Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lauren Sherman: Editor-at-Large at Fashionista

If you don't know who Lauren Sherman is, I'm pretty sure that you've been living under a rock. Aside from being editor-at-large at Fashionista, Lauren also freelances at tons of publications like Ad Age and the Wall Street Journal. In her free time, she runs the amazingly informative podcast The Needle and The Mouse with her husband, which is my number one source for an entertaining take on fashion and tech. With so much experience under her belt, Lauren schooled me on the pros and cons of freelancing, pitching 101, and social media no-nos. 

Describe yourself in three words.

Nosy, funny, and loyal.

Best fashion memory to date?

I got to go to Alexander McQueen’s last show-- Plato’s Atlantis. I had really good seats, it was an incredible experience. That’s when I realized that this is what I’ve done it all for, to have these kinds of experiences. It was really special. 

Favorite app?

Definitely Instagram. I use it a lot. I’m not a super visual person, and I’m not someone that’s going to create a really great image. I just love being able to communicate with people through it. If I I’m on my phone, that’s the first one I go to. I also really enjoy Dark Sky which lets you know if it’s going to rain in the next 10 minutes. It’s awesome.

Personal Mantra?

Always do your best and give your best effort.

Let’s start off by taking it back a bit. What was your first job out of college?

I got a job from my last internship. I studied abroad in London and had an internship at this company called Quintessentially. It’s a concierge service for rich people but they also have a bunch of other businesses, including a magazine. There was an Editorial Director and an Art Director at the company, and I was their intern. They really wanted to hire an assistant. I knew a little bit of hard HTML coding, and back then no one knew it. I also knew how to use photoshop-- well I could crop a photo. And I could write okay. It was September of 2003 when I interned there and they knew that I was graduating in the Summer of 2004. They said “we have this position, and we’ll hold it for you for six months if you want to come back.” It was 2004, there weren’t many jobs. I moved to London a week after graduation. I was their Editorial Design Assistant. I did a lot of newsletters that went to members, I would copyedit them and write them sometimes, I would write stories on the site. Pretty sure I wrote something about the best places to have afternoon tea in London. It was a good first job. I stayed there for two years, I moved to New York in September of 2005.

What was your first 'wow I made it moment?

Whenever someone says that I sort of feel weird. I’m always learning, I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with my place or everything I’ve done. When I got the Fashionista job, they called me and said that they wanted me to be the editor there. I had loved the site so much and I was like “they want me to be the editor?” I just couldn’t believe it, that was a defining moment. It meant that I was well respected as a writer and I was going to be a part of the industry. I’d worked at Forbes for a long time and I’d wrote about fashion, but it was from the outside looking in. Suddenly I was part of it and that was really special.

What made you decide to get on board with Fashionista?

I was a reader, I loved it. I thought it was a great site, and I always wanted to work there. I would email them and send them my resume all the time. I really like writing news, and I like writing about the industry rather than writing about trends. That was the base of it, and it still really is. It’s one of the rare places on the web where you can really be honest. There’s not a lot of writing to please people. It’s very unfiltered. That I like.

Even though you're synonymous with Fashionista, you still find ways to be creative, like with your NYFW Instagram series. How do you maintain your own identity?

I’m really lucky that I worked with Forbes because that gave me this thing, I am a fashion writer who writes about the business of fashion. I’ve kind of kept that. I worked at Lucky for a while, and that was the only place that I worked where that wasn’t part of it. The main reason I left was because I really missed writing about business stuff. I would freelance for Ad Age while I was there because I needed a taste. Everyone needs to find the thing that they’re known for and I have really driven home that I write for the business of fashion. I try to write for business magazines as much as I can. I write for places that are focused on on that, so if people need a business story, they’ll think of me. With Fashionista, obviously I have a lot of freedom there, but I really try to come back to the business stuff with whatever I’m writing. Even with the Normal Person Fashion Week thing, the story I did on Fashionista was because I was thinking about personal branding and how personal bloggers have made money from Instagram posts. It was something that I wouldn’t necessarily think about doing, but I wanted to examine it. I questioned What does it mean when I’m tweeting that I’m wearing this lipstick, and that there are people that do that get paid to do it?

You and your husband started up the raddest podcast online where you discuss fashion and tech in reference to current events. How did that get started?

My husband and I worked at Forbes together. He was a tech reporter and I was a fashion reporter. When we started dating, me teaching him about fashion became a big part of our relationship. Even before we started dating, I remember him texting me about some J.Crew jacket he was going to buy. His parents are both very into design, but not fashion. Funny thing is his mom has this sick Sonia Rykiel 1980’s wardrobe. I was never a real techy person, but I cared. We would have these conversations, and we would talk for hours. I would ask him about that industry and he would ask me how the fashion industry works. We would go back and forth. In fashion and tech right now there are so many e-commerce startups and so much money being put into that sector. He listens to these tech podcasts, and I really enjoyed listening to them. I thought we should just do this. We always fight about whose idea it was. It’s been really fun, I enjoy doing it.

You're obviously well versed in web etiquette. What are some big no-nos that people should steer clear of when they're starting to enter the professional world? 

Oversharing. And I’m totally guilty of this sometimes. The other thing that drives me nuts is when people tweet out news stories all day. It drives me crazy. Also, tweeting too much. But also tweeting too little. Just coming out of nowhere after a year and a half, what is the point? Keep up with it and have fun, be yourself. If you do that, it will end up working well for you. I don’t have a huge following, but I feel like the people that do follow me are really engaged and we have a lot of conversations. To me that’s better than having a 100,000 followers who don’t engage or are bots.

What words of wisdom do you have for someone that's looking to enter into freelancing or consulting?

The most important thing is putting yourself out there. You have to reach out to people. There are a couple of publications I’ve been really nervous about reaching, and then I finally did and they got right back to me. Also, there are publications that I pitched to and I never heard from again. You just have to be okay with that, because it’s not personal. People are busy. As a freelancer you are really the last priority. Remember that and just do as much as you can. On the opposite you have to learn how to say no. Also, make contacts that you can reach out to later. It’s really hard. I’m lucky, I’ve been in the industry long enough that I have contacts.

Where do you see fashion tech headed in the future? Or even Fashionista, I know you guys have two new editors.

For Fashionista, the idea is to take it to the next level, make things a little more modern. There’s a lot of competition now. It’s definitely a stalwart in fashion blogs, but there’s just more now. We really want to step up our game. In general, I don’t think tech and fashion have figured each other out yet. There’s just so many startups, some are really promising and some are terrible. We have to keep messing up and trying again. Eventually we’ll get to the point where these startups are doing really interesting stuff. I can look at people who have been successful like Net-a-Porter, Yoox, Farfetch. There aren’t that many great examples. For those three, there are a thousand that failed. It’s a really new and exciting space for the tech world. Better and better stuff will happen. It’s a great opportunity for people that love tech and fashion to have a role in fashion that is different than what they did before. Before you would want to become a buyer or an editor, now you can run an app. Fashion has become such a bigger part of general culture and cultural references over the last fifteen years. The fact that tech is now embracing it fully and trying to figure out ways to use it is super smart.