In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.
When current Financial Times fashion editor Lauren Indvik graduated from college in 2009, jobs were in scarce supply. Though fashion magazines were having their day in the pop culture spotlight — this was the era of "The Devil Wears Prada" and "The September Issue" — the reality facing recent grads was much bleaker as the nation staggered its way out of the Great Recession.
"There were no jobs at the time," Indvik recalls on the phone.
As inhospitable as the job market might have been when she started out, Indvik's career trajectory looks far more like a parable about how to succeed in a rapidly-changing landscape than a cautionary tale about the woes of graduating in a recession. As online publications pioneered new territory and legacy titles began the clunky pivot to digital, Indvik found herself navigating the Wild West of internet publishing — and quickly established herself as a trusted voice in the fashion industry with a knack for growing digital audiences.
"It used to be all about who you know or who your parents know," the American-born journalist says from her current home in London, England. "It's so much more of a meritocracy now — you can't really bullshit anymore; you have to be good at your work. There is no substitute for actually learning the industry."
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Indvik cut her teeth at media startups like Mashable and finance site The Street, led our very own Fashionista as it firmly established itself as a respected industry news source, freelanced for publications like the New York Times and InStyle and helped launch Vogue Business before landing in her current role at the Financial Times.
We caught up with Indvik to hear how she landed her dream job after starting a career in an intimidating economic climate. Read on for the highlights of our conversation.
At what point did you know you wanted to work in fashion?
I never thought about fashion as a career. My dad wanted me to study economics, and he started cutting out Christina Binkley's columns in the Wall Street JournaI. Once a month when I was in college he'd mail me a giant pack of her clips. She'd use fashion as a lens to talk about culture and business, and I started seeing fashion in a different light.
My first internship in college was at this magazine called Ocean, which doesn't exist anymore. I assisted the fashion director on shoots and we did one in Tijuana at a matador ring where we all got robbed. We often couldn't get enough samples for shoots, so we went into department stores and bought what we couldn't get loaned. It was my responsibility after the shoots to try to return thousands of dollars worth of stuff.
My junior year of college I went on Ed2010, where you could buy the mastheads of each magazine for like $5 and get access to email addresses. I emailed every editorial assistant that I could find, and it totally worked.
When I finally got an email from someone at Vogue, I cold-emailed Scott Schuman at The Sartorialist about what to wear to this interview. He actually responded, and thank god, because I would've shown up in a total fall look for an August interview. I was in New Hampshire, so my boyfriend drove me in for an interview in New York at like three in the morning. I remember changing in the car. The actual interview lasted maybe five minutes, but I got the internship and was over the moon.
My first day at Vogue was amazing. They gave me a town car and a driver for the day. That was the era when people were so impressed by Vogue that they would do all kinds of favors to get in the magazine. I started in January 2008; they had just shot "The September Issue." A lot of the internship was me going on "Devil Wears Prada"-esque errands for editors.
How did you go from that to working for The Street, a finance site?
I loved how there was a cultural excellence at Vogue at the time, and I initially wanted to graduate early and start my career in New York immediately. But once I got back to school in New Hampshire, I had this very weird reaction. I had gotten out of that Vogue bubble — I lost a lot of weight while I was there and really cared about appearances. It was very competitive. I started to think it wasn't a way for me to be a good person. When I got back to Dartmouth, I started volunteering a ton at places like Habitat for Humanity.
I had been so sure for so long that I wanted to work at Vogue that when I didn't want to work at Vogue anymore, I had no idea what to do. I got an internship at an ad agency and quickly learned that I didn't want to work in advertising. I did a bunch more interviews at Condé Nast and at The Street. I knew there were editors in their 30s at Vogue who were still getting lunches for their bosses, so I decided not to go to Condé Nast. I didn't want to get stuck on a steady career ladder. I wanted to get as far up as I could, as quickly as I could.
I went to The Street and within six months they promoted me and I had a team of four people. My job was basically to help them figure out how to drive traffic and establish a voice on Facebook and Twitter, which is hilarious because I didn't know anything about finance. I was really focused on traffic referrals and on boosting traffic numbers.
