This story is part of an ongoing series on the original bloggers, who transformed the fashion, beauty and media landscapes, and created space for the now ever-present influencer.
Before the word “influencer” became one of the most important words in the fashion and beauty eco-systems, thanks to social media platforms like Instagram, there was the blogger.
Some of the earliest were Bryan Yambao, who debuted his blog Bryanboy all the way back in 2004, and Susie Lau, who founded her blog Style Bubble in March 2006. Shortly thereafter came Jane Aldridge, who started her site Sea of Shoes in 2007 — at just 15 years old from her Westlake, Texas, home, a suburb of Fort Worth.
“I followed Susie Bubble and Bryanboy — those were the first fashion blogs I paid attention to, and there weren’t very many around back then. I thought maybe I should try this,” Aldridge said. “I started a TypePad blog. Definitely nobody was monetizing it at all or even thinking about that.”
Aldridge started Sea of Shoes largely as a photo diary for her own daily outfits, which included wares from Ralph Lauren and Comme des Garçons, and in the last decade, she has partnered with fashion brands like Gucci, Marc Jacobs and Tory Burch. To date, she has a social reach that spans 208,000 followers on Instagram and nearly 97,000 followers on Twitter. Aldridge declined to share the monthly visitors to her site.
But while style influencers like Chiara Ferragni and Arielle Charnas are looking to transition from fashion and beauty partnerships or collaborations to their own full-fledged businesses (complete with fashion, accessories and beauty labels and product) — Charnas reportedly pulled in $4 million to $5 million in sales on the first day her Something Navy line launched at Nordstrom) — Aldridge isn’t as interested.
She recently relaunched Sea of Shoes in September with a bent toward lifestyle and wellness, and has also delved deeper into her food site, Thyme and Thep, created with her husband, Jeff Dashley. Below, Aldridge, one of the first luxury bloggers, discusses her 11-plus-year career and how both the fashion industry and her perspective have shifted.
Starting with an intrinsic concept
When Aldridge first started Sea of Shoes in 2007, her aesthetic was largely informed by her mother, Judy Aldridge, who was a fashion model in Tokyo and had a fashion label in the late ’80s.
“She had this amazing collection and knowledge of Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto when they were first starting, and she loved vintage,” said Aldridge. “That love was passed on to me, because we would go thrifting every week from the time I was 10 years old.” At the beginning, Aldridge often mixed those vintage finds with designers of the moment like Christopher Kane.
Showcasing her personal style became increasingly important to Aldridge and, subsequently, Sea of Shoes was used as an outlet for that. “I was looking at the fashion magazines and the runway collections, of course, but it was more interesting to me to see how Susie Bubble was wearing her clothes in her day-to-day life,” she said. “That’s what I wanted to do — I wanted to make high fashion approachable and different from how it was worn in an advertisement.” That democratization of high and low is what drew eyeballs to Aldridge from readers and brands alike.
Certainly, that perception has changed in the last few years. As more influencers are relying less on showcasing their own style in favor of wearing head-to-toe looks from designers and brands for the sake of monetization via sponsored posts on Instagram, personal style has become, well, less personal. Even Aldridge has noticed it: “It’s very much a ‘this is what I’m wearing’ moment, and when you are working with a number of different brands, it’s not necessarily about you and your style, or a peek behind the scenes,” she said. “It becomes less about you and more about the brand.”
Staying true to her roots
Over the years, Aldridge has tried to maintain her singular point of view and doesn’t think Sea of Shoes has wavered in terms of the style showcased. “It started as a style diary — my mom was the one taking the photographs. It started as an insular idea, and I think that has helped it stay true to what it was,” she said.
This continues to be true as designers and brands continue to approach Aldridge for collaborations and partnerships. She said hundreds of emails continue to come in daily, with requests still asking for her to promote products on Instagram with no pay. “I can’t plug things for free,” she said. “I wish I could, but I just can’t.” Rather than working on one-offs, she prefers long-term relationships with brands selling products in the $300 to $600 range, a sweet spot for her readers.
One such example is with Ralph Lauren.“My readers know I collect Ralph Lauren: I buy new Ralph Lauren, I buy vintage Ralph Lauren on eBay — so when I work with Ralph Lauren, my readers know this is real content, regular programming,” she said. “It’s what I love and not a massive departure from what I already do.” As authenticity and transparency continue to be buzzwords in the influencer economy, Aldridge stressed this is the core ethos of Sea of Shoes.
Expanding her reach
As fashion becomes more preoccupied with higher price points and luxury drops from the likes of streetwear brands like Supreme, Aldridge admits she “doesn’t love this.”
Still, Aldridge is currently working on founding a recycled clothing company to tackle the industry’s ongoing problem with unethical consumption, harkening back to her love of vintage and, of course, fashion itself. She is also dabbling more in the lifestyle space.
Aldridge regularly cross-promotes Sea of Shoes content with her mother Judy’s site — Judy is now an interior designer chronicling her work on AtlantisHome.com. Thyme and Thep content is also featured on Sea of Shoes, and its recipes and cocktails are featured prominently on Sea of Shoes’ Instagram Stories and Aldridge’s personal Pinterest board, where she has over 46,000 followers.
As Aldridge has gotten older, she’s now 26 years old versus 15, her site is now trying to be more reflective of her new areas of interest — including wellness, which is called out prominently on the site’s new navigation bar. Certainly, Adridge is on trend, as the world wellness market grew to $4.2 trillion in 2017, up 12.8 percent from 2015, according to the Global Wellness Institute. Recent Sea of Shoes wellness-related content includes posts around fitness (mixed in with fashion outfit ideas) and journaling to deal with stress.
This was prompted by Aldridge’s personal battle with endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which she said has caused her to “rebuild her life” in the last few years. “It’s been really shocking to me how the health-care system treats women — you go to a doctor and tell them you are in pain, and they are like, ‘You need to be on antidepressants,’ instead of helping you find effective treatments,” she said.
It’s become a personal cause for Aldridge and one that she wants to build out through Sea of Shoes content. “There is still a huge stigma out there,” she said. “I want to change that, and my readers, many of whom have been with me since the beginning, are responding to it. There really aren’t a lot of sites or information out there for dealing with health and wellness. It’s more personal than just blogging about fashion, but I’m changing, and so is Sea of Shoes.”