When Michael Williams isn't managing his PR firm Paul + Williams in New York City, he's writing his popular menswear blog A Continuous Lean (ACL). Since launching the site in 2007, it has quickly become an authority on brands that represent American-made quality and style with a healthy dose of ACL's signature vintage aesthetic.
In anticipation of the "Beyond the Blog" panel Williams is moderating at Details' upcoming TxT Tech + Tastemakers summit on Wednesday, September 4, we chatted with him about how technology is changing the interaction between men and fashion, his advice to young fashion bloggers, and why he considers himself boring when it comes to style.
DETAILS: At the upcoming TxT Summit we'll spend a full day discussing the current and future state of men's digital content. What role do you think technology has played in transforming the way men consume fashion?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS: If you look at fashion, I think it's not generally the leading industry for technology. That said, I think fashion has changed a lot because of technology in the last couple of years. It's hard to replace the feeling of going into an awesome store, but I think technology compliments that experience really well. It's made consumers—it's made guys—really educated about what is in stores, how things are made, what goes into the things that they buy, and what designers are like. That's probably the most significant change I've seen.
DETAILS: Do you think the connection between consumers and brands or retailers has strengthened or weakened as e-commerce has grown?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS: It's probably strengthened. People are more aware of what brands are doing and technology has enabled brands to speak directly to consumers in a way they couldn't before. It's great for people to discover new things and it's also great for people to learn about the brands they already like or the products they already buy.
DETAILS: What role do you see the growing online menswear community playing in the future of men's fashion?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS: There are two competing things…a lot of younger people that are really interested and passionate about it, but I also think you never know what's around the next corner. There's probably some kid stuck in the middle of America like I was growing up that wants to be involved and has something to say, and the digital world is the best way to find these talented people. I think eventually all those people will end up influencing designers.
DETAILS: What does a digital platform provide to men that other forms of fashion consumption just can't?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS: It can provide a different perspective and sometimes that can be the designer's perspective, say, if it's through a social media network or Instagram. You know if Burberry lets Chris Bailey take over their Instagram, that's pretty cool. You get to see the designer or the creative director, what his take is or what his perspective is and I think that's pretty interesting. You wouldn't be able to do that in any other way.
DETAILS: How did you get your start and what are some of the steps you took to grow your online presence with ACL?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS: I moved to New York right when I graduated 12 years ago and worked in communications and marketing. Eventually in 2007, I decided to start my website because the perspective I was interested in wasn't being talked about anywhere so I thought, "Well if no one else is doing it, I should do it and make a commitment to do it and do it everyday," or as much as I could.
At the same time I had started a marketing and PR company and those things have a very symbiotic relationship. I've learned a lot about digital through actually doing it (becoming a blogger) and building a network on my own. It's the same focus for our company as it is for my website. It's just putting forward interesting things; the unique, compelling, and different will always rise to the top. Luckily I stuck with it and it worked.
DETAILS: You've collaborated with some great brands. What do you take into consideration before agreeing to a collaboration?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS: It's always a case-by-case basis. I decide what's right by what I believe in and at the end of the day it's about stuff I want to wear and use—that's the barometer. I let that be the guiding force.
A lot of people look at me and say, "Well he's just a PR guy. You can't trust him." And then on the other side I've tried to be very upfront about all my relationships. If I ever talk about any brand I've worked for or do work for or have a connection with—a financial connection or invested interest—I'm always open to say that. I think that a lot of sites don't necessarily go to the lengths that I go to disclose these things; that's a result of my working in PR. I want to be honest about why I'm writing about things or what I'm talking about. Just like the New York Times or Details would, you have a code of ethics in how you publish.
DETAILS: In an interview with AskMen, you said "People ask me, 'How do I build a site to make money?' And I'm like, 'Fuck, good luck.'" But in the same article the writer estimated that you might make as much as $15,000 per month for a banner ad, so you're either very lucky or very savvy—we expect it's the latter. Do you attribute your ability to monetize your site entirely to your brand connections at Paul + Williams, or are there steps an aspiring fashion blogger can take towards building those kinds of relationships?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS: You have to build a brand. It's like building a clothing brand and building a website brand. You have to create a compelling reason for companies to want to advertise with you or want to associate their brands with yours. I think I've been lucky because I knew a lot of brands. I think you have to be savvy, but you also have to create something unique that's going to make the CEO, the head designer, or whoever it is, you have to get them to say to their agency, "We need to be associated with this website because this is the most important site or this is what everyone is reading," or whatever it is. Details.com! You need to advertise in Details.com!
DETAILS: What are some of your biggest career highlights?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS: I hope that I have yet to see them, but honestly, it's getting to work with the brands that I work with. Red Wing is a favorite brand of mine and someone we've worked with for a few years. Every time I go to Minnesota and I'm with those people in that factory or talking to them about the brand, I'm just really proud that I've been able to connect the things I like with the brands I like. That's the highlight for me.
Red Wing boots.
DETAILS: And now a few fashion questions for you. What's your go-to outfit?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS: It's probably jeans (I wear a lot of Levi's) and probably an oxford shirt. In the summer it's khaki shorts and polo shirts. I'm a pretty boring guy. I'm very conscious of how things fit and the quality of things. I want to be really basic but have little details so I can look at pictures of myself 20 years from now and not be embarrassed about what I was wearing. That's the goal—longevity.
DETAILS: What single item from your closet would you save in a fire?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS: I've gone through this phase of trying to unclutter my life with possessions and I think that probably there's nothing in my closet that I'd care about saving. I think I'd care about saving my Springer Spaniel much more than anything in my closet. At the end of the day, fashions change and clothes get worn out, and it's a reflection of your personality and who you are, but it's not everything in the world. I think that if you look at clothing and say this is the most important thing in the world you probably don't have your priorities in order.
Join Details and Michael Williams at the TxT Summit on Wednesday, September 4, 2013. Buy tickets here.
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