With 150k Instagram followers, 57k Pinterest followers (@sued), and 15,000 – 20,000 weekly active readers on her website (thezhush.com), Sue DeChiara is a significant influencer. The @zhush followers are a focused and highly desirable affluent target audience, and significant enough in number – and purchasing power – to make a real difference for national luxury brands.
Influencing didn’t really exist in the way that we know it today when Sue DeChiara got started in 2009. “Facebook and twitter were around, but there was definitely no Pinterest or Instagram, and certainly no TikTok yet. In the influencing world it was really just blogs at that point,” says DeChiara, the founder of The Zhush (Zhush – meaning to primp or fluff up (je + oosh) and B&NC Mag Homes Editor. Back in 2009, Sue was in the process of completely renovating her Pound Ridge home and re-doing a condo in Vermont and her blogging interest stemmed out of a search for design inspiration, “I don’t ski, so I spent all my time up in Vermont trying to make the place amazing. I really credit all that downtime in Vermont with how this business got its kickstart. I was reading all these home decor blogs and, at the time, a lot of the shelter magazines were shutting down. So I would Google designers that I’d hear about, and all of these blogs would come up. A large community popped-up online around women decorating their homes, chatting about things like ‘I love this wallpaper’ and ‘have you thought about trying this paint my own blog
There was no grand plan at the outset, and Sue had no idea how far The Zhush would go. It started as a hobby, or even a secret… “When I got started I didn’t tell anyone about it because I was too embarrassed. My brother knew because he helped me set up the site, and my husband, Adam, and my Dad… but that was it! I honestly thought they might be the only people reading. But then one day I got the idea, just messing around with the sidebar, to put ‘located in Pound Ridge, NY’. The folks at the Record Review must have had some Google alert or something, because about a week later
they emailed me and asked me to write something for the newspaper. I was shocked – but in a good way. And then the more I did, the more I got into the whole thing.” At one point, The Zhush even encompassed an online storefront.Sue recounted, “For almost six years I ran a store through The Zhush website. Sourcing the stuff was fun, but the logistics weren’t as much fun for me. UPS would damage and lose things, I’d be on vacation and getting angry emails about someone’s broken paperweight, the inventory component was a nightmare. It was taking up more time than it was worth, and I knew it was going to be even more difficult to scale. The blog was really taking off – with scale being evident and achievable even before the blog became a business.”
Through a decade of growing The Zhush, Sue’s own homes have been a canvas for her to experiment and post about the decorating process and results. …And there’s plenty of ‘zhushing’ going on…as the DeChiaras sold their home in Pound Ridge and, about six years ago, moved to a stately red-brick Georgian in New Canaan. From picking paint colors to selecting trim for drapes, whether or not to wallpaper, what accents bring a pop of color to the room, and other fun design hacks
Sue is a Source of Inspiration and Information to her Loyal Following. Readers are fixed and Fascinated!
Sue, or ‘The Zhush’ as some of her friends have lovingly grown to calling her, is a true influencer, in every sense of the word. She has 150k Instagram followers (@zhush), 57k Pinterest followers (@sued), and 15,000 – 20,000 weekly active readers on her website! “I get messages from people all the time telling me that ‘they painted a room based on my advice and it turned out great’, or that ‘they purchased an eccentric printed chair based on one of my posts’, and often even including photos of the spaces I helped to inspire. That’s the best part! It’s really rewarding when people tell me that they took my advice from the blog, and show me that it all worked out.”
And The Zhush is a business! She works with brands to create affiliate content on their behalf, and collaborates with some major companies, but says, “Sponsored posts are only about 15-20% of what I do, and I turn down a lot of stuff if it
doesn’t feel like it’s the right fit for my brand and my readership.” She only takes on brands and partnerships when it’s truly a fit with Sue’s lifestyle and her following – and only if she actually likes and uses the product.
Sue was an attorney before becoming a mom, and she was still busy being a mom when she started the Zhush, but with her daughters, Olivia and Samantha, now both off to college, and her son, Aaron, at New Canaan High School, Sue says, “The Zhush has become a full time job! But I love what I’m doing, so at least 95% of the time it doesn’t feel like work!”