Break out the bubbly: This January, Fashionista turns 10! We know, we can hardly believe it ourselves. To celebrate the place where so many of us got our start in the industry, we'll be taking a look back on all the things that make Fashionista one of our favorite fashion sites out there (not that we're biased!). Today, we're catching up with Lauren Sherman, Fashionista's fifth editor and current New York Editor at The Business of Fashion.
If work can be quantified by bylines, there's perhaps no one in the fashion industry working harder than Lauren Sherman — read just about any in-depth feature in The Business of Fashion, and it's likely you'll see the New York Editor's name attached. That's because Sherman has a love for reporting on the fashion industry that dates all the way back to her childhood, when she first discovered Jane Pratt's Sassy magazine.
"My mom was like, 'You can buy this magazine Sassy because it's the feminist teen magazine,'" she recalls. "I realized I was able to intellectualize my interest in fashion and that writing about fashion could be a job."
That determination lead her to Emerson College in Boston, which Sherman describes as "almost like trade school." She was in the Writing, Literature and Publishing school with a minor in journalism, taking small internships along the way. One such internship, a lifestyle concierge service in the UK called Quintessentially, offered her a job in London after graduation. But after nearly two years in London, Sherman was unhappy.
"I wanted to be a journalist; I wanted to work at a legitimate publication. I didn't really like living in London," she explains. "New York at that time was the place to be; it was 2004, 2005, almost into 2006, so most of the big, 'cool' British brands that have emerged in the last few years hadn't even started yet."
She moved back to New York with modest savings — supplemented by freelance work for Quintessentially and temp jobs — and decided to spend her tax return from the UK on a Media Bistro class on fashion and beauty writing. Around that time, she received two job offers: One at Forbes as assistant news editor, the other at Cosmopolitan as an online editor. The teacher of the Media Bistro class convinced her that taking the job at Forbes would lead to more opportunities.
She was right. From there, Sherman would come to Fashionista, bringing in a new era of original business reporting, before taking the helm at Lucky magazine's website. After a successful stint the world of freelancing (and returning to Fashionista as editor-at-large!), she became Business of Fashion's New York Editor, where she has earned the respect of just about everyone working in the fashion industry. We sat down with Sherman to ask just how she manages juggling all those stories and why the relationships she formed through Fashionista have been so invaluable to her career.
How did you first become interested in fashion?
When I was in grade school, I became super-interested in writing and quickly realized I didn't want to be a fiction writer. I really liked following current events, and also loved watching news on television, morning shows and things like that. I always had an interest in fashion. I'm sure a lot of kids feel this way: I was very obsessed with choosing my clothes. By the time I was 14, I wanted to be a fashion journalist. I didn't want to be a stylist or anything like that — I wanted to work in a magazine and go to fashion shows and write about the fashion shows. The thing I didn't know existed is the fashion news, journalism part of it. There really weren't a lot of opportunities to do that kind of work. The internet didn't exist. I was a huge fan of Harper's Bazaar during the '90s; Liz Tilberis and Jane Pratt were the two editors that I really admired and wanted to work for. Harper's Bazaar and Sassy are very different magazines, but they had really strong points of view that I connected to.
How did you get started working in fashion?
My freshman year I interned at Nylon magazine in the summer and didn't do much — I was mostly transcribing stuff and running errands. I interned at a store in Williamsburg one summer. I would write press releases for them and help out; that was also very interesting because I learned more about retail. I didn't have super-glossy internships and a big reason for that is confidence — I didn't think I could get them. I didn't know how any of that stuff worked. I didn't know anyone, I didn't have any connections.
I interned at a company in the UK called Quintessentially, which is a lifestyle concierge service. They said, "Look, we need an assistant. We'd hold the position for you. Will you come back?" I started to learn how the luxury consumer operates and how high-net-worth individuals spend money. It's interesting, because that's been a big part of most of my career. Covering how wealthy people spend money is endlessly fascinating to me because it changes constantly.
I started [at Forbes] the last week in December of 2005, so January 2006. The job was connected to the lifestyle department; social media didn't really exist, but my job was audience development. A big part of my role was to work on these things called portals: AOL, Yahoo, MSN, that's where people got their news instead of Twitter or what-have-you. Publications that produced online content would do deals with portals. The portal would syndicate your content and then they would link back to you and send you a tremendous amount of traffic. Basically, my job was taking the stories that Forbes was doing — mostly in lifestyle — and re-imagining headlines for a different audience. I'm so thankful, because this was before anyone who was a writer or reporter knew anything about traffic.
A week into doing that job, I went to the managing editor, who I didn't report to, and I said, "I really want to be a fashion writer." He said, "Well, you can do that kind of writing here, but you have to learn how the markets work, how the business works." Three months into it, I wrote my first story and very quickly realized that it was way more interesting to write about the business side of the industry, how the industry works and how people spend their money. I read Teri Agin's book, "The End of Fashion," very early on and it clicked for me. What I realized was that this is actually something that I grasp pretty easily, I should own this because no one else does it, and that makes me more valuable.
