Kathryn Finney, The Budget Fashionista, is the authority on “being fabulous for less.” The debt-ridden shopaholic turned bestselling author, TV fashion expert and most notably, “Chief Shopping Officer“ of her very own blog network – Kathryn’s journey is an inspirational one indeed.
We’d expect nothing less from a sister who graduated with a master’s in epidemiology from Yale. Now she drops science by teaching folks how to live the good life on a budget. With her unique blend of expertise and fashion sense, coupled with razor sharp wit and a down to earth approach, the Budget Fashionista has been the consummate source of living the fabulous life for less since 2003.
Clutch: Have you always had a passion for fashion?
Kathryn: I’ve always been in love with fashion. My grandmother was a seamstress who created costumes for people like Cab Calloway. I know how to sew and make garments – that’s always been a part of me. However, growing up in the Midwest (Minneapolis to be exact), when you’re smart, you’re not encouraged to go into things like fashion. You’re expected become a doctor or lawyer.
Clutch: So you chose to take the academic route?
Kathryn: I went to Rutgers, then Yale for grad school where I studied epidemiology. I was the best-dressed epidemiologist in my class (laughs).
Clutch: How did The Budget Fashionista come into being?
Kathryn: It started from a love of fashion and lack of cash. 5 years ago, my husband and I were living in Philly. I didn’t know anyone, (all my friends were in NYC) so I started spending a lot of time at the King of Prussia Mall. As a result, I racked up quite a bit of debt – which unfortunately, added to the debt I accrued while in school (both grad and under grad). My husband encouraged me to get myself together and get my debts under control. He also suggested I start a blog. So in 2003, The Budget Fashionista was born as a means to stay connected to my friends and share the details of my shopping expeditions as well as my ability to find incredible deals.
About 6-7 months after we launched TBF, I was contacted by the Associated Press to do an interview on sample sales. As a result of that AP article the site just went through the roof.
Clutch: Did you anticipate all this success when you started the blog? What was your original vision?
Kathryn: There was no vision of this as a business. It was supposed to be for fun. The Internet was so new then. When the AP contacted me for the first time, I realized, “wait a minute, I have something here,” but until that point, I had no clue.
Clutch: How did you manage to climb out of debt?
Kathryn: First of all, I confronted the fact that I was in debt. I actually looked at my bank account and my credit card statements.
I also had to change my spending habits. I used to have a pomegranate drink everyday, which was like 4 bucks each. I realized that was spending about $120 a month! So eventually I thought to myself: “Couldn’t I just drink water instead?” I took that money that I would have spent on over-priced drinks, and I started putting it into my 401K.
Clutch: So essentially, you reset your priorities?
Kathryn: Yes, and it’s not even that much of a lifestyle change. I mean, people would be surprised that you really don’t have to change your lifestyle that much in order to be frugal.
Clutch: The Budget Fashionista is a rich resource. You leave no stones unturned when it comes to looking good for less. How do you continually come up with such fresh and intriguing topics day after day?
Kathryn: I shop at least 3 times a week and keep a watchful eye on what people are wearing. That helps to give me a current perspective. I also have another person who writes with me, so we can produce more content. We read a lot of magazines such as Time, Business Week and other periodicals that seemingly have nothing to do with fashion. This allows us to make projections and create relevant content.
Clutch: Once your one and only site, The Budget Fashionista is now one of many within a blog network titled Simply Good Media. Can you describe its origin and evolution?
Kathryn: We had a lot of requests to cover more topics including men’s fashion, and green fashion. We couldn’t cover everything on the TBF because it’s very focused on teaching women how to be fabulous for less. So we decided to create new sites to address the needs of our audience.
In 2006, we created Simply Good Media, which is all about teaching people how to live great lives on a budget. Within this network, we have: See Jack Shop, which is all about showing men how they can live fashionably on a budget; The Budget Casa focuses on teaching people how to decorate their homes on a budget; The Budget Ecoist is for those who seek green living on a budget; and the Budget Bambino is geared towards families. We’re also about to launch 2 more blogs: The Budget Foodie; and the Budget Commuter.
Clutch: A couple of years ago, your book How to Be a Budget Fashionista: The Ultimate Guide to Looking Fabulous for Less hit the stands. Was this your brainchild, or did a publisher approach you?
Kathryn: An agent, and fellow Yale Alum approached me in 2004. I had no idea what I was doing at the time but I wrote it myself, and finished it in about 6 months. It was released in 2006 and is now going into its 6th printing.
Clutch: Is a sequel in the works?
