We have a thing for visiting female business owners and creatives in their homes and quizzing them about their careers. ICYMI, this whole thing pretty much started as an excuse to do just that. We’re suckers for anyone prepared to get to the nitty gritty about how they’ve got to where they are and talk candidly about the challenges (and opportunities) that have popped up along the way. And if you’re reading this, we’re guessing that you do to. It’s that in mind that we pitched up at Who What Wear editor, Aemilia Madden’s Lower East Side apartment.
The fashion industry gets a bad rap for being full of people who’ve got a leg up from well-connected parents, but the majority of people who work in it have found themselves in their current roles through a mix of trial and error and a shit load of hard work and Aemilia is the perfect case in point. Venturing into a career as a writer was never particularly on her agenda – she opted for political economics “to become more in tune to the larger issues outside of my own little bubble” – and despite racking up placements in countless editorial departments, those earlier roles were more of a process of elimination rather than a calculated plan. She hasn’t scrimped on the hard work part though. In a matter of years she’s worked her way for Popsugar intern to her current position manning the ship as editor of Who What Wear.
Her story of rolling her sleeves up and just, well, getting on with it is one we can relate too. She gets the whole I-want-that-Gucci-look-but-can-only-stretch-to-Zara thing when it comes to her fashion features and her apartment – all white washed walls, oversized plants and Moroccan statement rugs – not to mention her own approach to fashion, is the epitome of #goals. The girl knows what she’s doing off and on duty. Here she talks about learning to juggle many moving parts, how she feels about editors turning into brands in their own right and why we should all stop feeling lucky for opportunities we’ve worked hard for.
ON CHOOSING NOT TO STUDY JOURNALISM: While journalism was always a part of my life, I wasn’t sure to what extent it would ever be my career. I was the arts editor of my high school newspaper, but I didn’t arrive at UC Berkeley with a career path in mind. Instead, I spent my first year seeing what was out there, taking classes that inspired me or were taught by professors that I admired and let the chips fall from there. While I wouldn’t describe myself as a hard math person, the social side of political economics is what drew me to that major, and eventually became my specialization within it. It was a tough major at Cal, and I was really forced to grow my critical thinking skills along with my writing. But, it’s not just those tangible skills that I think I arrived on from my study; I became more in tune to the larger issues outside of my own little bubble. Touching on ideas like the interconnectedness of the fashion industry with everything from geopolitics to pop culture has allowed for bigger picture thinking which is important to me.
ON NOT CONSIDERING HERSELF A WRITER: It’s funny because writing is so much of what I do, but I don’t know that it’s my true strength. I find writing to be just a slice of a much bigger pie that includes everything from strategy, to data analysis, to social media. Growing up my parents had (and still have) the San Francisco Chronicle delivered to our door every day and while I started out just reading the comics, by the time I was in high school, I was reading it cover to cover every day. By the time I was in college, I was reading the New York Times (in digital) and thanks to a generous gift from a then boyfriend, for a time I had a New Yorker subscription – something I just jumped back into and have been really enjoying. While I don’t know that hard news writing informed my personal approach, reading the work of talented individuals and being exposed to the ideas of those much smarter than myself helped me to learn and grow.
GRADUATING IN THE MIDST OF THE RECESSION: Honestly it was tough in the Bay Area, so many people I know jumped into entry level tech jobs, which were fairly readily available, but for someone who wanted to do something different, there just weren’t the same amount of options. I was lucky enough to land an internship, which eventually lead to my first hire. At the time, I remember being disappointed in myself for not having a job lined up right after graduation, but I had made a promise not to just jump at the first job to come my way, but to take the extra time and accept an offer I was excited about. In the end, I’m so glad I pushed myself to wait for something that felt right.
THINK OF INTERNING AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR TRIAL & ERROR: From the start, I never looked at them as a way to follow a set path; I was always curious to see what was out there for me. I think it became a process of elimination… in each position I would learn what I liked, along with what I really didn’t enjoy. Still, somehow, with every internship I had, my interest always leaned towards digital media. Whether it was writing blog posts for a tech company or doing social media at a PR firm, I always gravitated back to editorial.
LANDING AT POPSUGAR: I started there as an intern right after graduating college and worked my way up over the course of almost three years. From the very beginning I was lucky enough to dive into pitching and writing my own stories, a rare opportunity for someone in an intern position. I learned a lot in my time there, writing on everything from fitness to food to beauty, helping with social media. I’ll never forget the day I worked the teleprompter for a live show – it was one of my more nerve-wracking moments there if you can believe that. As time went on, I found myself gravitating towards my passions, and it eventually lead me to the fashion team.
TAKING THE HELM AT WHO WHAT WEAR: I joined the team at Who What Wear in February, right before fashion week – a pretty wild time to be switching jobs in our industry. I was a huge fan of the site’s content, and from the very beginning was inspired and humbled by the talent and kindness of everyone at the company from our founders Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power all the way down. It’s a pretty awesome place to work.
HER NOT-SO-AVERAGE WEEKS: It’s often a blend of so many things. Of course I’m responsible for producing a certain number of stories every week, so I spend time every day doing everything from photo or market research, to writing, to actually putting stories together. Another huge but un-glamorous part of the job is email, I can’t guess how many emails I’m fielding a day, that in and of itself can feel like a full time job. In addition, I’m often at market appointments, visiting the showrooms of different brands or PR agencies, looking at the latest collections or new launches. Usually, there will be events after work as well. It’s exhausting, but in the best way possible.