The hard thing about working at a general interest business publication when you want to write about fashion is that a lot of those publications are run by primarily men who do not take that industry super-seriously. I had a really good experience. It was so valuable. I'm so glad I didn't go to journalism school; I'm so glad that I learned from people who had been market reporters for 30 years and who had real experience. Jim Michaels, who was the editor of Forbes for many years and passed away while I was working there, said that [writers at Forbes] were the theatre critics of business journalism; I always had to have a point of view, I had to be contrarian, I had to be critical.
Fashion is a cultural pillar, but it's not regarded in the same way as film, television, music, theatre or art. I think a big reason for that is it's something you can't hide. You can hide your taste in music, you can hide your taste in movies. You can't really hide your taste in fashion. It's something that you have to make a choice about every day and it makes people very insecure and uncomfortable. It's also a basic need, clothing. It makes the dynamic of how fashion is written about and regarded different than other elements of our culture.
What about Fashionista interested you?
I had emailed the publisher of Fashionista, David Minkin, seven times, being like "You need to hire me." At some point, one of the editors was leaving and they wanted someone with more of a business background. The guys who were running Breaking Media at that point found out about me; I had this blog and they wanted me to do [something similar] at Fashionista.
Fashionista — it was everything then in 2009, 2010. It felt like the right place to be. I loved it. It was such a fun job and so fast paced. I learned so much. The commenters were also deeply involved, so that part of it was interesting to me, too. It could be upsetting, but it was also great to have all of that feedback. I had gone from doing two reported stories a week and a couple of little posts and maybe writing a print story once a month to writing five stories a day. It made me fast. It made me a quicker thinker. It was the only place I wanted to be. I feel fortunate that's where I went after Forbes. If I had gone straight to a magazine, I know that my career wouldn't be where it is now because I probably would've been disillusioned much more quickly with that work.
When I first got to Fashionista I was like, "I'm going to do a ton of original reporting." And then I realized that there were only two of us and we each had to do five posts a day. We still did a lot of reporting but it was never going to be that much. You have to have an angle. You have to move the story forward. I learned that at Forbes. Fashionista was great because I worked with Britt [Aboutaleb] and she was very embedded in the industry, so I met a ton of people through her and got a sense of how the industry works from the inside. Those jobs together were the ideal education for me in terms of how I like to cover fashion, which is that I want to take stories that are very inward looking and make them interesting and compelling to people outside of the industry.
What was working in the digital landscape like at that time?
It was new. Most of the magazines didn't have full fledged websites, they were just repackaging the content from the print magazine. We were just figuring it out. There was not a huge process; it was bits of news coming in, bits of gossip. It was the turning point where the brands were starting to realize how important it was. To be on the ground floor of that has been really, really good.
I can't remember the last time [a PR] was obsessed with only doing print with me. If that happens now, I almost don't want to do the story. No one's ever going to "figure [the internet] out" because it changes constantly — that's the thing I've learned in the last seven years, there's not a "this is the way it is now." Every six months it's completely different. It's not about being a print person versus a digital person, it's about a mindset. Now that features are such a big part of the internet landscape, you want to do a feature online because it's going to resonate more than if you write it in print.
It's been interesting to see that flip from print being the be-all, end-all to digital being the be-all, end-all. I don't necessarily think either is right. It changes every six months, too. If you are a person who is comfortable with change, then you can do well in journalism right now. If you're not comfortable with change, it will mean that you won't be able to push forward.
Why did you leave for Lucky?
Fashionista is a breeding ground, so people like to poach from there — I hate that word, but it is somewhere known for training smart writers. It's also a neutral site; it's independent so it's an easy place to look to. The people who work there are digital first. If you work there, the legacy publications are going to try to hire you. I got interviews or calls from three other publications before I went for one of the jobs. I just kept saying "I'm not ready, I'm not ready."
I was at Fashionista for less than two years. The big thing for me was I had always wanted to work at Condé Nast and work at a magazine. I was a huge fan of Lucky, because it was a mag-a-log but it also had really good writing. I also liked the woman who was the editor at that point, Brandon Holley. She's very smart and I'd admired what she'd done when she'd taken over Jane. It felt like, sensibility-wise and personality-wise, that Lucky was the right Condé publication for me.
About a week into it, I was like, "Yeah, I do not like this job at all." I was executive editor of the website; I built a good team who I love — I'm still close with a lot of them — and who have gone on to work for a lot of my friends, but I did not want to be in meetings all day. Also, I had worked at two startups and Forbes, which was run very much like a startup. Condé is not that corporate, and it was too corporate for me.
How did you decide to go freelance?
I like working and the people I work with; I just enjoy going to work. I've never had a bad experience in that way where it's a toxic environment, and Lucky wasn't either. Everybody was really nice, but I didn't like the actual work and was unsatisfied. I was also unsatisfied not writing about business and industry stuff. A year into it, I was like "Okay, I'm going to save up money for the next six months and I'm going to go freelance because that's the only way. There isn't really a job out there that is right for me. I want to be a business writer who writes about fashion, but I want to write interesting things. That job doesn't exist. I'm going to become a freelancer."
