New York-based writer Laura Reilly didn’t set out to start her own fashion newsletter. She had been working at InStyle when the coronavirus pandemic hit, prompting her to move to a part-time role to figure out what else she wanted to do professionally. “There was no plan, no agenda,” she tells Refinery29. But the move led to her launching her own fashion newsletter, Magasin, a Substack-hosted publication that scours the internet for the best style finds and sales.
“I don’t really have a boss and I don’t really have any brand guidelines I need to stick to, so I can kind of just do whatever; I can be me,” she says. “You suddenly have access to this really interested consumer base of readers who are really hungry for this kind of thing.”
Reilly’s experience with Magasin is part of a phenomenon in the fashion landscape that’s been brewing for a while, with creators and editors launching their own email-based platforms. While some looked to the greener pastures of TikTok’s algorithm, others jumped to newsletters as a more familiar type of format that allows them to build a magazine-type destination with little investment.
Capitalizing on their already-existent social media followings, these creators and editors lured subscribers into their stream-of-consciousness musings about style, shopping, and the news of the week, delivered straight to the reader’s inbox. Stylist and trend forecaster Becky Malinsky’s “5 Things To Shop This Week” newsletter has grown over 22,000 subscribers, while Man Repeller founder and author Leandra Medine has garnered over 70,000 subscribers with her newsletter “The Cereal Aisle.” Other adopters include former Vogue writer and founder of Neverworns, Liana Satenstein, former InStyle editor-in-chief Laura Brown, and illustrator Jenny Walton. Meanwhile, Washington Post fashion writer Rachel Tashjian started an invitation-only newsletter, Opulent Tips. Although she hasn’t disclosed her subscriber count, Laura Reilly has released over 130 issues of Magasin and hosted a few IRL events in New York City.
What makes this crop of fashion newsletters so alluring is that they serve as an antidote to a TikTok-obsessed media world, where video is king and blogging is so 2013. They offer a portal into a simpler time of blogs, when a punchy voice and a well-curated style was the key to fashion stardom. “[Newsletters] are a very good experience for both the writer and the reader, and I think it’s mostly because it’s a direct connection,” says Hamish McKenzie, the chief writing officer at Substack, a top newsletter platform. “It feels like a genuine relationship.”
Fashion academic and founder of the Fashion and Race Database, Kimberly Jenkins also recently launched a newsletter of the same name for her project, which has grown over 2,000 subscribers. There, she coves topics that range from race and gender to sustainability and fashion history. Jenkins says that the newsletter format has allowed her to give readers more accessibility into otherwise complicated and dense subjects. “It’s a more digestible, accessible way to access and enjoy our content,” says Jenkins. “I don’t like the idea of having our followers get lost in all of the academic jargon or feeling like a topic is too intimidating or alienating for them to appreciate.” This is why the Fashion and Race Database’s newsletter reads nothing like a scholarly text. Instead, it’s filled with news, a personable editor’s letter from Jenkins, and recommended readings. For Jenkins, who describes herself as an “unacademic academic,” creating the newsletter is a departure from the usually loaded writing she takes on with the Fashion and Race Database. “I actually find it really therapeutic and enjoyable to do,” says Jenkins. “I just write like I’m writing to a friend.”
That trust between subscribers and authors is something that recalls pre-influencer times. There’s a sense that fashion newsletters have no hidden agendas, just a genuine interest in just sharing what’s most interesting or dear to them, like a Tumblr blog in the late 2000s.
With Opulent Tips, for example, Rachel Tashjian begins each issue by answering questions from people she refers to as “RAFTM,” which stands for “Reader And A Friend To Me,” the idea being that as soon as you inquire Tashjian about what to wear to the office or what she thinks of the current trend cycle, you have now surpassed reader level to a more intimate realm. Jenny Walton’s Jenny Sais Quoi reads exactly like its name suggests: Jenny knows what to buy, what to wear, what to pack, and so on, with a format that’s more like a diary than a magazine.
What they all have in common is a sense of closeness and immediacy that isn’t often found in traditional print and digital magazines. Instead, the newsletter writers are breaking the fourth wall, talking to readers as pals. It’s this kind of communication that McKenzie says helps drive paid subscriptions, which is a big part of how many fashion newsletters are able to grow: “It’s often the more raw and more intimate stuff,” Mckenzie says of the type of content that subscribers pay for. “Your free stuff is your content and your pay stuff is more like the backstage pass.”
Reilly is aware that, much like the bloggers and the influencers before her, the newsletter bubble could burst any minute. “Even in the niche of fashion, newsletters are getting so saturated right now,” she says. “This is something just to be very mindful of and not get too comfortable.”
In the meantime, they’re all slipping into an inbox near you.
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