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On March 14, Fashion@Brown welcomed Amy Synnott, an award winning writer, lifestyle expert, content strategist and brand builder and Julee Wilson, the director  of beauty at Cosmopolitan Magazine and world renowned beauty expert for its annual Speaker Series. The talk, moderated by sophomore Thalia Bonas, included discussions of Synnott and Wilson’s experience in fashion journalism, promoting diversity in the industry, and the future of print in a media-driven world.

Bonas began the conversation by asking how the journalists look for inspiration for their articles. Synnott spoke to the importance of consuming credible information constantly, something that became ever more important during the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, Synnott discussed how “being in the mix” provided fresh and original inspiration for pieces. “Sometimes you would pick up the most interesting things backstage or even at a fashion show not based on what was on the runway but on what people were talking about.” The pandemic fundamentally altered the ways in which fresh ideas were garnered. Her advice: reading constantly, and from a diverse range of media platforms. “I try to go to things that reach a different demographic,” from TikTok to Twitter. “Reading has always been incredibly important for me as a journalist, but I feel like the pandemic, we relied on this kind of virtual world more than ever,” ultimately changing “how we assimilate information.”

Wilson echoed Synnott’s point, emphasizing the value in talking to people across social media platforms. “My DMs are constantly lit because I’m constantly having conversations and debating with people about different topics,” the beauty editor explained. “A lot of the times, that is the catalyst for many of the stories that I work on at Cosmo.” As a journalist, Julee encouraged thinking about, “How does that conversation change how we approach stories.”

Both Synnott and Wilson spoke of the experiences and distinctions from the variety of publications they worked on throughout their career. Wilson explained that her experience at each publication has been “vastly different.” Wilson began as an assistant to the editor in chief at Real Simple and later transferred to the fashion department. By 2011, Wilson realized that, “magazines were folding and keeping their digital,” providing the impetus for her transition to Huffington Post. Wilson “learned digital and learned it fast,” transitioning from writing four to five stories a month to publishing three to five stories a day. By the time she left, she had over 2,500 clips to her name. Wilson’s next position at Essence “was like, you go to black girl magic headquarters.” Working at Essence allowed Wilson, “to create the type of work and stories that would bring me to bring Cosmo.” Wilson welcomed an entrance back into mainstream media, where the need for diversity and inclusion was great. Speaking of her career at large, Wilson explained that it was “nice to create a career that allows you to move the needle when it comes to,” diversity and inclusion. After  the summer of 2020 and the country’s reckoning of racial injustice, Wilson spoke of the gratitude and importance of “having this platform at the biggest young womens media brand in the world.”

Synnott spoke of how much each publication she has worked on has changed. The journalist joined InStyle as it was pioneering a new genre of celebrity journalism, in which the, “DNA of the brand was about making this rarefied world more accessible to the average person.” Harpers Bizarre was very different, focusing on high fashion and “an incredible legacy of artistic collaborations.” For Synnott, the experience was, “creatively exciting,” as the publication’s smaller staff allowed editors to be “intimately involved in the creative side.” The publication pushed staff to, “make the impossible possible,” a goal that was, “very challenging but also extremely creatively rewarding.” Of all three, Synnott believes Elle was the most intellectual, covering substantive features on politics and true crime. Its identity as, “the ‘thinking womans’ fashion magazine” appealed to “a younger demographic and an edgy sensibility.” But as Synnott highlighted, each brand is undergoing extreme change.

The discussion focused substantially on the rise of social media and its impact on the future of print. When asked about how media platforms have helped and hindered the fashion industry, both Synnott and Wilson provided excellent perspectives. Synnott explained that social media provides a level of transparency and accountability unavailable a decade ago, but highlighted the deep concerns she experiences as a parent. For Synnott, social media is like “an animal that’s been unleashed,” both by accelerating social progress and spreading substantial misinformation. Wilson agreed, describing it as a blessing and a curse. Although social media provides a creative outlet to discuss stories and enables people to “own your own narrative,” it can be dangerous for its impact on mental health. Wilson emphasized working to counterbalance posts,“with knowing your worth and living your life” so as to “not necessarily being drowned in your feed.”

