Coffee at Detour Cafe 135 Askew Rd, Shepherd’s Bush W12 9AU
Describe your career path in two or three sentences including any twist or turns ending with where you are now and where you see yourself in the future.
There was always an intention to live an imaginative life. It was and is all about stories and ideas. I always knew I wanted to write. Both my parents are writers and I remember looking at my Mum, when I was about 10, she was working at home as a writer with four of us kids running around and I thought that’s what I want to do. I remember saying to myself, ‘I want to write and I want to have a family’.
In terms of my path – it is not a straight line. One of my favourite sayings is from an interview with a Benedictine monk, who said that God writes straight with crooked lines. I think he meant that when you turn around, all you see is a perfectly straight line. This has become a real code to my life. You never know what is around the corner, especially when you are starting out in your career. You might take a job and think it is going to be amazing but it might turn out to be really shit, still, this helps you work out what you don’t want to do in life. And certainly, that happened to me, so, I guess my career path is quite a lot of failing, failing in a good way, failing in a way that helped me work out where I wanted to go.
My first job was a graduate internship in America. I worked as a cub reporter and photographer for a year, first on this tiny newspaper in rural Minnesota and then for its sister paper in Alabama. When I came back to London I was offered a job on a tabloid, the Daily Express. I hated it, mostly because it was not the kind of journalism I was anticipating. I was sent on a death knock in the first week, and was sent to get quotes from the wife of a famous actor who was having an affair on the other side of the world. That’s just two examples of the kind of assignments I was sent off on. While I was busy escaping the newsroom by pitching ideas like ‘pop stars and their mums’ to the features desk (this was one of the first stories I was commissioned, and I loved it. I interviewed Jarvis Cocker’s mum, Noel and Liam’s mum Peggy and Robbie Williams’ mum. It was celebratory and sweet, basically. But the newsroom wasn’t wanting any of that Human story stuff. They wanted the gossip which I refused to do, or found excuses to avoid, so I got fired within a couple of months. To be honest it was a massive relief! Because I failed at that, it helped me realise that writing for a tabloid with absolutely no moral compass just wasn’t for me.
Soon after, I landed a job at Tatler, then Vogue. I remember looking around at Vogue at all the talented, hard working and inspiring [mostly] women and thinking ‘oh yeah, of course… this is where I am meant to be.’
I was head-hunted to join Elle after a couple of years and from there was headhunted to be the European Editor of Teen Vogue, which coincided with the birth of my daughter Dot. Teen Vogue was one of my favourite working experiences because I had a lovely boss, I had a lovely team, who were all in New York, and my role in London meant I was autonomous, and mostly finding new talent and coming up with new ideas — all the things I love.
When did you decide to do something more independent?
My brother Jack and I came up with the idea of launching a hardback fashion annual. He was at GQ Magazine at the time. We both wanted to create something that had fun with fashion, a kind of central point between the Beano (comic) and Vogue because people take fashion very, very seriously. I was told by my editor at Vogue that I didn’t take fashion seriously enough. And she was right, I didn’t care about it obsessively. I love it creatively but I‘m not reverential about it. So Rubbish Magazine came out of the idea to have some fun with fashion. It took a long time because I literally did not know what the hell I was doing, so I really learned how to do it along the way. I never had a business plan. I always start with the concept and then say ‘let’s make it happen’ just kind of lean into the wind, if you like, and feel out through instinct where it will fill my sails.
After issue two published, I spotted a gap in the market and the annual was transformed into a pop up live daily newspaper for London Fashion Week, called Daily Rubbish. The British Fashion Council heard about the idea and by a stroke of luck in terms of timing, suddenly RUBBISH was the official newspaper for London Fashion Week. And the crazy thing was we were called Daily Rubbish(!) — it couldn’t have been more brilliant! I commissioned amazing photographers to shoot for us, and in fact Fabien Baron of Interview Magazine ran a huge story with all the polaroid portraits I commissioned my photographer Anna Bauer to shoot for Daily Rubbish. This level of photographic and journalistic excellence At the end of the second season, The British Fashion Council came back and asked me to create a newspaper specifically for the event, which I would publish, so that was my first contract publishing project. My friend and a brilliant journalist Cat Callender and I co created LFW’s The Daily, a beautiful Berliner format newspaper, printed by The Guardian. The design really was exquisite, thanks to Nick Steel of my Harriman Steel [he was also my art director for RUBBISH and is a brilliant talent in the creative industry].
The Daily went to 50,000 Londoners a day during LFW and to all who attended the shows both front and backstage. It was a community creator, helping tell the stories of what was going on but also inviting industry experts to reflect on the shows that day without the need for sensationalising. It was an insider’s view on LFW and helped market everyone and everything that was part of that season. I’m immensely proud of creating it all those years ago.
And from Rubbish Pencil was born. How did that evolution happen?
I thought Rubbish was going to become a magazine and we would do it once a year but it ended up becoming a shop window for me as an agency. Brands started to approach me and ask if I could develop a newspaper, catalogue or magazine and Pencil was born. We basically became a content agency off the back of Rubbish Magazine. It is always really, really good to put something out there to showcase who you are. I think that you should always do projects you believe in and are passionate about, if you can, because then people understand what makes you unique.
