vancouver native erica lam is the founder and editor in chief of canadian fashion blog the style spy. based in vancouver, toronto and now, montreal, the style spy reaches girls all across the country and is one of the core participants in canada’s fashion industry. featuring real women, the style spy conducts interviews, highlights trends and beauty products, publishes op-eds and checks out the places to be in your canadian city.
erica, who has one of the most infectious laughs in the world, moved to montreal this summer, and i had the opportunity to sit down for coffee with her to chat for littlecity. she is truly an inspiration for bloggers and fashion writers – read on to see what she had to say about the style spy, the rise of social media, the digital age and the death of print. oh, and anna wintour.
i wanna talk a little about your background and how the style spy got started – clearly you’ve always had a love for fashion, but has writing always been a part of your life?
i think so. when i was growing up i didn’t know what i wanted to study, so when i look back, it isn’t really a surprise that i ended up as a fashion writer. when i was in school, i would do things like PA announcements and when i was in university – i couldn’t get into business, so i went into communications and publishing. so, it actually all worked out! plus, i’ve always kept a journal, and i still do. so when i look back, i see how my path has lead me here and it really makes sense to me.
i feel the same way a lot of the time. so was running a website like the style spy something you had always dreamed of or was it something that just happened?
it was definitely something that just happened! over 6 years ago, i was writing for a radiology software company. one of my coworkers suggested that i write for fun – this was the time that blogs were just starting to become popular – and i loved shopping, but i wasn’t a designer, i wasn’t even working in fashion at the time. but i think that was something a lot of girls could relate to, so i just started blogging and it all took off from there.
early on in your career, who were your inspirations (writing-wise, fashion-wise etc)?
i would say my inspiration was lainey gossip. she was my inspiration because she started a small blog, and she just parleyed it into a full-time career on her own.
let’s talk about the team at style spy! i love that your site is so accessible, every article is kind of on a first name basis and you’ve said that reading the style spy is like “shopping with your best girlfriend”. can you elaborate on that a bit more?
one of the great things about blogging is that it’s so much more personal. when i started the style spy, it was important to make it understood that no, we are not a fashion publication, we’re not flare or vogue – those are great publications, but the thing about magazines is that you’re not really aware of who is behind the writing. obviously when i first started, i was by myself, but i always try to stay true to that. whenever someone new joins the team, i think it’s important to know who they are, to know their name, their face, how to follow them on twitter. we’ve always encouraged our writers to be true to themselves; to write about products that they really use, brands they really wear and stores they really shop at. i think that exudes in their writing – it’s always relevant to them.
i think that’s also one of the scariest parts about blogging – it’s very personal and it’s very much your own voice.
it is! i’ve learned not to take it as personally though. we aren’t the kind of style blog that takes pictures of their own fashion. i think those kinds of bloggers are even more vulnerable – we’re a little bit different. we’re very honest about what we’re buying or using or doing. also…i always think that no one reads my work [laughs]
i think like that too. so, what would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned since you started the style spy?
i believe in being very genuine. i’m not competitive. i get asked a lot about how i feel about other fashion blogs or similar websites, and honestly, i think it’s great. blogging is a community and it should be about helping each other out. i don’t know if it’s a lesson but i definitely believe in being genuine, honest, and just doing your own thing. i think it’s something people really gravitate to.
i’m learning more and more to just focus on what i’m doing and what i want, instead of comparing my blog to other blogs.
definitely! it’s all about staying focused, doing hard work and being humble.
if you could sit down with your 15 year old self, what advice would you give her?
have confidence! that applies to any young person. be humble and be confident in yourself.
at the style spy, you’ve interviewed dozens of notable figures in the industry. who was your most memorable interview, and why?
i would have to say vera wang! i was flown out there and given ten minutes with her. and it was amazing from the first second that i met her. she’s a legend – i look up to her not only because she’s an amazing designer but because she’s a business woman. it was very surreal.
were you nervous?
i was very nervous leading up to the interview, but once i sat down with her and got started, as i’m sure you know, it becomes very natural, more like a conversation.
you started blogging six years ago – obviously since then, the digital age of writing and publishing has changed. how would describe that change, and is it for better or for worse?
i’m a huge technology and social media geek. i think it’s great because it’s a very different way to reach people and to communicate with them. it’s a great way to create different content: for example, we have our site but we are also able to reach people through our social channels, like pinterest, instagram, twitter etc. last week, i visited the aldo shoe offices here in montreal and i was instagramming as i went, so our followers could actually take a tour of the office with me, instantly. think about five years ago – we never would have thought we could have such a unique way of communicating with people. followers can comment or ask questions…and i think that’s pretty cool.
i think what’s great about programs like twitter is that for those of us in the fashion industry, we don’t even have to be at runway shows anymore. you just have to follow the right people and you get all the news instantly. there’s even live streams of certain presentations online.
it’s really crazy! when you think back to years ago, we would never have thought that things like this could be possible. think about all the different technology that’s out there right now – it’s mind-blowing, actually.
