Naomi started at Vogue as a freelancer in the jewelry market department. She worked her way up to become a full-time fashion market assistant and now primarily handles the front of book shoots; her specific markets include Swim, Lingerie, Knits, Tees, and Fur.
This interview took place between Tate and Naomi at The Wing in New York
Editor: Essence Moseley
TVPS: So how did you get to where you are today?
NE: I would have to say around my sophomore year of high school I started to recognize my interest in fashion. I was applying to schools and seeing where I wanted to go, and Florida State was one of them.
Where are you from originally?
I'm from Davie, Florida. When I was researching schools, Florida State had one of the best programs for what I wanted to major in. So, I decided to go there. They also had this whole in-college magazine called Clutch. It's really cute. I got involved with that during my years of college.
In my freshman year, I was super involved with clubs, and I was also an on campus ambassador for ASOS and Rent the Runway. Then going into my sophomore year, I did my first internship at Seventeen Magazine.
What does a brand ambassadorship entail?
ASOS and Rent the Runway would send us products, and then we would host events on campus. One of the events that I did was in collaboration with Clutch. I brought all of these ASOS cups; getting people to take photos with them and there were also all of these other incentives.
Oh cool. That was also right at the beginning when Instagram was becoming a new tool for marketing.
It’s crazy when I think about it. They were so ahead of the game when it came to influencers and campaigning, because they knew that these kids were going to buy what their friends had. It was a super cool experience, I took a trip to New York and got to visit the ASOS showroom, and meet with all the PR people there.
I was this bright-eyed young girl who wanted to get into the industry so badly, and I do really feel that my internships on campus and my involvement with our school magazine Clutch, helped me get that first internship at Seventeen Magazine. I was like "I'm not going to let anything hold me back. Just because there are kids that are doing three, four internships in New York during the school year, I can still get an internship during the summer if I work my ass off.
That's so smart. You're one of the first people that I’ve interviewed that got involved in fashion while not at a city school. That had to have made a huge impact.
Yeah, I originally really wanted to go to NYU, but it was just too expensive and I had a scholarship to go to Florida State. I remember when I got that email from Seventeen. I was so happy. That was my first summer in New York; I was living on the lower east side. It was the picture-perfect moment for my first time living here.
Yeah, it was like your introduction to everything.
Yeah, it really was. At Seventeen, I was a fashion closet intern. I met a lot of people that I'm still in touch with. You learn so much. When I first went on set, it made me realize how much I enjoyed working in magazines, whether it's in styling or market.
After Seventeen, what did you do?
I went back to school and continued with the brand ambassadorships. I also did this other brand ambassadorship with a local boutique called Henri Girl. It was an amazing experience and I got to know the retail side.
I think it’s very important when you’re first starting out, to see as many sides of the industry as possible.
Definitely. I knew that I wanted to go into magazines so I made sure to intern in PR so that I could see the other side. I did one PR internship with Anthropologie and then went on to work at HL group as an Account Coordinator. Both these experiences have helped mold my work ethic and how I handle stress.
What were your expectations for your first internship versus reality?
I think when I went into my first internship, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought maybe something from along the lines of when Lauren Conrad interned at Teen Vogue on The Hills.
This was my real first time living in New York and being delved into a very fast-paced environment. I came from a small town. So, being in New York was a whole new experience. It helped mold me into the person that I am today because I don't have high expectations for anything. I kind of go into it with a clear mind.
When you first started at Vogue, you were the freelance jewelry market assistant, how do you think you made yourself stand out?
I think it was just my willingness to learn and eagerness to want to grow in the company and that's what they recognized. Every time I was given a task, I just wanted to do it well and see what else I could do.
So now you’re the Fashion Market Assistant at Vogue, can you give an overview of your role?
Ahh yes, I wear many hats in my role. I directly assist my boss who is the Fashion Market Director, so that entails scheduling and acting as a liaison between her and the other editors when needed. I also handle all of the front of book shoots for the magazine; these include the smaller beauty shoots and the profiles we do on designers, artists, actresses, etc. In addition, my specific markets include Swim, Lingerie, Knits, Tees, and Fur. These markets are fun though, I usually have a bit of free reign to interpret the stylist’s vision and bring it to life!
