🚀 The Curvy Fashionista - from a blog in 2008 to a vibrant community in 2021

In this episode of CommunityHub Spotlight, we speak to an amazing community builder - Marie, Founder of The Curvy Fashionista. Founded back in 2008, TCF today has an audience of 800k+ across social media and a thriving community on its website. TCF's mission? No matter your size, you deserve to have the BEST resources, information, and FLY ass fashion to make your life as amazing as you are! Watch the video and enjoy the journey.
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Pramod Rao
June 21, 2021

Pramod: Thanks Marie for taking the time. This is as part of community hub by Threado.  And would love to get to know more about you and The Curvy Fashionista. It's been around for 13 years. There's a lot to unpack. I'll let you get started and tell more about it.

Marie: Okay. So The Curvy Fashionista started off as a blog back in 2008. And most recently we pivoted from a blog to a digital media platform. And I initially started it as a marketing tool. Like I wanted to open up a boutique and so I want to use my blog as - look at these things, we're finding. This is our story. And from there it literally took a life of its own.

And it was like a series of leaps. And prayers, and I don't know what is happening and what we're doing, but we're going to keep forging on here. And my platform was started near the beginning of social media. And as social media has grown, so has our platforms, so has our community as a whole, like the plus size fashion space has grown.

And so it's been in tandem, like they've been growing together. So that's where we are in a nutshell.

Pramod: Great. And for someone who doesn't know about The Curvy Fashionista, could you tell about what is it both in terms of like content and the community.

Marie: One thing that we are is we provide resources. So we write about the designers, the collaborations, the news who's doing what and how, and with whom in the plus size fashion space. From any designers, retailers, influencers, celebrities, like we talk about these things, plus as well as the lifestyle side of things.

So we're talking about body image, the intersection of being plus and black, plus and queer, plus and disabled, there's so many different things we talk about in those intersections. So that's what we talk about. And the community we started had been naturally organic.

So we're part of a larger community like of the plus sized people who are speaking up, helping, trying to effect change, impact what resources we have available to us. And from there, we started a Facebook group passively because we didn't understand, how and what to make the most of.

And for the longest time it was just my spouse. So I was like, like automation tools before I understood what no code was. What's no code? Oh, I've been using all the tools that actually are no code. And so for me, Facebook, the Facebook group just started growing and, I would share content, prompts, and I was also paying attention to how other groups, other communities were using the group.

I want to say back in 2014 ish, maybe 15, I tried to start a BB press, a Buddy Press community off my site. But it was too much, it was overwhelming. There were like 1,000 plugins, 1,000 tools. And it's just one of me. I could not manage all of that. And so I paused that and just went and dove into the community and kept what we had on Facebook and just kept growing that.

Until recently as we've grown, as we've pivoted, we've actually got a redesign on our site and we relaunched with a membership community that is way more advanced than that with all the tools. And we're using Buddy Boss.

Pramod: Great. And you self discovered all of this over the years.

If I had to summarize, you started with content and then that grew an audience, and then you used Facebook groups, tried out a custom forum of sorts on your website and then today you have your website, which has the community as well.

Taking a step back, what are some of the outcomes that you want to drive through the community?

Marie: For one it's really about sense of belonging first. Feeling ' oh my God, I'm with my peoples'. It's about providing and serving and finding the tools and resources, information that they need. Providing those.

Our community is always looking for designers, clothes, where to get it, what to get and ask questions and just to be, for me, it's all about like, how can I help you? How can I be of service to you? And that has been really exciting to watch and see, because now, they're starting to help each other and post different questions. Where I can just pop in and they're like still happening and doing their own things. So that's really exciting. And I think for me, it's really just about answering the questions and the pain points and providing a platform or a safer space where folks can actually interact, engage and share.

So if I had one thing, I wanted them to be able to take away from this. Even more than anything is that they found their people.

Pramod: And when you started out, like you said, , it was like start of social media almost. What kept you going? And what made you feel that, yeah, this is the path that you're taking and it lead to what it is today? What were the signals that kept you moving ahead?

Marie: It's very interesting for me. I think that when it comes to staying encouraged and motivated, I think there's a couple of things. It's one, first understanding and knowing your why are you doing this? Why have you started, what is that core value? Like for me and for the business that I've created. So it's like reminding myself and coming back to that, why.

That's one, two is realizing that your purpose is not in your path is not going to look the same as the person next to yours. And that's really important because like I always say like comparison is the thief of joy. And if you're comparing your journey with someone else's, you're going to miss out on your exit. You're going to miss out on your own path because you're watching someone else's.  But what's really kept me is like faith and, oh, I think I do have a third one.

So it's really going to be about the company you keep. The people around you because they're going to help when you do get stuck or they may be a source of inspiration or motivation or some other shun that gets you going and helps you get out of that funk.

And there are times when you feel like I'm done, forget all these people. I am going to go and get me a regular nine to five, and then you're like, umhmm, not happening.

Pramod: For example, when you shifted from Facebook groups to Buddy Press, and that didn't work out as expected. At that point, what was your thought process?

Marie: Seven years has passed. Seven years is a long time in social media years. For me it was important to test it, work it, to do it, to move fast with it. Is it working? Can it be sustained? And I knew that I couldn't do that. So I knew I just needed to table it until I had the right tool, the right platform, the right team to actually activate and do it. And so that's where we at right now.

Pramod: Got it. And what are some of the rituals that your community follows today, like, do  they get together on a weekly basis? How does the community interact today?

Marie: Because we've just recently moved to our platform. And I think we're not even a full month in on our site. There's still a lot of forming and norming. That's happening. We're onboarding our super users from our Facebook community. We've opened it up. So like right now we're still in the building. And ramp up.

