Who says you have to live in New York City to have a successful career in fashion? Certainly not Jena Gambaccini. She’s the original Chicago fashion blogger, a former social media associate at e-Drop-Off (and cast member on its VH1 TV show, House of Consignment), and the current creative director of Giuliana Rancic’s HSN fashion line. She’s attended dozens of fashion week shows in both New York and London, has rocked outfits that landed her on Style.com, and wears Proenza Schouler and Margiela like the rest of us wear Top Shop.
But, it’s not just her fearless sense of style that have gotten her to where she is today. She’s also incredibly hardworking, resourceful, and persistent, too. We recently got a chance to talk to Jena about the growth of her blog, how she’s parlayed it into some seriously amazing opportunities, what it’s like to have Giuliana Rancic as a boss, and more.
YOU WERE PRETTY MUCH THE FIRST FASHION BLOGGER IN CHICAGO. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO START A BLOG?
I started it when I was bored in college in December 2009. It’s when Twitter was all the rage, and that’s the platform that really helped me discover all these fashion news websites, designers, stores, stylists, etc. … which turned into a true love for fashion beyond shopping (yes, there is a difference!) Once I built a bit of a following on Twitter, I had a few followers ask me about a blog. I’m not very tech-savvy so I never thought I’d be able to figure it out … but a free WordPress-template and about a $10 investment on GoDaddy … I had ChiCityFashion!
WHAT WERE THOSE EARLY DAYS LIKE?
The really early days were kind of funny because I didn’t tell anyone about my blog (not even my parents, or my boyfriend … who is still my boyfriend to this day) for three months. I thought it was a weird / embarrassing thing to do. I had no fashion experience (besides just loving it) so why would anyone ever listen to what I had to say about it, right? After I got invited to a show at New York Fashion Week in February 2010, that’s when I had to spill the beans about my secret blogging life! Everyone in my life has been super supportive ever since. It’s crazy to look back at those days because if there were any full-time bloggers then, they were few and far between. Now everyone is a blogger!
WHEN DID YOUR BLOG START TO REALLY GAIN TRACTION?
I can’t think of a specific time but I’ve had it for almost six years, so it’s been a slow and steady process (it’s not like one day I was in Vogue then everyone knew about ChiCityFashion … although I’ve never been in Vogue!) When people start blogs now they always want to know how to get followers / traffic (I get emails about it all the time) They want it right away. But you have to be patient and work for it. If you have something unique / authentic to say, your time will come!
HOW HAS YOUR BLOG EVOLVED SINCE YOU STARTED?
I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with it. I used to hold back a bit, nervous for what people would think (remember, it did used to my my dirty little secret). I was still myself, just not my FULL self. Now it’s Jena Gambaccini 100 percent. If you know me and you read my blog, you know it’s one in the same.
IT SEEMS LIKE THERE ARE NOW HUNDREDS OF FASHION BLOGS IN CHICAGO. HOW DO YOU CONTINUE TO MAKE CHICITYFASHION STAND OUT?
It’s so cliche but when it comes to being a blogger now-a-days, the only thing you can do to stand out is be yourself (100% yourself!) Unless you come up with a concept that no one has ever done before (and if you have then I applaud you), all you can offer is your opinion and your personality. I really am just myself and I guess that stands out enough?
FOR A WHILE, YOU WERE BLOGGING FULL-TIME, BUT RECENTLY TOOK ON A ROLE AS THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF GIULIANA RANCIC’S FASHION LINE, G BY GIULIANA, WHICH SOUNDS AMAZING. HOW DID THE OPPORTUNITY COME ABOUT?
We had met a while back and when her and Bill decided to move to Chicago full time this summer, she reached out to me about helping her find someone to assist her with her line. After a few conversations, it sounded like everything I could ever ask for, so I said I’LL DO IT.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO GO BACK TO WORKING ON SOMETHING OUTSIDE OF THE BLOG?
I’ve been wanting to get out of full-time blogging for a while. I still love doing ChiCityFashion, don’t get me wrong, but for the last couple of years I’ve been looking to scale back a bit to pursue other things. It’s great that I can work from home, make my own hours and still get paid, but after a while it’s not all that fulfilling (at least for me) so when the G by Giuliana opportunity came up, it was the perfect timing to move on to something else, while still maintaining ChiCityFashion. I get the best of both worlds now.
WHAT ARE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES AS CREATIVE DIRECTOR?
I help mostly with design but also with marketing (reaching out to bloggers, publications, etc.) and social media.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO WORK WITH GIULIANA RANCIC? SHE SEEMS LIKE SHE’D BE A BLAST AS A BOSS.
She really is. I’ve been my own boss for so long, I wasn’t sure how the transition would be to work for someone else again. She treats our relationship like a collaborative effort, which I couldn’t have more respect for. It’s hard to find kind, authentic, down-to-earth people these days and I feel extremely lucky to work for someone (regardless of how well-known they are) who embodies all of those qualities.
DO YOU THINK YOU’LL ALWAYS MAINTAIN CHICITYFASHION? OR IS YOUR NEW ROLE THE START OF A NEW DIRECTION FOR YOU?
I have no plans to shut it down anytime soon. I’m not sure if I ever want to be a 40 year old fashion blogger but who knows? Many fashion bloggers are around my age anyway (27) so we’re all either going to move onto something else or there will be a whole new generation of fashion bloggers!
DO YOU HAVE A PLAN (OR HOPE) FOR WHAT YOU’LL BE DOING FIVE YEARS FROM NOW?
I can barely look at my calendar a week out so I have NO idea what I’ll be doing in five years from now. Hopefully still be able to do something creative and make a living doing it.
WHAT’S THE BEST CAREER ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
Always follow up. I honestly don’t know who told me this (probably a college professor or something) but it’s the one thing that (I think at least) has always made me stand out as a candidate. Our generation has gotten so lazy. We submit a resume. We send one email. We make one phone call. And then give up if we don’t hear anything back. Finding the perfect balance of being confident and assertive without being aggressive and annoying is what’s going to land you that dream job.