Chictopia Now : An interview with Helen Zhu

chictopiaNot all fashion communities are created equal, and as a blogger, we hear about what seems to be a new style community popping up all the time. But Chictopia has steadily risen amongst the ranks gaining respect amongst the fashion community both on and offline. Admittedly, I resisted Chictopia as it was already difficult keeping up with my existing profiles, but after joining… I knew it was some place different. Instead of trying to fit in, Chictopia has features where I can find inspiration from people by my body type, age and or coloring. Not that I always look for those things in style, but it was nice to look around a site where there was lots of search capabilities. I also really love the Chictopia community which really has a great following. Here we talk with co-founder Helen Zhu about how she put together this unique network and how bloggers can really leverage the community.

1. Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to start Chictopia?
I was inspired to start Chictopia after reading an article in Time magazine that named “you” as the person of the year. It talked about how Myspace allowed great musicians to be discovered, and Youtube gave talented film maker a launching pad. I realized that there is one industry left behind – fashion.
I wanted to create a network that would allow future stars in fashion to surface and give back to the community, so the idea of Chictopia was born.

2. When you started, what were some of the challenges, and how do they relate to some of your challenges today?
I think that the biggest challenge of starting any venture is to convince people of your vision – what you've done, and where you plan to take your project in the future. When we first started, because the network was so young, it was a lot harder to get users and customers/advertisers on board to contribute to the community. However, this task gets easier over time, as Chictopia has a lot more to show (coverage ranges from Teen Vogue, Nylon, Women's Wear Daily, to Dazed and Confused), and the momentum has been built up.
Chictopia's challenge today is to identify and create features that serve our community well. As our user and customer base grow, the list of needs grows as well. We want to build out the site to serve our users, but there are not resources to keep up with all the requests!

3. What is your philosophy in cultivating communities?
My philosophy in cultivating community is to first create a common goal, and then to increase communication to help users exchange information to achieve this goal. Stars are not stars without their fans. Chictopia has given birth to stars in fashion but we have also allowed their fans to become accessible to them through our supportive community.

4. Can you tell us a bit about Chictopia's resources and how they're different to other style networks?
Chictopia is a community that brings style seekers closer trendsetters. For style seekers, this is a great way to enhance her fashion sense. Learning from the stylish, and those that are similar in body shape and skin tone are the best way to enhance anyone's looks. For trendsetters, Chictopia is a place to build up a fan base and get noticed. Our ever-expanding community is diverse, and has appreciation for people of all shapes and styles.
The registration process takes less than five minutes, and by becoming a member, you now belong to not just another social network, but a movement that pushes our fashion industry to become more
open to new ideas, talents, and shapes.

5. Which resources are particularly useful to bloggers?
For bloggers, who are essentially trendsetters, Chictopia is a great way to hone your photo taking and writing skills. Our community is open to anyone, so whether you are just starting out, or a veteran in the blogging world, everyone is welcome to participate and get feedback from our audience.
Chictopia also works very closely with major brands and publications. When they look to sponsor or feature a blogger, they often ask us for recommendations. If a blogger is an active member of Chictopia, she will essentially have us promoting her blog to audiences that are not usually accessible to independent bloggers. American Apparel has sponsored Chictopia's bloggers (with our recommendation), Cosmo, Dazed and Confused, and Refinery 21 have all worked with us to feature bloggers in the past. Chictopia is the community to be seen.
Over the past year, we watched the rise of many stars from our community – from Karla getting featured by Lucky Magazine, to Corcorosa's DIY being covered by Vogue, Chictopia is now known as THE PLACE to be if you want to be discovered by fashion editors from the industry. We've even helped a few users landed jobs. This fashion week, a few of our top bloggers are even covering New York fashion week shows for us!

6. You've had a lot of success with leveraging the traditional fashion media… do you care to share a bit on how you did that?
Most print magazines noticed us because their editors/interns heard about us through a friend or a blog they read. I think the key is to build a strong differentiating product, and then people will notice you. Chictopia was the first pioneer in aggregating Sartorialist like blogs into one place, offering a wide diversity in styles, trends and shapes for inspiration-seeking shoppers. The usefulness of the information we offer is unparalleled, and we were fortunate to see that the editors of print magazines saw that and reached out to us.

