As part of the blog, podcast and support channels here at Fashion Podcast, I will be interviewing a selection of industry professionals about their roles, with the vision to support students in their early career choices as well as supporting graduates into their first or future job roles. I hope that you all find them insightful! These blog posts are scripted from the Podcast episodes from ‘The Fashion Toolbox Podcast’ available on all Podcast listening platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.
This week, I had the chance to interview Megan Doyle. Megan is a freelance fashion and lifestyle journalist with an extensive portfolio within luxury, sustainability, business, retail and education sectors. She has written for publications such as the business of fashion, luxury society, eco age, monocle magazine and Grazia UK. Her interests are in showing emerging designers discussing sustainability and investigating pressing issues facing the fashion industry. She is extremely passionate about those subjects, which gives a real flare to het writing. Prior to working freelance Megan worked in-house at matches fashion and the business of fashion, and then worked as a digital editor for graduate Fashion Week and fashion Scout, where she led teams of photographers, writers and social media assistants to cover these huge industry events. She has also worked for Ordre, a luxury digital showroom with a focus on fashion technology, such as 360 imaging and VR. Megan originally studied her BA in communications in her home country Australia, before taking part in an exchange programme at Kingston University in London, where she realised that London was where she wanted to make her career. She has since gained extensive experience in the industry driven by a sheer determination to succeed. Her diverse range of work experience up to and since her graduation from London College of fashion in 2017, makes her a perfect candidate to discuss her experience as a fashion journalist with you all.
Fashion Toolbox 02:35
When did you first become interested in fashion? And can you remember how?
I always hear these stories about people that are like, "I started sewing clothes, for my Barbies when I was five years old", and I could never relate to it because I came to fashion and kind of realised that it was what I wanted to do. Probably when I was about 18 or 19. Prior to that, I'd never really had much to do with fashion or being that interested in it. I was always really into art. I really loved going to museums and galleries really loved architecture, photography. And but fashion was never kind of on my horizons or kind of something that I participated all that heavily in. But I think when I finished high school, so I am Australian, I grew up in Perth. And I finished high school I took a year out and I went to live in Sydney with my sister, and just basically had a year kind of doing odd jobs and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life and really hadn't kind of given any thought to what I wanted to study or if I wanted to study and I think from there I started blogging and I eventually moved back to Perth to start my undergraduate degree in journalism and started kind of doing this street style blog that was based around my campus, taking photos of people in their cool outfits at university, and I found that I was doing that a lot more than I was going to classes. And that kind of became a running project that I always had through university that I kind of discovered after way too long, probably about four years that there was potential to actually combine that love of fashion blogging, and my journalism degree and the communications degree that I was doing into an actual job and kind of take it from being a hobby into something that I could actually be professional at. So it did take a little while for me to realise that which is a bit embarrassing, because, you know, the signs were all there. But that's kind of where it started. And then, ever since I've basically been on a quite determined path for that, for that. Goal.
Fashion Toolbox 05:01
Yeah, I definitely think that we all start out with that like, art intention, because I was absolutely obsessed with like interior design and 3D. And that's what I thought I would do. But somehow fashion crawled in there and you just can't escape once you are in!
Yeah, there is so many things that are so alluring about the industry. And I think, you know this, once you kind of crack the surface of it, and you realise that there's so much more than just pretty clothes, in shops or pretty clothes on a runway. There's just an entire universe behind it that you can explore and you can understand I think, once you realise that it is really alluring, the idea of working in an industry that is so complex, but also so beautiful. It hooks you in!
Fashion Toolbox 05:56
So can you tell me about how you came to work in the fashion industry?
So I was studying my undergraduate degree and then came over to London to actually do an exchange for a semester at Kingston University. And while I was doing that I interned for a publication that doesn't exist anymore, like a lot of publications in our industry. And that was kind of the first experience that I had of working in the industry. And the publication actually got me to do graduate Fashion Week for them to report on all the shows a graduate Fashion Week. And that was kind of my first introduction into the industry, which has kind of come full circle because I've ended up working with graduate Fashion Week, you know, for the last few years now, but yeah, I think that kind of internship really was that point where I realised that it was possible, I realised that it was really fascinating. I thought I was pretty good at it, or I was good enough to really pursue it. And then I went back to Australia and finished my undergraduate degree there. And then as soon as I could, I came back to London to get back into it and to start my career here. So I was pretty, I was pretty doggedly determined to get back to London as soon as I could once I had finished, I think I was 22/23 when I moved over.
Fashion Toolbox 07:29
This is not something that we have planned, but how, how different is the education in Australia compared to here in the UK?
in terms of fashion education. You really when I was studying, so this was probably six years ago, that I finished up my degree. And the opportunity to study fashion journalism in Australia was wasn't possible. So really, you could Study fashion design and within that you could study fashion business or you could do more of a design led course. And there were a few universities that were really good at it but there was nothing else outside of that. So I think the UK, I mean, having done my with graduate Fashion Week and knowing the universities here and understanding a bit more about the quality of education in the UK now it's in comparable to what you can get in a lot of other countries around the world. Yeah. Especially London. But you know, in a lot of, in a lot of universities around the UK, you can get these really specialised degrees whether you want to do fashion marketing, fashion communications and promotion. You want to like just study knitwear you can do that, it's so, so specialised in so many universities, you can study this, you know, certain universities, you can just do footwear. So I think the difference between Australia I'm not sure if it's different now, but I have a feeling That, you know, the UK is always led in that in that sense. So when I came over I went to the London College of fashion and did a postgraduate certificate in fashion and lifestyle journalism. So that was about I think it was maybe like a 15 week course. So it was really intense. It was basically they had kind of taken the bones of the masters and, and smushed it into 15 weeks, which was really hardcore, but it was the best introduction I could have had to, to the industry and to understanding that, you know, it was going to be pretty tough and it wasn't going to be a walk in the park and even though things look really shiny and beautiful. There's a hell of a lot of hard work that goes into it. Yeah, so it's definitely there's a huge difference between the education and you know, in some sectors, the education in Australia is leading the world. But I wouldn't say that fashion is one of them. No, I think certain countries are always specialised in a certain area of education aren't they? And I think that maybe the UK and France, there could be others as well, but they are the ones that are leading at the moment. And yeah, so what field or job role did you want to do when you originally started on your fashion journey? What was your vision? It was always to be a journalist, whether that was for a big publication or it was for my own freelance career. That's always kind of been the crux of what I wanted to do. I just wanted to be able to write that's always where I found the most kind of meaning out of my work. It's where I've always found the most satisfaction out of work. I think what I quickly realised is that you can't just be a journalist, you have to be a content creator, you have to be a social media manager. You have to be able to do copywriting, do editorial strategy for brands, you know, understand how SEO works, and also do like the administrative side of working in an editorial team. So you need to know how to set up a blog post, you need to know how to, edit images to a certain degree, you need to know how to write newsletters, like there's so many things that you can't, you know, maybe 50 years ago, or even less than that, maybe 30 years ago, you could just be a fashion journalist. And there are some fashion journalists who are just incredible journalists and they're like old school. That's all they've ever done or they've ever wanted to do. They are basically fashion historians because they have such a breadth of knowledge. of the actual industry and design. But nowadays, I don't think it's possible just to be a journalist, I think you really need to be able to have so many different skills that you can tap into. And they will get you lots of different jobs, but also the nature of even if you are a journalist, you need to be able to promote your work on social media, you need to know how that works. So it's definitely massively multifaceted. calling yourself a fashion journalist. It basically entails about 20 different job roles kind of rolled into one nice little package. But that was always that was something that I have definitely developed over the years and I've developed it through the different roles that I've had. And I've definitely gone into roles, not having any of the skills I needed, not any of the skills but maybe not having a few core skills that I needed for that job and learning them on the job and then the next job you go to you just got another thing in your arsenal that you can say, Yep, I've done marketing as well, because I've done social media management. I've written newsletters, you know, you just kind of keep adding to the list of things that you can that you can do.