There’s been a lot of controversy on fur lately, what are your thoughts on that movement?
The Anti-Fur Movement is a movement I respect. It exposes the fashion industry to understand their ecological footprint, especially in the current state of the economy and climate. I don't wear fur personally, but a lot of my friends wear vintage fur that has been passed down in their family. There’s also the conversation about re-worked fur - Yves Salomon did an amazing job at this in his FW17-18 Pieces collection which is made up of unused and unsold fur pieces stitched together. This collection also informed a lot of people about the process in which his fur is made and then further went on to explain how not all faux-fur is good for the environment because of the harsh chemicals, oil, and plastic that some brands use. This is something I did not know before this collection was brought to my attention. At the end of the day, I stick by my decision to not wear fur, but I understand this is not the case for others. I just only hope they are educating themselves in their purchases and understanding the process in which their fur or faux fur is made.
Agreed, I think consumer knowledge is huge and it’s the reason why most of my clothes are thrifted. But when it comes to fur, is there a difference between wearing it and eating a hamburger?
That’s such a good conversation to have because it's the same with wearing leather. I will never wear fur, but I do own leather pieces which have me questioning my own values on why I am not comfortable wearing fur but at the same time I wear leather.
I personally wear vintage fur, but perhaps if you don’t, is it about taking baby steps? First, maybe you stop wearing fur, and then stop wearing leather, and then start taking steps to become a vegetarian?
Exactly. Not sure if I’ll ever make it to Vegetarian though!
Fur was so big in the 90s as well, and I just remember growing up seeing my Aunt’s and Uncles wearing fur and thinking to myself how regal and how polished they looked. We’ve grown up to equate fur with a sense of status. This sense of being rich, and all of that, so it's kind of hard to steer away from that mentality, but I think it's a lot about educating yourself and educating others, and...
Having conversations, but in a civil way, because everyone has different beliefs and maybe you can’t change their opinion but you can show them your side and hear their side as well.
Exactly. There’s rarely a benefit to getting worked up. But by staying calm and listening to the other side, you might be able to make a stronger case for what you believe in.
Agreed. You're not going to change anyone's opinion if they’re as adamant as you are on yours. The only thing you can do is have an adult conversation with that person, and learn from them, and they can hopefully learn from you as well. Maybe take away one or two things from what you said, and vice versa.
Are there any specific things that you’ve learned from your position now?
Just how to work efficiently and with others. I feel like that's what I struggled with growing up, as well as into college and in my early career. Sometimes I felt like if I needed help, it meant that I couldn't do the job myself or as well as I wish I could. But my workplace is such a collaborative environment; everyone wants to see everyone succeed. So from that, I’ve learned to take others advice and see how my work can go from one place to the other in a very positive way.
Also, a sense of urgency and learning how to prioritize. So if there are requests for a shoot that's happening on Friday and today’s Tuesday; I need to make those requests first. Or let's say it was around New York Fashion Week and my boss leaves in a week for Europe, then I need to be doing her Milan schedule… like yesterday.
So in your current position a lot of PR’s are pitching to you, what makes a pitch stand out?
Well of course if the person who's emailing me is familiar, but either way I do try to answer every single email that is sent to me. I really try to, because they are putting time in these pitches and it's all about relationships as well. I want to be the best market editor in the sense that I can still have these relationships with the PR’s, maintain what I'm doing in the daily at my job, and just juggle it all in a very time efficient way.
In general, though the subject line is important and has to grab your attention, the body of the email has to be short and get to the point. Half the time when I open an email, I'll get stopped to do something else.
In the fashion industry, long hours and hard work are to be expected. With these expectations in mind, what makes a good boss?
I think a good boss recognizes your workload and gives you a timeframe that makes sense for the amount of work you need to get done. If they’re asking a lot from you, they’ll offer resources or an open door policy so that you can ask them questions and complete your work in a timely manner.
Right, so giving you the ability to do a good job. And what makes a good assistant?
I think it's getting to know your boss and trying to not just keep it on a boss/assistant relationship, where it’s very cut and dry. You want to get to know them as a person and understand what they like and don't like and what they react well to. Then, you can really be the best assistant possible.
