Claire Sulmers is part of Oxygen’s digital series In Progress 52. In 2016, Oxygen's Very Real digital hub is featuring 52 of these outstanding women: that's one woman a week, for 52 weeks. Check out the series here!
Claire Sulmers started her wildly popular website Fashion Bomb Daily in 2006 largely as a hobby.
“I start a lot of things off as a hobby, not really knowing if people are going to pay attention or care," she says.
Ten years later, it’s obvious that people do care. A lot. Her editorial staff has expanded to ten people. She has hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, and has received shout-outs from celebrities like Sean Combs, Taraji P. Henson, and Kerry Washington. The Fashion Bomb Daily is now the "web's number one destination for multicultural fashion," covering celebrity style, events and every day looks and news. There's even a popular YouTube channel called Fashion Bomb TV where you can find celebrity interviews and behind the scenes footage of parties and shows.
Though The Fashion Bomb Daily focuses on style, Sulmers definitely doesn’t see herself as a stylist. Much of her time is now spent traveling and maintaining relationships with celebrities and designers, and she identifies first and foremost as a writer. She has kept journals since she was nine years old, and has a wall of them filled with childhood observations about clothes and shopping plans. The influence of fashion in her family was a big part of her development.
“My maternal grandfather was a tailor in the Bahamas," she says. "He used to make all the suits for government officials, for anyone political, all the well dressed men on the island went to my grandfather. My mother learned how to sew from him and I grew up with her making my clothes. Even now, when I need something tailored, I go to my mom.”
Claire Sulmers’ first experience in print media was writing fashion and beauty captions at an internship at Upscale Magazine in Atlanta. She moved to New York and began working at Real Simple, but found it hard to get assignted to shows.
“Fashion is really the beat I wanted to focus on, but I just got a lot of ‘nos’ and ‘fashion isn’t for you’ and ‘no, you can’t go to this fashion show.’ I was kind of a dork. For a long time J. Crew was the only place I shopped!”
Sulmers draws a comparison between herself and Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who is well-dressed, but not at the expense of her work. She explains, “There are women who love style and know how to write about it intelligently. That doesn’t mean you’re looking at them and seeing six inch stilettos. But I think people were looking at me and they just weren’t seeing it for me. I’m thankful for the digital age, because I was able to pursue my passion and make a job for myself.”
Not all her work has been at her blog. She worked for Paris Vogue and Italian Vogue, all while writing in her own voice at The Fashion Bomb Daily. On her staff, Sulmers tries to cultivate the voices of young women of color who want a place in the fashion industry. She describes receiving an email from a stranger, who said her goal was to be the “first black editor and chief of American Vogue” and who now works for Sulmers as one of her highest paid writers. Sulmers says she loves the mentor/mentee relationship, and is inspired by the support she received from her community.
“Coming up, I don’t have anybody that I can pinpoint as my one mentor, but there were so many women in the industry who were always willing to meet with me if I had a question, who I could bounce ideas off of… I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always been proactive and seeking out relationships with women I admire and they’ve always been gracious enough to give me their time.”
She has also expanded her work to include the beginnings of a charity, still in development, called Claire Cares. The organization is intended to function as a place to develop mentorships and funding for designers of color.
Organizing events has become Sulmers purview, with “Cocktails with Claire” networking events in almost every city she travels to around the U.S., like Chicago, Atlanta, and D.C. The events often feature panels on breaking into the industry and opportunities for folks working in the same business to meet.
Sulmers may be a writer, but a significant amount of her time is spent putting a human face to her brand. She attends wave after wave of events, developing related content with her staff. Sulmers was in the audience at the BET Awards when Jesse Williams took the stage and gave his electrifying speech on police brutality and cultural appropriation.
She says, “It was electric it was kinda like, the skits are kind of whatever sometimes...It kinda seemed like the show didn’t have a ton of substance until Jesse Williams came out and he really took us to church. Everybody was on their feet, everybody felt inspired and empowered. It was definitely the highlight of the show.”
For Sulmers, race has always been an important component in how she sees fashion.
“A lot of times with fashion, it can sound superficial and silly, and a lot of it is. But I was that young kid who would look at Seventeen magazine and ask: why isn’t there a black girl on the cover, why aren’t there black girls in the magazine? And I would write letters, like ‘I would like to see a black woman on the cover.’ I was that kid who noticed. I actually started a diversity initiative in my high school. It’s not just black and white, and I hope that’s what my website conveys.”
Sulmers explains that the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) recently released a photo of “designers to watch.” Sulmers was stricken with disappointment when she was that there wasn’t a single black designer included.
“I think that our nation is at this point where everybody is like, ‘It’s 2016 why aren’t things better?’ In terms of race relations... and it’s not," she says. "People aren’t afraid to talk about it when it comes to politics, or police brutality, or university admissions, or equal opportunity in the workplace in a general sense. But in fashion we still have this issue, and because fashion is so subjective, people don’t really think there needs to be any talk of diversity.
“And I know there are a lot of amazing black designers that Rihanna is wearing, or Nicki Minaj or the Kardashians and there’s no acknowledgment by the CFDA and it’s like we don’t exist…I was actually shocked. I don’t think people are doing it maliciously but it’s about having people there who will say you need to look at this.”
As a blogger, Sulmers has always found a way to report on issues in fashion around identity politics alongside more neutral coverage of her passion for fashion. Her strategies are creating more space for a diversity of voices in that world, which is probably more than she ever imagined while pursuing her hobby a decade ago.