Fashion Toolbox 13:20
I definitely think that that is the way that things are going for a lot of the jobs in the industry, you just need to have so many different skills, no matter what it is, there's so many crossovers so many. And yeah, just from what you're saying there, I see how many crossovers there are just even for like fashion marketing, things that you would expect that role to be doing, and you're doing as a journalist. So yeah, you need to make sure you take all those skills on board.
Exactly, and also you probably can't, you know, you can't assume or expect to learn all of those at university like there will be jobs and skills that you learn as you go. You can learn to be a great writer and you can learn aspects, but a lot of it is just get in there get in the deep end be really uncomfortable, not know what the hell you're doing for three months and then somehow you get it and you're like, yeah, it just clicks, eventually it does. It always does.
Fashion Toolbox 14:23
So how did you get into your current field of work? You're now a freelancer?
Yeah, so I became a freelancer. I guess I've kind of done freelance work on and off through my career. Even when I've worked in editorial teams, or for a company, freelance work has occasionally come to me and I would just do additional things on the side. But I suppose I kind of went freelance properly last October and it was really just a culmination of the company that I was working for was going through a lot of troubles and it was a really precarious situation to be in working for them and staying in that company. I had kind of gotten a bit fed up with going into full time roles and being really excited about the role, really loving a certain aspect of the job. But there was always something about the company that was really difficult to reconcile with. So it was either, you know, the company was so small that your job was either really precarious or the owners expected you to be as obsessed and live and breathe that job as much as they did. Or, you know, working in a really intense environment where you're expected to be on 24 hours a day you're expected to answer emails at 10pm at night. You know, there was just a lot of times, I just had maybe like three or four jobs that I was. Whenever I looked back at every full time job that I had had in the in recent years. I was just like, that was horrible because of this, that was terrible because of that and I just thought, you know, maybe, maybe trying out freelancing and maybe seeing if I can make a go of it is, is the way to go. I don't think I don't know many people who have started their freelance careers, super, super confident that it was going to go amazingly well from the get go. I think there's definitely a period of panic and a period of I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I'm ready. I don't know if I want to give up that steady income. But yeah, for me, I think it was just a combination of needing a bit more flexibility, needing a little bit more control over the environment that I worked in and the and the situations that I was putting myself in. Because, yeah, I think I just had quite a few experiences that really put me off wanting to go back into another full time job. And it has been massive learning curve. I didn't feel like I was ready when I did it. But the past six months or so have been maybe longer than that have been, you know, a massive learning curve. And I think it always takes a while just to figure out how, how the industry works from that perspective. It's kind of like learning it all over again, you really have to understand how the work cycles might come in how some months might be busier than others. The sort of work you might have to do that is like a money job compared to the work that you get to do which is really exciting and fulfilling and and creative. And it's all about kind of balancing that I think.
Fashion Toolbox 18:03
Yeah, I do think that's a driver for a lot of people (to go freelance) is that they are fed up of the expectations that they get from their employers, I guess and that's why the thing I want to try out freelance. So yeah, I can totally sympathise with that.
So how did you get your first commission?
I guess, at the very start of my career, when I was still in Australia, I did a lot of cold emailing people, writing blog posts for brands that I liked. And basically finding the only people that I knew in that industry and latching on to them, I think I was really lucky as well. I mean, especially, this is kind of before I've got to London and before I started working in the British fashion industry, which is a whole different scale to what was going on where I was living in Perth. But I was also really lucky in the sense that it didn't feel like there was huge competition. So I never felt that I wasn't good enough to do anything or that I wasn't qualified enough or that there was people that were better than me doing these things, because I didn't really know of anybody, especially in Perth, who was doing anything similar to what I wanted to do and had any of the goals that I wanted to have. So for me, I think that just instilled a fair amount of confidence that was probably not deserved. And probably, I hadn't done anything to earn. But yeah, that was kind of how I first started being able to write for magazines and write for different publications. And then when I was in London, a lot of the little commissions and little things that came through while I was working full time and in different companies. Just came through a network of have friends of friends of friends. I think when I first started out, I probably did a little bit more unpaid, or very low paid writing commissions. Which was tricky because it felt like at the time, that was kind of the only way you were going to get published anywhere, and they think it probably is to a large degree now unless you're writing your own content. And I was in a position where I was able to do that to a certain degree. I mean, I was working in a pub and working in a tea shop and still not making my rent, even close. But, yeah, it was it was just kind of a, I would spend my weekends writing for people and then any free time I had writing for people and that was basically how I got those first the little bits and pieces. Yeah, I think a lot of the freelance work that has come to me before I went freelance (So a lot of the things that I was doing on the side of my other jobs) came through just my network. So, I either knew people that I had studied with or who I had interned for, they knew somebody who was looking for a young writer to do a couple of blog posts for them or to cover a few shows at London Fashion Week for their publication. And so yeah, I think that that at the start, that was definitely how I got commission's and how I got little bits and pieces was just through friends of friends of friends, through the networks that I had, which were at the time really, really small, but I think especially working in the kind of parts of fashion industry that I write about, it does feel like if you can find your little niche and you can find your little community, you'll find people who are either looking for writers or want to help you out and will connect you with other people, connect you with editors who are going to be able to, you know, publish your work. I think it is quite hard, getting those first commission's especially when you don't have much of a background to what you're, you know, or you don't have much to show for what you've been publishing or where you've worked before. But yeah, I think a lot of it is networking and going from them.