Also, listen to everything that they say and just continue to learn from them. Don't shoot anything down that's said to you, keep open ears.
Like taking critique well, in a way?
Yeah. I'm always asking, "How can I improve?" Even to my colleagues that I work with, I'll ask, "How can I help you?" because at the end of the day I want to only positively impact the magazine and have a part in making it even more amazing than it already is. I'll ask anyone, from the freelancers to the highest senior editor that I work with. I think it's very important to understand what you're doing well in your job and also what you may be lacking.
For sure, it only makes you better.
Yeah, because then you can build from it. I know, criticism is really hard to take, especially if you're not necessarily expecting it and it's just sprung on you. I've learned from my friends and my parents to listen, take it in, learn from it, and improve from it, so that it never happens again and that's the last time that they talk to you about it.
It's also all about knowing the specifics of their own likes and dislikes, too. My boss in the past loved if I texted them, but that doesn’t mean I can necessarily do this with another boss.
Yeah, this is the most learn on the go industry ever.
Honestly, that’s how I would describe it. I am so lucky to work in an environment where I am surrounded by young talent as well as the more seasoned editors; there’s so much to learn.
That's such an incredible place to be, where two generations combine. Or multiple generations.
Multiple generations. There are so many interesting people that I work with. To even get to go to the office in the morning and be around these people, I'm so happy and so thankful for it. It's always been a dream of mine to work at Vogue since I was a sophomore in high school. The masthead was on my inspiration board.
And now your name is on it!
Yeah. My first masthead I was like, "Mom and Dad, I really hope you laminate this and frame it."
Front and center!
Is there an impact that you would like to have on the industry?
Yeah. It's such a hard thing to describe. I think being a young African-American woman, both my parents were born in Haiti and are of Caribbean descent. There are not that many women of color in the industry so I would love to show other young black girls that it's possible. When I was in high school, I didn't really see anyone in my position that looked like me or had the same hair as me. So, that’s really what gave me the drive to become that person for myself and in return one day become an inspiration to others.
I love that. Are there any specific ideas that you have for how we could see more change?
It's such a big conversation because it touches on the topics of race, equality, and class. Not to mention, girls that grew up in poor neighborhoods and didn’t have the same resources as I did. They don't have that same drive because they see it as impossible. It's an issue of our country as a whole. But I do think investing in workshops with these girls could start the change that we want to see.
Like Red Hook Labs; I love what they’re doing.
And where do you want to go next?
I think there are so many different paths to be taken but right now I'm taking in as much as I can and truly having an incredible time in what I’m currently doing. I’ve seen myself grow so much and I am excited to see what’s next down the road.
I do know my end goal in a sense - I want to be a bomb ass boss chick. I want to do something for the industry, and put my own take on it.
I love that.
I think people put too much stress on where they’re going next. It's funny, because if you take where you are now, and you asked yourself five years ago where you would be, I bet you could never have guessed that all of these things would have equated to where you are now.
I would have laughed. I would have been like, "No, that's not happening. It’s too dreamy."
Where I'm at in my head space emotionally and professionally, I'm so happy, and I just want to continue that. Who knows what's next. I’m excited and have a good feeling about it, but today I'm focussed on enjoying every second of where I’m at now.
And that's the way it should be. What advice would you give to someone who looks up to you?
Don't doubt yourself. Just go after what you want. Don't let anyone tell you no. I had so many people tell me no, including my parents. They did not want me to do fashion. They only realized that I was doing well last year when I was like, "my name's on this," and it was the Vogue masthead.
But I know that they believed in me, even though they did not support it. So I think it’s about going with your gut. I left a full-time position at the HL Group that had a good salary with benefits, for a freelance position at Vanity Fair, with a way smaller salary and no benefits. I missed a trip to Thailand for it. Still salty about that. But looking back it was the right move because it got me to where I am today.
It all comes full circle. You may not be seeing results right now, you may be in the lowest position of the low, but always do your best. It will be recognized because people will recommend you. Every job you have, put the most effort into it because you never know where it may lead. So, just do you. Be you. Be great.