i read an article that talked about how an editor’s job has increased exponentially in today’s age because not only are you editing, writing and overseeing an entire company, but you have to be tweeting and pinning and instagramming and updating your facebook page because the demand has gotten so high. above that, there’s also street style photographers, so you have to look the part as well.
well, it’s definitely gotten harder to shut down and separate work from the rest of my life. it’s a bit different than when you’re publishing annually or monthly, but with blogging, you’re updating your site a number of times a day, every day.
or every minute on twitter!
exactly. it’s hard…sometimes i go to an event and i can’t even focus on the actual event because i’m so focused on trying to collect content, am i going to do street style photos, am i going to talk to the boutique owner, take pictures of the clothing in the store, am i going to tweet this or whatever [laughs] sorry, i’ve actually forgotten what the original question was!
i just wondered if you find social media to be overwhelming at times, a lot to handle?
yes, at times. but luckily for me, i feel like i live, eat and breathe it. it’s engrained in me. i want to be updating, i think it’s a great way to reach people. one of our writers, nicole, who is actually a girlfriend of mine, we’re always joking because we go to a restaurant and before we eat it’s like wait – we have to instagram this [laughs]
i read an article on business of fashion that talked about the digital age of fashion publication. the article talks at length about “eye candy” fashion news, and its place on the web – that a lot of online fashion content has become very disposable, meant to be consumed at a rapid pace and that it won’t last because it’s not really grounded. what are your thoughts on this phenomenon?
that’s a very interesting point, actually. i think that’s the nature of the age though. i think that was just what was inevitable to happen through us opening all these social channels, a lot of content doesn’t need to be as grounded because it’s only being published online. a lot of people talk about the effects of online content for printed publications, and honestly, i think there’s still room for print. i do think that “eye candy phenomenon” you mentioned holds a lot of truth.
i think it’s true but i don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. the article came off as a bit negative. i felt like it showed bloggers and online media writers in a bad light.
well, i think a lot of people still have really mixed feelings about bloggers. bloggers came almost out of nowhere and have become this huge phenomenon, now bloggers are seated in the front row of runway shows. i think a lot of editors from prints and publications are like “who are these people?!” you know? there’s always gonna be a lot of naysayers but honestly, i think there’s room for everybody.
would you say that print is dying?
i think it’s dying to a certain degree. you can’t deny that smaller magazines are shutting down, but there’s room for print and a lot of strong, established publications have embraced the online aspect to make their content stronger. for example, eva chen from teen vogue, she does amazing things with social media. she has a tumblr and a twitter, and i think following her on social channels just makes her presence in print stronger because she develops new followers who will go out and buy the magazine. i think a lot publications are doing a good job in serving all our needs. personally, i still love reading magazines.
me too! but i know a lot of people who think print is obsolete because any information you need, you can find online, and it’s faster, cheaper and more accessible.
but reading is an experience. we’re very advanced here in north america, but if you look around the world, there’s definitely going to be some markets where print is still widely dominant.
exactly – actually, a lot of articles have been popping up around the web suggesting that china is very print dominated, especially in terms of fashion publications.
i think a lot of time, we answer questions and we really only think in terms of ourselves, how does it work in new york, how does it work in montreal. but if you look at other cultures, print probably still plays a huge role.
what does the future of fashion publication look like to you?
we’re just on the cusp of it. i think it’s going to be interesting to see how we mix, say, shopping and editorial. on that note, it’s cool to see, with online media, how much data you can gather. i feel like such a geek right now, but we’re in the age where, for example, apps on your smart phone can generate data about your behaviour to better serve your needs. there’s this app that’s coming out that pings your location every 5 minutes, privately, but it gets to know your schedule. in the future, it will be so intelligent that it can give you updates and messages about the places you go. linking back to fashion, it’s gonna be interesting to see how we’ll be targeted and how content will become tailored to each type of person.
especially with online shopping, the certain set of brands you always buy or click through will determine what kind of updates you receive from that site.
definitely. i think mobile will also be very big in the future – smart phones are an extension of our arm nowadays. it’s going to change the way we consume our content, because, for instance, the way you consume something on a 15” macbook is different than on your iphone. i think it’s going to be interesting to see how editorial merges with commerce, merges with technology, etc.
on to some fun questions! if you could only wear three labels for the rest of your life, what would they be?
i’m not gonna say anything fancy because at the style spy, we’re pretty laidback. i love zara. i don’t know, this is hard!
you can pick a couple items you can’t live without?
i live in skinny jeans! i’m the kind of person that buys a lot of jeans but they all look alike. what else…my iphone? does that count as fashion?
if you could switch places with anyone else in the world, who would it be and why?
anna wintour. i wouldn’t mind being the editor of vogue!
if you were a super power, what would your powers be?
kind of creepy…but invisibility? no, it would be cool to be like star trek and be able to teleport!
the style spy is the illegitimate love child of _______________ and ______________ ?
ooh, you ask good questions! i really looked up to sweet spot. style spy isn’t the love child but maybe the younger sister.