Friday, 24 August 2018

Autumn Winter Capsule Dressing | Mango

I'm in the middle of another post about what comes next for me & the blog now I'm all detoxed but I'm missing my fashion fix and just came across a new edit at Mango that has tapped into my minimalist and capsule approach perfectly. This is NOT sponsored - it happened to pop up on an Instagram ad and I clicked through and loved what I saw.

I've said it in my next post about the detox (which I'll hopefully publish at the weekend), I'm not never shopping again but when I do, I am buying in a considered way. Not the latest Insta-dress or one season wonder...instead replacing key pieces from last winter and buying good quality items.

This edit from Mango ties in nicely with the questions I get asked regularly about how to develop a capsule wardrobe. I will blog about this soon but in the meanwhile, be inspired by these kinds of edits that you'll find on many retailer websites. They generally feature uber-stylish successful women who epitomise effortless, stylish and uncomplicated dressing.

I've already ordered the white shirt and will report back when it arrives. I took advantage of a 10% off offer by signing up to their newsletter so you might like to do the same if you're not already signed up.

And here is the shirt...I'm very fussy about my white shirts so I'll not say anymore until I've seen it in real life. It is organic cotton though which is always a bonus.
These organic cotton jeans also look lovely. The most perfect indigo - another wardrobe essential. I had to stop myself from ordering these. No. More. Jeans. 
I'm asked all the time about my leather loafers - they're so versatile in a wardrobe, working well with culottes, trousers, jeans and dresses. I really like these Mango ones as they've no hardware on them. Pure class (and leather)
Every winter, I'm asked to suggest a grey coat and for me, this one looks like a great colour and cut. It seems to be unlined though so I'd like to see it in real life.
And finishing with a black blazer. I managed to get a great black blazer in the sale back in spring and it's such a wardrobe must-have. This one is part of a suit:
I also ordered this polka dot midi dress as my classic wear to everything/wear with everything AW dress. I used to have a different polka dot dress from Debenhams that I wore lots on here so it's a replacement piece for me because that one had a bit of a mishap in the wash!
Polka dots are huge this season and I think this particular dress is going to work well with ankle boots and tights when the weather gets cooker. It's got wearability for work as well as on casual occasions and I think it could even be worn on a night out. 

Time will tell - I'll let you know when they arrive!

UPDATE - the shirt is going back - too oversized in fit and the buttons are coated in cotton material which makes them tricky to open and I think they'll get really grubby in time. Not sure about the dress - fits well, looked very crumpled when it arrived though. Want to look at it for a few days before deciding! Size wise, both M's. Shirt was massive, dress was a true to size 10-12.

Hope you have a lovely Friday - that's week 8 of the school holidays over. 1. More. To. Go. 
Too long - just too long. The kids are desperate to get back - honest...it's not just me!

Ax
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Thursday, 16 August 2018

Blog Detox - Step 3 - Working with Brands & PR Agencies

Before I get started on Step 3, I wanted to put some context around this blog detox as I work out in my head what I want to achieve from it and the longer terms changes I would like to make through it.

It's not just about writing a couple of ranty posts and then going back to doing what I always did. It needs to be a process that removes what's making the blog a less enjoyable and less creative space. So I'm going to focus on that as the ultimate goal but honestly, I'm not sure what that looks like. I might take a break from it all or I might just change the channels I use. I'm still mulling it over but for now, I'm ready to make one major change in the way that I work with brands and PR agencies.

I asked a group of online friends in a Facebook group I'm a member of about this one because they read the blog, and many other blogs too. They helped give me a good perspective on how branded content is perceived and whether it puts them off reading or following.
The consensus was very much that although #ad content is broadly unpopular, as long as a blogger is authentic in the brands they work with and the content is relevant, it's accepted as the norm for bloggers that have been established for a while and have a good following.

Constant gifted content was more of a bugbear for people than occasional paid for collaborations and I do agree with this. I feel like bloggers (me included) are quick to undervalue their contribution to a brand and accept product in lieu of payment.

So Step 3 is that I will no longer accept gifted items from big brands or PR agencies in return for unpaid coverage on my channels.  If a big brand wants access to my writing and my audience, they will have to compensate me for the time and effort involved. 

