When Lauren Chan joined Glamor as a fashion writer in 2015, she was thrilled to write feature stories and attend market appointments. After three years at the magazine, she worked her way up to becoming a fashion features editor, but behind the veneer of her dream job lurked an unpleasant reality.
“I was surrounded by regular peers who were actually able to wear the designer clothes we’ve all been reporting on,” she says. Still frustrated by the lack of upscale plus-size clothing options, Chan decided to leave Glamor at the end of 2017 to launch Henning, a plus-size line of stylish essentials that includes oversized jackets, and slip skirts. Soft knit bodycon dresses. (Prices in the contemporary range: a cashmere sweater for $249, leggings for $269.)
At the time, Glossier founder Emily Weiss was already on her way to investing her editorial background in a billion-dollar beauty brand, but the number of editors who had pulled out of publishing to design clothes or beauty products remained small. (Betsy Johnson and Vera Wang, who held editor titles on Mademoiselle and Vogue respectively, are notable exceptions.) An investor once noted Chan that she was learning to build an airplane at the same time she was flying.
But the influx of journalists and editors who left the industry to form their own brands is now a steady stream. The same year he launched Shane Henning, former British Vogue editor Lucinda Chambers Colville founded the colorful and eccentric official along with former design director Marnie Molly Molloy. In the past couple of years, Coveteur co-founder Erin Kleinberg has debuted Sidia, a line of kaftans suitable for working from home. Canadian fashion journalist Anya Georgievich introduced the luxury “slow fashion” line Anushka Studio, and former Vogue writer/editor Jane Hermann launched the jumpsuit brand The Only Jane. This summer, Isabel Wilkinson, former digital director of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, launched Attersee, a relaxed line of sleek basics that resembles a less austere version of The Row, and Kristen Bateman, fashion journalist for Vogue and The New York Times, Introduced Dollchunk, a beautiful line of plastic jewelry.
“When you’re an editor and an entrepreneur, you’re in this ongoing phase of market research,” Kleinberg says. “Editors are really like investigative journalists who are able to identify what is missing in the zeitgeist. Their job is to listen to the comments, research what readers want, and what they don’t want.”
After leaving The Coveteur, she founded the branding agency Métier Creative, of which Ouai Haircare, Playboy and Disney are among her clients. With Sidia, Kleinberg fully intends to create a modern world heritage brand – its top models are the huge Canadian brands Canada Goose, Lululemon and Mejuri. Early sales paint a promising picture. All of Sidia’s major product launches sold out within a week, and a customer return rate was 40 percent. “It’s about creating a legacy,” she says.
Fashion journalism has a much stronger visual component than other tones, so it is perhaps not surprising that many of its practitioners possess other forms of creativity that require a different outlet for their expression. As editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Wilkinson’s biggest work has involved the excitement of sharing stories that transport readers into a different world. “At Attersee, it’s a remarkably similar idea, although the medium is different,” she says.
There is also the issue of building a business. The once-glamorous publishing industry has undoubtedly lost its luster, and the relatively meager salaries, backed by perks like car services and clothing budgets, have held steady for decades.
Starting a brand offers an opportunity not only to earn one’s previous career but to regain social capital. “There is a certain kind of excitement and attraction that comes with being a successful start-up,” says Susanna Kislenko, a researcher at Oxford University’s Said Business School. “We give founders a high profile in society as a whole. In a way, it makes sense to me that people who are experts at crafting stories and narratives are drawn to creating an outside brand.”
Having an audience-facing job can actually be a huge plus when it comes to building a brand. Many of these journalists have an internal audience that they can convert into clients. “100 percent of my sales come directly from Instagram and TikTok, where I’ve built followers based on my work,” says Pittman. Chan agrees that her time as an editor gave her the credibility she needed to build a brand. “Our first clients were people who were reading my pages at Glamor. I would go so far as to say that the success of the business largely depends on the fact that I have had the opportunity to be a fashion editor who engages with the public and whose content is focused on plus-size fashion.”
While exploiting an individual’s public platform for a successful brand may act as a humidifier for low publishing salaries, it is a risky one for those without family funds to back the venture. “I try to feel comfortable with the idea of being dressed,” Kleinberg says. Running a business in the past I have always focused on profitability, but the whole idea [with Sidia] It is growth and expansion.” Georgievich, who is self-financed, has recovered 80 percent of its initial investment after launching its first group and expects to break even next year.
There may not be a single factor that drives editors to put the red pen aside and pick up the pink scissors, but it helps that the barriers to starting a clothing company have never been lower. “You can hire someone who is really talented in digital marketing and build your customer base that way,” Chan says. “Getting started is much easier.”
Fashion itself has also become fragmented to the point where the big, ubiquitous trends that once shaped the way people dress have been replaced by micro-trends (low-rise trousers) and niche aesthetic subcultures (“kotagkur”). The smallest of brands can succeed if they can connect with an audience that appreciates them. And the higher the brand’s prestige, the more likely its customers will be loyal.
Despite the saturation of the market, there seems to always be room for something more.
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