In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.
Imagine for a moment that you are 27, a successful corporate lawyer in New York, four years into your practice, with a home, a mortgage and a comfortable six-figure salary. You then toss all of that aside to become an intern at a startup travel magazine few people had heard of, barely making subway money -- simply because, more than the home, the six-figure salary and the effort that went into your law degree, you want to enjoy your work.
That's exactly what Keija Minor did, and walking into her warm-hued, beautifully furnished office at 4 Times Square, where Minor has presided as the editor in chief of Brides for a little more than a year, it's obvious that the career risk has worked out well for her. The 41-year-old, who was promoted from executive editor to editor in chief of Brides after her predecessor, Anne Fulenwider, departed for Marie Claire in September 2012, is also the first African-American woman to hold the title at Conde Nast: an accomplishment, she says, of which she feels proud.
Minor's first year at Brides has not been the easiest. She's been challenged with transitioning the magazine from a monthly to bi-monthly publishing schedule -- a change that was instituted at the beginning of 2013 -- and battled reports in the press that she has had trouble closing issues on time (a problem, WWD claims, that has since been resolved). Strategically, Minor has focused on broadening Brides appeal beyond, well, brides, introducing more celebrity and style content into the glossy, including a section titled "Celebrity Aisle Style," which aims to match red carpet looks with bridal dresses with a similar feel. The February/March issue will feature model and TV personality Coco Rocha on the cover in lieu of the typical anonymous, bridal-type cover girl, as well as the first installment of actress Drew Barrymore's beauty column, as examples.
Minor insists that Brides is more than a bridal magazine. "It's the ultimate women's magazine: it's fashion, entertaining, travel, lifestyle, relationships, beauty," Minor says, noting that average reader subscribes to the magazine for a two-year period -- well beyond the time said reader spends planning her own wedding. "A large percentage of people [who read us] are not engaged [to be married]; they're reading in anticipation of getting engaged, or reading it after getting engaged, passing it along to a friend," Minor says.
If broadening Brides' appeal has been Minor's chief aim, it appears that she is succeeding: Circulation was up 4.1 percent in the first half of the year to 330,605, driven largely by a comeback in newsstand sales.
From Law Associate to Magazine... Intern
Minor says she saved 12 months' worth of mortgage payments in about a year, with the idea that she might be penniless in her next job, but she wouldn't be homeless. She then "flooded" the industry with her resume. "The only [publication] that would hire me was my startup travel magazine [Travel Savvy], and only because I harassed them," Minor says. The now-digital-only magazine had seven employees. She took an internship in the lifestyle section -- and an 85% pay cut. She loved it.
It didn't take long for Minor to move up. Within a year, she had a staff job at Travel Savvy as lifestyle editor; within three, she was its editor in chief. A year later, in 2003, she moved to Niche Media, becoming managing editor of LA Confidential and Aspen Peak in New York. In 2006, she was named editor in chief of sister publication Gotham, and in 2008, editor in chief of Uptown, an independently owned title aimed at African Americans.
All that sounds good and glamorous, but Minor admits there were times when it was not so easy. "The same week I left the firm, I saw the new Marc Jacobs handbag, the Stella bag, in Barneys. I called my best friend and said, 'Remind me why I'm doing this?' 'Because you want to be happy,' she said. I did not buy the bag -- I later did -- but I never had another moment." During her first week as an intern at Travel Savvy, Minor was flown out to London to try Virgin's new upper class flat beds. She stayed at the Sanderson hotel for two nights and attended a party Richard Branson was throwing. Recalling her last business trip at her law firm -- "in a windowless room somewhere, reviewing documents" -- she knew she'd found a better fit.
Brides Comes Calling
Minor had already held two editor in chief positions, and some perceived her move to the number two spot at Brides as as step down. (Many have similarly criticized Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts' move to a SVP role at Apple.) "With every job, I look for the best, most interesting opportunity. I haven't gotten hung up on titles," Minor says. "If I hadn't become an intern at 27, I wouldn't have gotten the opportunities I did. The opportunity to work at Conde Nast, to work with the smart, talented people at this company, that's what I really wanted to do." She adds, "And had I not done that, then [Conde] wouldn't have even known who I was when they were looking for an editor in chief."
Going for the Top Job
"I prepared a memo saying what I do and what the vision would be for the magazine, and had some meetings with some of the corporate executives, then waited with fingers crossed," Minor recounts. "I was up in Tom's office for something else one day and he told me [I got the job] then. I was very excited. Then Chuck Townsend, our CEO, and President Bob Sauerberg and [Chief Administrative Officer] Jill Bright came down and we announced it to the staff."
Looking back, it's clear that Minor's daring move from law to publishing was ultimately a rewarding one. But does she encourage others to make the same decision she did? "I do, if they're really passionate about it," Minor says. "Don't make the decision lightly, unless you're 22. Then you should try a bunch of things until you find what you love. I tell people my transition really took two years in the making -- a year of really exploring other options, and another year of taking classes and saving money."
Minor pauses for a moment before adding, "I would definitely do it again."