West L.A. native Shauna Miller wants you to rethink Walmart. An NYU grad who worked at a fashion house in Paris, she dreamed of being a stylist, but had trouble finding a great job in fashion. Frustrated with the industry, she decided to test her fashion abilities at the least fashionable place imaginable -- Walmart -- and created Pennychic.com, a style blog where she puts together outfits from clothes and accessories pulled 100% from the big box discount store. We're talking shoes, jewelry and everything in between.
She started the blog in December and quickly drew media attention from news outlets as disparate as Perez Hilton and CNN.com. Today the site gets about 60,000 visits per month.
Walmart, of course, is delighted. "We think it's great that through her blog she's helping people combine style with savings by shopping at Walmart," said Tara Raddohl, a spokeswoman for the company. She added that while the marketing department occasionally works with Miller to confirm prices on items featured on her blog, they have no other relationship with her.
"We have no other tie to her financial or otherwise," said Raddhol. "She functions very independently."
Penny Chic is refreshing, not just because of the price point -- $36 for shoes is considered expensive -- but also because of the shapes of the girls who are wearing the clothes. Miller's models (she calls them muses) are real-looking women who range from size 4 to size 14 and beyond. As anyone who has shopped online knows, clothes look different on women who are 8 inches taller than you and 20 pounds thinner. Miller's blog depicts what accessible affordable fashion looks like on real women.
Miller has a good eye, but she's not working magic. Her muses look cute but they aren't pushing the boundaries of fashion in their floral rompers, baby doll dresses and big plastic necklaces. But pushing fashion boundaries isn't the point here.The real goal is to show that thrifty shopping can be fun, even at the unlikeliest of places.
We asked her to tell us about herself, Walmart and the art of style blogging.
ATR: What inspired you to create pennychic.com?
Miller: I graduated college in the wake of the recession (Summer 2008) and applied to maybe 100 jobs in editorial and high fashion, but couldn’t get a gig. Fed up, I decided to funnel my frustration with the (often pretentious) world of luxury fashion to create a venue that made fashion accessible to everyone. I knew that styling was my calling, but I wanted a challenge. I didn’t see what was so epic about styling an outfit with a budget of 10k and a size zero waist (sorry Rachel Zoe). What was more intriguing to me was the challenge of looking chic at a time when the season’s must-haves were no longer an option. I created Penny Chic to show women the simple fact that you can be chic on an extreme budget and there’s no shame involved. What better way to prove that than to use clothing from Walmart, the most notoriously un-chic discount department store in America. If I could accomplish that, then not only did I prove my talent, but I proved my case. Being chic is not about the price tag; it’s about choosing the right pieces to fit your body type, pairing them with fabulous accessories and most importantly, owning it!
ATR: How long did it take for the blog to get popular? Was there a tipping point?
Miller: Just two weeks after I officially launched Penny Chic, Perez Hilton got hold of my blog and covered it on Coco Perez (his fashion blog). Without any warning whatsoever from his team, I woke up and had about 100 emails on my phone from fans and Twitter followers. Overnight, my traffic went from 50 unique visitors (40 of which were my mom signing on from different computers) to 10,000 on the day of the Perez post. It was such a surreal moment for me. I anticipated it would take about 12 months before Penny Chic took off and then all of a sudden, in one day, Penny Chic went viral. Since then, I have been covered by many news sources, but none have given me more traffic than Perez Hilton. I now understand the power of the blogger as a cultural influencer. Bloggers are the new tastemakers. It’s kind of funny that it took another blogger to put my blog on the map. It definitely says something about the blogosphere. It’s not a competitive community. We are all trying to “pay it forward” in a lot of ways.
ATR: Have you gotten any feedback from Walmart?
Walmart is very supportive of the blog. In fact, I went to their annual shareholders meeting this year as the first blogger to ever attend as press and was shocked when everyone in the corporate headquarters knew who I was and reads the blog. Within six months of blogging I was able to penetrate through the biggest company in the world. It was very surreal.
ATR: When you aren't working on Pennychic.com, what are you doing?
Miller: I decorate, redecorate, organize and clean out my bedroom, aka the Penny Chic headquarters. After six years of living on my own as an adult, I moved back in with my parents to start the blog. My high school bedroom needed a major facelift in order to make it tolerable to live and work in. Now that I come to think of it, even decorating my room is connected to Penny Chic. Once you have a baby (mine is Penny Chic) everything in your world revolves around it!
ATR: Favorite store to shop at besides Walmart?
Miller: I’d be lying if I said Walmart was my favorite store to shop at. If I was given carte blanche, I would go skipping down Madison Avenue buying couture and giggling the whole way through, but let’s be honest, anyone can look chic under those circumstances and it’s not exactly the smartest thing to do given the economy we’re in. Penny Chic is about making the best out of what you’re able to spend and feeling good about it. The decision to showcase Walmart apparel was purely to show women that you can look chic wearing just about anything if you have a discerning eye. Do I have fun shopping at Walmart? Absolutely. Who wouldn’t have fun running with a cart filled to the brim with clothes that in total only add up to $50? If I’m not scoping out the fashions at one of the “big box” discount retailers, then I’m at a consignment store fishing for a unique gem that I can incorporate into my wardrobe.
ATR: You go into Walmart, you can only buy one item, what would it be?
Miller: I would buy the 7-in-1 dress by George. It can be worn seven different ways, all of which are flattering and elegant. The dress costs $20, but you’re technically getting seven of them, making each dress less than $3. When you’re on a budget, it’s always smart to pick versatile items that can transform into more than one style.
ATR: What item do you not recommend getting at Walmart?
Miller: I would not recommend buying high heels from Walmart. They just don’t have the selection yet, and the ones they do have are very outdated.
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-- Deborah Netburn
Photos, from top: Shauna Miller wearing the 7-in-1 dress by George from Walmart; Miller's "muses" modeling Walmart attire for her blog, in the pictures in the middle and at bottom. Credit: Penny Chic.