We had the pleasure of sitting down with Danielle Bernstein, founder of world-renowned fashion blog, WeWoreWhat.
The platform, which launched in 2010, now boasts more than 2.6 million followers on Instagram alone. In addition to her success as an influencer, Bernstein has two clothing brands, Shop WeWoreWhat and Danielle Bernstein, as well as WeGaveWhat, the philanthropic counterpart of her business, which supports charitable initiatives and raises awareness for small businesses.
Bernstein is also the founder of MOE Assist, a project management tool to help creators centralize and manage projects, partnerships, invoicing, and payments. As if that wasn’t enough, she is also a New York Times Best Selling Author and Forbes 30 under 30 winner at the age of 24.
Rest assured, this 29 year old fashion icon is informing our cultural zeitgeist. Read more to hear how Danielle Bernstein built her empire and shifted the conversation surrounding the influencer industry.
Tell me a little bit about how you got started and what initially inspired you to create a fashion blog.
WeWoreWhat started as a street style blog back in 2010. I had just transferred from Wisconsin to FIT and I wanted to create this daily source of outfit inspiration that I was seeing every day for my friends that weren't in New York City and weren't exposed to the same fashion trends. So I started a blog as a street style photographer and slowly, but surely, that turned into a personal style blog. Then Instagram launched, and I now had a bigger platform than ever. This new platform allowed me to pioneer the influencer industry over the past 11 or so years. About four years back, I started creating my own products which brought my business to the next level. I launched a line of overalls called Second Skin overalls, and at the same time, also made the Forbes 30 under 30 list at the age of 24. All of this is to say that I built what it means to be an influencer and a modern day entrepreneur. I then signed on a licensing deal with a swimwear brand, and shortly after, created Shop WeWoreWhat, which is my brand that has swim, overalls, denim, active, and more categories to come! I also had my Danielle Bernstein line which was exclusively at Macy’s for the first year, and is now in house with the WeWoreWhat brand.
How would you describe what it means to be an influencer in this day of age, and how has that definition shifted over the years?
Well, the influencer industry didn't even really exist when I started, so I was always trying to prove the point that we were the most modern form of advertising and the best source of advertising. A billboard in Times Square may get a ton of people walking by and seeing it, but if you advertise on an Instagram profile like WeWoreWhat, you are reaching a very specific demographic of consumers. You know exactly their age, you know exactly where they're located, and you know that they're here to buy products. So it's a better use of advertising dollars and that's really the theory and concept that I have spent the past 11 years proving. The influencer industry is way more than just posting on Instagram—there's so much business planning behind it and all of the carefully curated content creation. There is so much behind the scenes work that people don’t get to see everyday, so professionalizing this industry has always been a goal of mine.
How did you transform your hobby into a profitable business?
Sponsorship dollars, for sure. Once I started charging for content, it became a business. I was finally able to prove that by posting on Instagram, I could produce a certain amount of sales for people. Based on different calculations, I was able to put a price tag on that, which led to really making a real business out of it. Selling my own products came shortly after, which was putting the proof in the pudding.
Was there a particular moment that you knew this was going to be your career?
When I was able to financially support myself, which came the year after school, was really when I was wanting to take this seriously and prove to myself that this was sustainable as a career. Forbes 30 under 30 was a huge accomplishment of mine, as well as writing a book that became a New York Times bestseller. Those two things are pretty big milestones in my career and these “I made it moments,” but they definitely didn’t happen overnight. It’s been such a gradual process and such organic growth over the past decade or so, and I feel really lucky to have had such success in this industry.
What advice would you give young aspiring entrepreneurs who also want to change the narrative in their respective industries?
Be a disruptor. Consistency is key and you have to hustle, but disrupting an industry is really what I did. And it worked. I changed what it means to advertise, and the way that marketing dollars are spent. Nothing is more disruptive than that!
There is often a negative connotation surrounding the fashion industry that it’s frivolous or lesser than other industries. How have you worked to change that perception?
