Just a few short years ago, Brenna Lyden was a college freshman with a focus on apparel and a newly-launched style blog, Chic Street Style. Now, that very same blog has 70,000 followers, she runs her own jewelry company called Everly, and is the CEO of multi-million dollar custom couture company Third & Loom, which, at just 22 years old, makes her one of the youngest appointed female CEO in the business world. For those keeping track at home, that’s Brenna: 1 (million, probably), Fashion Industry: 0.
As a 23-year-old myself, it’s hard to imagine someone so close in age to me catapulting to success so quickly in such a competitive industry, but rise she did, and she got there by way smart choices, pure passion, and a whole lot of courage. I talked to Brenna about all things fashion, career, and how tech changed her, and needless to say, I get how Brenna got to where she is. Read on to see what she had to say!
The Gloss: Tell me a little bit about how you got your start in the fashion industry.
Brenna Lyden: I grew up in Minneapolis, not exactly the fashion capital of the world, but I was determined to make it work. I spent my high school years working with fashion in any capacity I possibly could and learning the retail and customer side of the fashion industry. I studied apparel merchandising at Iowa State University—once again, not a fashion mecca—but they had a fantastic apparel program. Rather than keeping to just my studies in college, I launched my style blog, Chic Street Style, as a freshman. During my sophomore year, I expanded to include Skype-based styling services. Those two things became my full-time job and I was able to quit working retail.
My junior year, I landed a buying internship with Nordstrom headquarters in Seattle and, at the time, it was a dream come true. Come end of that summer, I got asked to move to Seattle and be a permanent part of the Nordstrom Merchandising Group. During my senior year, I grew Chic Street Style tremendously. When I moved to Seattle, Nordstrom was not happy about my blog (to put it lightly). I worked for the company for four months before I quit, after I was given an ultimatum: my job or my business, Chic Street Style. I stuck to my gut and walked away from a job thousands of people would kill for. Simultaneously, as this was going on, I launched Everly, my diamond-alternative jewelry line. About a week after that, my fiancé, Zach, and I were approached with the opportunity to run Third & Loom, a tech-based custom couture company that is a real game changer. So, less than six months after graduation, at 22 years old, I found myself as one of the youngest appointed female CEOs of a multi-million-dollar company, along with running three other businesses. It’s the chicest kind of chaos and there is no other way we would want it to be.
Did tech play a big role in your progress over the course of your career from the beginning, or was it something that you turned to as you sought to grow your blog?
BL: Truth be told, I was never a “tech-savvy” individual. I was the last of my friends to join Twitter and technology was intimidating to me. That all changed when I started my blog, Chic Street Style. I was forced to embrace technology in both its turbulence and triumphs. I learned some coding on my own (because in the beginning I couldn’t afford to pay anyone) for the blog. I created my entire styling business on Skype and a tech based platform, allowing me to style people from all over the world. With Third & Loom, I really had to reevaluate technology from a customer perspective and challenged myself to see beyond the present and where it will be going, one, five, 10, 20 years from now.
How important is it to you now, and how do you use it, specifically?
BL: Technology is my life, my work and my livelihood. 90 percent of my days are consumed by some sort of screen or talking about technology in some capacity. Social media, blogging and collaborating with bloggers is a good part of my businesses. I’m always active on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest personally and all of my companies are as well. I use Skype to collaborate with bloggers for both Third & Loom, Everly and for my styling business. We use apps like Viber to communicate with Third & Loom’s factories to keep the communication and creativity open. I use GoogleSheets and Docs nearly every hour to plan new collections for Everly and Third & Loom and to write my Ebook, that will be coming out this summer. Third & Loom has plans to put body scanning technology in our physical flagship (also coming soon) to measure our customers easily and accurately. In the future, I see customers of Third & Loom being able to design their dress and see it come to life before their eyes using a hologram of some sort.
You’re one of the youngest women to be appointed the CEO of a multi-million-dollar company, and considering you’re a year younger than I am, color me very intimidated. Do you feel like this role was just the natural next step in your career, or did it all happen very suddenly?
BL: First off, never be intimidated! I learned a long time ago never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.