We've just kicked off some ads on Facebook. We have created campaigns on Active Campaign for the whole, taking them through that journey because we have two different options. We have paid versus free. So those are two different kinds of applications and different levels of access that they have on our site. So it's really about making sure that we're kicking off our events. So that is what's happening right now.

In terms of rituals and what we would like to see happen. We have created local chapters. So as the world starts to feel comfortable, we can go offline and online or a hybrid type of situation. So folks can still feel connected in a variety of ways because pre-rona, we did events. So how do we bring both worlds together.

Pramod: So that must have been a big change, pre-COVID to moving completely online. How did you adapt to that in terms of the community interacting?

Marie: Yeah. So pre-COVID, if anything, Corona has literally allowed us the space to really reconsider community . It's for me, it's like, how do we serve them in this time? How can we best be of health and resource and go-to for them? And so that is a consistent or constant thing that we're thinking about. And this is why we did the redesign and the community because people are looking, people are waiting and then on top of everything else we're watching, how loyal or unloyal these social media platforms are.

And so I needed to be able to own as much as I could. And like, how do I migrate folks from these other platforms to also have a home here? Because at the end of the day, we've seen platforms come and go, and then you're like, you've lost all of that following that readership from that one space. So this was done looking at community, having so much time on our hands to really think about future of business and what are the best paths to that? Yeah. So it was really important to look at that journey and the best way to solve and navigate that.

Pramod: Got it. What are the tools you use or the community tech stack today for you? Is it a custom solution or something off the shelf? How did you go about it?

Marie: Yeah. So right now, like we have changed our Facebook groups kind of mission or purpose is to tease and be part of that funnel into the community that we have on our site. We still have conversation prompts, but we're also teasing and dripping, like what's about to happen, which you're going to miss out on that kind of conversation. And as I mentioned a little bit earlier, we use Buddy Boss. Yeah, but we have layered it up with Game Press.

So there's a key piece to that. And we use Member Press to lock down the site. So that's subscription base, that's pages locked down to depending on membership level. We use Helpscout and Slack as our customer service kind of process.

So Helpscout works with Member Press, pulls in the customer's account when they inbox us, if they have an account. It allows for a centralized kind of location that's sent to Slack that, that people can make sure that none of those customer service issues go and get missed.

Pramod: Great.  Earlier, you used to do it all on your own. So now do you have a team managing all of this?  

Marie: I do have a community manager and I have a social media manager as well as a managing editor.

Pramod: Got it. Okay. And what's next for The Curvy Fashionista?

Marie: My goal is to really continue to grow this and scale the community. To be able to have more dynamic events like next year, when we start adding physical events. We want to make sure that we have a great audience. So that we can, my goal is that we can sell out before we even bring it to the public. Yeah. Being able to incentivize and really about right now is like about acquisition. We have a very specific target.. goal.. to bring my audience to 2% of our total fans and followers and likes, and that is 17,500 convert to paying members. And so we have a journey and a path to how do we acquire that? And we have our different milestones along the way. And what we'll bring in, what will come of that. And so we're right now with us just starting our ads. Really now we just onboarded a launch partner. So we're going to see what we can acquire and then how we're able to better forecast what growth would look like.

Pramod: And how big is the community today? Across the board, Facebook group, your our own platform. How big is the community today?

Marie: If you look at all of our followers and like followers, community, subscribers, that's roughly about 825,000. So how do I convert as many of them as possible? As well as, moving and migrating folks from our Facebook page, our group into the community.

Pramod: That's a phenomenal reach and I'm sure you hit the 17.5k number soon.

Marie: Thank you.  I think in this journey, what's really important is about what you own. Think about it, third party cookies are going away. Facebook and Apple are having a battle with data tracking. Running ads is going to be limited or the data that you can access is limited. So how can we best prepare ourselves or protect or take advantage of building first data, first party cookies. How do we better serve and figure out where our consumer is like really what works are driving, what things she really wants to by having this community. Yeah. And by really focusing on what we can own or what we own and building upon that is only going to be like the path to future success.

Pramod: Definitely. And I think it gets more and more difficult even if you build an audience, which is, let's say 800,000 on Facebook, it's almost impossible to reach them when you do any content. So by design, you have to advertise to reach your audience.  

So I'd love to ask you what's been your top two or three learnings in community building. If you had to go back to your younger self what would that advice be ?

Marie: Ooh, I think to not be afraid. I think it's really about learning how to lean into your own dopeness. Like I find that there were times along the way where I probably second guessed, doubted or questioned my audacity, questioned my ability, questioned myself. So if you have this idea, that your community is needing something that you can provide, instead of being afraid, ask for help and sometimes you are afraid to ask for help because of perception of lack, or that of scarcity. Those mindsets can really be limiting. And for me,  that thing is like learning how to lean into your own darkness and not be afraid.

But the last thing I would probably say is two things is  once you're thinking big, think bigger. Because as a creator, as a content creator, like sky's literally the limit.   My job didn't exist 12 years ago, like literally. And so here we are, like, you know, I'm over here. Like, well, I want to try this, go and try it. Yep. And then last thing I would say, and this is regardless if you're a creator, an individual creator or you work for someone else, it's going to be really important, the people you keep around you. The business, your other fellow entrepreneurs, people who are further down the line, because there are your crew, your tribe, is really going to help encourage you, and challenge you to grow.

Pramod: I think very valid and like you said, you miss hundred percent of the shots that you don't take.  Thanks a lot again. It was lovely speaking to you and getting to know more about you and The Curvy Fashionista's journey. Wishing you the best for years to come. Thank you.

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