Creator of Baltimore Style Blog says to ‘Start with you’
When it comes to style, Olivia Obineme is an expert at capturing uniqueness in its element. Olivia is the creator and managing editor of Strangers With Style, a fashion blog based in Baltimore. We asked this Renaissance Woman a few questions about how she built such a fresh style presence on web, how she has overcome challenges throughout the process and what kinds of meaning style holds in peoples’ lives. Check out her thoughtful answers below–seriously, this lady is not afraid to get deep.
Tell me about your background. What motivated you to become a journalist?
I have experience in broadcast, online and print media–a little bit of everything. Growing up, when I was in primary school, if we ever watched TV (reading books and learning our multiplication tables was the main entertainment, haha) it was like a fixed lineup, which included Oprah, local news, the second half-hour of local news and Nightly News with then-anchor Tom Brokaw. I was fixated on those shows. Sometimes, I would read the newspaper out loud attempting to imitate the way Rod Daniels of WBAL-TV or Tom Brokaw would present the news on TV. When it came to oral presentations in school, I’d channel Oprah. Her name became a nickname of mine, starting around my early high school years. A picture of her was my FB profile picture during my earlier use of the social network, haha. It wasn’t until high school, however, when I was in journalism class with Ms. Easton–Meg Easton–gosh, that woman changed my life. She was an awesome teacher. I wonder how she’s doing. Anyway, it wasn’t until her classes where I was able to apply my writing and love for news to real life. If my love for the field wasn’t already visible growing up, it was definitely confirmed in high school.
Where did the idea for Strangers with Style come from?
SWS was created for an assignment in a journalism class, during college. We had to maintain a blog and were allowed to cover any topic. I chose fashion. Fashion is an interesting word. A lot of people use it interchangeably with the word ‘style’ but there is a difference. I realized what I was and wanted to truly cover was style–how people wore their clothing and accessories. And with that came my observation of the air people have about them as they, I don’t know, are headed on their lunch break in a bright-colored pant suit, or chilling on the dock with a fedora and RayBan shades. I have a fascination about human behavior. I love people-watching. This was the perfect thing for me to cover, meet strangers and ask ‘why?’
Can you describe the mission behind the project?
It’s definitely evolved. Back then I was only taking pictures and writing short blog posts for a grade, haha. It was mainly based on the pictures I took around town. Now it’s a platform that gives, what I think is, a fresh look at things, focusing on the city of Baltimore. I grew up in the Ramblewood neighborhood–northeast Baltimore, before heading to the county. Got to college and had a number of internships that had me commuting back and forth into the city. The more internships I had, the longer I stayed in Baltimore and would just roam about. Now I live here and feel from how I’ve grown up I can have both an insiders and outsiders perspective. And I think that shows on the site, and throughout its online presence in social media. Now, style, for me, just doesn’t me what you wear, but it’s also about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Who’s got what going on? Who’s collaborating with who? How are people impacting the city? People not only have a certain way of dressing, but also a way of doing things. I hope to capture all of that–from the up and coming to the already established and experienced. Nevertheless, I don’t forget how I started and what drew people, beyond my college days, to Strangers With Style. That will always have a place.
How would you describe your personal style?
Cliche, but my style is based on how I feel. I do like comfort, but when the occasion calls for it (or like I said, when I feel like it), I love to dress up. I just got this jumper that is AH-mazing. Who says you can’t have it all in one outfit? It defines my curves, but is baggy. It’s comfortable. I can wear a top underneath or just a bandeau. It goes with just about any type of footwear. And I can literally wear it any season. Holy shit. Yes. I need 10 of these. I’m not a cat person, so I’ll be the jumpsuit lady. I’m totally fine with that. Am I allowed to curse?
I’m all for people recognizing that they are unique, that they are different, and there’s a wonderful thing about that.
Talk a bit about fashion and why it is meaningful.
