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Amy Lee: The CEO With A Full Course Load

Adaobi Ugoagu |
August 6, 2014 | 6:10 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

(Amy Lee/Pinterest)
(Amy Lee/Pinterest)

While most college students turn to partying and hanging out with friends as a common past-time, full-time UCLA student Amy Lee, owns a business and a Youtube channel that she runs simultaneously during the academic year. What's more is that it's extremely successful. Raking in roughly 140,000 subscribers, you can find Amy filming anywhere from her dorm room to the streets of Los Angeles showcasing her outfits of the day or just simply talking about her lifestyle. 

Her online fashion boutique Vagabond Youth is described as an "independent shop that brings deluxe vintage items stemming from the heart of Southern California fashion". And true to SoCal she is. When we sat down for a candid interview at LA Café, she showed up in a white halter crop top, chunky black boots, and a flannel shirt tied securely around her waist. The 20 year old Communication major established her online store the summer of 2011 when she decided that making clay charm bracelets wasn't cutting it. Catching an eye for vintage, blast from the past clothing, she decided to open up a small store selling some of her items. Thus, Vagabond Youth was born. With Sleigh Bells playing over the speakers of the hipster-esque Panini joint, Amy ran her hands casually through her hair as she tried to formulate the best way to explain what her personal style was. 

I feel like I don't have a certain style but that's probably what everybody says. But I definitely think it's Californian inspired because a lot of the things I wear, you can't wear on the east coast. So, I  would say Californian inspired--kind of like reformed edgy because I'm not edgy all the time. I wouldn’t say I'm girly or classic.

Who influences your style?

I used to read a ton of style blogs. Some of my favorites were Lust For Life and Song of Style, but that was a year ago and I recently stopped following a lot of fashion blogs. I spend a lot of time in LA, more specifically the west side, and I actually hang out on the street a lot. The nightlife at Silver Lake or the Echo Park area, I think that really inspires me along with my friends, because I feel like they're young, upcoming hip kids. I'm more inspired by things around me. Like, I'm digging what you're wearing right now and when I go home I will probably go and try to wear my overalls again. Honestly, I know a lot of blogs are fabricated a lot of the times. What I find with bloggers is that they wear an outfit to shoot, and then they change and go about their day. So I am no longer inspired by that and instead, more by day to day life. Just by walking down this street I can get so much more inspiration.

How do you juggle being a student and a consistent Youtuber?

I think it's easier for me because I have a schedule that is a lot more lenient if that makes sense. It [Youtube] definitely has a lot to do with my major because communications involves public speaking and talking to a direct audience. Often times for my class projects I can use my Youtube projects at the same time and that really works out. For one of my projects, I had to make a blog and it was like, "Oh, I already have a blog I don’t need to make one." I think my major really helps out with that. But last year when I was really involved with the Daily Bruin, it was really, really, hard balancing the two. My freshman year, my social life was down to a minimum. 

How did your Youtube channel begin?

Well I think my story is a little different because when most people create Youtube channels, they know that they want to make Youtube videos.   I have always watched beauty gurus like Michelle Phan and others in the beauty community since I was 8, but I never wanted to do Youtube. Even now, I'm a little surprised that I'm doing it because I hate the camera. What happened was that I had a fashion blog and that was what I really wanted to do at the time. I posted a video about these shoes that I really liked, and I didn’t mean for anyone to see it except for my normal readers. But people who didn't read my blogs found it and then they were like, "Oh you have such cool style, could you make a style video styling these shoes?" And I was like, "Ok, sure why not?" And then they asked, "Oh, can you also do this?" And I replied, "Yeah sure why not?" And then my blog faded into the background and Youtube became the forefront.

How did the idea for Vagabond Youth get planted?