I gave Lucky a month's notice, and January 2013 I went full-time freelance. I thought it was going to be super, super slow. It was an avalanche of work. That thing that had clicked in my head early on in my career — that I could position myself as someone who could write about the business side — really helped. I had enough contacts that business magazines were calling me to do work if they needed someone to write about a fashion brand; fashion magazines were calling me if they needed a reporter, because a lot of fashion writers are not reporters. I started pitching all these publications that I had always wanted to write for that I had never thought I could, like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
I made myself a good freelance practice without doing any brand work — no consulting for brands, writing brand copy or even doing any advertorial work. Being a reporter and being a journalist has become more important to me than being a fashion writer. I find that the reporting and the truth-seeking part of what I do, I'm much better at it than I am writing display copy.
I didn't think I would take a full-time job, maybe ever again. In this world, and the way this world works, you don't need one. Most publications run on freelancers and its so much more freeing to be able to write for a variety of places. If you get your work in on time and file clean copy and you try, you're 99 percent better than most freelancers.
What was appealing about Business of Fashion that interested you a full-time job again?
I've been writing for the Business of Fashion since I went freelance. The job there was the one that I've always wanted, which is to be able to write about fashion from a cultural perspective, but also write about the big business stories. There are just so many business stories in fashion that have never been told, for whatever reason. It's such a complex and interesting industry and there's so much room for coverage that doesn't happen. It just felt like the right fit.
I really admire the CEO and founder Imran [Amed]. I've known him for a long time and believe in what he's doing. I'm happy that it worked out and also happy that hard work and dedication to something and determination really do, in many cases, pay off. I know [I've been successful] because I'm a hard worker. There is no one else who will work as hard as me — that's the one thing I'm totally sure of. The more I stay in this business, the more people I talk to and interview and meet, the people who do well for a sustained amount of time — the through line is hard work. There's nothing else. That's also why it's hard to hire people, because not many people want to work hard.
What did you look for in people that you hired at Fashionista and Lucky?
I obviously want someone who is a clear writer who can file clean copy and who gets the industry. More than anything, the thing that really bothers me is if someone is not willing to put in the work and isn't eager and excited about it. It's not even about "Well, I'll do it" — it's about being really excited about doing it. I love working. I love being online. I love doing all that stuff. I have to work really hard to make sure I don't overdo it... that I get sleep and that I exercise and I take care of myself and that I make time for relationships, but I love the work that I do and I always have. So many people don't get to choose what they do because of a million reasons. We're so privileged that we get to choose [this industry]. If you don't like it, get out.
There are just so many people who think that having a little insight or being smart means that you should be rewarded with a great job. It is really just about hard work and that's the only way you get scoops. I'm getting scoops because I've known people for 10 years. There's not a secret formula — just keeping at it and having an urge to tell the truth, which is another thing that a lot of fashion writers don't have.
How do you manage to do all your reporting and all your writing?
My training has helped that a lot, because I did learn how to do quick turnaround reporting very early. Not many people get that kind of training now. When I worked at Forbes, I wasn't regurgitating other peoples stories. There's nothing wrong with aggregation, I totally believe in it, but it just didn't exist then. That made me become a quicker writer — that combined with a real need and desire to write every story I can, because I don't want to miss a story.
Also, I work from home. It does make a huge difference; a lot of it is going to events at night and going to breakfasts in the morning. That stuff's important, too, face time with people; I'm still building sources. I have a ton of meetings with sources and I go out every single night. A big part of it is that my husband is also a journalist and really understands the time commitment, but I work on the weekends a lot by choice. I think that's the biggest thing: No one is pushing me to produce this much. I want to write the stories. I don't want to give them up. I don't want to pass things over. I love it and I'm going to keep doing it at this pace for as long as I can, but I also think that I have been doing essentially the same job for 10 years. You get to a point where you know exactly how to make it happen, but the way I manage it is because I want to do it.
You're still close with so many Fashionista editors; how important have those relationships been to you?
I decided when I started at Fashionista that I was going to be friends with Britt. We were definitely very competitive, but we were not going to be enemies. What I realized was that the two of us being friends and pushing each other to do better was so good for the site; it was the same thing with Leah [Chernikoff]. Personal friendships were not expected, I just wanted the working relationships to be good. What I realized was having that support group of Fashionista editors — not just our group but our generation's — really does lift you up.
We're so supportive of each other. There is enough work for everybody and the only way we're going to all keep getting work is if we help each other out. If you look at Britt's staff [at Racked] or Leah's staff [at Elle.com], it's populated with ex-Fashionista people or people that worked for me at Lucky. We've also helped each other with job negotiation and getting each other jobs.
I think the biggest thing, though, is it just makes it better. I feel really fortunate. As much as Forbes helped build the foundation of my career, Fashionista was the turning point in it. I will be forever grateful that it happened and that it exists. The group of women that have come out of there and that work there now, it's a really impressive group of people. I think that it started with Faran [Krentcil] — she's super-smart and she only hired smart people. I think it has to do with the quality of the people that have worked there and the interest in fashion that goes beyond, "I want to look at pretty clothes."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.