How Rachel Parcell founded a multi-million dollar fashion and lifestyle brand
When I was in high school, I always wanted a career in fashion, but when I started looking at the universities in Utah, my home state, no one had fashion merchandising or design programs. I wanted to stay local, so I just put the dream of a career in fashion out of my mind and thought to myself, “Oh, that was a childhood dream to be in the fashion industry. You have to move to the city to do that.”
During my senior year, I took an interior design class that had a lasting impact on me. I thrived in that class, and it was around the same time I discovered ELLE Decor. I already loved ELLE: Fashion Magazine, so this new publication was a tool that drove my obsession with interiors.
I really fell in love with designing home interiors that year, so I thought, “If I can’t find a fashion program in Utah, then I’ll do interior design.” I decided to try out for the Utah Valley University Dance Team, and I thought if I didn’t make the UVU Dance Team, I’d go to Utah State University, try out for their dance team (the Aggiettes), and study interior design—that was my plan.
I made the UVU Dance Team and got a scholarship, but UVU didn’t have an interior design program, so I decided to go into communications. I was thinking I could be a PR girl, go into broadcasting, be a fashion journalist, and go work for one of the networks in Utah or something like that.
While on the UVU Dance Team, I was often asked to help with costume design and makeup. It was no surprise; I was always the fashion girl. In high school, for example, all of my friends would ask, “Can you help me pick out a dress for an upcoming dance? How should I do my hair? Will you do my makeup?”
Getting married to Drew
I married Drew at the beginning of my sophomore year. I was done dancing, and it felt like I was going through an identity crisis because so much of my life was wrapped up in dance—that was my creative outlet. Suddenly it was like, “I’m not dancing anymore. I’m married, my husband and I have no money, and we’re scraping to get by.” I just felt like I was in a rut. I also wasn’t loving any of my communications classes—I didn’t connect with them.
I met with my academic advisor at UVU and had an hour-long meeting with him, kind of laying out how I felt about everything. I was pretty far into all of my communications credits, and he said, “It’s probably going to put you back two or three years, but let’s look at the creative side of things you can go into.”
A short time later, I discovered the graphic design program. I totally rearranged my college course schedule, set myself back, and started to do my prereqs to apply to the graphic program. I also started taking photography classes and learning the Adobe Creative Suite. I instantly loved graphic design, and I was thriving.
At this point, I just needed more of a creative outlet, so I started Rach + Drew, a blog journaling my wedding and life as a newlywed—that was in 2010. I was hoping to use the blog and connect with other women in Utah because, eventually, I wanted to start designing custom wedding invitations for people in Utah and possibly get into event planning.
A few months later, Drew and I were featured on the cover of Utah Valley Bride. I’d wanted to be on the front of Utah Valley Bride since I was 14 years old, so when I was planning my wedding, I brought it up to my photographer, and she agreed to submit the pictures to the magazine. I didn’t know until the day before the magazine came out that I was on the cover.
Once the magazine was published, I started getting eyes on my blog—people would look me up on Facebook after they saw me on the magazine and find my Blogspot.com. Things really started to pick up, and thanks to my design and development classes at UVU, I was able to go into the back end of my own site and code what was needed to launch successfully and handle the uptick in traffic.
Up until now, I would journal about my wedding, my marriage, shopping, and taking care of my home and family life. But when people started asking where I’d bought a dress or shoes or what shade of lipstick I was wearing, I changed my focus to fashion and lifestyle and renamed my blog to Pink Peonies. I was learning that my readers were more interested in fashion and cosmetics than in what Drew and I did on the weekends!
This was back in 2010; the first version of Instagram didn’t roll out until October of that year. Back then, women found inspiration for cute outfits in fashion magazines or Pinterest, and here I was posting pictures of myself and recruiting my husband to take the photos. He complained at first because he didn’t understand why I was doing it or who on the internet was looking at the images. It was hardly normalized at that time, and nothing like it is today. At first, girls from high school would mock me for taking photos of myself, and now they’re all doing the same thing on Instagram.
Making it as a fashion blogger
Everything changed for me when I was approached by rewardStyle, an affiliate marketing company that helps fashion bloggers and content creators monetize from their posts, specifically when people click on an affiliate link and make a purchase. Honestly, when rewardStyle first reached out, I wasn’t sure if it was real or if I would sell anything, but two months later, I saw the first $500 hit my PayPal account, and I was over the moon.
I was still in school full time at this point, and Drew and I were living in a teeny basement. I was so excited and splurged on a pair of Tory Burch flats I had my eyes on. The following month, $1,500 was deposited into my account. When I told my husband about the deposits, he no longer complained about taking photos of me—he was 100 percent on board.
During this time, I was also working for Downeast Clothing as a buyer. They liked my conservative-chic style, so they would send me to LA every few months to select clothes. After a while, it got to the point where I was working during the day at Downeast and blogging at night. As my brand grew, I had to decide because it was too much to do both.
Eventually, I was earning more with affiliate marketing than I was at Downeast. So with my husband’s encouragement, I decided to focus on my blog and my brand full-time—and I never looked back.
The first person I hired was my friend from high school, who is very organized. That way, she could focus on all the organization and administration while I could focus on creating. I know what I am good at and what I’m not, and even though I did everything in the beginning because I had to—I was the blogger, the web developer, the writer, editor, photographer, makeup artist, and so on. My first piece of advice to fellow entrepreneurs is as soon as you can, hire people to do the things you’re not good at so you can focus on what you are good at.
Essentially, I built my brand through my lifestyle and fashion blog, Pinterest, and affiliate marketing. Today, I have a social media manager to handle my brand, but I handle all of my posts on my own IG account. I can still remember when I only had 100 followers on Instagram, and now I have over 1 million!
I grew my Instagram audience organically, and I think one of the reasons it grew so fast was because of the Popular page, which is now called Explore. I also believe the feature in Utah Valley Bride had a lot to do with my success, driving new audiences to my little blog. Pinterest was also key, where users would see my wedding photos and then kept pinning and repinning my pins. Eventually, that buzz of online activity captured the attention of rewardStyle, which grew into a great partnership.
I was recently asked if, during this process of building a multi-million dollar enterprise if I was ever afraid, and my answer was, “No.” I just sort of dove right in. If you’re holding yourself back in any way from pursuing your dream, my advice is don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t be afraid of failure. If it doesn’t work out, have confidence in yourself and move on to the next project.
Looking back to the early days, I never knew I’d have my clothing brand in Nordstrom, Anthropologie, SaksFifthAvenue, and Dillard’s or day planners at Target, but I’m so glad I stayed the course and learned to ignore the haters. You have to believe in yourself, and don’t be afraid to take risks. Stay positive and follow your gut instincts. It doesn’t matter where you are now or where you are when you start, you can create your own reality.