Editors leave magazines to launch fashion brands

When Lauren Chan joined Glamor as a fashion editor in 2015, she was thrilled to write features and attend market appointments. After three years at the magazine, she’d worked her way up to fashion editor, but beneath the veneer of her dream job lurked an uncomfortable truth.

“I was surrounded by straight-sized peers who were actually able to wear the designer clothes we were all talking about,” she says. As her frustration with the lack of high-end plus size clothing options continued to simmer, Chan decided to quit Glamor at the end of 2017 to launch Henning, a line of stylish plus size staples that includes oversized blazers, bodycon skirts and bodycon dresses in soft knit. (Prices are in the contemporary range: a cashmere sweater is $249, leggings $269.)

At the time, Glossier founder Emily Weiss was already well on her way to turning her editorial experience into a billion-dollar beauty brand, but the number of publishers who had abandoned publishing to design clothing or beauty products remained negligible. (Betsey Johnson and Vera Wang, who held editor-in-chief titles at Mademoiselle and Vogue, respectively, are notable exceptions.) An investor once remarked to Chan that she was learning to build an airplane at the same time she was piloting it.

Canadian fashion journalist Anya Georgijevic, photographed for the FT by Steph Martyniuk

But the trickle of journalists and editors leaving the industry to create their own brands has now become a constant spurt. That same year, Chan launched Henning, former British Vogue editor Lucinda Chambers created the quirky and colorful Colville Official alongside former Marni design director Molly Molloy. Over the past two years, Coveteur co-founder Erin Kleinberg has launched Sidia, a line of work-from-home-friendly caftans; Canadian fashion journalist Anya Georgijevic showcased luxury “slow fashion” line Anushka Studio, and former Vogue editor/editor Jane Herman launched jumpsuit brand The Only Jane. This summer, Isabel Wilkinson, the former digital director of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, launched Attersee, a laid-back line of stylish basics that looks like a slightly less austere version of The Row, and Kristen Bateman, journalist of fashion for Vogue and the New York Times, presented Dollchunk, a kitsch-cute line of plastic jewelry.

“When you’re a publisher and an entrepreneur, you’re in this constant phase of market research,” says Kleinberg. “Editors are really like investigative journalists who are able to identify what is missing in the air. It’s their job to listen to comments, to dig into what readers want and don’t want.

After leaving The Coveteur, she founded the branding agency Métier Creative, which counts Ouai Haircare, Playboy and Disney among its clients. With Sidia, Kleinberg fully intends to create a modern global heritage brand – its role models are Canadian mega-brands Canada Goose, Lululemon and Mejuri. The first sales paint a promising picture. All of Sidia’s major product launches have sold out within a week and the customer return rate is 40%. “It’s about creating a legacy,” she says.

Isabel Wilkinson, former digital director of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, photographed at home for the FT by Sean Pressley

Fashion journalism has a much stronger visual component than other beats, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that many of its practitioners have other forms of creativity that require a different outlet to express themselves. As editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Wilkinson’s greatest pleasure was sharing stories that transported readers to a different realm. “At Attersee, it’s a remarkably similar idea, although the medium is different,” she says.

There is also the question of starting a business. The once-glamorous publishing industry has unmistakably lost its luster, and relatively meager salaries, once supported by perks like car services and clothing budgets, have held steady for decades.

Starting a brand offers the opportunity not only to earn more than one’s previous career, but also to recover social capital. “There’s a certain sexiness and allure that comes with being a successful start-up founder,” says Susanna Kislenko, a research fellow at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. “We give founders a high status in society as a whole. In a way, it makes sense to me that people who are good at crafting stories and narratives are drawn to building an outward-facing brand.

Already having a career in contact with the public can be a major advantage when it comes to building a brand. Many of these journalists have a built-in audience that they can convert into customers. “Literally, 100% of my sales come directly from my Instagram and TikTok, where I’ve built a following based on my work,” Bateman says. Chan agrees that her time as editor gave her the credibility she needed to build a brand. “Our first clients were people who had read my pages in Glamour. I would go so far as to say that a big part of the success of the business was that I had the opportunity to be a consumer-facing fashion editor whose content was focused on plus-size fashion.

Coveteur co-founder Erin Kleinberg, photographed for the FT by Steph Martyniuk

While turning his public platform into a successful brand can be a balm for low publishing salaries, it’s a risk for those who don’t have the family money to sustain the business. “I’m trying to get to grips with the idea of ​​being in the red,” says Kleinberg. “As a business manager in the past, I have always been focused on profitability, but the very idea [with Sidia] is to grow and evolve. Georgijevic, which is self-funded, has recouped 80% of its initial investment after the release of its first collection and hopes to break even next year.

There may not be a singular factor that causes publishers to put down the red pen and pick up the pinking shears, but it helps that the barriers to entry to starting a clothing business have never been also low. “You can hire someone who’s really good at digital marketing and build your customer base,” Chan says. “It’s much easier to start.”

Fashion itself has also fragmented to the point that the big, global trends that once shaped the way people dress have been replaced by microtrends (low-rise pants) and niche aesthetic subcultures (cottagecore “). Even the smallest brands can be successful if they are able to connect with an audience that values ​​them. And the more specialized a brand is, the more loyal its customers are likely to be.

As saturated as the market is, there always seems to be room for something more.

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