Kathryn: Yes. It will include everything that was missing in the first. It’s more of a companion guide.
Clutch: In your opinion, what does it take to be a budget fashionista?
Kathryn: I always say you have to have a great closet and a great 401K. Understand who you are – no matter your size, weight, shape, race or geographic location. It’s about understanding who you are as a person and what you looks best on you.
Clutch: Can you share any words of wisdom you’ve gained from this 5-year journey?
Kathryn: 1. Focus on value rather than price. Use TBF “Cost Per Wear” equation: Take the price of an item and divide it by the number of times you think you’re going to wear the item. If you purchase an item for $100 and you think you’ll wear it 10 times, it costs you $10 every time you wear it. The more you wear an item the more your cost for wear is. It’s really about quality, not quantity.
2. Having a few key items: the black suit can be worn over and over again. It can be dressed up or down and can be worn for all sorts of occasions. A black suit will get you very far.
3. Be realistic. Many women suffer from body morphism, where the body that you see is not actually the body that you have. We all know someone who’s like, “I’m a size 2” and we all know they haven’t seen a size 2 in like 10 years. A lot of women make this mistake without realizing we’re doing ourselves a great disservice when we don’t accept who we are.
Clutch: What should be first and foremost in our minds while shopping?
Kathryn: It’s all about value. If you spend $50 for Marc Jacob pants on sale but you literally wear those pants 3 times a week for the next year – you’ve gotten lot of value out of those pants. People shouldn’t feel guilty about spending money. It’s really about how you spend your money. Focus on what’s valuable to you and what contributes to your closet. I recommend the 70-30 rule. 70 percent of what’s in your closet should be you classic pieces like that pair of Marc Jacob pants. And 30 should be your fun pieces like what you may pick up at H&M or Forever 21.
Clutch: Name of few of your favorite places to shop?
Kathryn: That’s a tough one. It’s like choosing between children. I’d have to say: DSW; Neiman Marcus Outlet; Wal-Mart – or Walmart.com; Salvation Army; and of course Target.
Clutch: What are some of your fashion pet peeves?
Kathryn: I hate muffin tops. I can’t stand seeing young girls wearing clothes that don’t fit them because they want to look like Brittany Spears. I have a problem with the Hyper-sexualization of teen clothing and the glorification of strippers and video vixens.
Clutch: With your finger squarely on the pulse of the world of style, can you give us a fashion forecast?
Kathryn: People will be looking to cut back on expenses, including dry cleaning, so I think we’ll be seeing more breathable fabrics that are easy to take care of.
I also believe that there will be no middle class in fashion: designers will either go very high end or very low end.
Clutch: That sounds almost like an eerie reflection of the shift that’s taking place in American society – and perhaps beyond.
Kathryn: It’s true – the present state of affairs is being reflected in fashion. High-end shops like Tiffany’s and Saks are experiencing an increase in sales, as are lower end shops such as Fashion Bug and Wal-Mart. Conversely, the “middle-class“ stores like Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Lord & Taylor are suffering.
Clutch: With the Democratic National convention fresh on our minds, what’s your take on Michelle Obama’s status as an icon of style and class?
Kathryn: Michelle Obama is a mother with two beautiful kids. She’s also a powerful woman who’s married to a powerful man (who is totally in love with her) and through it all, she still finds time to look fabulous. Michelle doesn’t need to wear $3000 suits. She shops off the rack at places like White House Black Market, yet projects this queenly presence.
Clutch: With a bestselling book, countless TV appearances, and a rich blog network under your belt – describe your secret to success?
Kathryn: Hard work, being myself, and being loyal to my audience. Like Michelle Obama, I also married well. I have a partner who does anything in his power to support me in reaching my goals. The support from my family, particularly my mother and brother, has also been invaluable.
I also believe in being consistent. When everyone was talking about higher end designers, I was talking about Target, Wal-Mart and the like. Now, everyone is talking about budget shopping. Basically, our message has remained constant through the years.
Clutch: What’s on the horizon for Kathryn Finney, The Budget Fashionista and Simply Good Media?
Kathryn: I used to say that I wanted to be the Oprah Winfrey of the Internet – but I realized that I actually want to be the Kathryn Finney of the Internet. I want to take this as far as it can go. And ultimately I want to show that in non-traditional areas that have nothing to do with being a rapper or a comedian, African Americans can meet with success.
The Budget Fashionista celebrates 5 Years of Fabulousness on Monday, September 8th in NYC.
For more of The Budget Fashionista please visit www.thebudgetfashionista.com