I was anxious, though. I remember when I graduated from Dartmouth someone told me Dartmouth was a big brand name, and he said, 'Make sure you stay with big brand names. Sometimes people take an obscure job when they graduate and you never hear from them again.' I was convinced that's what I had done — I started at this company no one had heard of, and would never be able to break into a big company.
How did you transition from The Street to Mashable?
I thought Mashable was the future of media and I really wanted to work there — I had friends at Google who were like, 'Mashable's so cool!' When they had a job opening I took it. I also took a pay cut, which I've done for every single job I've taken except for one.
My parents were like, 'What are you doing — it's a blog, it's not even a real company!' I was working from my kitchen table. But I got to see firsthand how you scale a media company. When I started we were 12 people, and when I left three and a half years later, we were 160.
My job was to copy edit the whole website, run Facebook and Twitter and also somehow write three to seven posts a day until my eyes bled. Back then it was blogging, it wasn't reporting, so you'd find stuff on the internet and then put a Mashable spin on it.
I still think that was one of my favorite jobs I've ever had, because they let me cover whatever I wanted. Because I was interested in fashion, I'd write a lot about how digital technology and e-commerce were disrupting the industry. I got to meet a lot of editors that way, and those editors started reading what I was writing.
Did you have your eye on Fashionista as a place to move to next?
I had reached a ceiling at Mashable so I started looking around for jobs. At that point I really wanted to go to a big brand — I wanted the prestige and the access I couldn't get at Mashable. I was very much like, 'I'm done with fashion.' But then I met with [Fashionista's CEO] about becoming editor-in-chief and that was when I really started to think, 'What would it be like to do this?'
I didn't get the job initially. They offered me the managing editor job, and I said no. Probably what I'm most proud of is that I asked [Fashionista's CEO] out to breakfast and I said, 'You're making a huge mistake by not hiring me,' and I listed all the reasons I thought I was the best person for the job. They came back and were like, 'How do you feel about being co-editor in chief?' I was thrilled.
Describe what the media landscape was like when you started at Fashionista in 2013.
It was the end of blogs. That was the time when The Cut and Fashionista were more like curators — you'd go see what the trade publications were covering and aggregate it. There was not that much original reporting, so there was a big opportunity. WWD wasn't really transitioning that well to digital, Business of Fashion at the time was still [CEO and founder] Imran [Amed]'s side project. I thought, 'We can do business and we can make it really accessible for people who work in the industry or want to.' We started doing more original reporting, which was how I thought we could survive and grow our audience. It was really fun. I stayed for two and half years.
What prompted you to move from that position into freelancing?
I really missed writing and I felt like I was too young to just be a desk editor. I needed to go out and actually become a good reporter. It was hard — you don't make a lot of money as a freelancer. I had this idea in my head like, 'I'll be really free and just write for the New York Times.' But actually, if you just wrote for the New York Times, you would never make enough money to support yourself. I never did commercial work, which I know most freelancers do — I was really afraid that that would prevent me from being able to do certain kinds of editorial work. Probably not true, but that's what I thought. I did the $2 per word trade stories so I could afford to do vocational pieces for the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.
How did you end up transitioning out of freelancing?
I was living in London by this point, and I would have stayed freelance, maybe, if I didn't need a visa. At that point I was just like, 'I love London, I'll take any job.' I was offered two: one at a brand, the other at Condé Nast.
They were going to build this new internal Vogue hub, and they needed someone to come in and set it up. I told them, 'I'm much more interested in business and trade journalism, and I need you to sponsor my visa.' I didn't hear from them for a while so I wrote them this email to say I was taking the other job. Then they snapped into action, saying they'd sponsor my visa, pay for my move and give me a full-time job.
While all this is happening, I had applied for this visa for tech entrepreneurs saying, essentially, 'I can come to the U.K. and help media companies with digital.' So then all of a sudden I had this five-year visa and I could just stay freelance if I wanted. But at that point I was really interested in the Vogue project. I knew that one day I wanted to work at the Financial Times as a fashion editor, and I'd been thinking about how to make my CV super competitive.
I started by helping set up this international Vogue hub — there are all these Vogues, something like 27 or 28 internationally, and every day they were replicating the same functions, like uploading the exact same runway show to the websites. The company was like, 'This is crazy, we need a central hub so we can start marshaling these digital teams together and find efficiencies.'
How did that lead to you helping launch Vogue Business?