Fashion Toolbox 22:46
Yeah, that's something that I'm trying to get across is how important networking actually is. Because a lot of people don't see the importance of it, but it is so important in our industry.
Definitely. Yeah. And networking gets a really bad rap because it comes across, sometimes people can be really in-genuine, and they can come across as if they just want to get something from you. And they're only interested in you because you work for a certain publication, or you, represent certain brands that your agency or whatever you are, whether you're a PR a journalist or working in that sort of communication side of the industry. But the way I always think about networking is that I would network with people who I genuinely like as a person, and I think they could be a friend. So a lot of my network is also people who I consider friends I, you know, I made a promise to myself, that people who I knew had maybe a reputation for not being the nicest person or maybe I didn't think, it's hard to explain without bad mouthing anyone but, you know, I don't try and make friends with people who I don't think I'm going to be friends with, or who I don't think we have a natural connection or a natural rapport, I think then it becomes really in-genuine, then it becomes forced. And it becomes something that isn't natural and isn't comfortable for anybody. And that's why networking gets such a bad rap because people think it's like, it's this really uncomfortable thing and you're sitting in a weird kind of, you know, press breakfast where you're having like really awkward, small talk with everybody and it's really horrible. But I think if you think about networking, as in, you're trying to find other like minded people in the industry, who you can be friends with and you can support each other. It's not just like, what can I get out of this person? Or what do they want from me? It's like, you know, maybe I'll help them out with something one month and then the next month, they'll help me out. Or we can just catch up every few weeks for a coffee and complain about the industry or, you know, there's, it's more of a support network than it is kind of a trade network. In that sense, it's how I like to see it because of course, you're going to find it absolutely horrible and painful to socialise and pretend you like somebody who you just don't like. So, I think if you re-frame it, you know, looking to find people who you have a really good connection with you have fun with, you can see at fashion shows and have a quick chat and have a catch up and a laugh or you can go for a beer after work, those are the sorts of connections that I think you should be trying to find. Not just all that person works for this publication or that person can get me something that I want. I'm going to hound them. And I'm going to email them every few weeks just to, you know, show them I'm still alive and make it really uncomfortable for everybody. I just think that's such a bad way of going about it. Yes, I totally agree with that.
Yeah, I think you notice it, you know, if you go for a coffee with a PR as a fashion journalist, and it's a really awkward half hour, you don't have much to talk about, it's not very easy, I think that that person is less likely to be somebody that you're going to think of, when you are thinking more in a work context, you're going to think of like, Who's my friend, who do I really get along with who do I want to work with? And that's kind of a nicer way of going about things as well. I mean, there's no networking happening at the moment anyway. But I think when we can go out for coffees and network and everything again, I think it would. Yeah. And I also just think that like, why would you waste? Why would you like life is short, don't spend it on and spend it with people that you don't like, or, you know, don't waste it pretending to be someone or pretending to like something that you don't like. I think there's a lot of really authentic, wonderful, lovely, fun, amazing people in this industry. And equally, like every industry, there's people you might not get along with. And you might think they're a bit of an idiot. And you don't have to hang out with those people if you don't want to. It's my motto.
Fashion Toolbox 27:49
What makes a successful journalist?
I think, first and foremost. Well, success is obviously very subjective. And I think universally, success from my point of view success is being able to write about what you're really passionate about. Because, at the end of the day you might write about what you absolutely are obsessed with and you're an expert in that that sector and you're, you are really passionate about the information and the knowledge that you're getting to share about that particular sector, and if that makes you happy, then I think that success, I think, I don't think anyone goes into this industry to make millions. So there's never really that much of a question of like, oh, if you've got you know, if you can buy your own house in London, or if you can go on expensive holidays or if you have like material wealth, then you're successful. I don't think that that's so much the case in fashion journalism. I think, if you are lucky enough to get to write the sort of stories that you want to write, and not the stories that someone else wants you to write that you don't care about, or you don't find engaging or interesting or important, then that is the kind of biggest factor for me I think. But I also think that if you're, you know, I look at people in the industry who have been around for, you know, since the 60's, if you look at fashion journalists that, like Tim Blanks if you look at people like Vanessa Friedman in the New York Times, if you look at people who are hardcore, professional journalists, and that is their calling, they are so curious, they are so excited, and enthusiastic about the industry, whether that's what graduates are doing, and the type of technology that young designers are using, or heritage houses and how they're tapping into their archives to kind of create a modern context for old clothing. I think, if you can maintain that curiosity, without having cynicism and q kind of jaded perspective on the industry leak in and kind of taint your perspective on things, I think that's a really good sign that the industry is right for you, you're out of the industry, and it really is about fashion. So I think that that is success, like if you really want to be a fashion journalist, I think, you have to set your own definition of success, but if you're a writer, getting to write and getting to write what you love and maintain that and build on that knowledge year on year on year and have a really healthy long career in the industry. I think that is a really good sign of someone who's successful.
Fashion Toolbox 31:15
Now, you've mentioned this briefly, I think previously, about your skills that you've learned, you said that you've picked up quite a few from education, but mostly from industry. So could you just explain in a little bit more detail, what you did learn at university versus industry, if you can?
