I remember reading articles written by alumni when I was still a pupil at Merchant Taylors’ Girls’ School. The smiles of successful doctors, lawyers and vets beamed out from the pages of the school magazine. Their careers were impressive, but they weren’t pathways I aspired to. I hated (and I mean absolutely despised with a vehement passion) every single P.E. lesson I ever had, so I couldn’t relate to the women who had gone on to great sporting achievement either. I found out later that it didn’t matter – just because I wanted to do something that no one else had done before, didn’t mean it wasn’t possible.
My career in fashion journalism started in the classrooms of five teachers. Miss McWatt was happy for me to spend my lunchtimes sketching fashion illustrations in her studio. Mr Donnan taught me how to write news stories (I still have a piece I wrote age 13, pretending to be a reporter for The Sun newspaper, which is part of the News Corporation that I now work for!) Madame Mistry, Mrs Whalley and Mrs Doyle taught me French and Spanish, the languages I would go on to study at Durham University and still use today when dealing with foreign fashion houses. It was an amalgamation of their skills, and of their encouragement, that allowed me to forge a career that none of us had any experience of.
It wasn’t hard, however, to come by the experience I needed. Fashion is an industry where you learn the ropes by shadowing as many people as possible, and enthusiasm will get you everywhere. I interned at magazines in my breaks from University term time, and it helps if you can write as much as possible on small platforms too – whether that’s a blog, a website, or contributing to independent magazines. My first paid writing job paid me just 1p per word! After leaving University I went on to obtain a Master’s degree in fashion journalism from London’s Central Saint Martins, whilst doing a full time one year internship at ELLE magazine. It took me a while to get a ‘proper job’ as a fashion writer at The Times, but persistence paid off.
The skills and values instilled at Merchants can be applied to any career – little things, no matter how unusual, do grow in harmony. At school, I wasn’t one of the cool kids; I certainly never imagined I would have the chance to sit front row at Milan fashion week. But that’s the great thing about growing up – who and what you become, is entirely up to you.