7. Does Chictopia reflect your own personal style? Or is it the other way around? In what ways?
My personal style is nothing special, and a lot of users on Chictopia have styles that are much more creative and point of view much more original than mine. I think that my personal style has evolved a lot through observing influencers on Chictopia. I used to shop a lot at stores like Anthropologie, Free people, and Ann Taylor. Now, I've branched out to more edgier shops like American Apparel, Forever 21, and Topshop. I suppose you can say that my style is constantly evolving, and that to some degree, is aligned with the pace of Chictopia – growth and the pursuit of the next amazing fashion innovation.

8. Which communities and or bloggers are you keeping an eye on now?
I keep an eye on Teen Vogue, Nylon, and Independent Fashion Blogger's fashion community, as they all do a good job of serving and pleasing their users. I also keep an eye on Susie Bubble, Childhoodflames, Karla, and Corcorosa. They offer very well-thought out and original representations of their styles.

9. You're going to have a Chictopia party at NYFW… do you want to let us know a little about that?
Yes, Chictopia throws a party at NYFW every season. his September, we will be partnering again with the 66sick girls to throw a fabulous event at Broadway East on Tues, September 15. Forever 21 is a sponsor of the event and will be giving out 200 goodie bags to our VIP list. The event is invitation only, but readers of IFB can rsvp at

Questions from IFB Members:

What advice do you have for new users? (

My advice for new users/bloggers is to take your time to get to know the community, and then offer something of value. Whether it's style advice or a supportive comment for your style icon, Chictopia's community appreciates and rewards those who help our community advance.

Why did they named the site chictopia? And how to contribute at EIU? Thanks! (

We named the site Chictopia because we wanted the community to be a utopia for fashion minded people. Traditionally, the fashion industry is known to be exclusive and hard to break in. However, those that are in the industry rely having common people as fans and shoppers to keep them afloat. Chictopia wanted to create a place where anyone that takes an interest in fashion can feel included and contribute.
Contributing to EIU is easy – simply message Cheri and let her know that you'd like to contribute, and our editor will work to see if there is a good fit for you!

I want to know what her favorite flavor of ice cream is! (
Cherry garcia from Ben and Jerry's!

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10 Responses

  1. jordana

    What a great interview! I heart Chictopia and to Helen’s point about discovering styles by body type is an amazing search feature! I’ve joined a lot of networks for my blog and feel Chictopia has been a place where you can repurpose content to share and connect with other personal style mavens vs a traffic driving tool.

    Thanks for doing this Jennine and Helen!

    Everyone – you’ll see Helen at the Dress Up Soiree! She’s a panelist!
    .-= jordana´s last blog ..Green w/ Indie: SPUN + Revival Ink Exclusive =-.

  2. Leia

    Thank you for this excellent interview. I am new to Chictopia ( and have started posting a few of my looks. I found I was able to connect with the users in a much more personal way than other similar sort of sites, and I like the fact that it acknowledges all sorts of different styles and body shapes. Other sites that I have come across tend to only feature you if you are slim with an edgy style, but if you prefer classic, feminine styles like myself, you are often ignored. Chictopia users appreciate all styles and it is really refreshing! While I’m not on my way to being a Style Icon or being featured in a fashion magazine, I still enjoy browsing through looks and sharing some of my own 🙂
    .-= Leia´s last blog ..Awards & Giveaway =-.

  3. Jen

    i love chictopia – it’s diverse, inclusive, kindly constructive and above all, it’s a really positive community for fashion bloggers…it’s a hit!
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Back in Full Swing =-.

  4. Lianna J

    I am such a fan of Chictopia. It’s definitely benefited me and helped me expand my horizons. It’s so much easier to get inspired from real people, rather than magazine spreads and runway photos. I guess I would be a “style seeker” trying to get out of my comfort zone and “uniform” outfit of jeans and a black t-shirt. Trying to be more creative and define a style for myself is the reason I started blogging, to document my progress and to have fun. With Chictopia, I connect with other people like myself and many whom are different from me who I have a lot to learn from.

    Thanks for the Q &A 🙂
    .-= Lianna J´s last blog ..Birthday!! Yay I am no longer a baby =-.