This has been on my mind for a few months. Just before we went on holidays, I did my tax return for last year. Between the blog and my job, I make a 4 figure part time income. I don't pay tax on it as it's below the threshold so it's just that - a part time income. However to earn this income, I'm working full time. Mostly 60-70 hours a week. I'm constantly online, constantly thinking about the next blog, the next image, the next post I have to put up.

When I chose gifted items to feature on the blog on an unpaid basis, it creates unpaid work. It's absolutely lovely to be given something beautiful but it doesn't pay the bills. And the effort I put into featuring that item on the blog and/or on social media, creates hours of work that takes me away from the paid work I could be doing - and from the family. I tell people all the time that I have created a part time role that I can fit around the kids but the truth is the family fits around me...as I sit with a laptop or phone constantly on. 

The wardrobe sell-off has also prompted this because about 30% of what I sold had been gifted to me. Yes, I loved and wanted the items & I was happy to wear them but did I need them? Definitely not. But I got sucked into the trap that so many bloggers are in where you want fresh content, and there's a certain kudos in working with these bigger brands. Maybe they would pay me at some stage in the future if I produced good content? Ultimately it gave me more clothing in my wardrobe than any woman needs or has time to wear.

This might seem like an obvious one for some people reading this but when something that starts out as a hobby becomes a business, it's difficult to ask for payment and brands take advantage of this reluctance to charge. There's always another blogger out there willing to do it for free so we worry that we will miss out on a potential collaboration and don't ask that all important question 'do you have any budget for this PR?'

It might seem like a cheeky approach to others, an ungrateful one even. But the PR and blogging industry creates so much unnecessary 'stuff' beyond gifted product. Take press drops which occasionally arrive at my door, though only if I'm unaware they're coming....if I'm asked beforehand, I always decline the delivery. They come in boxes or bags, wrapped up with plastic and ribbons and generally contain things that we don't need and although I often enjoy what's inside them, I am immediately under obligation to share the content on my social channels which presumably bores you and takes up both our times. No more.

So from here on in, anything brand led on the blog will be a #ad. I won't be disappearing down a #ad hole though as I'm not a big enough blogger AND I will still only work with brands and content that I love...it'll never be for the money. Trust me on that.

And I will continue to regularly feature my own content that isn't brand influenced. Try-ons, my visits to local boutiques and my genuine (considered and mindful - not forgetting the wardrobe clear out!) wardrobe and beauty purchases. And if there's a small/local brand out there that I think you'll enjoy, I'll give them a shout out for free. I know not every company has the resources to pay bloggers. The likelihood that it will interest you will be the priority here.

Does this all make sense? To put it in context, I've declined 4 approaches this week using this criteria. One brand came back offering to pay. That's 25% of the brand-led content that I might have featured before and it's 100% paid. Better for my livelihood and I honestly think it's better for you too. But you can tell me what you think - I'm open to your comments. I've had all sorts over the past couple of posts...some encouraging and some less so. I publish and reply to them all (unless they're spam!).

Oh and to finish, I am not in any way knocking other bloggers who create unpaid content in return for gifts. We are all at different stages on our own blogging journey. I know it's sometimes the only way to work with a brand or generate fresh when you're starting out. It's how I operated when I was in the early days of all of this. But maybe, now and again, ask the question. A mention on a blog for any brand, big or otherwise, is a massive plus in terms of how search engines rank a business. No matter how big or popular your blog is. It's SEO gold and it's worth rewarding.


Ax
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Wednesday, 15 August 2018

The MG ZS from SERE Motors | Lifestyle | AD

In the midst of all this detoxing, I've still got commitments to fulfil on the blog and one of them is my review of the MG ZS that we were loaned for our holiday on the North Coast. It's the second time local family-run car company SERE Motors have approached me to give a lay-woman's review of one of their most popular family cars and given the reaction on social media and in real life, I know there are quite a few of you interested in how we got on with it.
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Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Blog Detox | Step 2 | My Phone

I've said it on social already loads of times but I want to say it again on here. Thank you for all the support on the last blog detox post. I only scratched the surface of how I'm feeling as I was quite scared publishing it so to have all the comments and emails and DM's telling me that you feel the same was pretty amazing. I seem to have articulated what many of you have been feeling - some of you are way ahead of the curve than I am - but that in itself was encouraging as you were able to tell me how helpful all this detoxing can be.