I think at university you get more of a theoretical understanding about how the industry works and you get that base of, especially through my education, I really got a base of this is what fashion writing can do. This is what good fashion writing looks like. This is what bad fashion writing looks like. These are the tropes and these are the techniques that you should experiment with, and these are the things that you should avoid like the plague. Like any fashion cliche, I was always told to avoid like the plague. Like if it sounds like something that someone else has written 1000 times do not write it again, it doesn't need to be written again. And also don't describe the colour of clothing, if there are images to accompany it, because it is very pointless. But I think, yeah, fashion education really gave me that more theoretical baseline knowledge that you can kind of go back to and tap into, and from learning from people who have been in the industry for a really long time and can tell you, take two recorders to an interview because at some point in your career, you're going to forget to press record, or you're going to lose a recording and you will want to jump off a cliff but it's okay. You know, this happens to everybody. So I think that's definitely more of an education side of things, but also, you know, I learned so much like my first few jobs I interned for matchesfashion, and then I was an apprentice at the Business of Fashion for a year, and I think I learned more in that year than I had in all of my university degrees. Because you just have to learn by getting thrown in the deep end and it's really uncomfortable and it's scary and stressful and sometimes you're not really sure where you're going with it, and what the kind of point of it is or where it's going to pay back to you at some point along the line, but I think, going into industry and actually meeting people who will teach you as well is a massive, it's kind of like a really big catalyst for a lot of other things. So you can really take that education and that sort of theoretical knowledge that you have and apply it and think about how it actually applies to your day to day life in the industry and taking that knowledge of the different segments of the industry, and really just understanding how that affects people at a real level. So, whether that is, you know, how economic shifts in the wider world will affect the luxury market, or how budget cuts in education will affect how many young designers are coming out in the next few years, you know, I think there's so many different things where you don't understand how it actually affects people and how it affects their businesses, and how it affects money, and how much money people have and how much money they lose until you're in it, and you're really kind of, there's that human element to it, because the theory is great and it's really important to know that but I think so much of it would just come from speaking to people and going, oh, wow, this actually affected you, it's affected your bottom dollar of your business or it's affected you personally.
Fashion Toolbox 35:38
You mentioned a few things from university that you've taken with us like prized information. What would you say is the most important thing that you learnt?
I think asking questions, which sounds really obvious when you're a journalist, but asking questions is being unafraid to look like a total moron and just going I don't know the answer to this and it might be really obvious I'm really sorry if it's very obvious but, asking questions of your tutors of other people who are in your course of, you know people that you intern for or people that you meet at university who aren't doing your course but you meet them in the cafe or you know, just asking questions and, and picking people's brains and not being afraid to reach out to someone you admire and ask them questions. And I think the less afraid you are of asking questions, the better an interviewer you are and the better story you're going to be able to write. So it all kind of knocks on it's like if you want to get advice, you want to become a really good journalist. Ask someone to read your work and give you feedback or if you want to become a really good interviewer, you need to come up with lots and lots of questions and whittle down the ones that don't make any sense or are completely irrelevant and then go with the ones that are okay, and the ones that work and I think curiosity is like the biggest thing because you'll find stories, if you're curious, and you'll find different angles that you haven't thought of before. If you're curious, and you ask the question, and that's something that I've learned from journalists who are much more experienced and senior to me is the sort of questions that they ask sometimes seems so obvious, but if they're interviewing somebody who runs a you know, a sustainable denim label, and the journalist doesn't know exactly what it means to make sustainable denim or what the difference is between organic cotton and regular cotton or whatever it is, like breaking down the questions and asking the questions, even if they're really simple and really stupid. I think it's just like, the more the better because, sure, it might take a very long time to interview somebody, but you're never going to be an ambiguous on anything. I think I've sometimes not asked questions out of fear of wanting to just be like, Oh, yeah, I know what that is, I know what you're talking about! Even when I'm just like, I have no idea. I don't know what that word is or what that acronym is, I don't understand. And it really bites you in the butt when you come to write your story, and someone's like, Oh, yeah, so this acronym and you didn't go... "Oh, sorry. Hang on. What do you mean by that? What is that?" Because then you're sitting there trying to write a story, having no idea what you're talking about, and people can kind of tell I think, if you don't know what you're talking about, and you pretend like you do know what you're talking about it always comes out, you always end up going.... "Oh damn it, I shouldn't have pretended that I knew I should have just ask the questions!".
Fashion Toolbox 39:09
Yes, I agree. And I think that that's probably something important in every single role is to not be afraid to ask. If you're not sure, just asked a question. And nothing bad is going to happen from asking.
Exactly, and I think especially in university like, that is the time to ask all of the questions and pick the brains of the experts who are teaching you because that is what you're paying 9000 pounds or whatever a year to do that's their job. Like if you're too shy, or you're not sure that it's going to annoy them or they don't have time for it or whatever, like that is their job, they have to teach you, they have to. Write questions down, do the research, ask the questions. Because you just never know, and I think people will really appreciate that you've taken the time or you've been honest enough to be like, "Can you clarify? I don't understand what you're talking about, or that's not something I'm familiar with. Like, can you just remind me?" Sometimes preface it with "this is probably a very stupid question, but", because I do that, and then sometimes it is a stupid question, but sometimes that person's like, "No, no, this is, you know, you should ask these questions"
Fashion Toolbox 40:31
What does your job entail and an average working day?
As a freelancer, I think every day can be quite different. So currently, I'm writing a few stories for a few different publications that I freelance for. So, an average day I could be setting myself up to get ready for to write a story the next day or another day, so it will involve a lot of research, and just reading as much as I can on a particular subject. And trying to get a really solid understanding of what I'm talking about before I go and write a story so that I don't feel like I've missed any crucial you know, new news or any crucial information on a topic that I should have seen. And then some days, I'm just writing, which are always the most fun days because you just get to focus on one project at a time. And then, some days, I will be trying to come up with story pictures. So it'll be, going through reading a lot of news, reading, watching what's going on social media, reading what other journalists are writing, reading any new reports that have come out and trying to just be as clued up on what's happening. I do a lot of work in sustainability, and I also do a lot of work in luxury and business. So, I think you never really know where inspiration for a story is going to come from, and the only way that you can kind of understand, especially at the moment, because you can't physically really go out and, meet PR's or go to an exhibition or visit a designer in the studio, you can't really do any of those things. So, currently, now, it's a lot of online research, reading magazines, listening to podcasts, and just kind of getting new perspectives about things and, and sometimes, you might not think it's going to get anywhere or maybe you can't think of any story ideas based on what you've read, but then tomorrow, or, a few days down the line, there might be that extra piece that you learn of information that kind of ties it all in and makes a story idea that you can that you can pitch to somebody. And then, I do a lot of different things. I do a bit of copywriting. I do a bit of, like brand strategy developments and social media strategies. So, it really just depends. I find, as a freelancer, I have some weeks that are super, super busy and some weeks where I'll find out the night before that I've got work that week, and it can be quite different. Some week I can know with a lot of advance how busy I'm going to be that week. And some weeks, I have no idea until it's Monday morning, which is kind of daunting, but it is also kind of fun in a way. Because no week is very similar. So that's always nice.
