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.
Nicolette Mason has succeeded where industry norms said she shouldn't be able to. She doesn't fit in a sample size, she's been publicly out as a queer woman for ages and she won't stop talking about politics even when it's unpopular. So how did Mason become one of the OG fashion bloggers with a Marie Claire column, numerous TV appearances and design collaborations under her belt when the odds seemed stacked against her?
Hard work, a genuine passion for clothing and an understanding of the way that personal politics and fashion are tied together had something to do with it.
"My family has always been very fashion-conscious and cared a lot about the way they dress," she explains. "My mom's side of the family is Iranian, and Iranian culture pays close attention to appearances. Plus when you're coming here as immigrants, you want to look and play the part — there's a little bit of internalized pressure in terms of how people present themselves," she says.
Despite loving fashion from a young age, she didn't pursue it as a full-time career right away. Feeling like there wasn't a place for people who looked like her played a large part in that, and it wasn't until she started her blog — and had her unique voice validated by readers who couldn’t get enough of it — that she began to reconsider fashion.
Fast forward nine years, and Mason is one of the most influential voices addressing the plus-size fashion market. She counts a fabulous crew of industry figures that includes fellow mega-blogger Gabi Gregg and designer Christian Siriano amongst her best friends, is known for her intersectional advocacy, and consults for brands like Target and Barbie. Mason spoke to Fashionista about the highs (including working on Teen Vogue's first plus-size spread) and lows (like thinking she was getting sued by Marie Claire) that she's experienced along the way.
What did your career look like pre-blog?
I went to Parsons School of Design and studied design and management. While I was in college I did a load of different internships, the highlight of which was Chanel. After I graduated, I worked at an architecture, interiors and branding firm.
How did the switch from design to fashion writing happen?
Fashion was always a huge interest of mine. Because I'm queer, fashion is where I channeled my energy while all my friends were becoming obsessed with boy bands when we were younger. I started reading a lot of magazines and plastering my walls with editorials. And because I was bigger, I was especially interested in DIY fashion. I wanted cool clothes, but I was a size 12 and didn't know where to go, so I started thrifting and making a lot of my own.
When I went to Parsons I retreated a bit because I didn't see anyone like me who was curvier or openly gay as a woman or Middle Eastern. I just didn't think there was a place for me. I was told, "If you want to work in fashion, you're going to have to lose weight." I did a different internship almost every semester trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
I think some of that is why I pursued design strategy after graduation. But ultimately, my passions shone through. I'm really grateful that I started my blog, because I don't know that I would've ended up in fashion without having been affirmed and validated through that platform first.
What prompted you to start your blog?
Because of the economy at the time, we were mostly doing bank signage at my design job. I was really fortunate to have work, but it wasn't super inspiring. I started my blog just to have my own little place where I could catalogue what was happening in the design world, from fashion to architecture to really cool product design innovations. I wanted to remind myself why I was pursuing design.
I included some style and travel photos of my own, and anytime I would do something personal, people would engage more.
Gabi Gregg of GabiFresh and I became best friends through LiveJournal, and I remember she said to me, "You're the only fat girl I've ever seen who wears Chanel, and people need to see that." Obviously it's unusual because of the financial privilege I have, but she really encouraged me to post more pictures of my outfits, so I did.
At what point did you move from treating your blog as something casual and personal to something you were more strategic about?
The shift happened when I started monetizing my blog, which I resisted for a long time. I was turning down advertising and sponsored content opportunities and it just got to a point where I was like, "I'm producing this content anyway, so why not?" If I'm doing the same work and staying committed to partnerships that are aligned with me, why would I not use the opportunity to support myself?
What gave you the courage to quit your day job?
Within a year or so of starting my blog, Vogue Italia had hired Gabi and myself to build out the new curvy section on their website. I was working a hundred hours a week writing for them on top of my normal job and I couldn't get enough, so I realized that's where I wanted to focus my energy. I said that if I couldn't sustain myself within a year on just fashion writing — I was also babysitting and tutoring to pay my bills at first — I'd go back to a full-time design position.
Within 10 months of my quitting, Marie Claire asked me for a meeting. I had written a long blog post about the "Big Girl in a Skinny World" page that they had launched because I felt like it was a disservice to plus-size women that the clothes weren't aspirational or on-trend. So when they emailed me, I thought they were gonna present me with a cease and desist. I was scared.
Instead, they were like, "We really loved your point of view. We agree with you, we love your style, and we want to know if you would be interested in taking over this column." I was thrilled.
I was at Marie Claire for five years after that as a contributing editor and monthly columnist, and that led to TV appearances on the "Today Show" and "Good Morning America" and collections with ModCloth and Addition Elle. It's been a really surreal, wild ride.
What does your day-to-day look like now?
A big bulk of my day and the part that nobody sees is consulting work. I work with brands from Target to Barbie on how they diversify their products and represent markets that are marginalized. A lot of the rest is writing for places like Refinery29 and Teen Vogue. I also do spokesperson-y brand collaborations through my blog. I'm really fortunate that no two days are alike, and every day is a lot of fun.
Now that you have established yourself in the industry, what would you say to someone who doesn't feel like there’s a place for them in it?
"Diversity" has become such a big buzzword, but there hasn't actually been a lot of progress made for people that aren't normatively beautiful. I think it's very valid for anyone who feels they're in that position to think there's not a place for them.
I would say that once you're in the industry, though, you will realize it's a lot more diverse than it looks from the outside. There are people who get a foot in the door based on appearances or based on connections, but in terms of having longevity, hard work and perseverance pay off. I don't think I'd be in this position had I not worked to prove that I belong here. I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the financial and light-skinned and educational privilege that I have, but hard work is important, too.
But the industry as a whole has shifted so much the past five years, and I think people are rejecting this notion of having to look a certain way to be in the industry. It's a pretty exciting time to work in fashion.
What do you feel is driving that change?
I truly believe it's been because of social media and people advocating for themselves.
I wanted to touch a little bit more on privilege. Why is it such a priority to you to call it out?
I don’t ever want to say "I did this all through hard work," because there are people who work just as hard as me but who don’t have the same educational background or a family who could be a safety net while they were pursuing their dream.
There are influencers who pretend they became successful overnight because they worked really hard, but don't acknowledge that they had a camera setup and the time to invest into creating a blog that looks like it's straight out of Vogue. There's nothing wrong with having that privilege, but be honest about it. I know some people get defensive when you call them out, but if being honest was going to hurt my career, so be it. With the way politics are right now, I'm especially emboldened to be an advocate, even though I know a lot of my peers are not.
Is there ever any tension between calling out privilege and showcasing products that not everyone has access to?
I will get comments sometimes about how my clothes are too expensive. But since I have the resources, I'd rather invest in higher quality pieces. So yes, I have conflicted feelings about that, but I'm also not going to change everything about how I shop because of it.
You've long been outspoken about body positivity and queerness in the industry. What are ways that you still want to see those narratives shift?
I would love for queer and trans women to feel safer coming out. There definitely are queer women in the industry who just don’t share that part of themselves out of fear.
People need to see that there are people like them succeeding, so I just want more representation across the board. I want that to include people who are differently abled and non-binary and transgender, with more hijabi and Orthodox women, too. I hope that we get beyond tokenizing people, that it's not just a fad but part of a greater movement.
Fashion is so ingrained in the way that we consume media and how people see reflections of our world through commercials and billboards. We don't see people that work in the tech world the same way we do in the fashion industry. So I think that there's a particular responsibility and onus on the part of the fashion industry to accurately represent the world that we live in.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.