Ashlyn Kittrell didn't grow up paging through Vogue or Vanity Fair. The Oak Ridge native, 20, and Maryville College sophomore came to fashion a lot like other millennial women: through the mall.
"In eighth grade, that was when I decided to start shopping. But I was still wearing, like, Hollister, just run-of-the-mill type of stuff," she says. Up till then, she'd just been wearing clothes from the boys' department.
But another style influence was her mother, who, she says, taught her to dress with dignity. As her style evolved from mallrat to something more unique, dressing with dignity translated to choosing more ethically-made clothing.
"I know that fashion is like a horrible polluting industry, and it's a waste industry. That's in the back of my mind," she says. "And lately I've been focusing on doing second-hand—whether that's consignment stores or thrift stores—or trying to find made-in-the-USA stuff, which is really hard."
To supplement her own changing tastes, Kittrell began looking for inspiration in the new frontier of fashion: style blogs. The buzz about style and fashion blogs is that they're "democratizing" fashion--bringing it to the people who love clothes, even if they're not industry insiders. But Kittrell says it goes even further than that.
"It's a very feminist subculture on fashion blogging, because it's one of those things where it's like ‘I don't care what I look like according to you,'" she says. "To me, the beautiful thing about fashion is that it does not matter what you look like. You can be typically attractive or not attractive based on society's standards—you can still pull together an outfit that will make people say ‘Wow, you look great.' I think that's what it's shown me."
As a senior in high school, she started her own blog, Triple Thread.
"When I was a sophomore in high school, I found a couple different blogs. I'd always read one—it used to be called "Teen Fashionista." I followed her through her whole journey. Another one that really took off was the "Style Rookie." And I thought, ‘I want to be a part of this.'"
There was no specific destination in mind when she started Triple Thread in December 2010. Kittrell received a DSLR camera for Christmas that year, and decided to do a photo-a-day project during 2011 to hone her photography skills. And, she says, her photography is what's drawn the attention of sponsors who now send her clothes to review.
Eventually, though, Kittrell realized she preferred a mix of style and photography on her blog.
Within the last year, Kittrell's blog has been featured on Teen Vogue's website as an editor's pick for style blog, and a little black dress she styled and posted on her blog was featured in the pages of Seventeen. Though she has deals with companies to allow them to advertise on her website, she doesn't make money. The arrangement involves giving each other credit for photos and ads. Clothing companies also send her the occasional item to style, photograph, and review.
"A big thing in the fashion blogger world is ‘clothes don't pay the bills!' You can only send me so many free clothes until I want you to pay me because I'm trying to do this for a living! I can't just live off of clothes," she says.
Kittrell's not positive where her place in the fashion industry will ultimately be. She has time to ride the wave of her blog and finish her degree in photography and design. So in the meantime, she says she'll continue to try to get her name out there while she interns at Style of Civilization in downtown Knoxville.