all of my written work through college: week four

Written for Feature Writing Class, submitted to Knoxville News Sentinel (2013)

Tomboy to Trendsetter

Ashlyn Kittrell shopped in the boys’ department until seventh grade. Clad in baggy basketball shorts and oversized tees, she joined the boys on the playground every day until she was 12. But in her last year before teenagedom, Kittrell ditched her tomboy ways for a more refined style. Now 20-year-old Kittrell runs a fashion blog, which averages 1,000 page views a day.

Triple Thread focuses on three specific topics: writing, photography and, of course, fashion. Originally, it was a typical fashion blog with daily outfit posts and writeups about the latest trends. Then, one day, burnt out from trying to cover too many topics, Kittrell snapped. Stores like Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch no longer appealed to her grown-up tastes. A sartorially savvy shopper and blogger emerged.

With features in Seventeen and on TeenVogue.com, Kittrell is well on her way to making a name for herself. Finding a voice amongst the Leandra Medines (The Man Repeller) and the Emily Schumans (Cupcakes and Cashmere), of the blogosphere is frustrating. And yet, Kittrell is not intimidated by the ruthless, fickle blogging world.

“I’ve never been a sheep,” Kittrell said. “[As a kid] I just did my own thing. I’ve always done my own thing.”

Dressed in a killer cobalt blue J. Crew blazer, Bradley Hathaway band tee, high-rise black skinnies from Urban Outfitters, monkstrap oxfords and a gold watch, Kittrell stands out in a popular coffee shop near Maryville College where her peers nurse lattes and sport sweatshirts.

Her style today emanates effortless cool with a vintage edge, which is nothing like her look from a few years ago. She said she tried the preppy approach simply because readers were more drawn to that style. In fact, the now defunct blog Teen Fashionista, which Kittrell grew up following, had a distinctly classic flare. Sticking with one style for her blog, is, well, not Kittrell’s style. On being a one-note blogger she said, “It’s so boring. I can’t do it. I just can’t.”

Kittrell’s rebellious approach to fashion began with practically her first sentence. One morning, Laurie Lyza, Kittrell’s mother, laid out an outfit for her daughter as she did every day. Upon seeing the outfit, however, the opinionated toddler announced, “I’m not going to wear that.”

Lyza said her daughter didn’t show interest in fashion until later, but she always had strong opinions about what she would or would not wear. Kittrell randomly chose to abandon her tomboy style once she reached seventh grade. She stuck to that statement and never looked back.

“Her style is such a combination of the everyday and the unexpected elements,” Lyza said. “She is not just talking about the clothes but how they make her feel and give her confidence.”

Wearing clothing made in the USA is an important part of Kittrell’s shopping mantra. So much so that she dedicated an entire category on Triple Thread to outfits specifically “Made in the USA.” Since the economy’s 2008 downturn, consumers have demanded more homegrown products. Seeing a demand for conscious fashion bloggers and wanting to cut back on frivolous purchase herself, Kittrell incorporated ethical shopping into her blog’s focus. She promises on her blog that 85 percent of her annual purchases will come from local or independent companies.

“I just kinda snapped,” Kittrell said. “I realized I was shopping so much, and I was buying all this useless junk. Blogging can be really bad about that, where it just makes you feel like you have to buy all the newest stuff and all the best things. So, I just started to notice more and more [that] I wanted quality.”

The most impressive thing about Kittrell’s blog, however, is the exceptional photography. Scrolling through Triple Thread’s photography section reveals snaps of Kittrell’s travels to Savannah, Nashville, North Carolina and Texas. Shots of Kittrell at a traveling carnival, appropriately dressed in a whimsical red and white striped short sleeve dress, speak to her acute style and photography skills. Each blog post has a theme, a purpose and well-curated photographs to go with it.

“Seriously, my parents gave me a film camera in second grade, and I have been inseparable from cameras since that day,” the photographer-cum-blogger said. “It’s just been a progression of exploring that and getting better equipment. It was my favorite present.”

“I still remember how she looked when she unwrapped it,” her mother said. Kittrell’s position behind the camera came as naturally as getting dressed. A shy child, Kittrell used her camera to give her confidence and create relationships with others.

“That camera really transformed how she moved in the world.” Lyza said.

From working with wedding photographer Sarah McAffrey to shooting promotions for a local shoe store, Style of Civilization, Kittrell’s intuitive photography skills provided her with valuable professional experiences. And while she’s upgraded from a drugstore point-and-shoot to a Canon 5D Mark II, Kittrell’s aesthetic remains a true reflection of herself.