Fashion Toolbox 43:51
So, I think that you've touched on this briefly, but how do you normally decide on a topic for what you're going to write about?
I think, it's definitely in journalism when you're studying, I was always taught this like there's always a why now element to any story idea. So why do you want to write this now? Why is it important now? Why will people read it now? I think a lot of editors will ask that question as well, because a story might be a great story, but it might be a little bit too old, it might be a little bit too young, and not quite ready to be written about or ready to be in the public consciousness. So I think that element of timeliness is really important when you're writing a story pitch or when you're wanting to speak about a particular subject, because it might be a great story, but if no one's going to read it, and no one's going to click on it, you know, there's not a lot of point to a story. So, I think that's kind of the biggest thing. And then I've always kind of thought about, What are the topics? What are the parts of the industry that I really care about? And what do I want to learn more about myself? You know, there's so many things within sustainable fashion that I don't know about or I want to know more about or I want to unpick an idea that I've been thinking about. And, you know, you can start with a really small kernel of an idea and then build something from there that is going to be timely and relevant and interesting, but it might just start from a really simple question. So, I wrote a story recently about the knowledge gap between consumers and our clothing. So, it basically started I was watching a webinar where the ex-MP Mary Creagh who was the MP for Brighton and Hove (I think). She was basically showing some stitching, like hand stitching samples that she did when she was 10 years old, which her mum had kept in the attic, which is very sweet. But she was basically saying, like, no one learns us this anymore. You know, no one learns how to stitch in primary school, no one knows how to darn their socks. You even get some fashion students going into a fashion degree who have never sewn a button on their clothes before. And so I thought about that idea and that gap and how that gap has widened, and that kind of became the crux of that story is, you know, how did we get from the point where everyone had a basic idea of how clothing was made, and through that, they had a respect for clothing and they had an understanding of the value of clothing because if you've ever tried to stitch a shirt or make a very basic skirt or something like that, you realise that it's bloody hard, and that it takes a lot of time and a lot of skill, and it's not something that everyone can just, go out and buy a sewing machine and knock up one in a few hours. But, in the last few decades, as fast fashion has gotten bigger, and people haven't had to make their own clothes anymore, like they did, eighty years ago or whatever, we don't have an understanding of how clothing is made, we don't care about how they're made, we don't respect clothing anymore. I can just go out and buy another shirt that looks exactly the same as this one. And, that kind of gap is just continuing to widen because, we're not getting that education anymore. So it's that knowledge that we are missing out on, which has huge knock on effects for the industry. But basically, the long and the short of it, how I get how I get story ideas is some I'll just someone will say something and it'll take a few weeks to ruminate and to build out into something that is usable, and that actually makes sense as a story not just as like, "Oh, that's an interesting idea that I hadn't thought about" but isn't going to go anywhere. And then, to get that published is just kind of the next stage on but it sometimes it takes a while.
Fashion Toolbox 48:33
What software do you use regularly as a fashion journalist?
I wouldn't say that I use anything particularly interesting or innovative. I tend to be as convenience focused as possible. So everything is on Google Docs, everything I record is on voice memos. I think I have, especially even some of the work I've, hired teams or I've commissioned people to write stories for me, and they don't know how to use Google Docs and they are university students, and that for me is like, unacceptable. Like bafflingly, some people are like "Oh, no, I have to send it to on pages" And I'm like, rejected no not happening, like, learn how to open a Google Docs! I don't think you need anything too sophisticated. As a journalist, there are journalists who also use the Adobe Suite to create graphics and things like that, that's not really something that I do that often. So that there are definitely skills that are really handy to use, especially if you're going to be doing freelancing as a social media assistant or, creating different strategies for brands and things like that, it's always handy to know how to use those things. But everything I use is, it's pretty basic, I guess. Obviously not, people don't know how to use Google Docs! I know. It kills me every time. I'm like, No, you know, it's so simple. So I think if I had any advice it would be, maybe to figure out what platforms the industry works on. So even things like I know how to use Squarespace really well, I know how to use WordPress really well, I know how to use Wix really well, because whoever you're writing for, sometimes you might have to work on the back end of the website and actually upload your own stories or the work I do with certain publications that is the role that I have, it's that I'm creating content for their website on their website. So, it's really good to have an understanding of how those platforms work and to set up your own websites. A lot of them have free trials, and a lot of them have a really cheap subscription service. So, I think just kind of having an understanding of how those platforms work. They're all kind of similar, and they're all pretty basic. And if you spend a Sunday afternoon learning how Wix works and how you can build pages and write, copy and publish a blog post on Wix or on Squarespace, then you can just kind of keep that in the back of your mind. And if someone goes, "Oh, yeah, do you know how to use WordPress" you can go "Well, yeah, I kind of have a bit of an understanding". But, you know, I think those sort of things are always, they're so easy to learn. They're not expensive to learn. Yeah. And, you can't be afraid of technology in this job. You can't be writing on your pen and paper and then transferring it to your typewriter and then you know, the industry is increasingly speeding up and you need to be able to write and to produce things quite quickly. Because there is, that timeliness aspect where if you want to write a story, you want to get something up on social media. You know, there's only maybe a few days difference between something being relevant and catching and people seeing it and people engaging with it to it being completely obsolete. So I think the more you can have an understanding of how different platforms work, even things like Hootsuite & Buffer these, like different social media scheduling platforms, everything is really simple. You know, they basically have little pop ups that teach you how to do everything on all of these websites. So, it's really good just to be able to say, "Yep, I've been on Hootsuite, I've had a look around to understand how something works". And sometimes all it takes is to be like, I have a theoretical knowledge and if I get this job, I'll have a practical knowledge, and that's is how I learn the new skill. So, going back to what we were saying at the start, that theoretical knowledge that you learn in university compared to what you learned in industry, some of those skills are a lot of those skills and the platforms and the technology that you learn on the job, you could learn at any time. You don't need somebody to employ you to teach you how to do it. You can sign up for a WordPress account and you can have a play around and, keep it on private, no one has to see your terrible blog posts or your terrible writing, like that's totally fine. But, you know, I don't think being illiterate to technology is really good enough anymore. You have to be able to know how to do these things. You have to be willing to learn really quickly. And, learning by doing it and making mistakes and going back and figuring out what the mistakes are. I do very, very small amounts of very basic, coding for certain posts and different platforms that I've worked for, and that you just learn on the job as well. Because, that is a little bit more complicated, and I don't think necessarily, people always want to learn that sort of stuff, you can either really get into coding and you're like, creating your own technologies, or you can understand how to go into the code of something and pull an image out of it. So you can save a high resolution image. So there's like things that are, you can have a really surface understanding of these things and you can learn the bits that are relevant to your job. It doesn't mean you necessarily have to become an expert in coding. So I think, just kind of realising that everything is increasingly digital, the jobs that you're going to have as an emerging journalist and probably a lot more in your career going forward, will be digital. And the quicker you can jump on board that train and familiarise yourself with the sort of platforms that everybody is using. Even really basic things like Google Docs, making sure if someone sends you a G drive link, you understand how to access your G drive, things like that. It will just make everybody's life easier, including your own life. When someone sends you something, they're like, "Quickly type this up, and I can share the document with you and blah, blah, blah." And then yeah, makes it a hell of a lot more simple for everybody.
