Feb. 12, 2019

Hue: You have half a million followers on your Instagram account and related blog, An Accidental Icon, that document your life as a 64-year-old fashionista. What’s the secret to online success?

Slater: Break all the rules. When I launched in 2014, I looked at what was out there and did the opposite. Most blogs were busy—lots of ads, stuff all over. I only posted three times a week. Initially, all my posts were in black and white. And I had no target market! My target is basically, “anyone who’s interested in fashion.” Categories limit you.

People find you interesting in part because you’re a professor at Fordham University, yet you’re killing it in what many see as a young person’s game: social media.

I never write about age or ageism. I don’t have to; just look at my photos. My biggest demographic is women age 24 and 25. They’re anxious about aging, but they see that I just started a new career at age 64 and I’m having a ton of fun. What they appreciate about me, even more than what I wear, is my attitude. What I wear amplifies that attitude.

How did you get so many followers?

I earned every single follower. For the first two years, whenever I got a new one, I sent them a rose emoji. Growth has been organic, except for two big spurts. When Huffington Post featured me in a video and it got picked up by Bored Panda, I gained 100,000 followers in 48 hours. Then a BuzzFeed video about me got 47 million views. But your engagement rate is in ratio to your numbers. So if you have a lot of followers who don’t engage, it doesn’t help. I get a lot of good, meaningful comments. A lot of smart people follow me.

In your talk at FIT in November, you said you were earning enough with Accidental Icon to leave academia. How were you able to monetize your online presence?

I have been hired for campaigns, commercials, and content creation for brands on Instagram.

You’ve done very well for yourself. Why did you need FIT’s Continuing Education classes?

My vision of continuing ed is that it’s an exploratorium for people looking to reinvent. When I came to FIT, I was disillusioned with academia and I needed a different way to express myself. I’d done it through art and photography, but nothing expressed the core of me. The FIT programs were affordable; they allowed me to explore.

As an academic, your specialty is the intersection of social welfare programs and the law. How did you get into this line?

Through my work with women and children. I have a macro approach to social welfare programs. Problems are not just about individuals, but structures. That led me to work with lawyers—to push for change through class action lawsuits, hearings, and court proceedings. Eventually I earned a PhD in social welfare. Women and children are embroiled in a lot of systems—educational, welfare, legal—so it makes sense for them to have a lawyer and a social worker.

Is there any connection between this work and fashion?

As a social worker, I reviewed hundreds of psychological reports that began with a sentence describing how a client was dressed or groomed. Judgments began to be made about that person. “She’s disorganized”—and the result might be as extreme as losing your child. Lawyers would say to me, “Tell her to wear a suit to court,” but if clients wore something they weren’t used to, they looked shifty. I have always intuitively understood the power of clothes.

In interviews, you’ve said that as a society, we don’t talk enough about how fashion can be productive. Is your success an example of that?

All the old ways we do things are collapsing. Things like Congress are not working. But I’m not afraid of that. In fashion now, you don’t need anything except a site. If you’ve got a half million followers, you can be a player. It’s a time for creative and clever people to succeed.

Slater received the first Certificate of Achievement in Professional Development from FIT’s Center for Continuing and Professional Studies (CCPS) at last fall’s meeting of “The Network.” The Professional Studies and Enterprise Studies and Digital Design units of CCPS sponsor “The Network” meetings three times a year as an opportunity for past and present students of the Business Certificates Group (Omni-Channel Retail, Brand Management Experience, and Data Analytics). For more information, contact FIT’s Center for Continuing and Professional Studies