Originally published on March 30, 2013
I’m digging this blog by Olivia Obineme, who studied with me at the Poynter fellowship. In fact, we interviewed each other during the first session on the first day, so we’ll always have that.
Anyway, her blog, Strangers with Style, features people she randomly meets in Baltimore with great style and it’s not like just-off-the-runway, too-expensive-for-common-people style either. Most of the posts feature great looks that inspire a t-shirt-and-jeans kinda gal like me with a tight budget.
Olivia said she had the idea of having a public collection of strangers for a long time. She loves people-watching, which makes sense as she is a journalist. When she was a student at Towson University, she kept a WordPress blog called Local Fab for a class with Dr. Thom Lieb. On that blog, she featured style profiles of strangers as well as things she found interesting from other sources and fashion tips.
But as it goes, life happened after that class ended and she put the blog aside. However, she decided to get back into blogging.
“And I think I may have hit something really cool,” said Obineme.
What I love about this blog is the simplicity. Olivia doesn’t write lengthy paragraphs about each stranger’s style. Instead, we get short and informative descriptions.
“Because they are strangers, I like to keep the copy brief for the photos — to keep that mystery to them being people I really don’t know,” said Obineme. “The photos really show their personality, I think.”
I agree. I mentioned to Olivia that my favorite thing about the blog are the photos. What I’ve noticed on the man-on-the-street fashion blogs I’ve seen is that it’s pretty obvious the photographer just told the person to stand there so they can snap the photo and then moves on. On Strangers with Style, the strangers look natural and comfortable. I have yet to see one awkward photo on her blog yet. Olivia said she doesn't separate the interview from the shoot.
“What some people don’t realize is that when you do a blog like mine, where you are stopping people with whatever they are doing, they are the ones doing you a favor,” said Obineme. “Yes, people love to talk about themselves, especially when they are asked to, but it doesn’t mean they want to take a whole day to do it.”
She said she likes to make sure she’s doing it at their convenience. She doesn’t just talk about fashion with the stranger. She also asks how they are doing, what they’re up to and questions like that to make them comfortable.
“I put it like this: I talk to strangers because I genuinely want to get to know them,” said Obineme.
Again, that’s when journalism becomes helpful. We are taught in the classroom that we have to get out there and approach people we don’t know to get a story. Even though she does have to warm up before she approaches a stranger, she said she has learned that it’s either you do it or you don’t.
“If I don’t talk to people, I’d have nothing for any story I’ve ever written or shot or recorded,” said Obineme.
She’s only been rejected once for the blog.
“So far, I should say,” said Obineme.
But once she approaches the strangers, she doesn’t take long to explain why.
“The title of my blog explains itself,” said Obineme. “And when I tell them ‘Strangers with Style,’ they immediately light up, as if to think, ‘Oh wait, she wants to know about me.’ And that usually is what does it.”
Well it’s working. Since our little chat, Olivia seems to be featuring a new stranger daily. She recently discovered that two strangers she’s featured on two different days on her blog were actually mother and son. What a small, but fashionable, world.