Autumn VanGunten loves traffic.
Not the kind that means packed lanes of cars pushing along hood–to–tail on melting pavement, but the type that translates to website success: You’re Welcome Savannah, the lifestyle blog she founded in 2011 with her boyfriend, photographer and painter Cedric Smith — a frequent Connect contributor — attracted thousands of visitors last year.
Most of that traffic is local, but the number of hits coming from outside the city are rising, putting YWS out in front of Savannah’s online landscape.
“We grew so much in 2012,” says VanGunten. “People from New York and Atlanta who are interested in Savannah are looking at the site.”
This year is already shaping up for even more positive growth: In the first week of 2013, YWS opened up its online shop, stocking a carefully curated selection of local art and unique objects. Similar to sites like Daily Candy and Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP that aggregate chosen products for discerning readers, the YWS boutique has a local twist with offerings with a Savannah connection.
“There are so many people here doing great work,” she explains. “The goal of the blog is to take the singular circles and make one big one. The shop is an extension of that.”
For the first time in one place, shoppers can find bright, screen–printed tea towels from Lane Huerta of Lovelane Designs, handmade bowties by seamstress Emily McLaughlin, studded belt buckles by jeweler Meredith Sutton and quilts crafted by Fabrika owner Ashleigh Spurlock.
Also available are hand–printed cards by Lindsay Williams, Libbie Summers’ cookbooks and Smith’s photography prints, as well as one–of–a–kind curios picked up by the couple during their many explorations through Georgia’s antique store network. It’s part gallery, part gift shop, revolving around Savannah’s artsy community vibe.
“We want to promote the work of well–known people as well emerging artists, then add fun, found objects into the mix,” says VanGunten. “You can buy a card for three dollars, a print for 25 or a painting into the thousands.”
The couple originally conceived YWS as a way to showcase the photography of Smith, already renowned for his colorful, large scale paintings (his multi–media canvases exploring African–American life in the South have been exhibited worldwide and hang in many local businesses.)
Combining his chromatic style and her vintage aesthetic, they’ve created an alluring representation of the city that captures both its old school charm and up–to–the–minute couture.
Foodie culture and do–it–yourself crafting also get frequent nods. Daily posts might feature highly–designed fashion shoots against moss–draped backdrops, eye–catching street styles spontaneously snapped on Broughton, a holiday painting project or salivating stills of artfully–arranged bacon. The site also features community faces in “Have You Met…?” and chronicles the artistic process in its “Hands On” series.
Originally from Ohio, VanGunten tried on nursing school but changed directions once she discovered her entrepreneurial side. She sees the new boutique as a way to include more makers and artists into what she calls the YWS family. The plan is to stay small and provide personal service to the people showing their work, and the site’s advertisers.
She doesn’t discount that it may evolve into an actual storefront at some point, though the albatross of overhead is enough to keep it online for now. The site’s tremendous growth has brought some revenue, but it’s hardly enough to cover the couple’s full–time effort of photographing, editing and outreach.
On that note, the title of the blog is a wink to its creators’ self–effacing presumption that what they’re offering is a gift.
“It’s us showing you the inner workings of Savannah and what makes it such a magical and creative place. Savannah has been so lovely to us that in short, it is us giving back.
“So there — you’re welcome, Savannah,” laughs VanGunten.
See more at yourewelcomesavannah.com