Fashion Toolbox 55:38
Yes, I think it's just a case of keeping up to date with the latest technologies, isn't it and showing an interest in what you're doing?
What is your favourite part of your role as a fashion journalist?
I think getting to meet people, whether it's designers that I really admire, whether it's people who work in the back of the industry, who aren't in a very visible or very public role, and just meeting people who are really, changing the industry for the better, and have this real focus on innovation, this real interest in making things better for people who work in the industry all through the supply chain. So whether that’s people who are garment workers in Bangladesh or people who work in retail on the shop floor, I think having the ability to get to meet people and speak about, you know, things that they're experts in and kind of, you know, get to learn more. I think I'm just a very typical nerd, who would just happily research every day if I could, and yeah, just getting to speak to people and understanding more about what they do more about how they're changing the industry is, is probably the best thing that you get to do. I think a lot of the work that I focused on is kind of solution focused, sustainability concepts, and getting to meet people who, come from lots of very different backgrounds and have really interesting stories to tell. And are thinking about things in ways that have never been done before. I think for me, that's the most interesting part of the job really.
Fashion Toolbox 57:47
I think that it is the things that matter to you, isn't it that really make it worthwhile?
Can you tell us about your favourite commission so far?
I think my favourite commission, so when I was working for Graduate Fashion Week, which is the four days every year where there's a big event in the Truman brewery in London and all of the students from all different fashion schools all over the country get to go along. And, when I was digital editor their full time I still kind of work with graduate freelance and do some work as their digital editor still. But I got to meet Zandra Rhodes, and interview her in her apartment above the Textiles Museum in Bermondsey, and that was so much fun, not only because she's like this iconic figure in the fashion industry, and she's been around since, I think the 60's and she's nearly 80 and she's still working. She's still producing collections, she's still collaborating with people. She just had a retrospective of The last 50 years of her career in the Textile Museum. So she's just had this incredible career, but she's also somebody who is so creative and busy and tenacious and dynamic and is able to change her skills and mend her skills to what the industry needs now without being kind of cynical and jaded and grumpy about everything I think is like a very big skill to have. And she has a really amazing apartment as well. It's like a rainbow has exploded in her house and the floors are all covered in different paints, and it's covered in glittery just knickknacks and trinkets, and I think there was like a mosaic of Gandhi on the wall and it's a pretty incredible place. So I think that has definitely been a highlight, to get to meet somebody and speak to somebody who has really seen it all from like the swinging 60s, I think she started out on the Kings Road and was working all through every iteration of what the fashion industry has been in the last 60 years. I think that's like, pretty amazing. It's like all the fashion history we read about we learn about, she's lived it, which I just think is so fun. So I think that has probably been one of my favourite commissions for sure.
Fashion Toolbox 1:00:26
I saw a talk by Zandra Rhodes at Pure in London last year, and just hearing her talk. It's just, she's fabulous and so knowledgeable and like you say, just still so passionate about the industry. And she talks about that apartment all the time. I think she would she would invite anybody there!
I mean, if I had that apartment, I would definitely have a party every weekend. It's so oh my god, it's so cool. It's a really beautiful space. Yeah, I'm quite jealous.
Fashion Toolbox 1:00:56
I'd love to see it but I've seen photos but yeah I'd love to go.
Yeah, it is very cool, very cool. I was kind of sitting down I think she was like making tea or something. And I was like sitting down waiting and just kind of wanting to take photos and touch everything and just being like, No, you can't do that this is someone's house. It's going to be really weird and inappropriate if you do that. So, I just really had to have a lot of self-restraint not to take photos. Even her floors are like, mosaic tiled floors that have like stars and different tiles and just pattern swelled into the flooring, and it's just, very cool.
Fashion Toolbox 1:01:36
So how quick are your usual deadlines for your writing?
It really depends, sometimes for a story if I'm asked to do quite a big deep dive story like the story over on the knowledge gap for Eco age, that was quite a deep dive story. So I think I interviewed about three or four people for that, and I was just given a month deadline, which is pretty good. I think it really depends on the sort of content that you're writing, if you're doing maybe like a listicle sort of story where you have to find ten sustainable footwear brands, and write a little blurb about them and link to them a month is probably too long, that's not a necessary deadline. So, I think turning around a story in a couple of days, if it's a short brand profile, or if it's something that doesn't require interviews, I think, usually it can be done in about a week. But, I think when you're interviewing multiple people for a story, it gets a little bit more complicated because obviously, you're dealing with up to three or four different schedules. And sometimes international time zones as well. So there's a lot of factors that come into it, that would slow you down. And, I think if you have to shorter deadline, you might not get the people that you want to speak to because you can't turn something around that quickly, or you might just have to rush the process and maybe do the interview over email and you don't always get the best responses from people when you do email interviews. I think they can be a really good quick fix, and they can be really useful when you've got a really tight deadline, you just need a couple of sentences that are really succinct from somebody. But if you're trying to get quite a meaty answer from somebody, I think, you're never going to get over email, it's very hard. So it can really be anything from I'd say, a month to a week for the sort of stories that I do. So I think generally anything longer than a month and there's less of a sense of urgency about it and you kind of spend, three weeks doing nothing. And then a weak panicking and trying to desperately get everything done in a really short space of time. So, yeah, it really just depends on the sort of content.