THE OPPORTUNITIES & CHALLENGES THAT COME WITH THE ROLE: I love so many things about my job. There’s something so satisfying when a great story idea comes to you in a brief moment of clarity. Still, some of my favourite moments are when I’m out meeting with designers and learning about their work, seeing the clothing up close, and keeping an eye on the big things happening in our industry. Another super important thing about any job is the fact that I respect all the people I work with. It’s so awesome to go to a space every day with people who you admire and consider your friends and mentors. In terms of challenges, I think just learning to balance a job that has so many moving parts is the biggest challenge for me. I feel like I’m constantly doing 10 things at once, and it can be tough to set aside the time and energy to really focus on one thing. It takes practice to really learn how to turn on that tunnel vision.
ON WHAT SHE WANTS HER CONTENT TO STAND FOR: Speaking more personally, I want my writing to resonate with women like me. I love fashion, and crave an accessibility that I think sometimes can be hard to find in the industry. As a 20-something, I save money and treat myself to super precious pieces sometimes, but I also rely on thrift shopping and stores like Zara too. I have such awesome access to inspiring women, and super knowledgeable industry experts and I want to be able to share that with my peers. I think readers today are smart, and crave the opportunity to go somewhere where the information is well informed and authentic. These days, anyone can put their thoughts out there to the world, whether it’s on their own blog, or a twitter account, so I think it’s important to set yourself apart by staying honest and well-informed and not just giving in to the latest viral trend.
ON THE RISE OF EDITORS AS BRANDS IN THEIR OWN RIGHT: There are definitely no expectations, but I think I would be naïve not to recognize the importance of social media today. Editors are somewhere in between a private and public person, my by-line is there on every story I write, so I’m out there on the Internet, and with that knowledge I think a certain level of professionalism is important. That being said, I don’t want to sacrifice the authenticity or honesty of my social media accounts. Yes, I post pretty pictures, but they are of my life, of places I eat, outfits I wear, etc. I love that the Internet allows for such easy accessibility to friends, readers and followers, and it’s such a compliment when someone reaches out to me about a story I’ve written. I think social media is such a great way to connect with others out there who share your interests.
WHAT THE EVOLVING NATURE OF DIGITAL MEANS FOR HER PROFESSIONALLY: The evolution of the industry is one of the things I find most exciting. I’ve always been most inspired when I’m learning and challenging myself, so I think that as time goes on I’ll continue to test new waters and explore what I enjoy, what I’m good at, and what I’m not so good at. With the rapid pace of change in both the fashion world and digital media, it’s impossible to predict how my role will evolve. I just think that in the same ways that I’ve followed my passions before, I’ll move with what inspires me to get out of bed every day.
ON KEEPING UP WITH THE PACE: It may sound funny, but I’d say I thrive under ‘some’ pressure. The pace is what it is, the days fly by and I often find myself bouncing between never-ending emails, writing stories, photo research, etc. but that’s what keeps it fun too. I love that every hour of the day I could be doing something different, there’s always something to learn. That being said, I think it’s tough for anyone to work in a pressure cooker situation; I know people who do it and are unhappy. I’m lucky enough to be somewhere that emphasizes work/life balance and a positive office environment; I think that makes the busy or stressful days so much more manageable.
MASTERING THE ART OF NETWORKING: So much of my job is about building relationships with others and as someone who tends to be a little more introverted; it’s been a big learning curve to master the art of small talk. It sounds silly, but being able to connect with my peers is so important in what I do, and it also bleeds into my personal life. I think that learning how to connect or at least chit-chat with others is a small but important side effect of doing what I do.
ON BEING OPEN TO OPPORTUNITIES: I always just follow my passions. It’s important to be aware of your value, and to be receptive to opportunities that come your way, but I’ve never been someone on a linear path with a set end goal. I’ve said before how lucky I feel to have my job, but looking back I’m not sure that luck was the right word, I think women tend to overuse that word a lot. I’ve worked hard and pursued opportunities to get to where I am now, but there was still an organic element to my path.
OVERCOMING MOMENTS OF SELF-DOUBT: I’ve beat myself up plenty of times for little mistakes, but something I learned from my parents is to focus on giving my all and taking pride in that, regardless of the outcome. If I’m giving myself fully to a project and it doesn’t come out as I hoped, that’s ok – it happens. What’s most important is that I can stand behind the effort that I put into something. Wrong decisions happen, but it’s how you learn from them and come back from them that I think is a true testament.
THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT HER JOB: I do find that there are times I have to defend the industry I live in, sometimes even to members of my family. To some it can seem superfluous, especially today when you read about all of the terrible things that come up in the news every day. But, I think that fashion and personal style are a huge part of who we are as human beings, and how we define ourselves. I think the messages and stories behind what we wear are so important.
LEARNING TO UNPLUG: I come from a family of outdoorsy, anti-screen Californians so there will always be a part of me that craves time away from my inbox and notifications. But, I’m the first to admit that unplugging a challenge. It is so easy to quickly respond to a Saturday work email, or to lose a moment because I’m too engrossed in taking a Snapchat or Instagram photo. I acknowledge that it can definitely be unhealthy, so I try to find the balance, I just don’t always succeed.
THE CAREER ADVICE SHE WISHES SHE’D BEEN GIVEN: I wish someone had explained the virtue of failure. I went to college at a huge institution where I did well but never received much feedback about my work. Then, I got into the working world and was beating myself up over every little mistake. No one can skate through life without ever making a slip-up, and I wish I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself, instead using failures as opportunities to learn.