How Chiara Ferragni's blog became an $8M business

Just a few years ago Chiara Ferragni was a fashionable Italian law student with a passion for posting photos of her personal style online.

Now, she sits atop two companies worth $8 million. She's been on the covers of magazines all over the world, earned the attention of the Harvard Business School, and just sat front row at two dozen New York Fashion Week shows.

As CBS News' correspondent Michelle Miller reports, Ferragni is not a model, she's not an actress, she's not even a traditional celebrity. But the 27-year-old is a brand, and a lucrative one.

She's the co-founder and editor-in-chief of fashion blog-turned-lifestyle-website, "The Blonde Salad." She founded it in 2009 -- for $10 -- with her then boyfriend and current CEO Riccardo Pozzoli.

"When I started... I was doing it just to share," Ferragni said. "Like, because I love sharing my photos. But that was about it. My intention was to create something that people loved to look at, and they could find inspiration from, and that was it."

The Blonde Salad now has more than 500,000 unique visitors every month and brings in more than $1.5 million in advertising and referred sales.

"My secret has always been to be true to myself," Ferragni said. "I've never tried too hard."

Ferragni and her team of 16 have become so successful, the Harvard Business School has made her the first blogger ever selected for a case study. Professor Anat Keinan and her students have analyzed every aspect of the start-up business.

"She is the most successful fashion blogger," Keinan said. "She was very creative in monetizing her blog and turning it into a real business, a multi-million dollar business. One of the main reasons for her success is this ability to be relatable but also aspirational at the same time."

She is relatable, aspirational, and popular. Today she has 3.4 million followers on Instagram, with posts regularly earning 70,000, 80,000, even 130,000 likes.

"For someone like Chiara to have 3 million-plus Instagram followers is incredible," the editor-in-chief of Yahoo Style, Joe Zee said. "I mean today, your followers is your currency. She was really there at the very beginning, and when you are sort of a trailblazer in a new medium, you really grow your fans fast, quickly, and really with a lot of loyalty."

That number of Instagram followers puts her just below Oprah, but above singer Sam Smith, actress Reese Witherspoon, and tennis star Serena Williams. It also puts her above the international fashion house Calvin Klein, which named her a brand ambassador.

"Besides being such a gorgeous woman, you know, she is also so global. She really communicates the image of the brand so well," Calvin Klein Women's Creative Director Francisco Costa said.

Calvin Klein and other major labels like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Steven Madden want to tap her online network of potential customers through collaborations, both paid and unpaid.

Chiara thinks she is transparent in how she operates her business.

"You can totally work with brands. People love seeing that, but you have to build stories. You have to build credibility, and those brands have to really be the perfect fit for yourself," she said.

"What they bring to her is cache, and what she brings to them is that sort of halo of what social media is," Zee said. "At the same time, her personal look and her personal, sort of, persona is very on-brand for them. So it's a win-win for both companies."

The stylish influencer has earned a seat front row at fashion shows in New York, Milan and Paris. Nearly a month-long schedule packed with hair, makeup, costume changes, and runways.

Designers send her clothes and accessories to wear, some on loan and some as gifts. She makes as much as $50,000 for appearances and hosting gigs.

But Chiara makes most of her money with her own line of shoes. The Chiara Ferragni collection brought in nearly $5 million last year alone.

The girl who started blogging about fashion is now creating and inspiring it by gracing the covers of the international magazines she used to read.

"I feel right now we are in the best moment for the fashion industry for what I do," Ferragni said. "Because it's, like, all the rules have changed so much, and so now there are no rules."

Chiara will also receive the "Beauty Icon of the Year" award from Marie Claire in Mexico, City.

She's also hoping to finish her international law degree, but with fashion weeks, shoots, and the launch of her shoe collection in the U.S., she hasn't been able to find the time.