I'm not "supposed" to work in fashion. Recently, I asked a few of my closest college friends about where they thought I would be five years down the road, and it was a long shot away from fashion editor. "I thought you were going to go into something political, some sort of policy job," said one. "Maybe like as a researcher or writer," said another.
Don't get me wrong, I was a girl who used to paste cut-out Vogue editorials onto my walls, and ate up every episode of The Hills and Sex and the City. But actually working as an editor never seemed attainable to me. I grew up across the country in Oakland with no connections to the world that enthralled me, but I felt very far away. I never set a goal to become a fashion editor because I never thought it was a dream I could actually make real.
But here I am, a political economics major and a self-proclaimed tomboy. How did I make the leap? Let me invoke a cheesy saying here, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
I let my interests (not my major) guide me.
Courtesy Aemilia Madden; PICTURED: Me passing my econ class with flying colors.
If you can't quite picture what exactly a BA in political economics is, you're not alone. I'd always been interested in journalism, political theory, economics, sociology, and history, and my major was a happy mix of them all. I learned about the Millenium Development Goals and about the rules of supply and demand. But outside of the classroom, I kept circling media and journalism.
During my summers off, I looked for paid internships or part-time jobs and explored different areas of interest I worked at a coffee shop (I can make an excellent latté now), a clothing store, and even a tech recruiting firm. During the semester, I had a bit more flexibility to take an unpaid internship and ended up exploring positions in movie PR, media marketing, and eventually back to journalism with a San Francisco publication called 7x7. Being able to pitch and write my own content excited me.
I didn't jump at the first job after graduation.
Courtesy Aemilia Madden; PICTURED: On graduation day, accepting my diploma with just an internship lined up for summer.
While most of my friends lined up jobs at tech firms or consulting companies after graduation, I ended up with an internship at PopSugar, a publishing company based in San Francisco. The idea of finishing college without a permanent position freaked me out, but I didn't want to just say yes to the first thing that came my way. So I decided to take a chance and follow my interests, knowing that at some point someone would hire me (I couldn't go on forever without finding a job, right?). While I can't pinpoint exactly what helped me get in the door (I didn't know anyone there!), having a résumé with relevant work experience and being able to show my work helped. When it came time to interview for the intern spot, I remember showing up earlier dressed in a full-on professional A-line J.Crew dress, which is a little bit dressed-up for a tech office, but I wanted to make a good impression!
That summer, I had the chance to write across a dizzying number of topics—food, travel, beauty, and most importantly, fashion. Thanks to a boss who took me under her wing (hi, Mandy Harris!) I finished the three-month internship not only with a byline but with intimate knowledge of how the digital media landscape worked. I discussed the possibility of a job post-internship, and the company knew I was interested, but at the time when I was wrapping up, it wasn't hiring at all. While this might seem like a blow, companies headcounts are in constant flux—don't get hung up on a job, but also don't give up down the line.
As a belated graduation gift to myself, after I finished my internship, I headed abroad to Thailand for three weeks and came back refreshed and ready to continue my job search. My goal: to move to New York and work in fashion. 10 jobs, 20 jobs—I applied online to position after position and rarely heard back. Now I blame the fact that the address on my résumé was thousands of miles away from the jobs I was reaching for. But it's also a fact that trying to get a job without a connection to vouch for you is tough.
Finally, I hit a break when I reconnected with my former boss at PopSugar. The brand had a position in NYC that was everything I was looking for. I had to apply, but if I got the job, New York was waiting for me. Following an intensive edit test (always proofread!) and a set of interviews, I got the job, and a whirlwind two months later, I was on a redeye across the country. I lugged my two large suitcases to a temporary crash pad and prepared to arrive at the office. No, I didn't have close friends in NYC, and I didn't even have my own apartment (I was staying in a friend's cousin's spare bedroom). But none of that mattered to me. A new chapter of my life was starting.
I learned about failing.
@aemiliafay; PICTURED: Posing for my first photo shoot.
What you learn in school and what you learn in a job are two very different things. I spent my first six months of employed life in NYC making mistakes and learning from them. While my internships prepared me for what office life is like, going from the top of the educational totem pole to the bottom of the professional one wasn't exactly an easy transition for me (yes, I cried in the bathroom more than once). But a valuable (and obvious) lesson I came away with was that I would make lots of mistakes but I had to learn from them.
As a perfectionist, admitting that I wasn't bulletproof was hard, but acknowledging and addressing my shortcomings meant that I was growing, which ultimately is the goal. I remember one boss mentioning to me that I made it obvious when I didn't want to do something that was required. From then on, I shifted my mindset, I worked to approach hurdles proactively, to learn exactly what my boss wanted of me, and how to make that happen. At the same time, I knew when to ask questions. Every new obstacle is a chance to gain a skill. Over the next year, my job changed, shifting from working on social media for PopSugar's fashion and beauty sites to writing across every site to eventually finding my way back to where I was most excited to be: in fashion.
I Found Friends to Lean On
@aemilifay; PICTURED: Me and my first boss at Who What Wear, Nicole.
After a few years at PopSugar, I was lucky to have Who What Wear reach out to me. I hadn't met anyone from the company before I went in for the interview, but it was a site that I'd long admired and read, so I was ecstatic to have the opportunity. While originally, it was an L.A. based company, it was looking for a New York–based fashion editor, and after a month of interviews, I got the job. While I was sad to leave my first real job behind, I was excited by the idea of starting something new. I was ready for a challenge.
Now I've been at Who What Wear for a little over two years, and I'm so grateful for all the awesome opportunities I've had because of my job. I love the pieces I get to write, and I'm inspired by my kind, funny, and whip-smart team. Today, my schedule as an editor can be boiled down to a few key things: meetings, writing, traveling, and collaborating. One perk of the industry is the fact that I've met a group of ultra-talented editors, designers, and publicists all carving their own paths. I've visited their showrooms, sat at dinners with them, and crisscrossed the globe with them too. Finding others who "get it" who can celebrate the fun days at work and coach you through the hard ones is crucial. Even when you love your job, there are not-so-great days, and it helps to have peers who get it.
@aemiliafay; PICTURED: On set for a Who What Wear shoot earlier this year. I wish I owned this coat, but sadly I had to give it back.
Today, it can be challenging to find a mentor in the traditional sense. Everyone's plate is full, especially in such a fast-paced industry, and it takes a little ingenuity to learn from those above you. I've always made a point of connecting with bosses off the clock, finding women I admire who I'm not directly connected to, and finding inspiration in my friends too. There are so many talented people sharing their stories online whether it be through Instagram, Twitter, or full-on writing that allow you to learn without ever necessarily getting time face to face.
It's not unusual for me to receive emails or DMs from young women both in my industry and still studying who are looking for advice on how to get started in the industry. While I can share the tips that have helped me along the way, I do want to stress that no two journeys are the same. Parts of the job I did when I first started in the industry no longer exist, and in five years, I imagine certain tasks I do now will be obsolete. My recommendation is to always follow what makes you excited. My best work is always when I'm passionate about what I'm doing, and that passion shows. Don't be afraid to fail, learn, and fail again. In the end, that's what leads to success.