Fashion Toolbox 1:04:09
And what is the most challenging part of your role?
I think it really is that kind of pressure, there's no one else keeping you employed than yourself, especially as a freelancer. It's really up to you, the sort of content that you pitch and also the frequency of how often you're pitching and who you're pitching to, and there's no one really else to blame if you're not getting much work or if you're not busy. You don't really have that fallback that is quite handy if you're having a you know, a bad week in a full time job. You can kind of get away with it, you can take a few days off, your employer will pay you if you're sick leave, whatever. You don't really get that. So there is no safety net in that in that circumstance. But yeah, I think the most challenging part of being a fashion journalist is I think it is kind of that constant education side of it. Things change so quickly in the fashion industry, and you do have to be ahead of a lot of things in order to create content and get commissions that are readable and really interesting and timely, you kind of have to be ahead of what most people are in their understanding about a certain topic. And I think that can be quite difficult. I think there's, I mean, there are a lot of roles where you constantly have to be researching and learning and updating your understanding, but I think definitely as a fashion journalist, if you log off for a week you've got a lot of catching up to do. So sometimes it doesn't feel like it's an option to kind of have a digital detox. And be like, "I'm not reading the news anymore!" and all these things people are saying, and you're like, "Oh, great, really happy for you!" but I won't know what the hell is going on in the industry, if I log off for a week. And, it can be quite a lot of pressure to constantly have read all of the stories that have caught everyone's attention to be up on the news, and also to kind of know what's going on in the industry that hasn't become public, and that hasn't been talked about in the media yet. So understanding that there's rumours about a designer moving from one house to another, or, a certain brand might be going under, it might be going into administration, you know, those sort of things that people will talk about, and you will know about if you're speaking to your network, but you might not necessarily read on BOF (Business of Fashion) or WWD (Women's Wear Daily) So, I think that constant pressure to really be on top of the news. And on top of all of the developments is quite a lot of pressure. Especially if you're not feeling it that day.
Fashion Toolbox 1:07:19
I can see how that would be really challenging, just constantly having to keep up to date with everything. Yes, researching all the time. But then, if it's something that you're really passionate about, then it almost comes naturally doesn't it?
It does, I think. Yeah, if it comes naturally, and if it's interesting to you, and if you get a little bit of a buzz out of getting news notifications about different interesting changes and things like that. There's like, if you really care about it, it's easy. You know, if you're passionate about it, and you really want to know about what's going on in the industry and you're interested and you're curious about different changes that are happening all the time, then it's not a chore. But I think all of us are experiencing a bit of digital fatigue, and a little bit of social media overload. After the past few months, where we have just basically been in our houses, looking at the computers and then looking at phones and then looking at iPads and then looking at phone again. And, I think it's a very healthy and normal reaction to want to log off for a bit. I think social media and being online all the time is necessary for the job. But also, I don't think it's particularly healthy or good for your mental health to be constantly on, constantly reading the news, constantly bombarding your brain with all of this information. So it is really a balance, about trying to protect your mental health and protect your right to, switch off a bit and to relax and to not constantly be thinking about, oh, could that be a story idea? Or do I need to read BOF every two hours just in case I missed something? Or do I have to understand why this particular brand shares are crashing? You know, all of these different aspects where you can constantly kind of feel that pressure to stay on top of it. It's definitely a fine balance between feeling like you're informed and also feeling like you're like way, just overexposed to information.
Fashion Toolbox 1:09:41
What one key piece of advice would you give to someone who was thinking about starting out in fashion journalism?
I think the biggest thing is, it sounds really obvious, but it's just to write as much as you can. If you really like the idea of being journalists, but you haven't really written anything, just write, just start a blog, or, you know, create a new Instagram account that is focused on just, the sort of things that you want to write the sort of content you want to produce. And that way you can develop your tone of voice and figure out what you really care about, and figure out what your opinions are. And, try and hone those things and make those things as unique to you as possible because the industry is so competitive. There's so many voices out there, and especially at the moment, you know, so many editorial teams have been shrinking. They've had to cut their teams, there's a lot of freelancers out there now. And I think, if you can find your voice and find what really drives You as a writer, and just go for it and just, you know, really embrace that. I think the sooner the better, you are going to become known for that thing. So for me, I write a lot about sustainability, as I mentioned. But, you know, the only way that people will know that you are a sustainable fashion writer is if you are writing lots about it. And even if it's not for any publication, even if it's just, you create really cool graphics, and you post them on Instagram. And they are, like swipe through graphics where you define certain terms about sustainability. Or you pick something that's happening in the news about, take the Boohoo factories in Leicester for example, if you take that news item, and you write your own little blog post and you write your take on it. So maybe talking about, how we think fast fashion brands abuse people in far flung countries, and then it doesn't ever affect us here at home. But it actually does and what does that mean for British manufacturing? You know, just pick a topic about that issue. And think about what you what your opinion is on it and just go for it, just write it and people will find it. Especially on social media, people will find it. And as long as your content is well thought out, as long as you've not offended anybody in what you've said, maybe that would be a good way to get eyes on your content, but not in a good way. And, we call it a 'beat' in fashion. So if your beat is luxury handbags, if your beat is streetwear You know, you're kind of an expert in that thing. And you can, you can kind of really hone that and make that what you care about make that what you're an expert in because I think there's so many parts of the industry that there aren't any experts in some really specific things. So, maybe you're an expert in eco textiles, or maybe you're an expert in,, men's sneakers or, maybe you're an expert in, emerging couture brands. Finding something that's like quite a niche specialism and shouting from the rooftops that people should know you as a specialist in that thing is a really good way for people to remember you and for you to kind of narrow down the sort of stuff you can write about because I think it can be really daunting when you're like, Okay, what am I What am I going to pitch? What story Am I going to pitch? And you're like, Okay, am I going to talk about the luxury industry? Am I going to talk about fast fashion? Am I going to talk about fashion week and what the future of Fashion Week is? Am I going to talk about like sustainable emerging brands? Am I going to talk about fashion education? There are so, so many aspects of the industry and it's so daunting. If you're a new journalist, or if you're someone who's not found that niche to go, Okay, I'm going to pitch a story idea. And it might be something you don't really know anything about. So I think as soon as you can kind of figure out what you really care about, and hone in on that, become an expert in it, and have opinions and write those opinions in a way that you think people will be interested in. And, actually, are unique opinions to you, and not rewording the opinions of somebody else. And then, I think from there, people will notice that.