I wouldn’t even say that I just work in fashion anymore because that doesn’t even speak to the magnitude of things that I do. I’m an entrepreneur and a business owner. I have two brands, a tech company, a best-selling book, and I manage a team of 30 people. Saying fashion is frivolous would just simply be ignorant because there's so much work that goes into just creating a dress that people don't see every day. From the design team, to the tech team that’s making fit notes, to sending it to the seller, there is so much that goes into even just one shirt that people don’t realize. To say fashion is frivolous or not a real business would just be silly.
You wear so many different hats. You’re an influencer, an entrepreneur, a designer, a philanthropist, how do you allocate your time to manage all of those different titles?
I'm so thankful for my amazing team that has helped me every step of the way. They manage me more than I manage them. Allocating time where it’s needed, and being able to delegate responsibility, has been something really important to be successful and to be efficient. That being said, I pretty much work 24/7, so I never really know when to turn it off. In some ways that’s my greatest asset, but it’s also my worst.
Going off of that, how do you manage your personal and professional life?
There's this person named Moe who is my right hand, who has been with me for eight years, and she basically drives the ship.
What is the most rewarding, but also the most challenging aspect of your job?
The creation of WeGaveWhat, which happened at the beginning of the pandemic, is definitely the most rewarding part of my career. WeGaveWhat is the charitable arm of WeWoreWhat, where we play the middleman between amazing organizations and small businesses to a much larger audience. Through WeGaveWhat, we’ve not only been able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for different organizations, but we’ve also kept afloat dozens and dozens of small businesses. The giving back that we’ve been able to do through my platform has been so rewarding. It’s this newfound sense of responsibility that I feel since the pandemic has started. The point of WeGaveWhat was to continue giving back past the pandemic, and we’ve been able to prove that we are going to do that. It’s all been so amazing and so fulfilling.
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Is there a particular charity or cause within WeGaveWhat that you are the most passionate about?
I’m passionate about all of them, but we have definitely worked the most closely with River Fund. River Fund’s motto is “We take poverty personally,” and I sit on the board of this organization now. We’ve been able to give back to them more than anybody else, and it’s been such an incredible thing to see.
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As a designer, how do you come up with all your ideas? Is there one particular place where you get your inspiration from?
We pull a lot of inspiration from vintage and editorial, and just things that I wish I had in my own closet. Now that we have grown so much, there’s a whole team of people that present designs on a daily basis, and we collaboratively work together to create collections that we think customers will love. I listen to my followers all the time. They tell me what they want, from shorts to a longer inseam or pants with a higher waist, and I incorporate that feedback into my designs. My followers will ask me for new pieces and I want to make them products that they want to wear. This community I have grown is so involved in the design process and the behind the scenes, which makes them feel much more connected to the products we are putting out there.
Shifting gears a little, have you always wanted to write a book?
I just wanted to tell my story. When you’ve grown up in front of the camera, people think they know everything about your life and they don’t. Writing my book was my way of sharing more about my life, hence the title is This is Not a Fashion Story. My story is not just about fashion, and I wanted to share all of me with the world.
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Is it ever emotionally exhausting to share all of your life on social media?
All the time, every single day. I've had to learn how to find a better work life balance, which is something I’m continuing to work on every day. It definitely is exhausting to always be on.
How do you deal with the negative commentary you get on your social media platforms?
I used to have a saying that “haters mean you are doing something right” or “hustle until your haters ask if you’re hiring,” but now I just say that you have to rise above it and not give it any attention. People that hate are most likely people that are also hurting, so I try to be sympathetic towards them and just not listen to them. You really just have to ignore them, that's really the only key.
Where do you see yourself in the next five or ten years?
I'm really focused on growing my brands. Whether that means introducing new retail stores, or new categories, you name it, I’m excited to continue being my entrepreneurial self and creating new businesses. Who knows where I’ll be in 10 years, but hopefully I’ll have two kids by then!
Speed round with Danielle Bernstein: Hamptons Edition
Favorite spot to eat
It’s so hard to pick one! I would have to say Duryea's.
Favorite spot to grab a drink
Surf Lodge and Le Bilboquet.
Your go-to outfit this summer
A great matching set.
Your go-to coffee spot and order
I love Jack’s so much. Almond Milk Cappuccino for sure.
Your song of the summer
“Love Tonight” by Shouse. So good.
Photography by: Danielle Bernstein