Where Rubbish was mostly about humour, Pencil was about humanising brands. For me, it is all about finding the people behind the brand story and bringing a lightness of touch into it. I think a lot of brands forget that there is an actual human being at the end of the journey and so they use language that doesn’t really make sense and as a result, doesn’t make an emotional connection. Emote, Engage, Inspire, those are the three things I try and bring into the ideas when we are creating stories for brands. It is all about the narrative for me and that comes from always from loving stories. Who doesn’t love a story?!
What decision / experience proved to be the most helpful to your career?
I think creating RUBBISH Magazine, as it led to so much and was truly a pioneering moment in independent print publishing. Also, having the guts to create it in the first place. I talked about it endlessly and remember after a couple of years just going ‘shit, I need to just flipping well do it, don’t I’. So I did. With a lot of help from amazing contributors, of course.
What do you think are the most important qualities for sustaining a fulfilling career(s)?
You’ve got to do what you love. It is all about your passion. When you are doing something that you are proud of and excited by it doesn’t feel like work. Of course, there are still irritating bits like the endless admin but if you are passionate about what you are doing, that helps you ride out all the other stuff. It’s also really important not to have an ego, to be humble and always include and support your team. And finally being flexible. My career has gone in many directions even though I have always remained a storyteller, the kind of clients I work with and the things I do have really changed over the years but I have been able to bend and flex because I have tried to remain open to possibilities.
Also, truly, the most important thing which has informed my career decisions have always been for work to ‘work’ around my kids. Not the other way round. I have managed to do that, whether it’s been working part time, or running multiple projects and having a team to support me when I needed to be home or at school assemblies or netball matches. I wouldn’t have missed any of the school plays for the world, and feel lucky and proud to have been there for my kids throughout my working life too. Their dad used to babysit in the evenings when I had work stuff to do, but I would try and limit that to two nights a week. If not it was just too knackering. You have to draw the line somewhere!
What are the biggest challenges for people wanting to make a career re-entry or re-invention later in life?
I think it’s all about giving yourself permission to not limit yourself and do a bit of soul searching so you can tune into the things you love. Start form that point, ask yourself ‘what do love?’ And ‘what am I good at?’. The rest will flow from there. But know that your wisdom and experience means A LOT! Don’t underestimate that, but equally be open to learning new skills and trying new avenues. Be open, be flexible.
Why do you think so many people are unwilling to talk about the struggles they face?
Talking about your struggle in work is taboo and I don’t really understand why. Perhaps it’s a sign of weakness. Also there’s a fear that if you’re honest about failing, or struggling, that clients will not see you in a positive light. There is this sense that you should always be successful, it’s all tied up with society’s expectation of what success looks like. Definitely, men find this harder than women because I think we are naturally more adaptable. I always tell people the truth. If they ask about work, I will say it is really difficult right now and I am struggling if, say, I’m in-between jobs and I’m hustling my arse off without much return. It doesn’t make any difference. Life is a struggle and it is hard and if more people talk about it and own up to it then we might feel less isolated in our own situations. Work ebbs and flows. Everything does. The tide is high, then it goes out, but it comes back in again, so it’s recognising that and not being afraid of the ups and downs, or acknowledging they exist, even!
What are the opportunities are for people hoping to work into their 50s, 60s and beyond?
The opportunities are there if you have the enthusiasm and if you have something that you can bring to the table. Everyone has something to bring to the table. Wisdom is one of the things you can bring that young people can’t. Certainly, there are industries where newness is valued over experience — you hear it a lot – it’s the ‘let’s get these young, cool people to do this because they will be in touch with what’s now’ kind of narrative.
My solution is to be connected and tuned into the younger generation, always try to actively familiarise myself with the technology young people are using, the different platforms they are communicating with. Try not to find it threatening but instead to embrace it. Be able to move with the times and don’t be afraid to try stuff. A lot of people go ‘Oh, I can’t do that’ but you have to give yourself permission to try. If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter, try something else. I’m not saying get on Snapchat and become a prolific snap
What is your top tip for staying relevant in today’s job market?
To be aware of the younger generations and include them in your working life. I do a lot of mentoring. Work with students, offer to give talks based on what you know and if you do that with no agenda beyond just sharing your knowledge it comes back to you in other ways. Certainly, as women, we can be nurturing. There is a lot we can give and to be honest, every time we do that, we’re creating a wonderful flow in the world of positive energy which benefits not only the greater good, but we can bask in that too.
Recommendation: Favourite book to read, website to browse or podcast to listen to while drinking coffee?
Book: Anything by Phillip Pullman. I’m devastated to have just finished book two of the Book of Dust. How can I wait until the final one comes out? It’s just too tantalising. I am blown away by his writing and the worlds he creates.
Website: I have just discovered Entire World, a relatively new brand from LA. The music on the site, the mood of the imagery, all of it is soothing and slightly cultish. I’m obsessed. I want one of everything.
Also I’m obsessed with my own Instagram for Goddess Charms! I love the challenge of it, trying to create a unique point of view for our customers. I’m not after huge numbers of followers, I just want to have a fan base of truly genuine fans of the brand.
Podcast: The Moth. It’s my dream to one day be on it. I love every story that’s told, pretty much.
Oh, and Desert Island Discs. The back catalogue is wonderful and it’s particularly soothing to tune into when the sky is dark and you’re supposed to be sleeping.