Fashion Toolbox 1:14:43
Yeah, I think that's really good advice. I couldn't agree more that I think with everything. It's got to be what you're passionate about, and that's only way that you're going to come across as authentic, I guess. When you start to as you says, 'succeed' but not in a succeed like money kind of way!
Yeah, you are in the wrong industry for that! Go to banking, go to something else but Fashion is not the industry, where you are going to make millions! Think of a new product that you can invent and that will get you more money. I think really, that comes down to like, what you care about what you're good at writing and where your expertise lies, because I think it does take time to figure that out. It's taken me quite a long time and I think since Covid has happened, it's been a really good time for reflection about, what I really want to write about, what I care about, what I think has meaning in the industry, what I think will actually help me to sleep better at night knowing that I work in an industry that has a lot of flaws and is problematic in lots of ways, and I think, wherever you find that in the industry, that's a great thing. And you should jump on it and embrace it and really, you know, go for it. Because otherwise you're just floating around this huge big industry not being an expert in anything, but then also, not really finding any meaning. And I think we're so lucky as a generation that we are able to find a job and to create jobs for ourselves that have meaning and are relevant to our skill sets. Our parents and our grandparents did not have that luxury. They had a job that was like, I don't care if you like it or not you making money, go make money, come home, do what you'd like to do in the spare time, but job and like life enjoyment, when not the same thing. They didn't correlate at any point. So I think we're really lucky to be able to have that. Definitely, I think that leads on really nicely to the next question, which is just about how you have been impacted by the COVID situation. And how do you see it changing the future of fashion journalism, if at all? I think well, it massively affected the contracts I was working on. So, I was due to be the digital editor again for Graduate Fashion Week this year, which, as I mentioned, I did last year full time and then have been doing freelance ever since. And obviously, we had to cancel Graduate Fashion Week, which was really devastating. And it was really sad for all the students involved. And it was obviously massively sad for all the team involved as well. So, I think there was obviously the first month of lockdown where everything basically froze on the spot. And it was really hard to kind of anticipate whether if you pitched a story, anybody had any money to be able to commission it, or anyone was really thinking about any further than two weeks down the line. I think when we first went into lockdown people were like, it'll be three weeks, and then we'll like, you know, start to reopen and get back into normal life. And obviously, that did not happen. But, I think that was definitely maybe about six weeks or so where it was just everything was put on hold, which is really quite stressful when you're a freelancer. I think everyone obviously had a really tricky time. I don't know anybody whose work was completely unaffected. And some people are in luckier positions than others. And I think it's a really interesting time for fashion because so much of what we do is physical, whether that's Fashion Week, or meetings or interviews. The industry can exist online, and it is trying to kind of pivot to being online in many ways. And some ways it's really successful in some ways it's not. I think as a journalist, the biggest thing that I've noticed and that the feedback that I've had from people that I've spoken to is that if publications aren't getting money in from advertisers, so if they do sponsored content, or they do paid partnerships with businesses, that's a lot of the money that goes back out to pay freelancers, so they might do a paid partnership with H&M for example and that story is written and they do different sponsored content that way. And then that money comes in and then that gives them the freedom to be able to pay people other than their own teams to write additional content for them. And at the moment, a lot of that it's kind of easing off a little bit, but I think a lot of it is on hold to a large degree, so it is quite tricky to find publications that have the same amount of budget for freelancers that they did a few months ago. A couple of publications that I've worked with have the capacity to pay a very small fee, but nowhere near what they would usually pay or what you would usually charge for a story. I think it will get better, and I think it will kind of return to some sort of semblance of normality. But the being a journalist at the moment, as I mentioned before, like so many editorial teams have been cut, and so many more people have been made redundant and have gone into freelance work because getting a job in an editorial team for publication is like, it's pretty rare these days. So, I think it's definitely that the industry will become more flexible for freelancers, and it will become more catered towards freelancers than to the traditional editorial teams. But I think that has a lot of positives as well. I think, there's a lot more opportunities for people who don't live in London, and don't want to come and live in London, to be able to write from anywhere in the world or anywhere in the country and to still find some sort of success and some sort of name for themselves, which I don't think has traditionally been very much the case. I think for a lot of people who come from northern parts of the country come from, even Scotland or Ireland or places that don't have a massive fashion industry. There's always been this expectation that you have to come to London, you have to do your time here, you have to, basically eat carrot sticks for six months while you intern unpaid, (true story!) And, you have to accept that if that's how you, you know, if you want to work in the industry, that's what you have to do. But I think the fact that we're all working from home, we've all managed to keep producing work. I think it, it allows there to be a little bit more flexibility. And I think people who run businesses and people who are running editorial teams or commissioning freelancers, are much more comfortable with the fact that someone might not be based in London, to be able to get the job done. So I think in that sense, it's going to have a positive impact and hopefully get more diversity into the industry. But at the same time for the short term future I think it is. It's pretty tough. And it basically just comes down to money really.
Fashion Toolbox 1:23:13
I do agree with you. I think that this is going to be the era of freelancers because I think is much less risk for a company. So, let's see how that develops.
I think Yeah, you're right. I think it's definitely going to become a lot more of a you it's going to become a lot more normalised for somebody to work freelance or to have lots of different things on the go and to maybe do a permanent part time position, but also freelance on the side. And, I think London's always been pretty good for being quite forward thinking in that way. But I know that in a lot of cities and a lot of areas of the country the idea that you would have lots of different jobs that all kind of combined to make one salary or all combined to make one sort of career move. It's quite radical. And it's quite unheard of, and I think people look upon it as in it's the ultimate goal is to always be full time in a permanent secure job. And I don't think it works for a lot of people anymore. So yeah, hopefully there will be a stronger push towards being freelance but also having a lot freelance and having a lot more rights, a lot more security, and a lot more support, because it can be very lonely and it can be a really, really cutthroat sort of way to work. So I think hopefully, the fact that a lot more people are doing it and it's going to become increasingly popular as a way of working, that there will be some positive changes in that instance as well.
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