The four speakers at the panel included Melissa Davis, CEO of Ruby Press, Shalwah Evans, BARE's mentor and graduate student at UC Berkeley's School of Journalism, Helen Zhu, UC Berkeley alumnus and founder of popular fashion social networking site Chictopia.com, and Nick Burns, the writer of men's grooming blog hommegrooming.com and graduate student at UC Berkeley's School of Journalism.
The panel opened with the speakers discussing their diverse backgrounds in fashion journalism. Shalwah and Nick revealed that their focus on fashion writing makes them stand out among their fellow graduate students at the School of Journalism, which seemed unnerving at first but has provided them with unique opportunities, such as Shalwah's recent trip to Japan to cover Tokyo Fashion Week. Both grad students discussed their experiences in freelance writing and internships, which includes Cargo Magazine, GQ, and Men's Journal for Nick, and clubplanet.com for Shalwah.
Melissa's start in fashion journalism was as a fashion merchandising student. She and a friend started a zine (imagine a blog on paper) that was featured in the “Zine of the Month” section of Sassy Magazine. By building a relationship with the staff of Sassy, Melissa advanced to interning at Harper's Bazaar when it was at its prime, after three months she received a full time position, eventually going on to editor positions at Mademoiselle, Lucky, and 7x7 magazines before starting her own PR company, Ruby Press.
Helen's background is quite different: she was a mechanical engineering student at UC Berkeley and had extensive experience as a product manager for several dot com companies before founding Chictopia.com, which has over 35,000,000 registered users and has been featured in Nylon and Teen Vogue among other magazines.
When asked where the industry is now, the panelists agreed that though there is a growing prevalence of blogs and online media, magazines are not going anywhere any time soon. The online component of journalism has a growing importance and is even part of the curriculum at the Graduate School of Journalism, but according to all four speakers, people want a tangible magazine in their hands. Still, Shalwah especially emphasized that in order to break into the industry now, it is imperative to not only be able to write well, but to be able to take photos, audio, and video, and edit all of these media yourself in order to stay marketable and to diversity your employment options.
The next topic addressed was how the current recession has impacted fashion journalism. Melissa discussed how her usually selective PR company has had to be more flexible with the contract and fees while still remaining hyper selective on clients. On the other hand, Helen emphasized the importance of connections built through internships. “It's all about who you know,” agreed Nick, referring to a former colleague of his that helped him get a job through her connections at Glamour and Elle. Shalwah, on the other hand, has used the economic recession to get published and build her portfolio by taking opportunities to write for free for publications that have been hiring less paid freelance writers.
The panelists agreed that blogging is a valuable self-promotion tool that is useful for showcasing your talents to your potential future employer. Whether it's Tumblr, Twitter, Blogspot, or Wordpress, Helen emphasized that it is important to establish your online presence on at least one platform depending on your skills. When starting a blog, to distinguish yourself you must pick a unique perspective from which to write ahead of time, added Nick.
The panel was concluded with a word of advice for those seeking to break into the fashion industry, which can be best summed up in Nick's words: “Intern, intern, intern as much as you can and do it well. If you are a bad intern, word gets around.”