She’s one of the most well-known and successful media stars in the influencer world — so isn’t it about time we all got schooled about Danielle Bernstein? The Daily sat down with the 26-year-old businesswoman to unearth her secrets and find out how she’s just getting started.
How did you get your start?
I was born in Great Neck, New York, on Long Island. I had a nice upbringing. I was an athlete; I played sports. I was always into fashion, but in more of a “I love shopping” way. I didn’t think it would become a career.
How did you end up at FIT?
I first attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a retail major, and then I realized that I really needed to be in the city if I wanted to pursue fashion as a career. I transferred to FIT in my sophomore year, and that’s when I started (the blog] WeWoreWhat. I was walking around campus, and I thought, “Wow, everyone dresses really well here! I would love to be able to show my friends back in Wisconsin what we could wear to school.” In Madison, we were wearing sweatpants and UGGs every day. I picked up a camera and taught myself how to use it. A year into it, I flipped the camera on myself and started photographing my style, which is when [WeWoreWhat] switched over to a personal style blog. Blogging was not an industry then—I was just doing it for fun. I thought I was going to be an event planner or do something in nightlife, and then, I eventually realized this could be something.
Word on the street is that you told your dad to give you six months to get your career off the ground. How did you spend that time?
I networked like crazy. I owe a big part of my career success to being a fearless networker. I met people, took meetings, got advice, and went to every event that I could possibly go to. I would pull [samples] from brands and shoot content for them to show them what I could do, and then eventually, I would charge for that. I signed with the talent division at Next Model Management, and my agent was Jennifer Powell; she ended up leaving to be in-house with me. That’s when I really started getting contracts, and Refinery29 dubbed me one of the “next big style bloggers.”
Was Instagram around then?
Instagram had just started. The first thing I ever posted was a picture of my 18th-birthday cake. I don’t remember when the transition happened, but it became a platform to show what I was wearing.
Do you ever look back on your own photos and wonder, “What was I thinking?”
Of course! I’m critical of what I was wearing, the way I filtered my photos.… I went through the phase where I had ashy gray hair, and I’m like, “Holy s**t, what was I thinking?” But it’s all part of your natural growth. It’s really nice that some of my followers today have been there since the beginning in 2010.
How do you capture people’s attention?
People always say, “What’s the secret?” and I always say that my product is an example of organic growth. I was an authentic young woman, living in New York City, trying to make it like everyone else, and I was showing that in a really raw and real way. So I think people could relate to me. My blog is a mix of the relatable and the aspirational. I don’t only write about my style. I talk about where I’m eating, going out, vacationing, I offer business advice.… Sharing in that authentic way is how I gained such a good relationship with my audience.
What was it like to see your brand grow exponentially?
Hitting a million followers was definitely a goal from early on. When I was at about 700,000 followers, I was interviewed by Harper’s Bazaar about the way bloggers make money. I was one of the first to publicly talk about sponsored content — I revealed the average amount of money an influencer could make on a post. It was picked up the next day by between 15 and 30 different publications — everyone from Forbes to Business Insider to Elle — and I saw a jump of 200,000 followers overnight.
Why do you think that financial matters were so hush-hush?
It was and still really is so undefined. We’re writing the rule book as we go—me and the original bloggers who really started this industry. Now, there are laws and regulations, but it was all trial and error in the beginning. We weren’t sure how people would respond to talking about [financial matters] publicly. I had no fear—I could let someone know I’m being paid to post this because it’s still a product that I fully believe in. I won’t post about a product that I won’t get behind.
Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?
Yes, 100 percent. I don’t consider myself just a blogger. Now I have more than just my blog. I have a swim line, a line
of overalls, I’m an investor in more than six different companies where I sit on the board of advisors, and I’m creating a tech company right now that I haven’t really talked about yet.
Do blogs matter in the age of Instagram?
It’s so funny — just this morning I posted “Hey, I want to re – do my site. Can WordPress experts DM me?” And on my next slide I said, “By the way, just curious how many of you still look at blogs versus Instagram?” It was 10 percent said they look at blogs, 90 percent said only Instagram. I was blown away by that—I thought it would actually be even more than that. I haven’t updated my blog design in five years. I’m going to re-do it just so that I have a more professional platform, but Instagram is my business.
How do brands know the return they’re getting when they pay you to post?
The ROI is hard to measure. Your return on your investment is a combination of your exposure and the actual sales. If you’re being exposed to 2 million people, a majority of those 2 million people are a demographic of shoppers — they’re consumers, so you will see a certain number of sales. But you’ll also see that your brand gets exposure, which over time will equate to sales. I’ve had brands e-mail me, “That product [you posted about] sold out for us.” I posted a pair of overalls two days ago that was a restock of my overalls, and we did $50,000 that day in sales. So if I was to pay myself $10,000, which is my usual sponsored post fee, $50,000 would be the return on my investment.
If you have a million followers, what is a reasonable rate for a brand to pay?
It varies, because it also depends on engagement. But I think a million followers is $5K a post, 2 million followers is $10K a post, and then Instagram stories are usually half of that. But I think Instagram stories are now more valuable than actual static posts, because of the swipe up and linking capabilities. An Instagram post may get 20,000 likes, but an Instagram stories gets more than 100,000 views. Yes, one lives forever and one lives for 24 hours, but I think that Instagram stories might be more effective for brands.
Do you make your Instagram stories as curated as your posts?
Not at all. My Instagram is the editorial version of my life. My Instagram story is more like the reality – TV version.
Which do you prefer?
Stories! It’s more authentic and real and raw. I started a new series called “Get Dressed With Me,” and that’s created the highest engagement out of any of my stories that I do. I take my followers through the process of how I get dressed in the morning.
Tell us more about the collections you’ve launched.
I have a swim line with Onia and a line of overalls, which was completely self-funded. It was a big learning curve, but I’ve done it completely on my own with the partners that I brought on, and it’s been a labor of love. We’ve had three successful swim collections, and for Fall ’19, I’ll be launching my own line as WeWoreWhat Swim.
A lot of publicists hate influencers. What kind of feedback do you get from the industry?
It’s oversaturated at the moment. Everyone and their mother wants to be their own boss and use Instagram as a business. It’s hard to weed out the good ones.
What is your five-year plan?
My three-year plan is to continue to grow my brands, introduce new ones, and to keep investing and becoming a strategic partner in start-ups, companies, and brands that I believe in from an early stage.
Getting personal…Do you find that men are threatened by you because you’re a strong woman?
I date older, so yes. I don’t think I could ever date someone my own age. I’m 26 years old, but I’m well beyond my years. My last boyfriend was 10 years older than me.
What are your passions besides fashion?
I hip-hop dance, ride horses, travel, write.
Do you have a book in the works?