La Carmina runs one of the biggest travel blogs online over at lacarmina.com. She's appeared on networks like National Geographic, NBC, and the Travel Channel, and she has 3 published books to her name. She's also made a name for herself in the media and fashion spaces through her television production company and new apparel shop. Her cat Basil even has his own blog! We cover a lot of topics in this post so be prepared to take notes and follow La Carmina on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter afterwards.
- Name: La Carmina
- Blog: lacarmina.com/blog
La Carmina is involved in a bunch of different areas - fashion, travel, media - describe your brand in one sentence.
Although I wear a number of hats, everything is tied back into my passion for subcultures in different countries -- which can be expressed through art, style, food, clubs, lifestyles that go against the grain. Perhaps you could describe the La Carmina universe as "explorations in alternative culture and creativity worldwide."
You were born in Canada, your parents are from Hong Kong, you went to school in the US, and you're a Japanese pop culture icon. How does that work? How has the variety of cultures influenced your work?
I've maintained close ties to my family heritage, and frequently traveled to Asia in my childhood. I went to university in the US since it was a fantastic opportunity to study at Columbia University in NYC, and it's one of the best decisions I've made. I've been interested in Japanese fashion and culture from a young age, but never thought this passion would grow into a career -- until I started blogging, and it took off. Today, one of my biggest focuses is travel; I'm endlessly inspired by the imaginative culture I find wherever I go.
Your blog today is incredibly popular, with thousands of followers and an impressive list of collaborators. How has your blog evolved since the beginning?
Initially, my La Carmina blog was a pastime and I didn't think of it as a business. However, readership grew and people started sharing and responding to posts, which led to two book deals within a year of the website's launch. Since then, I've been blogging professionally, learning and adapting along the way. Although there have been many changes through the years, I feel the site is still true to the original feeling -- I'm happy to hear many readers have been reading since the very start, when I was on MySpace! I used to focus exclusively on Harajuku style, but it's expanded to travel and subcultures around the world, in various media including travel TV, video, and now Virtual Reality.
What marketing and promotional tactics have been the most successful in gaining new followers and readers?
I've focused on putting out the best possible content, such as upping the quality of the photos, writing and diverse stories over time (I now do longer form posts that delve deeper into the history of a place). I think that's the most organic and effective way of reaching new readers; I don't spend anything on marketing or ads, and I'm not interested in increasing numbers just for the sake of it. Sometimes, sites like Buzzfeed or news publications will pick up my stories, which gives me a boost. My TV show appearances also help me reach new audiences, such as when I was on ABC Nightline, The Today Show, and NBC primetime.
How long did it take to make your first brand partnerships? What do you look for in brand partnerships now?
My first major partnership turned out to be a big one: interest from a literary agent to write a book, which turned into deals at Penguin and Random House. It took about 6 months from starting my blog in late 2007. However, these were in the early days of blogging, and so much has changed since then (for example, sidebar banner ads used to be more popular, and now it's all about sponsored posts and social media campaigns). I only work on collaborations that are a fit for my style, outlook and audience - it wouldn't feel right to promote a product that I would never use. These days, I love to partner with travel companies, tourism boards and independent fashion brands. I feel great about supporting them, and they enable me to see new countries and take part in experiences that I wouldn't have access to otherwise. Recently, I teamed up with Slovenia Tourism, the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul, Contiki tours in New Zealand, and various alt Gothic clothing labels.
You recently started your own store, where you are selling most of your wardrobe. How did the idea for your shop come about?
Over the years, I've accumulated lots of unique fashion from around the world, especially Tokyo. I love these pieces, especially the Gothic Lolita and Japanese alternative designs, but my closet has been filling up and it seemed time to pass them along to people who might not otherwise have access to these labels. I never had a good opportunity for selling my clothing until I heard about Depop, which is an app that makes listings easy. I opened up my shop at Depop username LaCarmina - the shop link is depop.com/en/lacarmina - and the response has been great so far. I welcome you to take a look at my store, and if anything catches your eye, please shoot me an email - I'd be happy to send you a discounted package!
How do you split your time between writing for the blog and managing your fashion and media production businesses?
When I'm on the road, I am entirely immersed in the experiences and environments. I don't blog during these travels; I always have at least a dozen posts already written from previous trips, which I publish during this time. Once I'm back, I work nonstop in editing the photos and crafting the videos and stories. It's always a juggling act, but if I plan ahead and get things done well in advance, I'm able to manage the various tasks.
Do you still pay for your own travel?
I'm very open about my partnerships, and pretty much since the first year of my blog, my travels have been work-associated (tourism campaigns, TV show productions, etc). Again, I make sure that these collaborators are well-matched and let me be myself. In 2016 so far, I've been in Mexico, Belgium, Turkey, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Slovenia, NY, LA, and more to come.
What do you have planned for the future of the La Carmina brand?
I'm excited to keep pushing forward with new technologies, including virtual reality and something science-related that I can't reveal yet. There will certainly be more travels in the works.
Last but not least, tell me about Basil. Your cat has almost a million total views on YouTube and is the centerpiece of many of your articles. Why is he so popular?
I think my Scottish Fold's wonderful personality shines through in all these posts. He's so intelligent, curious, loving, playful. And he looks like a real-life teddy bear, with the fluffiest yellow fur, big eyes, and no ears -- he's round all over!