Nowadays, everyone and their mother is a fashion blogger - Rita Dahdah was one before it was cool. Our very own fashion gendarme and managing editor Farah Hosny sits down with the regional trendsetter, who shares her expert insights on the influencer 'industry' and the secret to business longevity.
In the latter half of the past decade, there has been an undeniable surge of absurdly stylish women who have had the business acumen to capitalise on their fashion sense and innate love of the field, and turn that passion into a moneymaking endeavour; fashion blogging. These days, it may feel like you can't throw a rock without hitting a fashion blogger, as the phenomenon has exploded exponentially in the past two years or so, particularly in Egypt and the Arab world, but there are some who came before the rest; those first movers who actually had online blogs before Instagram became the new primary platform on which to prop your business. Nigerian Lebanese Rita Dahdah is one such woman.
With an 80K strong following on Instagram, Dahdah started blogging right when the phenomenon was on the cusp of taking off. She still maintains her blog where she shares her thoughts and insights, while using her Instagram account as visual eye candy to reveal a barrage of on-point fashion choices. She recently came to Egypt, hosted by fashion powerhouse Maison Pyramide, to carry out workshops giving advice on how to found and maintain a blog, and grow it into a veritable business venture. We sat down with the style maven to talk feminism, frivolity, and followers...
How and why did you start your blog/Instagram account?
I started my first blog in 2010 by pure coincidence. I needed a way to write my thoughts down and express myself, and it somehow gained a lot of popularity, especially among Arab women. I guess it was my sense of humour and bluntness (which I miss a lot these days).
I started my Instagram account in 2013 because my sister forced me to, and said it was the latest trend and I had to be part of it. At the time, I valued my privacy, so I only posted about my travels, then I slowly moved to personal style, fashion finds and outfit posts because of the popularity they received. I have always loved fashion, and it was a great way to share my sense of style with others. Before Instagram, it was considered “showing off” when you posted your outfit details – so, after I got over that, it came very naturally to me. It’s important to stay up-to-date with social media trends and what’s next or you’ll get washed away when the next wave comes.
How would you describe your style?
My style depends on my mood, but I do love trendy, minimal, structured, androgynous clothing. I also love casuals (think: 90s super model, off duty), mixing and matching, as well as statement pieces that give your outfit an eye-catching pop. I don’t like looking too girly, fussy or polished – but, other than that, I’m happy to wear almost anything that suits my mood and body.
You call yourself a feminist. Many sceptics would not associate fashion bloggers with feminism and consider fashion a frivolous pursuit; what would you say to them?
I’ve been a feminist my whole life. It’s how I was raised; my grandmothers, aunts, and mother have always loved fashion and worked well both creatively and with their hands. I guess I inherited this from them. I grew up with my mother telling me to be independent, make my own money, and stand on my own two feet before ever considering getting married, and this is something I made sure to do and I always repeat this to my readers and followers. I have been writing inspirational and empowering pieces for the past six years, and my posts have impacted so many women.
Working in fashion is as challenging as working in any other profession, if not more. I have seen how tiring it is for designers, stylists, bloggers, and editors in the field, and have also been so inspired by their passion and hard work. Fashion is a beautiful and essential form of self-expression, and it takes wonderful, creative minds to both create the pieces we wear, as well as wear them, style them, and write about them to the world in a way that makes them even more beautiful and desirable. I personally work very long days; writing emails, blog posts, doing photo shoots, driving to meetings, traveling… I also share this aspect of my life with my followers and readers, because being a blogger and influencer isn’t as easy or as glamorous as what people see on social media. That is only the filtered, polished version of it.
What do you think of this recent trend where everyone is - or is trying to be - a fashion blogger? Has the market become too saturated?
I certainly think the market has become too saturated, but that’s the case with almost every new “industry”. Fashion blogging made its debut in 2009, and influencer marketing in the past couple of years. Those who started early on did it because they love to do it; they love to blog, they love to inspire, and they became successful doing something they love. People then picked up on this trend and wanted to be part of the ‘fame’, ‘glamour’, and ‘success’, whether or not they enjoyed working in this field. If you genuinely love sharing content, fashion, blogging, and if you have something unique to offer, then by all means, go into fashion blogging, even if it’s saturated, but do it your own way. Give people something new and different. Otherwise, don’t jump on the bandwagon simply because so many are doing so.
What is the trick to kick-starting a successful Instagram fashion blog - and standing out among a sea of other bloggers?
It starts with having a unique voice – something different to offer. You then have to pair that with a good marketing sense and understand social media trends, posting, and what people like to see. With the right identity, strategy, and insight, you can definitely stand out.
Starting out, does one have to buy followers in order to reach the extensive numbers their more established peers may have?
I have never bought a single follower since the day I started. I believe this is a lost cause. I work with a lot of brands that measure our collaborations through engagement and/or sales – and that’s something that fake followers add zero value to. The only value fake followers add is to boost a person’s ego for a short amount of time. It makes the person lazy, and they no longer work on delivering quality content to their followers. People who think that buying followers is what it’s all about, should not be bloggers in the first place – and it means they cannot be influencers either. Personality and identity matter way more than the number of followers, and brands worldwide are realizing this. If you’re true to yourself and your followers, and if you are able to impact them, it creates a ripple effect and people will fall in love with you. That’s how you get real, relevant, quality followers.
Down the line, how does a blogger monetize?
I have a rate card for my Instagram and Snapchat posts. My rate card is directly related to my engagement level; X impressions; X demographic; X growth rate; X followers. I have also created pricing packages for my blog (posts, banners, etc.). I also make money through the rewardStyle program, which is an exclusive platform for bloggers and influencers.
What do you think of the fashion scene in Egypt?
I am so in love with the designers and brands that I have discovered thanks to Maison Pyramide. This is part of the reason I visited Cairo, to see more of what the market has to offer. I pay very close attention to upcoming trends and patterns; I can tell that in the next couple of years, Egyptian designers are going to be highly sought after because of their work’s unique aesthetic and high taste level, which is a result of this country’s beautiful culture and heritage. The work I’ve been seeing is so unique. I travel a lot, and I certainly haven’t seen this ‘flavour’ anywhere else. The world definitely needs this touch in the fashion industry, and I hope we keep seeing more from your talented designers.
What's on your winter shopping wishlist?
I have been trying to find the Gucci slippers everywhere – but my size seems to be extinct. I also want to purchase a pair of Oscar Tiye shoes, the Miu Miu slippers, and an oversized Vetements hoodie.
Photography by Amina Zaher.