I went to a small all girls’ school in Melbourne, Australia and after my final HSC (equivalent to A levels) I started a journalism cadetship at The Melbourne Herald while studying for my arts degree. It was an old-fashioned apprenticeship where you combine studying with practical work and it was totally brilliant. You’d be down at the magistrate’s court in the morning reporting on an arson attack and that afternoon you’d be writing an essay on Madame Bovary. I am very supportive of the movement to reintroduce apprenticeship/study programs for school leavers. Learning on the job is the best experience you can possibly get.
Editing Elle was wonderful because I was at the helm of it at a time when fashion magazines were awash with cash and fame. It was before digital took a grip so you could concentrate on making the printed page as beautiful and as compulsive a read as possible. We pioneered celebrity shoots on the covers. In those days you could ring up Jennifer Aniston’s agent, set up a two-day cover shoot and interview in LA, send over the Versace couture and bang that would be your March cover. We had a wonderful window of opportunity to pretty much do what we wanted before celebrity culture and social media took a grip. I feel very lucky to have edited in those times.
When I launched Grazia as editor in chief it was all about creating a disruptive fashion and news title from scratch. It launched at a time when fashion collections were getting faster to market, so Grazia’s weekly frequency meant we could feature key pieces, new drops and new ideas as they happened, far faster than fashion monthlies. It was about creating a weekly habit, a fashion fix and the sense that if you missed the latest Grazia, you missed out. Creating a new fashion title from scratch was both nerve shedding and the most exhilarating job I’ve had in publishing.
I’ve always thought the holy grail of fashion and beauty publishing was being able to instantly shop the looks. It was always my frustration with print – showcasing bang-on pieces, creating that instant fashion crush, but never being able to press a button to buy. During my time at My-Wardrobe, we created stylebooks and daily fashion stories people could actually buy at the click of a button. So many ecommerce fashion sites do this brilliantly now but it was all relatively new when we started. Fusing editorial with retail was very much behind the launch of the Blow ecommerce site. It’s been great experimenting with new technology to create shoppable posts, from incorporating How To Gifs and Buzzfeed style beauty stories. I am constantly amazed about how much content you can now create so quickly. In my old magazine days a single fashion shoot required weeks of planning and an eye-watering budget. Now you can create an event, film it, photograph it and turn it into a home page slider, a YouTube film, social media posts, marketing fliers, merchandising units and posters, all in 24 hours and within a very tight budget.
Since leaving magazines, I’ve continued to consult for the Italian publishers of Grazia on their international titles and always enjoy working with those teams. Before I left, I had become increasingly interested in the digital space and the way markets were being challenged and disrupted. I was lucky enough to have stayed in touch with my former EMAP publishing colleague, Dharmash Mistry, who became a venture capitalist after leaving publishing and gained a unique view of the digital world through his investment in global start-ups. He was interested in the beauty space and the fusion of service, media and ecommerce. Together we came up with the concept of fast beauty – a business that delivered the most convenient beauty services to busy women. It was like the antithesis of the slow spa movement. There was no point creating a business that wasn’t going to be disruptive. In quite the same way Grazia delivers fast fashion, Blow delivers fast beauty through our beauty bars, e-commerce site, social media channels, and now through our new on demand app that brings the service to wherever you are. It’s the perfect definition of fast beauty – why waste time traveling when we can come to you?
I love it when we get herograms from customers, whether it’s the head of a fashion brand after a shoot, a girl who has walked out looking and feeling amazing before her graduation ball, or a new mum stuck at home who is going out for the first time since having her baby. It’s not just about looking great, it’s the confidence boost that comes with it. There’s a lot to be said for good hair.
It was never my intention to launch a business. I would have been way too terrified if I had to do it on my own. It was only because Dharmash has an acute business mind and we’d worked together well that I ever even considered it. He is an incredible driving force and has a scary, innate ability to read the winds in the market way before anyone else. He pushes and challenges us all. As creative director my remit is keep the brand looking and feeling fresh and on the money. It’s about giving busy women what they need, which is not a million miles away from giving magazine readers what they need. It’s about the edit! I think the only way to make a new business work is to have people Dharmash is the CEO and business genius. Is is an incredible driving force and has a scary, innate ability to read the winds in the market way before anyone else. He pushes and challenges us all. As creative director my remit is keep the brand looking and feeling fresh and on the money. It’s about giving busy women what they need, which is not a million miles away from giving magazine readers what they need. It’s about the edit! I think the only way to make a new business work is to have people on board with very different skill sets. Dharmash and I have a lot of mutual respect – I couldn’t do what he does in a million years, and I wouldn’t like to see him direct a shoot! We give each other space but discuss and thrash out every big decision together. I couldn’t see it working any other way.
Our investor line-up came from Dharmash’s network. We have the most wonderful angel investors, from former Net-a-Porter CEO Mark Sebba to Robert Darwent from Lion Capital and ASOS CEO, Nick Roberston. They have not only given us investment, but also their time and advice when needed, which has been invaluable. I think that’s partly why things took off from day one. We had no doubts that busy women need super fast and fabulous blow dries, makeup and nails before work or events. In the 18 months since we launched, we’ve delivered more than 30,000 fast beauty services and we are now doing hundreds of weddings, parties, shoots and corporate and press events too. We worked hard to create the best possible results in the shortest possible time working with trainers, video manuals, high-performance products and the best people in the business. The challenging part has been to work out how we scale and deliver fast enough. As a new business you have to be nimble, work out where the market is moving, where the demand is and super-serve it. I don’t think there has ever been a more challenging or exciting time to launch a business, but you have to be super-quick on your feet.
I’m a firm believer in following your instinct. So much of business these days is about digital analytics, pouring over spreadsheets and competitor data. But you need to keep the consumer at the very heart of what you do and keep asking yourself if what you’re offering is something you would want.
I have always had a handful of great mentors in newspapers, magazines and the business side who I could turn to for advice. I also have a fabulous group of peers – fellow editors, creative directors, PRs and CEOs of publishing and fashion businesses. One of the great advantages of being in your forties is that you wake up one morning and suddenly your mates are bosses. It’s like, woah, when did that happen? We’ve all known each other for so long and have fought so many battles together – there’s no bullshit. We can download with impunity. We introduce each other to people and help out with advice, co-marketing, whatever each of us needs. It’s wonderful. To complete the circle, it’s always been important for me to be a mentor myself. It can be hugely rewarding to help someone you believe is young, talented and determined to get a leg up in a pretty cut-throat environment.
I have learned to deal with criticism better over the years. As you get older you understand your own failings better. Nobody is perfect and the important thing is to learn from your mistakes. That’s why having a few older people in the office, who’ve been around the block a few times, can help a team. I am now very open to younger colleagues about my own management mishaps from the past. It’s important to let them know that making mistakes is normal and that they should never suffer in silence. When you are forging new territory in a business it’s important the team shares issues so you can solve them together.
If I could give any advice for someone hoping to start a business in beauty, I’d say brace yourself to work incredibly hard. If you are not a business genius, get one on board now. We were overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork, legal technicalities and set-up required. It will be 100 times harder than you think, but 100 times more rewarding than you think, if it works.
Photographs by Dvora and art direction by Naomi Mdudu