Watching Karen Blanchard on YouTube, you’d be forgiven for thinking she still lived in Tottenham, North London, but the fashion blogger, AKA @karenbritchick, has called New York home since 2001. Karen’s been blogging since 2009 and started on YouTube back in 2008. Here, she shares why fashion moves her so much, and led her to take the biggest gamble of her life thus far.
Karen Blanchard on her first love
“My first memories of fashion are of the weekends spent shopping with my mum. We’d go to Roman Road market, East London, on a Saturday morning, and we would head straight to my mum’s favourite sellers. We didn’t have much money, so we’d come home with a bag full of inexpensive clothes. We’d empty that bag out onto the kitchen table and I’d do a little fashion show. We both loved it and got a buzz from it. Yeah, it was cheap, but what we found, we loved,” shares Karen from her home in Queens.
“That’s when the seed was planted. From then on I was always interested in going to the street markets, the high street shops, but not just shopping to buy – it was the clothes I was interested in. It was about styling clothes, actually playing with clothes,” she continues, sharing that she didn’t study anything to do with fashion. Instead, she opted for a degree in Consumer Product Management, a business degree. When it came to choosing between further study or joining the workforce, Karen picked the latter.
While she got stuck into the working world, with a brief stint at an advertising agency in London, before moving to New York and working for a printing firm, fashion took a back seat for Karen. But she says she never stopped thinking about it.
“My job [at the printing company] couldn’t be more opposite from fashion, but I did it because it was my foot in the door in America, my way of getting a visa, and they were willing to sponsor me. I did that job for years because I wanted to stay in America, because my now-husband, Michael, is American. I knew it wasn’t my love – it was a paycheck,” says Karen.
Eventually Karen found the day job lacking. She tells me about a moment when she was told by a clairvoyant that she had a hole within herself.
“I didn’t even ask her what she meant, because I knew. Something was missing from my life. If it hadn’t been the blog, I probably would have turned to YouTube – I actually started my channel in 2008, but I didn’t take it seriously back then. Because of that I started wheredidugetthat.com, as a personal diary. It was my outlet, it was cathartic. I was finally able to truly do what I wanted, the fashion and styling and playing. And this was back in 2009, when blogging wasn’t a career.”
Inspired by the likes of Filipino fashion blogger Bryanboy and social accounts like Karla Deras’ ‘Karla’s Closet’, Karen set to work, blogging as often as possible. She was doing it purely for the joy, with zero expectation of it making money. However, she soon found that she was feeling torn.
“As the blog grew, it was harder to focus on my day job. I felt like I had two jobs, because I was blogging six or seven days a week, solo. I would come home from the day job, eat, then sit at the laptop and blog. I was starting to make silly mistakes at my office job because my mind was so focused on my blog. My boss knew, and so did others in the office. They knew just by looking at the clothes I was wearing when I came in every day!” Karen laughs.
Deciding that it was time for things to change, Karen decided that at the end of that calendar year, she would quit her job. She started saving her pay checks and had started to be approached by brands. She thought that she could plan ahead and ensure that things ran smoothly, but one day she heard that her company’s HR team, normally based in Chicago, was visiting the New York office.
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The best spring pieces right now for under $100 are live on today’s YouTube! Channel: KarenBritChick This look shot on one random mild day weeks ago, is on the Shop My Instagram page in the above bio link🖤 . Dress @freepeople (link in my bio above) Bag @urbanoutfitters is under $50 – sold out but I found an identical one linked in the Shop my Instagram bio above! . #freepeoplestyle #zebraprint #baguettebag #puffsleeves
“I got called upstairs and was told that my position had been eliminated and that would be my last day in the office. Even though I knew I was going to resign, it was still a shock. I remember heading to the lift with my cardboard box of belongings, and my boss saying she would walk me out. It was awful because I wanted to be alone. I had tears in my eyes. But there she is. In the lift with me. Tears are coming down both sides of my face; I can’t even wipe my face because I’m holding my cardboard box. I’m ugly crying. I step out of the lift and she stays in. As the doors slowly closed, I remember her saying: ‘you can do this now for a living, you can finally follow your passion!’” laughs Karen, remembering the moment with crystal clear vision.
She continues: “That was the kick up the ass. The universe telling me, well you wanted to be free, now you’ve got it!”
Karen says that those first few weeks were scary. She had no guarantee that she could cover her bills, and remembers pleading with the universe.
“I would just ask out loud, if I could just find a way to cover all the bills, that’s all I want. If I could blog and it could generate income – that’s it. I fell down a few times, but there was nothing else that I loved more. I’d already taken savings out. I had less than $1,000 in my account and I was like, f*ck.”
Karen Blanchard is back to YouTube
Fast forward several years, 15 million views and almost 330,000 followers between YouTube and Instagram and Karen has become known as a super-approachable blogger who’s totally at ease sharing her vintage finds and tips on shopping on a budget. More recently, she’s added some brilliant street style videos to her YouTube channel; I love them because she focuses fully on her subject, encouraging them to share where they bought the pieces they’re wearing, and there have been plenty of characters so far.
I ask her, why, after initially starting with YouTube 12 years ago, she finally went back to it.
“After years of blogging and Instagram, I felt like I was more than the photos I was posting. I wanted to talk; I had more to say and I wanted to share more and I felt that YouTube was the best place to do it. I decided to take it seriously, after procrastinating for a year.
“I knew I needed to be consistent so I decided I would do it once a week, every Friday. I was scared, because YouTube has no filter, it’s more transparent – it’s just you in front of the camera and your personality. It’s hard! It’s you who makes the viewers subscribe; it’s not what you’re wearing, it’s you. Initially I hesitated at doing it, because I know how enthusiastic and goofy I can get about clothes! I had this image of being a cool girl, but I’m really not the cool girl,” she laughs.
What’s next for Karen Blanchard?
I ask Karen what 2020’s looking like for her: “This is the year I want to delegate; how can I deal with the blog, YouTube, editing, admin, agencies, negotiations? I can’t wear all the hats every single day. At the beginning of this year I got a manager and a contributor and next I’ll be looking at getting a videographer. Editing and producing is so much work!”
It’s clear that Karen is doing something right; she has a very dedicated, supportive audience. I ask her for advice for anyone thinking about starting their own channel.
“Just start. You’ll always find a reason or excuse to not do something; I have kids, I’m not skinny enough, etc, but if you do that, you’ll never do anything. You don’t need anything fancy, you can use your phone.
“The hardest part of starting something is getting it to move, but once you’ve got the momentum, you can do it. These days it’s much easier to make a career out of something you love. And if you love doing it, there’s other people out there who will love watching it!”
Image credit: Karen Blanchard