June 16, 2013

Lifestyle's latest maven a mix of Martha Stewart and Carrie Bradshaw

Emily Schuman writes about clothes, food, home decor and DIY projects on her Cupcakes and Cashmere blog.

By SHAN LI/Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES - The gig: Emily Schuman, 30, is the lifestyle maven behind the popular blog Cupcakes and Cashmere, a confectionary collection of stylish outfits, recipes, home decor tips and do-it-yourself projects. Think Martha Stewart meets Carrie Bradshaw.

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Emily Schuman left a steady job to focus on her food and fashion blog, Cupcakes and Cashmere. Now, her Los Angeles, Calif., company pulls in 15 times her former salary.

Bethany Mollenkof/Los Angeles Times/MCT

The blog also led to a book deal for the California native. Titled "Cupcakes and Cashmere: A Guide to Defining Your Style, Reinventing Your Space, and Entertaining With Ease," it hit shelves last August and landed on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list.

After a childhood spent in Mill Valley near San Francisco, Schuman headed off to Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., to major in sociology and media studies. She always wanted to work in a creative field, and at the time thought the path was advertising.

She landed a job post-college at Conde Nast working in sales at Domino and Teen Vogue magazines. (She can be spotted in the background of Conde Nast offices for brief moments on the first season of the reality TV show "The Hills.")

After moving to online advertising at AOL, Schuman was feeling creatively adrift. She began writing anonymous restaurant reviews on the Internet, and then in 2008 decided to start a blog to chronicle her two passions, food and fashion. The name Cupcakes and Cashmere (cupcakesandcashmere.com) emerged after a week kicking around ideas to find the perfect alliterative title.

"I missed that feeling of doing something creative, and that's how I began," she said. "I didn't want to turn it into a business, but I wanted to create something I was proud of."

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of lifestyle blogs floating around the Internet today, but Schuman's stood out as one of the earliest to combine outfits and recipes.

"I speak to readers like talking to a friend," she said. "Even my mom is the first one to say that posting photos of how to put together a bouquet and how to bake cookies is not revolutionary, but it's how you package it together."

That means fresh content at least once a day, lush photos that resemble a "magazine experience," and frequent updates on Twitter and Instagram. Schuman also gets personal (to a point). In a recent post, she admitted to having "a disturbingly long tongue" and getting freaked out by kids on leashes.

The blog steadily gained readers. In 2009, a few publishers reached out and expressed interest in a book. But coming from the ad side, Schuman knew that she needed a certain number of eyeballs to generate enough advertising income to equal her salary.

Everything lined up in January 2010: AOL offered voluntary buyouts and Schuman decided to go out on her own. Leaving a full-time job with a steady paycheck was a risk, she said, but by then her blog already earned enough via advertising to roughly make up her salary.

"I lost sleep for two weeks and on the very last day and the very last hour it was possible, I did it," she said. "I was so scared I was going to regret it, but it was remarkably clear that it was the right thing to do."

Pretty soon, fashion brands eager to get access to her blog's 120,000 daily visitors came knocking. She designed a handbag in collaboration with Coach, a pink-cotton-candy-colored purse with gold hardware that sold out quickly. She also styled a look book for cheap-chic retailer Forever 21 and did a series of videos with Juicy Couture.

She's currently the guest blogger for makeup brand Estee Lauder's website, where she offers entertaining advice and style tips - all intersected with beauty ideas using Estee Lauder's products.

Schuman also became a published author last year with her first book. "It was a tough year," she recalled. "It was quite a balancing act - writing the book and planning a wedding and keeping up with the blog."

Cupcakes and Cashmere is now a family-run business, with Schuman's husband, Geoffrey Fuller, joining last year after quitting his job at an advertising agency. He handles contracts, negotiations and the business side, while she generates new content for the blog and collaborations with brands. In January, the couple hired their first full-time employee, who previously worked as an intern, to help out with photos and the website.

"You can't build an empire on your own," Schuman said. "It's not just a blog, it's an entire company."

Schuman recently signed a deal with a licensing company to create a line of Cupcakes and Cashmere branded merchandise; she's narrowed the categories down to home, beauty, fashion and accessories. There's also talk of a second and even third book. The company already pulls in 15 times what Schuman earned at her AOL job.

"We are now coming up with pie-in-the-sky ideas and going after brands that are a really good fit - we're going to them with ideas," she said.

Schuman loves to bake and can be found in the kitchen even when she's not cooking up treats for the blog. She's also an avid cat lover, with two felines, Luna and Rocco, who make guest appearances on the site. A third cat, Cali, was just added to the family after she was discovered living under Schuman's house.

"I dedicated all my free time to laying on the pavement and wooing her out," she said.

She offers this advice for would-be bloggers: Don't think a business deal is done until everyone signs on the dotted line. Find topics you are passionate about and pursue them. Avoid blogging on subjects just because you think there's an audience. Keep your website clean and uncluttered, with great photographs.

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