The style blog a few Cedarville students formed in late 2013 has expanded into a national – and international – virtual entity called “The Village.” What began as a style blog highlighting students around campus is now stretching across the United States and across the pond to England, resembling more of a website than a blog.
Bethany Gustin, a Cedarville senior, said “The Village” has grown to a staff of about 50 people since Cedars’ February 2014 story introducing the blog.
“I think our big group has made the website what it is, because each person adds a new aspect to the site,” Gustin said. “We have editors for each section, we have proofreaders, we have graphic designers and (a) creative team. It’s definitely expanded.”
Gustin, who handles many of the fashion- and styling-related elements, said the site has grown to include many different parts of life.
“It was very heavily focused on fashion, where now that’s one of our many aspects,” she said. “We also have culture, adventure, fashion, lifestyle.”
The staff has become more diverse as well.
“Through networking with different people and wanting to expand our look and have it more diverse, it’s been a great way that we’ve been able to do that is to find people from different locations and leading different lifestyles,” Gustin said. “We ended up finding it beneficial to the website to have people from different areas geographically.”
Editor-in-chief of “The Village” and December ’13 grad Beth (Julca) Harper added to this geographical diversity when she got married shortly after graduation and moved to England where she now lives.
“(‘The Village’) probably wouldn’t have been as international if I hadn’t moved to England,” Harper said.
Harper and Cedarville senior Jennifer Langton established “The Village” in November 2013.
At its beginning, “The Village” included The Daily Look, Style Spotlights, Village Picks, an inspiration section, and men’s and women’s sections. Because the staff was small and the blog new, “The Village” consulted social media for getting guest writers for its regular posts. The staff was primarily composed of Ohio residents, though the staff did hope to make “The Village” something applicable to its audience beyond the ’Ville.
A change in focus
Since its beginning, Harper has cast the vision for “The Village.”
“We’re trying to move a little more towards lifestyle, but we don’t want to lose the fashion aspect. We want to still incorporate that into more of our lifestyle content,” Harper said. “We thought it would be cool to incorporate both, so literally it is lifestyle, like life and style.”
Langton said “The Village” has broadened its focus while still keeping style in mind.
“It’s very much now more like a holistic lifestyle thing rather than just fashion,” said Langton, who works closely with Harper to continue making Harper’s vision for “The Village” a reality. “It’s like how a stylish person would like live their whole life as opposed to like what they might wear. It’s like where they might go, what they do there. It’s taken the idea of style to more of a life-broad topic than just clothes.”
The staff has moved from doing The Daily Look and Style Spotlights to featuring the entirety of a person.
“Before it was kind of just like bits and pieces of a person,” Gustin said. “(Now) when we feature someone it’s like looking at all aspects of their life.”
Langton said the focus has moved from moments to movements.
“I think before it was more focused on highlighting individual people where as now it’s more highlighting movements,” Langton said. “It’s more like, ‘What can you contribute to the movement as a whole more than just like what does your individual outfit say about you on this day?’”
Making it social
And with a broadened focus on style, Cedarville junior and “Village” women’s editor Audrey Jung said “The Village” has developed its own Instagram hashtag, #villagesociety. The hashtag has collected about 30,000 posts on Instagram – the social media outlet most used by “The Village.”
“That’s sort of how we went from being just something that Cedarville students know about and Cedarville students started to getting people who live in Washington and California and other people involved in ‘The Village,’” Jung said.
Langton said that people post content using “The Village” hashtag, and that makes them a piece of “The Village.”
“It just has made our community bigger,” Langton said. “Even though those people aren’t obviously staff members, they are still contributing in a way.”
The large exposure “The Village” has been given on Instagram makes it possible to reach people anywhere, Harper said.
“At the moment, obviously it’s very American-based, but for the most part, most of our fans are in the U.S.,” Harper said. “But thanks to Instagram, we can like reach out to anyone. My hope is that it can be something worldwide, but at the moment I think we really do focus on American stuff – like statewide.”
And by using social media as intensely as “The Village” does, Langton said writers are now contacting the staff more than the staff pursues writers.
“Now, it is definitely more people want to be a part of it, they want to have a piece in it so they pursue us,” Langton said. “I think it’s what we hoped to see, like people wanting to be a part of it as opposed to us wanting them to be a part of it.”
Getting a new brand
Harper said “The Village” replaced its inspiration section with an adventure section, added a culture section and added many staff members after last summer. She said because the site has been expanding and the quantity of content had become overwhelming to post regularly, the past few months have been spent improving the quality of “The Village” and prepping for a rebranding that’s coming later this spring and summer.
“We’re kind of cutting down on the team members, and we’re hoping to cut down on the content a little bit and focus more on producing quality content instead of trying to focus on numbers,” Harper said.
Once the rebranding is announced, “The Village” will have a new name — and one that’s more well-defined. Harper said its current name can be confusing, because the site is referred to as “The Village,” “The Village Style,” and “The Village Society,” in sync with its Instagram hashtag.
“Because we have changed from, you know, who we were when we started out in Cedarville,” Harper said, “I just feel like we kind of need this new brand – kind of just like turning a leaf, refreshing and restarting.”
Harper said with the new name – kept secret from Cedars – comes monthly themes for the content to follow and the addition of an online store.
“There’s kind of a lot of little changes that are happening,” Harper said. “Again, like our name’s going to be a big change for everyone, but we’re still moving forward.”
Gustin is heading up the e-commerce idea, which she said will be a collection of clothing and other style pieces posted for sale through partnering with small businesses. She said products that represent who “The Village” is as a website will be available – clothing, accessories, and health and beauty products.
Harper said the shop will open later this year, as it is still in the early stages.
“Ideally, eventually I want to turn this into a business,” Harper said. “I want to be able to employ people and like have a paid staff that can just focus on working for ‘The Village.’ At the moment it’s just been cool to have a team that volunteers, because I know they’re passionate about what they’re doing.”
Gustin said part of the vision for “The Village” has always been to develop something that produces a little income for the staff.
“Something that I think has always been a vision is once our website grows with more following, we wanted to find a way to have some sort of income from it, because at this point in time, it’s something that we do because we’re passionate about it or for fun, not because we’re getting paid to do it,” Gustin said. “But, we’re just in the works – especially with the shop and some different work with different companies and ads – that we’ve been starting to get money for that, and so I can see in a year from now that that would increase in income.”
Harper said the staff will use its growing audience and revenue from the shop to support a print copy of the now virtual-only entity.
“Print is definitely somewhere in our future. I think that’s like my main goal,” Harper said. “I love print, but I think we want to build a fan base first before we go into print because it can be very expensive, and we want to make sure we have the resources to do that, which is a reason we want to open the shop.”
Keeping it simple
Jung said “The Village” doesn’t try to be fancy.
“We just try to tell unique stories and, like our site says, ‘showcase the everyday person,’” Jung said.
Jung said 25-34 year olds, according to a loose interpretation of Google Analytics, are the main audience of “The Village.” She said it’s people who are just starting their adulthood – post-college, traveling around, learning a new job.
“I just hope that they gain perspective from someone else, just to know that there’s a broader community out there of people with the same interests,” Jung said. “And if they are young and at a new job and in a new place, then it can be a point of familiarity and comfort for them, and also (an opportunity) to learn new things about new places and different kinds of people.”
Anna Dembowski is a junior journalism major and managing editor/arts & entertainment editor for Cedars. She likes nearly anything that is the color purple and enjoys spelling the word “agathokakological.”