Both panelists also emphasized how the multi-faceted nature of their work and the adaptability of their skills as journalists has made their work transferable to new career opportunities. Wilson pointed out that journalist’s futures used to follow a narrow path, but now editors are taking jobs on different platforms. Take Michelle Lee, who recently became the Vice President of Global Editorial and Publishing at Netflix while previously working as Editor in Chief for Allure Magazine. “People will always have a desire for storytelling and its evolving the way that it is delivered,” Synnott claimed. Despite “going through some growing pains,” she emphasized that “it’s just a matter of how nimble these brands are going to be.”

Diversity in the fashion industry was also a central focus of the discussion. Wilson described that the summer of 2020 was a true reckoning which created an uptick of diverse hiring within the industry.  “Is this affirmative action? No, it's talented people who have been overlooked before, and are now being seen for what they can actually offer companies and organizations.” Wilson described that her goal when joining Cosmopolitan was to “sprinkle some black girl magic around the publication.” She describes the responsibility to hold the door open for other minorities in the industry and the importance of a diverse industry: “The filter as a black woman is unique and special,” and can write, “in a way that stories haven’t been told before.” As an example, Wilson described her stories on hair bonnets, a beauty ritual not covered or discussed by major populations but central to the lives of women of color. 

Synnott emphasized the shift, telling listeners that 40 percent of models in the Spring 2022 fashion shows were women of color. Even so, Synnott raised the question of whether these models were working as freelancers, or if modeling agencies had become more inclusive in who they signed. Additionally, Synnott questioned when designers and CEOs would become more representative; she discussed how Virgil Abloh’s role as creative director of Louis Vuitton was a breakthrough in the industry, but hoped to see more inclusivity in the future.

Synnott also discussed her new venture as the founder of Metaspark Media, a boutique digital consultancy firm working to advise on the growing role of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). NFTs, a unique data unit that can be bought and sold, are at the cutting edge of technological change. For Synnott, NFTs foster brand accessibility and reduce environmental impact. “If you’re 15 years old, you’re not going to buy a D&G dress but in some realm you can,” Synnott explained. “There is a large opportunity in digital fashion but also helps to navigate the environmental impact of cryptocurrencies.” Synnott’s goal is to make all this more accessible for the people to put money back in the pockets of…the people who are pioneers in this space to develop this in a way that is environmentally responsible and ethically responsible.”

As the discussion wrapped up, both Wilson and Synnott imparted advice for listeners hoping to pursue a career in fashion journalism. Synnott explained how the central driving force for journalists must be a passion for storytelling and the written word. She emphasized a liberal arts education and throwing yourself into the mix. In Synnott’s own experience, it was her obsession with getting clips that filled her time into the early hours of the morning. “You have to be hungry like that,” she explained to listeners. It’s more than being a face at events; prospective journalists must have a “fundamental deep appreciation for the written word.”

Wilson agreed and shared the realities of her work. She emphasized that the industry is not lucrative and demands a high level of commitment and work. “You have to love this…you have to be passionate, it has to be something that you’re always wanted to do.” Synnott built upon it, sharing that the realities of the industry made journalism an industry difficult to find a place in. Her best advice was to continually focus on developing skills and staying on top of the latest technology. “Your career is not a static thing. When something like that does happen, you have to be nimble and find a way to evolve. Whether your passion is fashion or writing or both, there’s many different outlets for that.”

As the talk ended, both shared the sentiment that journalism demands commitment, passion, and determination. Covering diversity, the future of print journalism, and the skills needed to succeed, Amy Synnott and Julee Wilson shared their unique experiences and learned advice. Listeners were lucky to listen to their dynamic and instructive discussion, and F@B looks forward to following their careers and integrating their advice into members’ future pursuits.

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