“She has a really consistent style,” McAffrey said of Kittrell’s blog and photography. “She has a vision. She knows the look that she wants, and it really makes her really stand out.” Browsing Pinterest one day, McAffrey recognized one of Kittrell’s outfit photos without even seeing her face. Having distinguishable style in a sea of style “pins” marks a true photographer and fashion blogger.

Nina Phalen, owner of the shoe store Style of Civilization in downtown Knoxville, found out about Tripe Thread and sent Kittrell an email about Style of Civilization’s opening. A friendship was born, and Phalen quickly took on Kittrell as a photography intern and, later, a shop girl.

“Because I know her off the blog, I know the blog is a true representation of her,” Phalen said. “Knoxville is really lucky to have someone who is talking about fashion in a unique way.”

Kittrell’s blog has certainly given her more professional opportunities and exposure than, say, a college degree. “It’s like a living, breathing portfolio,” she said. Blogging often comes first before homework, she admits, simply because more jobs have come out of her blog than school assignments.

Maybe surprisingly, Kittrell has no desire to be a professional photographer. Instead, she’s looking for a creatively fluid role creating advertisements for fashion companies or as a graphic designer for fashion magazines. Taking pictures under the direction of a supervisor is not how she could best serve the world, Kittrell said.

One thing is for sure though, as Phalen said, “[Her blog] is going to take her wherever she wants to go.”

For now, balancing school, blogging, and work keeps Kittrell busy. In the fall, she also runs cross country, which means 6 a.m. practices on Monday and Thursday and little time for taking outfit photos. As with everything she does, Kittrell is extremely dedicated to her cross country team.

While the end date for Triple Thread is more ambiguous than her running career, Kittrell is just fine with her blog’s direction — until something better comes along. Whether it turns into a book or TV show or something else entirely, she will continue writing and taking pictures regardless.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t know how to stop,” she said. “There are days when I don’t [write], and it’s like a compulsion. I have to create, and this is what I’m creating.”

Finding the time to post outfit photos daily is challenging, but she does what she can to upload content consistently. Usually after grabbing coffee and breakfast in the morning, Kittrell strolls around campus enjoying what she calls “me time.” Then, it’s classes, lunch, more classes and cross country.

“Sometime during the day I try to fit in outfit pictures before I get sweaty,” she said.

Kittrell just can’t seem to ditch her tomboy past completely, though. What most of her fashion-seeking readers don’t know is she is a rabid football fan. As a young girl, Kittrell and her stepfather played football in the backyard. On Friday nights in high school, she was more than likely in the stands of a football stadium than scouring sales at the mall.

“Her pictures [on the blog] are so feminine and so reserved, but she goes crazy when she watches football,” Kittrell’s mother said. “Fashion is so important to her, but she is not one dimensional. She has so many other interests, and I think that’s what separates her from some of the other blogs you see.”

The 20-year-old blogger is full of surprises and contradictions. Unlike most bloggers, Kittrell does not receive compensation for featuring products on her blog. For her, it’s not a business as much as a creative outlet.

“I take it really seriously because it’s given me so much success and room to grow,” she said, “but I also know that at the end of the day I’m a girl from Knoxville, Tennessee. What influence am I really going to have?”

Kittrell humbly says the most rewarding thing to come out of her blog is the local recognition. Her peers at Maryville College take genuine excitement and interest in what she’s doing. Even readers outside of her demographic appreciate Kittrell’s work.

The junior in college cites neither her feature in Seventeen or on TeenVogue.com as the coolest thing to happen since starting her blog. Instead, Kittrell blushes when recalling an exchange with the president of Maryville College who asked her how his outfit looked at graduation.

Her success at a local level is indeed impressive. The owners of Nothing Too Fancy greet her by name on a casual shopping trip; Metro Pulse retweets and replies to, in Kittrell’s words, her “funnier” tweets; local stores frequently reach out to her to feature their products.

The past two years have been a whirlwind for Kittrell in terms of local and national recognition. And with graduation on the horizon, Kittrell’s future looks promising. One thing is certain, though: Kittrell will never forget her humble beginnings.

“My roots are that I’m a tomboy at heart. I love red lipstick as much as I possibly can,… [but] I’m still a girl who takes off her makeup at the end of the day to go run around in the woods.”

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