If you're looking for your next career step in fashion or are just starting out on your journey, then you can certainly take some well seasoned advice from the self confessed 'grandmother of blogging' Emily Johnston Fashion Foie Gras (she started blogging in her 30s and is ONLY actually 35 in real life). I've known Emily for about five years, it started when I was at Mamas & Papas and bloggers were starting to leap onto every business radar. I invited her to our press day at Liberty but as she had a full time job, she couldn't make it but she asked for images of the day and wrote the most amazing review - yes thanks to the wonders of the internet it is HERE for your reading pleasure.
Then a year later I introduced her to my new boss Jean Queen Donna Ida Thornton (pictured below before the talk) and the rest as they say is fashion history. This week they appeared together on a panel for Unsigned ID x Blogger Series with Cointreau at Hoxton Hotel in Holborn where they were joined by Clara Mercer, Head of Marketing at British Fashion Council and Irene Moore a beauty PR from L'oreal to discuss inspiring careers in fashion. Are you feeling thoroughly briefed? Let's dive in!
1) When you know, you KNOW
As Donna said, the idea to start her denim emporium didn't just come and go, it stuck. As soon as her friend had suggested she opened a denim boutique, she set to work on the business plan the very next day. "I thought about it all night and I knew that idea would stick." It wasn't quite the same story for Clara, but she found her stride and has now been at the BFC for eight years. She does admit to a brief stint where she tried to make hats, but in short if it is something you're good at you'll know it is the right path. Emily's journey was an example of if you're good at PR you'll probably be good at PR-ing yourself. She started Fashion Foie Gras while working full time and admits her a-ha (I need to do this) moment was when as she jokes, "I worked in PR for ten years and my a-ha moment was losing all my relationships.' She was working full time and then returning home at night to work six hours on her blog. Although the next step seems obvious now, it took her hugely successful collaboration with Coach (which I covered here for Donna Ida's blog) for her to take the leap. Emily explains; "It ended up being in the Metro and the paper ended up on my bosses desk with a note saying, 'Did you know that your Head of PR is PR-ing herself?' He called me into his office and said I'm really proud of you, but what's next? It was the scariest moment knowing that I might be fired." So that's how she became Fashion Foie Gras full time.
Life Lesson - If you're not sure about your next step, just take the words of Socrates; "The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old but creating the new.
2) Fashion is a Business
What? But it looks so lovely and fluffy? That's a common mistake. As Emily says; "I probably spend 1/100th of my time writing. The rest of the time is running a business and I have a team of accountants. If I could rewind I'd take a business class and an economics class. Every day I feel like I'm blind sided by something. Business classes are my number one suggestion to anyone starting out." To know that despite all those glossy pictures and jet set lifestyle that blogging is essentially running your own business is an important one. It isn't all about coffee and champagne - it is also hard work, marketing, PR, brand image, networking, accounting, affiliates, negotaitions and invoicing. Yikes - it is a sobering thought yet you can learn a lot of it on the job! Donna,who after starting up her denim boutiques then started her own denim line, joked with the panel; "When I started my own denim line I didn't even realise I was starting another business - so clueless!"
Life Lesson - So you heard it folks - remember the bottom line, you'll need to be savvy as well as chic to survive in this industry.
3) Work Hard and Keep Going
Donna recalls how earlier that week she needed a little motivation and spotted a quote."It was on Britney Spears" she explained. "It said 'if Britney Spears can get through 2006, you can get through today.' So true." When Donna was looking at starting her business she knew that their were two choices and both were equally hard. She could stay in a job she wasn't enjoying, or she could take on her own business. As her boyfriend at the time said to her "You can climb either mountain but with one you'll have something." When you do get there, make time to appreciate it as Donna says, "I get up every morning and can't wait to get there." Emily also admires Donna's commitment to retail saying, "Donna's still there on the shop floor - that's a great business woman," which is a sentiment shared by Vogue's Lauren Milligan who cited the shop floor as essential experience in her recently 'Getting Naked With Interview.' Emily is constantly inspired by what she does saying; "Work hard and if you love it, give it everything." Whereas Clara's advice is to work hard and be nice which have paid off as London has really grown to become the fashion capital of the world, something which she is immensley proud of. But it isn't all red carpets and fashion week, it is also hard work as she joked that when things get really tough, try a glass of wine, as it works (yes!) and don't give up.
Life Lesson - ah rats there's no way round it folks, roll up your sleeves and get to it!
4) Network - In Every Way
Irene who works for L'oreal brands like Bobbi Brown revealed the secret of her success. "I just hustled and did loads of work experience. Make sure you follow up with everyone and say thank you to everybody you work with. I've been lucky to have mentors but it is about finding people you connect with." It is often hard to ask for help, difficult to accept guidance and tricky to know where to look and who to listen to (and more importantly who to ignore). Clara is in good company at the BFC. "People find it really fascinating to be asked. I'm lucky to have Caroline Rush and Sarah Mower who are super important and inspiring, you need people who believe in you, who say 'you can do this job you can do it.' Attitude is really important." Emily says that Fashion Foie Gras has transformed her world. "My best friends now are amazing bloggers, I love talking to people on social media, they always give feedback, I like knowing that those pants don't really flatter me. If no one was talking back to me, it would be a different world. Social media was a huge part of my Fashion Foie Gras brand. If you tweet huge brands or influential people they have someone looking at that so you can talk to them much easier than if you send an email."