The company had looked at the landscape and knew that print media was probably not going to get any bigger. They were looking for new revenue-generating activities, and thought, 'There's a B2B [business-to-business] publication opportunity.' We ran a series of tests to figure out whether this could generate revenue, and we decided that a newsletter was going to be our best way to do it. We got a few hundred luxury execs to sign up as our testing pool.
It was just me in terms of editorial — I was a writer, editor and occasional photo editor. Originally the newsletter was once a week, then three times a week, then daily. I'd write about all kinds of things in all kinds of voices and we saw what resonated.
When we talked to readers based in the U.S. or in the U.K., they said 'WWD and BoF are everything we need.' But we started talking to people in other markets like Brazil, Russia and India, and that was not the case, because those publications don't cover their markets. Maybe they'll do a piece every few years, but [our readers] said, 'They never talk to the right people, they don't have authority in our market.' Meanwhile we had 20-something Vogues in all of these markets, using their networks and insights to make beautiful consumer magazines. We thought, 'What if we started mining those to create really great trade stories?'
We started telling local business stories because they weren't out there. That's what we ended up launching with — this idea that we could be a truly global, digital B2B media platform.
Talk to me a little bit about your current role at the Financial Times, which is quite new. What are you hoping to accomplish there?
It's my dream job. I never thought I was going to get it. But I had more of an international mindset, and they were wanting to make the pages more global. I also had a business background.
I've been in the role for three months and it's certainly not what I thought it would look like — I wrote out my 180-day plan and then the coronavirus happened. So it's been an incredibly interesting time. My hope is to make our Style coverage more international and diverse in scope; deepen our coverage of the fashion business; and be more creative about the way we tell stories, especially online. There are other projects in the works, but I can't talk about them yet!
The fun challenge at the Financial Times is that you're not preaching to the converted. A lot of the readers are not necessarily interested in fashion. I'm not writing for an industry audience here; I'm writing for people who may buy from these brands, or are interested in business, or are analysts who might invest in these companies. They're trying to understand whether this creative vision is going to translate commercially. It's a fun audience to write for.
As someone who entered media when it was really finding its footing digitally, I'm curious about how you think social media fits into all this.
I think social media is a fundamental part of a journalist's job, both for taking a pulse on what people and the industry are feeling and thinking, but also as part of your output. At the same time, social media is designed to be addictive and can be a big distraction — like anything, it's about moderating your time and maximizing your efforts there.
It's a really personal thing, though. I know writers and editors who are very successful and do almost no social media. Like Cathy Horyn, for example — she doesn't do anything on social media, really.
I used to be very active on Twitter when I was a news reporter, but as I've gotten older, I'm a lot shyer. I sometimes wish I didn't even have a byline. I've been an editor for so long and I'm used to being behind the scenes. When you start reporting again, it's almost a little scary being on the frontline and having people know it's your work.
Any advice for aspiring fashion media professionals?
First, have a dream job in mind, even if you're not absolutely sure what your dream job is. I really admired Vanessa Friedman, and I had a pretty good idea by 23 that I wanted to be fashion editor of the Financial Times or a close equivalent. For me the question became: How do I make myself the best candidate for the job when it opens up? Every six months or so, I'd have a check-in to make sure I was still progressing towards that goal.
Second, read everything you can. There are many fantastic publications that cover the fashion industry — WWD, Business of Fashion, Vestoj, Vogue Business, Fashionista, Glossy — as well as individual writers at bigger publications, such as Elizabeth Paton at the New York Times or Marc Bain at Quartz. Sign up for their newsletters, add them to your RSS feeds, follow them on Twitter or Instagram and read them every day. Find books that will teach you about the history of fashion and the fashion business. Read outside fashion, too. Learn what's going on in China and in other industries. Really learn and interrogate sustainability; it's going to be the big story in fashion for the next several decades. And read great writing that has nothing to do with fashion.
Lastly, be reliable, meet deadlines and master your role. Many assistants and interns I've worked with are keen to write as soon as possible, which is great! But it's important to show you can be relied on to fulfill your responsibilities first, including the more boring parts, such as admin. Even more than good clips, that will set you up for promotions. When it comes to writing, study the edits your editors make, and learn not to make the same mistakes again.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.