EBONY.com caught up with Renae Bluitt of "In Her Shoes" blog to chat about her newest event, The Beauty and Brains Behind the Brand, and why Black women shouldn't be afraid to work for themselves.
EBONY: I first want to know where the idea for "In Her Shoes" blog came from?
Renae Bluitt: In Late 2007, it was Thanksgiving holiday and the economy was just starting to hit a lot of peoples businesses including mine. I was feeling like we needed a place to be inspired, we being women of color who have taken the entrepreneurial route instead of working a 9-5. At that time, I had just started my company Crush Media. Being in New York, I am surrounded by a lot of women doing a lot of great things; creating their own brands and paths. But I know in other parts of the country, some women may not be exposed to that. So I wanted to create a place online where we can share our stories, where we didn’t necessarily have to be celebrities or we didn’t have to have household name brands yet. We didn’t have to be, for example, a “basketball wife” or an “Atlanta house wife” to get some light shined on what we’re doing. So that was the beginning of it. I started off interviewing women who were within arm’s reach, women that I knew already that had amazing things going on and it just kind of grew from there.
EBONY: Was it all about interviewing these women or did you have an idea of where you wanted to take it to from the beginning?
RB: Well I started off with the meat of the blog being the Fly Female Entrepreneur series, but beyond that I wanted to talk about things that women, like myself, would be interested in. In the beginning, I had a series called In the Bag. It was all about handbags, and particularly being in New York City. If you’re going from meeting to meeting you kind of have to have a bag big enough to carry all your stuff, including some flats, your laptop, your iPad, etc. But it also has to be hot. So I would feature these handbags that I either had myself or I was lusting over online somewhere. I would also talk about other things like technology being such a big part of entrepreneurship. The content beyond the interviews that I’m doing just focuses on things that young women in business would be interested in. Also, a lot of the fashion that I talk about is created by women of color. So it all kind of goes back to entrepreneurship and a lot of it ties back to women who have created their own brands.
EBONY: How have you found your way building a business around having a blog?
RB: Truth is my living comes from my company Crush Media. I do public relations specializing in beauty brands. So my company provides PR, marketing, and social media services for beauty brands and lifestyle brands too. My specialty and my heart lay in the beauty industry, hence the upcoming event. So the blog is really a labor of love and a subsidiary brand or an extension of Crush Media. A lot of clients that I have, happen to be women of color that own their own brands, so they are also female entrepreneurs. So to answer your question, the blog is a business, but my living comes from what I do as public relations expert.
EBONY: Would you love for your blog to be the meat of your business one day?
RB: Absolutely, I love the blog for so many different reasons. As much as people say that they are inspired by the blog, I am inspired by every story I am able to tell. From each woman that I interview, I gain a nugget of wisdom. Each woman has taken a different path to get to where she is, so it’s kind of like the gift that keeps on giving.
EBONY: What compelled you to bring these women together?
RB: I’m all about the girlfriend introductions and being totally transparent and candid. I think it is really important because we don’t want to ever give off the feeling that this whole thing is easy. Not knowing if you’re going to get the same check every two weeks is not an easy life to live. The women I have selected for this panel are women who are honest, who have a story, but who also have some amazing brands and success stories they can share. The first “In Her Shoes” event was two years ago. Every event that I’ve done since then has been for a client or it’s been in partnership with other bloggers. So for this event, I really wanted it to be special and it just hit me that we spend billions on everything from cosmetics to hair. So, why not talk about the power we also have in this category as entrepreneurs? We can spend money but we can also make money and educate one another and provide quality products to each other and really help stimulate the economy and put that money back into our communities.
EBONY: I think major brands are slowing realizing they have to work hard to cater to us.
RB: Absolutely. As women of color we know our specific hair care needs. Why not create it and meet the needs of the people in our community, because we live and breathe it every day.
EBONY: What do you think is the biggest misconception about owning a business as a woman in general?
RB: I can only really speak for industries that I’m in touch with. But let’s take Tricia Lee’s business, Polish Bar Brooklyn, for example. I think the biggest misconception for her would be that she sits around all day getting manicures and pedicures. When in fact, she is doing everything from dealing with the technology side of her business to making sure everything is up and running. I’ve seen her tweet about being in Home Depot. She is kind of the “do it yourself” girl, and a lot of us have to be that when we're entrepreneurs. One time, one of my friends actually asked, “What are you doing, going to another curly girl event?” But events like that are actually work. So I think that people see the glamorous side to this and with today’s social media environment, of course they're seeing the highlights and the events that you’re going to. There is so much work and planning and late, sleepless nights that go into this.
EBONY: Everybody won’t be a business owner or a CEO of a company, but I think people can take away something of value from hearing about the journeys from these women. What do you hope people will take from this event?
RB: I would like for people to walk away with the fact that no matter what route you decide to take, whether its entrepreneurship or working for other companies, you know the importance of always trying to do their very best. Each woman who is on the panel, at some point worked for someone else and they were doing their very best in those roles. I worked at Burrell Communications Group doing PR and event marketing and I would hope that the people I reported to would say that maybe there was something special they saw in me back then. I want people to take away that women of color just have to be amazing. Whether it’s working for yourself or someone else, do the best that you can because you really never know whose watching.
EBONY: From your experience, why do you feel like this event is so important?
RB: Well I think it’s important for several reasons as a consumer we have so many choices as to which brands we can be loyal to and which brands we can trust. If you even think about the different categories represented on the panel: we have Lamik Beauty, which is cosmetics, Carols Daughter which is skin and hair, Polish Bar which is nails, and The Fly Cut, which is the Groupon for Black women. I think that as a consumer it’s important to know who’s behind a brand that you’re supporting, especially when you have so many options. I think it’s inspiring to know that the women behind these brands that are so popular today, are women who look just like you. I also think it’s very important for women like them to tell their stories. Going back to what we said before, people could think that Lisa Price woke up one day and all of a sudden, she’s in Sephora and teaming up with Jay-Z and all of these celebrity backers. A lot of people may not know that she started her business in a brownstone in Brooklyn. So I think it’s important for young women, even people who are seasoned, to know these stories.
EBONY: With all of your hard work, how do you relax?
RB: I’m pretty simple when I’m not working with my PR clients or blogging or attending some type of industry event. I like to keep it simple. I have great friends here in Brooklyn who are just like family; we hang out, shop or cook. One of my girlfriends just had a baby so we are planning on attending her 2-year-olds birthday party. Just really simple stuff. I have family outside of New York, so every couple months I have to get outside of New York, just to kind of change the scenery a little bit. I enjoy traveling internationally and disconnecting when I can, which is hard to do. Any of my friends will tell you I’m always connected. But when I do disconnect, I love to keep it simple.
EBONY: What do you have planned for the future? What’s new for "In Her Shoes" for 2013, or any other business ventures?
RB: I want to introduce a couple of new series on the blog and I want to introduce a couple of contributors. I want to insert video content, too. I’m not going to say every post will have video, but I want to have a place for video because of the direction digital media is going now. I also want to be consistent with the live events. I don’t want there to be a two-year gap like the last “In Her Shoes” events. I’m hoping in 2013, moving forward, there will be a quarterly event series. In January, the blog will be celebrating its four-year anniversary, so I want to do something special for that. So I will probably partner with my fly female entrepreneurs. But I will figure that out after we get past the event.