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Mention you’re after a career in fashion journalism and the likelihood is you’ve already got a series of images in your head: front row seats at London Fashion Week, as silk and chiffon clad models breeze past; glamourous photo shoots with the rich and famous; Miranda Priestley-esque influence. The reality of this notoriously competitive industry paints a rather different picture. Yes, it’s an incredibly exciting position to hold as the mouthpiece of the industry, but the legwork behind the shoots, events and catwalks is often overlooked. I spoke to Carla Challis, Lifestyle Editor at the Press Association, to get the truth about working in such a sought after sector.
Hannah: First of all, can you give me a brief description of your job role?
Carla: I’m the Lifestyle Editor at the Press Association, working on a website for BT.com. My role, first and foremost, is to make sure the Lifestyle channel is packed with content, both topical and evergreen, across a number of sectors including fashion and beauty. I write, commission features, study site analytics, work on strategies and forward planning and work with a commercial team on branded content.
Hannah: What would a typical day be like for you?
Carla; My role is extremely varied and no two days are ever the same. Some days I spend running around town meeting PRs, previewing next season’s collections and attending events, others I’m stuck at my desk staring at a spreadsheet and Google Analytics! Every day starts with a news conference where I meet with the rest of the team on the website to run through our ideas for the day. The rest of the day is then spent writing, commissioning and publishing features.
Hannah: How did you find yourself in this position how long have you been there?
Carla: I’ve been in my current role for 2 years, after being promoted from Fashion and Beauty Editor which I was for 2 years. My career path hasn’t been smooth, and I’ve felt the curse of magazine closures twice and a website closure, forcing me to take on roles that weren’t quite what I wanted, more of a side step. I applied for this role off the cuff, after the website I was working on as Fashion and Celebrity Editor closed.
Hannah: Did your degree/extra-curricular activities help you attain this role?
Carla: For this role in particular, it was my past experience coupled with my solid-journalism training of an NCTJ that cinched it. I didn’t go to university, instead started my working at the BBC as a runner on programmes like Animal Hospital. It was while there that someone suggested I did an NCTJ, as I loved writing and wanted to be a researcher (which uses a lot of the same skills as a reporter). Mine wasn’t the most traditional route but it worked for me!
Hannah: Various sectors of the fashion industry, journalism in particular, have a reputation for being aggressively competitive to break into. Have you found this to be the case?
Carla: I would definitely say so and despite my years of experience, have still struggled along the way. Obviously I can only talk about the journalism side, and I had to really dedicate a lot of time to making it work. Despite working as a news reporter on a local newspaper, I was struggling to break into fashion journalism and spent my annual leave doing work experience at various magazines. I also left a full-time role as a writer on customer magazines to take a paid internship at the (now closed) Sugar magazine on the fashion desk. I was 5 years into my journalism career by this point so it wasn’t something I did lightly. But it opened up a lot of doors for me and gave me real solid grounding for working in fashion.
Hannah: What has been your favourite project during your career?
Carla: Without a doubt, working on Sugar magazine was my highlight. We did shoots every week and I absolutely loved the whole process – even spending hours in the fashion cupboard hanging up clothes for the editors to come in and choose from. I became a proper part of the team and was eventually given responsibility to style reader makeover shoots (always such fun) and feature shoots too.
Hannah: What are the challenges of a career in fashion journalism?
Carla: The challenges of journalism as a whole is that the industry is shrinking, and traditional media isn’t really a thing anymore. Fashion journalism has changed beyond belief since I started out 10 years ago, and now I even feel that blogs are a bit of a thing of the past and it’s all about Instagram.
Hannah: What kind of person would thrive in fashion journalism?
You’ve got to be tenacious, creative, willing to work crazy hours and polite to boot.
Hannah: Do you have any top tips for aspiring fashion journalists?
Carla: Get your social media in check! Just show your flair off wherever you can; show willing for any opportunity to write something or go on a shoot, even if it’s to steam clothes all day long. If you can, find a niche that you’re passionate about and know that niche to death. And if you haven’t had anything published, get your blog up and running so you have something to show a prospective employer.