After spending four long months at Nordstrom, I knew I didn’t have it in me personally to go through the motions of a 9-to-5, with a clear cut path for the next 40ish years. I challenge the norm every single day, so why would my career path be any different? I had been talking about being involved with Third & Loom at an executive-level months before I took on the role as CEO. But just like any part of my life, I am an all or nothing kind of person. In one week, I went from being a Nordstrom employee to being in charge of 70 employees for Third & Loom, with my fiancé Zach working equal parts the entire way. I knew things were going to change after walking away from my day job, but never in my wildest dreams would I have envisioned this.
What does a typical day for you look like?
As with many creative people, there are no two days alike. I start every day with a workout, an absurd amount of coffee, and replying to endless emails. The bulk of my days are spent with photo shoots (for Chic Street Style, Third & Loom, and Everly), editing photos, creating content, working with brands, meeting with Third & Loom customers, processing Everly orders, and having plenty of Skype meetings. Zach is really great with people, so he has a bigger hand in meeting with customers and working with models to make sure Third & Loom is visible by the masses. When I’m not doing all of that, I’m collaborating with other bloggers for my jewelry line, taking impromptu business trips, writing my Ebook (that’s all about blog monetization) and planning our upcoming wedding. It’s complete madness and never ending multi-tasking, but that’s how I thrive.
How can other women use tech to create their own path to a fashion career? What worked best for you?
BL: I think, particularly in fashion, you are your brand. Your style, your aesthetic, your portfolio—it all says a lot about who you are, where you are going, and what you want to be. My best advice is to build your brand via social media and create attainable evidence of your talent. If you want to be a stylist, create a portfolio and offer to style local shoots. Make sure you are prominent and active in your local fashion community. LA and New York are not the only places you can have a career in fashion. In fact, I think it’s a bit simpler (and unorthodox) to start a reputation for yourself and ultimately career in slightly smaller cities. Collaborate with others who have a similar synergy and always support other women. All of the above has been my winning formula (plus having an amazing fiancé to help guide me on the best path).
Was there anything in particular that definitively didn’t work, or anything you wish you hadn’t done?
BL: I could go back and say I wish I would have started something sooner, but I am a true believer that everything happens for a reason. There is divine timing and all of the pieces fall together when you have relentless determination and a true passion for what you are doing. Every step I took, even the less desirable ones, prepared me perfectly for what I am doing now.
Of all your ventures so far, what has been the most fun for you?
BL: I’m really fortunate that I love every single piece of what I do. I’m consumed constantly with everything, but I truly enjoy all of it. Chic Street Style is amazing because of my followers. I love meeting them, having them say that, because of me, they are inspired to dress in the “chic street” way. Everly was incredible because as I left my job in the buying office, I got to become a buyer for my own brand. I’m incredibly passionate about helping others monetize their blogs to a point that they can quit their jobs (no better feeling than giving someone freedom like that!). And Third & Loom is simply a humbling opportunity.
But overall, my favorite venture is doing every aspect of what I do with Zach as my partner-in-crime. How many people get to have their love of their life as their partner in both life and business? He is a true visionary and constantly challenges me to do more and be a better business woman, which is a huge factor in my success.
What advice do you have for anyone starting out with a fashion blog in a world where, well, pretty much everyone and their mother has a fashion blog?
BL: Oh, the always asked question. I’ve been blogging for over four years, long before that was the case. I have seen many bloggers come from absolutely nowhere and blow up almost overnight. That was not the case for me. I’ve spent countless hours each day for the last four years working and growing Chic Street Style, but I’ve learned a lot along the way. I’m sharing all of my knowledge and insight on exactly how to do that in, Bang for Your Blog: The ultimate guide to optimizing your passion into a well-monetized business, coming in June. The biggest thing is to have a reason why people would follow you over thousands of other people. Have strong visual content (taken with a DSLR camera), a clean and uncluttered blog and engage with each and every follower—I joke that they are my boss!
So, what’s next?
BL: I have to take a deep breath here, because the answer is an overwhelming amount of things. I see Chic Street Style having millions of followers rather than 70,000, hiring on a stylist to run my styling company, Everly growing to partner with bridal and fashion boutiques, growing Third & Loom to rival some of the biggest names in bridal, launching my Ebook, having Zach launch his luxury customized clothing rack called LuxRack (also coming this summer) and my favorite, becoming Mrs. Moulds (as of August 11th)!
(Photos: Courtesy of Brenna Lyden)