Life Lesson - So start chatting, go on, send that tweet/email/pick up that phone because you don't know where it might lead!
5) Enjoy the Ride & Take Time Out
Emily spoke about how Stylist had recently interviewed her for their popular 'Day in the Work Life' feature. "I said as soon as I answered the phone to the journalist, there has never been one day in five years that has been the same. This is what it's like in fashion. You adjust to it and amend own life to fit to that. It's important you do speak to other women and understand that this evolving world is magical and then you can enjoy it. I read an article the other day on how our memories are dissolving because we've seen it through an iPhone. I feel like everything I see is through an iPhone." Clara also agrees that something fundamental has changed because of our reliance on our phones. "The whole front row are all on their phones and it's kind of weird to watch. Designers don't get their applause anymore. Their are still a few journalists like Suzy Menkes who still draw and file copy at night." All the women agree that planning can be crucial to getting organised and therefore being able to switch off and enjoy downtime. "You have to have lists, spreadsheet, planning, critical path. But it's important to have time for yourself," Clara asserts. Donna is a 'do it now' kind of business woman. "If you're writing a list to call, just call." Irene talked about the preconceived notions of the PR world. "I love the fact that every day is different. PR can sometimes get a bit of a strange reputation, everyone thinks we're drinking champagne at 11am, and now it's changing cos we're going into content roles."
Life Lesson - Don't just dive into EVERYTHING - it is about working smarter not harder.
6) The Future is Bright (and Unpredictable)
What did the panel think was going to happen next? "You can't predict anything to be honest. Everytime we master one new trade, something else comes along," says Emily. Clara invariably spends most of her time trying to predict the future and shared that the thing we are likely to see change would be fashion and fashion week as we begin to question are they relevant? "The customer has more control - knowing your customer is more important than ever. People will buy from fashion shows and social media. Fashion will be faster and everywhere and constant. The consumer is driving it and there may be a backlash, fashion may be designed for a very bespoke for group of people and then the rest for the mass market." It does seem inevitable as social media integrates selling from the catwalk - with Twitter being first to the party and then designer collections selling through Selfridges seconds after going down the runway - that things cannot continue to be in quite the same cycles going forward. Emily noted the Chanel hula hoop bag at Paris Fashion Week was just a stunt but due to the huge social reaction it actually came to market so ultimately the consumer is in charge. Irene noted from a beauty point of view that girls in the industry used to look same and now we have 13 year old models and bloggers on front row.
Life Lesson - yah we don't really know do we?
7) The future of Media and Blogs
In fashion it seems that the playing field has been levelled by social media and blogging allowing street style to influence from the bottom up, but when asked, everyone in the room was still reaching for their monthly copy of Vogue because as Clara says "It is important that you know what Alexandra Shulman thinks." Emily referred to The Blonde Salad who apparently is now making millions from blogging, but she also adds that despite the huge success of blogs that she doesn't know any blogs that can afford to put Gisele on the front cover. For all their bad press and declining circulation figures, they are still holding their own and adding what Irene says "it's not so much about breaking the news but it's analysis of fashion." Yet fashion magazines work off advertising (although editorial is fiercly kept separate but has to co-exist) and now bloggers have affiliate links, so does this mean that in all our editorial that money talks? Emily notes that the origins of bloggers, especially as so many started anonymously was to tell the truth. "In a way bloggers are not the truth seekers any more - but I write a lot about things that aren't affiliates." She went onto give an example of a beautiful, fun shirt with flamingos which she had purchased for a trip to LA which she loved! It sold out on their website with an affiliate link. Yet she asserts she wouldn't write about anything she didn't believe in and declines projects which are not on brand for her. "My content for Fashion Foie Gras is all original and my agency only deal with commercial projects - they only account for a tenth of my commercial projects." So perhaps money doesn't really talk...good journalists and credible bloggers wouldn't be swayed in that way but it is kind of always there.
Life Lesson - In reality - refer back to point 2 - this is a business!
As the event comes to a close a girl in the audience takes the networking opportunity to ask if she can go for coffee with Emily! Who is happy to oblige - see take the bull by the horns! The final question is whether the panel are satisfied or always thinking. What do you think the answer was? Always thinking - of course. With thanks to Chimere Cisse (pictured above) and the Unsigned Group, Hoxton Hotel in Holborn and Cointreau. Follow on Twitter: Fashion Foie Gras, Donna Ida, Irene Moore, British Fashion Council and Chimere Cisse.