I was a senior in high school in 2011 and I launched Vagabond Youth that New Years Eve. When I was 15, I used to make clay charms like you see on Etsy. I was really good at it, so I would make charms with my cousin. We had a store on Myspace and it didn't work out because she was in San Francisco and I was here. So I was like, "I have been thrifting since I was 12" and I knew that a lot of people liked vintage clothing. So when I was 15, I decided to branch off and just sell a bunch of my clothes and I don’t know how people picked up on it. I used bit cartel which is a user friendly website where you can sell 5 products for free before they charge you $9.99 a month to sell 30 products. I started off with 5 items for a good 5 months to test it out, and every time it would sell out. Then I decided to pay for it. It's a popular indie platform for small business owners.

Since you have a lot of views, that means a generous amount of negativity. How do you deal with it on social media?

When I started, there wasn’t a lot of content creators doing fashion and so when you had someone that was similar to another person, you get bashed on really easily. I see this with other bloggers all the time. Users would even bash on other bloggers saying that they're copying me. I feel like that was the main negativity that I got. When I first started, I did get a lot of negativity because I was a baby in this realm and looking back now I feel like my skin was really thin. What they said to me then, it wouldn’t bother me at all anymore. Now as I just keep doing myself, I don’t really care but I still do get some negativity occasionally. It does bum you out but I think you're on Youtube for so long--two years for me, you just get used to it. It's a part of putting yourself out there on the internet.

Are your parents supportive of what you do?

One of my most popular videos is the dip-dye shorts tutorial and my dad helped me film the entire thing. I think in one of the clips I asked him to film my butt and my voiceover said, "And when you're done you can ask your dad to film your butt and see how great the tie dye looks on your butt!" My dad is super cool about it. My whole family as well. Basically, I ask everyone in my family to film me all the time and they're supportive. I definitely wouldn’t do it if they weren't into it.  

Youtube bloggers like Clothesencounters (a.k.a Jenn Im) have turned blogging into a full time job. Do you see Youtube in your future? 

I think ideally, that'd be a lot of fun. If it happens I'd be totally down for it but I think the difference between me and other Youtubers is that I'm not striving towards that. I don’t have a goal and I'm just doing this because I simply just love doing it. I know a lot of people are thinking about doing collaborations, putting hashtags, posting at certain times in a day, and even a lot of people in this industry are always telling me how to increase my followership. Honestly, I just do videos because I like them and I really genuinely love it. If my life turned out to be similar to that, that'd be great but honestly, if you asked me what my ten year plan was, I don't see Youtube in it. I see myself working a conventional normal job which isn't as fun... but if I could do Youtube, that'd be awesome.

Wild card question. What do you think about celebrity fashion icons such as Rihanna or even Miley Cyrus?

To be honest, I'm mostly indifferent about celebrity fashion. This is going to sound very contradictory, but I'm very into pop culture so I love knowing what's going on with Yeezy and Kim Kardashian, but as far as fashion I am totally removed from it. I know Rihanna wore that Swarovski dress, but for the most part I feel like, "Cool, it happened." I'm not inspired and I'm not bothered by it either. I'm more bothered by society's reaction to it because there is a lot of slut shaming. Although I am into pop culture, I am not into idolizing celebrities. I feel like people that do that, want to wear exactly what the celebrity is wearing. There is no one that I want to be and there is no one that I really look up to. I think it's really cool though if you want to dress like Miley Cyrus--she's really funky now! But for the most part fashion icons…I am just indifferent and in my own world. 

Favorite stores to shop at?

I really like Zara at the moment and Urban Outfitters--everyone likes that place. For fast fashion, definitely H&M, but if we're talking about high end, like if I had a lot of money to spend and not just browse, I definitely love Acne studios and Alexander Wang. But right now Zara, just Zara.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I want to do something that is self-made like my store, but realistically I feel like I will be doing something with my degree and go down a more conventional path. I could be saying this and totally be doing Youtube for the next 5 years, but I feel like down the line I will be probably working a nine to five job, which sounds terrible, but hopefully it's something in the creative industry or free lance work. I am interested in so many different areas, but I would like to go into marketing. I feel like that is going towards the online and social media realm--which I use really well. I do hope my store is still going strong, I would really love to expand that even if it was on the side. That'd be a dream. 

To reach staff reporter Adaobi Ugoagu email her here and follow her on Twitter.



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