Fashion is meaningful, and I think the reasons are obvious, but what I think carries even more weight is ‘style.’ There are reasons that only you know for why you wear what you wear and how you wear them. I find such beauty in that. You can dress in anything, however you like, and say, ‘What up, world? This is ME.’ And if they don’t like it, in some (not all cases) a ‘fuck off’ will do, haha. I’m all for people recognizing that they are unique, that they are different, and there’s a wonderful thing about that. When you know who you are, be sure to love you unconditionally, and don’t be afraid to let others know. I think in flaunting your own style, you are able to exude a certain swagger and confidence that no one else can have. You own it, and that’s fucking awesome.
What has been your most shining moment as the creator and managing editor of Strangers with Style?
Hmmm, shining moment… I coach high school JV volleyball. It’s not a job, but a great way to work out, haha, and an awesome way to work with kids. High school, man. The drama can be real, haha. Anyway, last season, I was doing a drill where I was teaching the girls how to conquer intimidation at the net. Got them to practice their footwork when approaching the net to jump and spike balls, while I acted as the mean intimidating blocker on the opposite side. One of my girls, God bless her, was definitely still intimidated. She ran into the net, and on her way to making contact with the ground, took my right foot with her. She twisted the top part of my foot causing a fracture. I not only continued coaching the rest of the season in a brace and sometimes (supposed to have been all the time) crutches, but I also finished coordinating, setting up and hosting a fashion show for Strangers With Style. I was limped-out, haha. But, there’s not much that stops me from getting things finished. And hey, the foot healed, so it’s all good.
How about a moment where you faced an obstacle or challenge during the blog’s evolution?
Funny…a broken foot is my shining moment.
As I think a lot of creative people–or anyone, in general–experience this, I have been at a point of not being able to feel inspired. There was a time when I just couldn’t get the creative juices flowing no matter what method I used–writing poetry, taking long walks, going for a run. I was getting nowhere. I was feeling discouraged, and I feel SWS felt the impact of that. I did end up realizing what the issue was, allowed myself to face it and resolve it, then got back into my creative flow. Something like that doesn’t just happen once. It can happen a number of times. You sometimes go through those phases, but each time you do, make sure you learn from it.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman in the media industry or do you feel your experience would be the same regardless of your gender?
I won’t go into specifics, but I’ve dealt with a number of challenges in the media industry from racial issues to sexual harassment. There have been times when people above me would make me work the extra-extra mile to get acknowledged when my efforts and high quality of my work spoke for themselves. I’m a hard worker. My parents taught me no different. So it can be discouraging when you are in certain situations that are created by others just for the sole purpose of knocking you down. As for being a woman, yes, there are times when I’ve felt targeted based on the feeling that some peers saw my gender as inferior–or just because they feel threatened. It doubles when the color of my skin is targeted, too. Sometimes, gender makes no difference. Challenges that I have faced in the industry have definitely helped toughen my skin–and I take every one of them as a learning experience, that’s for sure.
What issues in today’s media do you see as most important?
Wow. Quite the question. You know the saying, which differs in wording each time I hear it, of “as a journalist, you want to share the news, not be the news.” That’s something that always stuck with me from college. But, there’s no doubt, you can be affected by the news that you share. It’s been, I think, it’s been almost two years since moving on from producing newscasts (don’t think for a minute those skills have left me. I still got it!), but I’m still a news junkie, and there have been so many headlines that I can connect with, it’s crazy.
From the global things like the Ebola crisis, to the ongoing racial and systemic issues throughout this country, to even the Baltimore “uprisings,” I’ve been affected in a way by them all. I won’t say what I deem as the most important because I feel there are even untold stories that don’t hit “mainstream media” that are worth the airtime or headline, but don’t get shared. But, I will say there’s always been the conversation as to what the public wants to hear, watch, read, versus what the media shares. I’ve been on both sides. It’s a conversation that has definitely picked up more with the stories being told today, and with the advancement of how we communicate in this day and age. A serious and important issue to discuss, but fascinating, as well.
What’s your vision for the future of Strangers with Style?
Oh, man, my wishlist for the future of Strangers With Style would include a go-to team of great contributing writers! Shameless plug: if that describes you, shoot me an email! Haha, but seriously, hit me up. I already have an amazing photographer Kelvin Bulluck and web master Erik Hoffman, that have been with me for a while. But, we could totally use more people, just as talented.
If you could send one message out to the world, what would it be?
Start with you. Figure you out and find your inner love and light, then share it with others.