So I'm onto step 2 and it's my phone. I watched an episode of Panorama on the iPlayer the other week about smartphone addiction and it has been on my mind since - I'm linking to it on the text above and I urge you to watch it if you can spare 30 minutes because it was one of the catalysts for this detox.

Here's the deal with the phone detox and I've been doing some of this for a while but I started the other parts of it on Saturday - it's early days on the newer parts but they've made a difference already. There are 5 steps and you can introduce them over a week or just go for them all at once. 

1. Turn off your phone at night - properly...swipe that button!

Now I already do this so it wasn't one I had to implement. If you are a poor sleeper, this is one of the key ways to help your insomnia, I promise you. The actual action of swiping over that switch off button does the same in your head. It's a clear signal to your brain to switch off too. 

2. Don't bring the phone into your bedroom - especially don't charge it in your bedroom.

I was guilty of this one until the weekend despite knowing it was a really bad habit.  Having your phone in the room, even if it's turned off (but especially if it's charging) just creates an energy in your bedroom that will keep you from sleeping soundly. You're more likely to reach for it, have a quick peep, google randomness, online shop.  Leaving it in another room overnight will prevent pre-sleep and the pre-getting up scrolling...complete time stealers.
The first night I did this, I slept really badly! Maybe I was inwardly stressing?! On subsequent nights it's been amazing though - I'm reading before I sleep, going to sleep earlier, sleeping better AND I'm getting up in the morning and getting ready before I reach for my phone.

3. Turn off notifications 

Again, one I've been doing now for about 6 months and I can confirm it's amazing. I also mostly leave my phone on silent too. My Fossil watch alerts me to anyone in my main contacts ringing or texting. Anyone else, I just get back to them when the time is convenient.

4. Don't carry your phone around and occasionally leave it at home

Really trying not to pocket my phone anymore. It's in a handbag if I'm out and about or sitting on a worktop charging when I'm home. This stops the constant checking and I actually think it's a healthier thing to do too. Working up to leaving it at home now and again. I do sometimes do this when I got to the gym but that's not very often 🙈

5. Take your work emails off your mobile & delete social media apps 

I don't have my work emails on my phone but I do have blog emails - something I need to mull over.
With regard to social media apps, I deleted Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat on Saturday but I have left Instagram & WhatsApp as they only work on phones and my Instagram activity has dropped massively anyway since I unfollowed all but close friends and family. Haven't missed Facebook once and taking Snapchat & Twitter away only means I don't feel the guilt of never posting on there.  I'm considering whether to ditch Messenger next - I can access it on the laptop and the messages are never time critical. 

I know there are more options than this but I reckon this is a pretty good start - even if you only do 2 or 3 of them. I'll update this post after a few months to let you know if I'm still sticking to it and if it's made any noticeable difference. Also do share any good tips you've found.

Back with step 3 of the blog detox shortly - it's about how I plan to work (or not) with brands and PR companies going forward and it's proving to be a difficult one. How to stay true to my new blog approach, yet also fund the time I spend on here, especially when it comes to supporting local businesses or start ups. It's most likely to be a work in progress kind of thing and I'm keen to get your perspective on it - stand by!

Thanks as always

Avril x
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Sunday, 5 August 2018

Denim Dress Love | Style

Two denim dresses bought in one week, albeit back in June....but can you tell why I needed to do that wardrobe clear out? 
In light of last week's detox post and that wardrobe cleanse, I did debate blogging about these two recent additions to my wardrobe. I am definitely making changes going forward and being more mindful about what I buy but when I looked back over my photos and unfinished blog posts, I decided I can't not share two great examples of something I'm asked about all the time - a nice denim dress. Because they're a great wardrobe basic that you'll wear and wear and it's actually tricky enough to find a nice one. Unfortunately both of these went into the sale but the first one is still available in a darker denim colour and I've found a great alternative to the second one.

