entrance.
I sat down with SMU alum Amber Venz, president of rewardStyle, and her boyfriend, Baxter Box, CEO, to get the inside scoop on the business they built together and how it has changed the landscape of fashion blogging.
After designing her own jewelry collection, dabbling as a buyer at Studio Sebastian, a stylist in Los Angeles, a global wholesale intern for fashion designer Thakoon and a fashion blogger, Venz had a purse-full of experience in the fashion industry.
And in the process, she had learned something: What she really loved was fashion blogging—the creativity of putting together outfits and sharing her work with readers.
While on a weekend trip, Venz and Box, who holds an SMU MBA, brainstormed about her dilemma and developed a plan to accomplish what branded media companies have been trying for years: a plan to monetize on-line content, in this case, fashion blogs. Before long, rewardStyle was born.
RewardStyle has proved to be a lucrative tool for everyone from established, old-school fashion bloggers to up-and-comers.
“RewardStyle really evens the playing field of bloggers,” says Venz. “It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been around or who your grandfather is, it’s pure numbers.”
The 3,000 members of rewardStyle use affiliate links to connect their readers with online retailers. They then earn a commission if items are purchased.
RewardStyle works with top-tier fashion bloggers with unique URLs who are consistently posting original content and have built a social network around their blogs.
The invitation-only exclusivity of rewardStyle comes down to that crucial question in fashion: Who is influencial? Based on rewardStyle’s standards, influence is measured by which bloggers bring in the most dollars, not by who has the most followers.
“Fashion is a business,” Venz says. “Bloggers have incredible style and taste. They are consistent, and they do a beautiful job on the creative side. But at the end of the day, we are looking at the numbers, and those numbers are turned into sales for advertisers.”
SMU senior and Fashion Media minor Katie Day applied for a position with rewardStyle last fall, when the company was growing so quickly that Venz found she needed a bigger team.
“After working with rewardStyle, I’m amazed at the influence of the blogging world on fashion,” says Day, now an account consultant with the company. “People are making careers out of their personal style blogs, and they’re really building a brand for themselves.”
One factor behind rewardStyle’s success is the relationship the company can create with its bloggers. Venz speaks the language of fashion bloggers and knows how they operate on a day-to-day basis.
“I am literally my own client, so if something is frustrating, I change it,” says Venz.
Since the launch of rewardStyle, Venz and Box have been building auxilary products around it, such as CurrentlyObsessed, a web tool that allows readers to stalk their favorite style bloggers and their obsessions.
Bloggers can opt in and create a cue of products to work with. Then CurrentlyObsessed syndicates their favorite items.
“It’s really a look into the mind of an editor,” says Venz.
According to Venz, 30 percent to 50 percent of the fashion blogging industry’s sales every day originate through , Facebook, Twitter or CurrentlyObsessed.
SMU senior Krystal Schlegel, the blogger behind Krystal Schlegel The Style Book, was recently honored as one of the 25 top-grossing bloggers at rewardStyle’s influencers dinner held during New York Fashion Week.
“It was like a community of bloggers who all had rewardStyle in common,” says Schlegel. “I have met so many people in the fashion and blogging industry through rewardStyle.”
Mary Summers, an SMU alum and fashion blogger, recently spoke to the SMU Retail Club about her personal style blog, M.A.S. Fashion, and her experience as an account consultant at rewardStyle.
Some important advice I took away from Summers for would-be bloggers: Be an entrepreneur and build a business around your blog.
“You’re not just a URL,” Summers says, “you’re a face on your blog and a face on social media.”
Schlegel adds that bloggers must make their site their own. She says she thinks about how she would describe an event or style choice to her best friend when writing for readers. She also tries to maintain a consistent “voice” across media – not just on her blog, but on Facebook and Twitter as well. Be a friend to readers, one with great fashion advice. A friend they visit often.
All Venz and Box’s media tools, from rewardStyle to CurrentlyObsessed, are designed to reward bloggers who succeed at this task—so a hobby can become a business.
“I think rewardStyle is very literal—reward your style,” says Venz. “If you’re a good styler, you’ll get paid.”