How Hong Kong-based Geneva Vanderzeil turned her DIY blog into a business empire!
Geneva Vanderzeil is not your average style blogger. On her sleek website A Pair & A Spare, the former urban planner shuns fast fashion in favor of inspiring DIY projects, offering dozens of step-by-step tutorials on how to make your own clothes and homewares from scratch. (We're not talking lumpy scarves and frumpy bridesmaid dresses either - recent posts include DIY wrapped gladiator sandals, Dolce & Gabbana inspired coin earrings, and an Alexander Wang-inspired bralette.) The site has been so successful that Geneva now runs A Pair & A Spare (which has expanded to include a book, brand collaborations, and DIY workshops) out of a light-filled studio in her adopted hometown of Hong Kong. Sounds like a dream job to us! Find out how she pulled it off in the Q&A below.
Hi Geneva. Where do you live and what do you do there?
I’m currently based in Hong Kong where I run my website, A Pair & A Spare full-time from my studio, working with other people to bring my ideas to life.
Sounds good! How did you end up doing that?
I grew up in Brisbane, Australia and studied Town Planning before going into the profession full time. I worked for a few years before moving to London and getting a job planning the Olympic Games site. It was at this time that I started my blog, more as a fun side project than anything else. After a three year stint in London, my boyfriend and I decided we wanted to be a little closer to home and moved to Hong Kong, where I got a job in urban design, planning cities in China and India.
How did the the idea for A Pair & A Spare come about?
I’ve always loved making and creating things, and my blog originally was just a place for me to document what I did in my spare time. This was well before full time blogging began to seem like a viable career choice, but after a while I realized people loved seeing the design process. As my audience grew, I started to understand the power of the internet to connect people and create a market for what you love to do.
At what point did it become a full-time job for you? How did you know it was the right time to make the jump?
A year into my job in Hong Kong, I was approached by a publishing company to write a book based on my website. It seemed like as good time as any to apply myself to my website and see where it could go. It was impossible to know at the time if it was the right decision, and I struggled to make the leap, but it all worked out in the end!
You’ve achieved some incredible things off the back of the site - a book, a shoe collection, numerous collaborative projects with brands… Did you always have your eye on the bigger picture, or did those opportunities evolve organically?
I started out when blogging was completely unknown and therefore had no idea of the opportunities open to me. In some way that made it so much easier, because every major milestone felt so special and unbelievable. There was a lot less pressure for me to be a high achiever - I think I would find it hard if I was trying to do the same thing now with all those expectations in mind. That said, I’ve lived and breathed my website for over five years and put my heart and soul into it, which I think is everything. These days I’m much more strategic about what I do - given the opportunities available out there, you have to pick what will work for you.
People often look at successful bloggers and envy their dream lifestyles. What’s the reality of the situation? What traits and skills do you need to turn a website into a career?
It would be a bit wah wah of me to say that life as a blogger is hard. I just feel lucky to get out of bed everyday with a spring in my step. On the whole, dedication and consistency are the two traits that are key to being a successful blogger, plus an ability to work out what your readers want and give it to them. Applying these things every day isn’t as easy as people would think, but it helps when you love what you do! Another thing which is really important is to find a niche or area that isn’t too saturated and work on that - the internet is vast and it pays to stand out.
How do you manage your workload? Please share any organizational tips and tricks you’ve picked up along the way.
When I was working full time I got into the habit of writing all my blog posts on a Sunday afternoon, which allowed me to put them up throughout the week without the panic or rush that you feel if you’re not organized. Luckily, I’ve kept this habit even as I transitioned into full time blogging - it might be a bit antisocial, but with such a full calendar of running a business, developing content ideas and working with clients, I have found that Sunday afternoon slot key to staying on top of everything.
How does living in Hong Kong help/hinder your career?
My readers are mostly from the USA, so being so far away can be an issue. But in many ways it allows me to tap into different markets as I like - Australia, UK, US, as well as my local market in Hong Kong. Although there are times when I think it would be better to be in a more central location, I love that it makes my Hong Kong base makes my offer a a bit different from other bloggers.
Please tell us a bit about the Do What You Love series. How did that idea come about and what do you hope your readers will gain from it?
When I left my job to work full-time on my site, I found that I got a lot of emails from people asking for advice about how they can do more of what they love. Maybe it’s modern workplaces, or maybe it’s our generation, but I realized there are so many people out there who are dissatisfied with what they do. My first post about getting started resonated very strongly with people; it really is just about sticking your oar in and having a go, but I think that’s often the hardest part for people. You might not get rich overnight but at least you’ll be happy!
You’ve already achieved so much with the site. What are your dreams for the future?
I have so many ideas for my site! For the first time, I'm expanding the team so I can produce more, and better content, as well as branching into workshops, another book, more products and lots of other interesting avenues.
Finally, please share the three most important lessons you’ve learnt in your career thus far.
Just start - If you’ve got an idea or dream don’t sit on your hands and wait: the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll see progress.
Go with your gut - know when something feels right, and trust yourself when something doesn’t.
Consistency is key - success doesn’t happen overnight, and if you want something to work you have to work for it.