So they're both from Next - the first one is knee length, quite a heavy material but stretchy and with a good tie belt to nip you in at the waist. I've worn it loads since I got it including here on my recent trip down to Tipperary, where it would have been rude not to nip into Kildare Village for a coffee...and a look around on the way back up to Belfast:
I'm wearing a 10 but I'd say it comes up big so size down if you're in-between 
Sunglasses - Primark

The next one was bought by accident. I'd had it in my basket for a while. Went on then to order shoes for the wedding (that I didn't keep) and only at the confirm button did I realise the dress was still in the basket. I was sure it would go back but it's turned out to be even better than the short one. I've worn it 5 times (and washed/tumble dried it twice) since I got it at the end of June, including in this uninspiring combination of the same shoes and glasses as the outfit above! The nude bag was bought for Lucy's wedding in Kildare Village. It's from Kurt Geiger and although it was in the outlet, it's still showing as full price on the KG website. I paid less than that for it in Kildare - I think it was €45? Anyway, it was perfect with the nude fascinator and sandals I wore with the green dress on this link.
Dress - Next

Both dresses have been worn casually and to work since I got them. I know they won't be suitable for every office though but they're perfect for a smart/casual environment with the right footwear.

Just on the sliders as I've been asked on Instagram. They are a bit of a nightmare to break in but when you do, they're amazing. But like some of you, I've had blisters across the top of both my feet...plasters and some persistence paid off but I won't be getting them in the black for this reason.

And sharing just one outfit from the weekend taken on a trip in to see the Belfast Pride parade...I should have dressed a bit more colourfully on reflection but I found a nice red wall instead. And it's all re-wears..had forgotten I had this wee brown bag as it was buried under some skirts 🙈
Sandals - Topshop (old)
White Top - H&M (old)
Bag - Boden (old)

Hope you all had a good weekend and I'll be back with my Blog Detox Step 2 in a day or two. I'm in the middle of trying it out as I want to be able to add a bit to it about how I've been getting on. Cryptic or what?!

Ax


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Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Blog Detox - Step 1 - Wardrobe

Over the past few weeks, I've been feeling the need to change things a LOT. I'm blaming Instagram. I've become weary of the endless 'must buy' & the latest 'got to have'. The M&S jumpsuit pushed me over the edge this week...it felt like a case of the emperor's new clothes.  It's an average jumpsuit...nothing offensive about it but nothing special either. And it's definitely nothing special now that pretty much 50% of my instagram feed has bought it. 

And I'm as guilty as anyone in this regard. I love to shop, especially the sales, and I share lots of it online. But my wardrobes are bursting. I have too much - bought and gifted - and I'm feeling stressed about it all and uncomfortable that the people who read this blog and follow my social channels are buying things that they've seen me wear whenever they don't need them or worse again, can't afford them.

I think shopping is actually creating a kind of stress for us all because we are spending time, money and effort that we don't have to spare, chasing items that we think we need because someone else has them and tells us we need them too. I don't know about you but I find so many of these things hang in my wardrobe and I don't actually end up wearing them very often.

Then I go on two weeks holiday with one suitcase and realise how easy it all is when you have less. Realise that I don't need the rest of my wardrobe - I can actually live with the suitcase full.
And because the one question I get asked repeatedly as a blogger is 'how do I create the perfect capsule', I know that many of you are in the same situation. Loads in your wardrobe and nothing to wear. 

Hands up to another confession - buying 'for the gram'. I've recently found myself buying stuff I don't honestly need because I want to have something different to take a picture of because that's what all the other bloggers are doing. I'm feeling that peer pressure and all that happens is that I end up with multiple similar items in my wardrobe.

I'm detoxing in several ways over the coming weeks and months and step one is the biggest wardrobe cull I've ever done. This includes items I've bought and some items I've been gifted, some quite recent, others I've held onto for longer. I love them all but I'm simply not wearing them enough and in most cases, I have similar multiple items. It's more than one woman could ever wear in a lifetime (well, in her 40's anyway).

Now I'm aware of the irony of selling stuff to you all as part of my wardrobe detox...I'm hardly encouraging you to practice the same approach if I'm suggesting you buy my stuff! Honestly, I'm not sure how to address this except to say that I'm giving over 50% of what I'm clearing out to charity. So I'm not selling off everything but I have some nice things that I know many of you would be interested in and at least as a preloved item, it's not going to be as expensive and I promise it's all very wearable. That's as good as I can do but please don't buy something if you don't need it or can't afford it.

The sale will go live on Friday at 10am on my Tictail store on this link (currently disabled - but you can bookmark it or refer back to this post on Friday morning). I'm still photographing things and I have to work tomorrow, so that's delaying things. I'll post about it on social media on Friday morning too though in case you forget!

This is just Step 1 - there are more steps to come, one of which is quite radical and I'm more than a little afraid of it but I know it's going to be the most empowering one of them all. Eek. 

See you Friday!
Ax
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