Editors-turned-media moguls Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power reflect on the decade that has passed since they launched "Who What Wear."
In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.
It's been 10 years since former Elle editors Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power launched Who What Wear, which, at the time, was a daily celebrity style e-newsletter. "It was Hillary and I doing absolutely every element of the business from social media marketing, which mostly took place on MySpace, to creating the art. I taught myself Photoshop and Hillary was writing, uploading and learning how to turn words into hyperlinks," remembers Power. "The day I figured out how to make a word italicized was the greatest day," adds Kerr. Since 2006, Who What Wear has offered endless outfit ideas, style tips and shopping suggestions online.
But over the past decade, Who What Wear has become an ever-evolving, shape-shifting fashion brand, leaving its mark across social media platforms, on bookshelves and soon, in your closet via a collaboration with Target. "When we started the company, if someone asked us what our dream was, we always said to have a line of clothes at Target," says Power. The collection will offer exclusive designs every month inspired by street style and the shopping habits of Who What Wear readers.
While Kerr and Power still maintain a startup-style attitude years after sending that first email blast, their roles and focus have changed from day-to-day business to strategizing their media and commerce company Clique Media Group. (Upon founding Clique Media Group, Power and Kerr expanded into the home and beauty categories with two new websites, My Domaine and Byrdie, in 2013.) We spoke with the two founders about the past decade, how they keep up with digital media and career advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
How have you maintained your audience while introducing new changes and launches through Clique Media Group?
Katherine Power: We really looked at what the audience wanted and we had this constant communication with them the whole time. My Domaine is a perfect example of this. We started testing some content around fashionable rooms or really chic closets and that content did so incredibly well that we thought that there must be something here. We were at the point where we were buying our first home or getting our first grown-up apartment and our readers were in the same place in their lives. So we inherently knew that that was the next step. Then the engagement around that content really helped us to understand what we should be giving them more of. That's how we've always done it: We listen to the readers and look at the data.
From running websites to designing clothing, how do you manage to juggle all of these different projects at the same time?
Hillary Kerr: Katherine always says, "Only do what only you can do." And as we continue to grow, it's always hard to let go of certain aspects of your job that you like and projects that you want to be super involved in but don't have the time to be. Having the right team in place for us in our company has also been huge. But also thinking, "Is this something that only I can do? Or is this something that I can delegate to another really wonderful team member?" It's been a balancing act and I think it will continue to be.
Do you have any mentors?
KP: We have really amazing investors, and one of them is a woman named Dana Settle, who is a partner at Greycroft Partners, our lead venture fund. She has been a tremendous mentor and support system for us throughout each fundraising process and is really the one who urged me to take on the CEO role [in 2014].
HK: It's funny that the idea of a mentor is usually this person who is more experienced than you, but I also think it works just as well when it's someone who has different experience than you do. We have an amazing group of peers and friends who are in the industry — in content in one way or another — and have always been so supportive and helpful.
What do you look for when you're hiring for Clique Media Group?
KP: We definitely look for an entrepreneurial spirit, a very proactive mentality, no entitlement and someone who's willing to do whatever it takes to be successful in their position. They should be able to come into our office and see room for improvement or a new line of revenue or a new story idea that we're not doing and be able to create that themselves.
HK: People who are great, creative and enthusiastic problem solvers. When they are met with some sort of resistance or told no, they can think creatively and figure out a way to make something happen.
What advice would you give to someone who's looking to start their own company or wants to build their online presence?
HK: First and foremost, they should really love whatever it is that they're creating because you spend so much time thinking about work. If you're not really passionate then I can imagine it being a real drag. You have to love, love, love what you're creating. And be smart about storytelling. At the end of the day, the way that you communicate your brand, idea, company, project or vision to the rest of the world is of paramount importance.
How important is it for someone to have a personal brand while working at a place like Who What Wear?
KP: We're seeing that our readers want to connect with individuals and not just a brand. That's one of the reasons that our company has been so successful — Hillary and I are actively involved and are the faces of the brand. So we are really interested in developing our talent to have a deeper connection with the audience.
HK: It's a great thing when a person has a point of view. We encourage them to express that. We welcome anyone who loves what they're doing so much that they're also working on their own personal brand or putting out their own point of view in their spare time. That shows that they understand social media, the industry and the world at large.
Where do you see Who What Wear five to 10 years from now?
KP: I think success for us is not one specific photo but rather the idea of being able to evolve our business every year and within the changing industry. We are not the same business we were five years ago and I wouldn't want to be the same business in five years. What we know we're great at is creating really strong brands and engaging a large group of females, so we want to continue to create entertainment and efficiencies for their lives through our various brands.
Who What Wear for Target is available online and in stores starting Sunday, Jan. 31. You can view the entire collection here.
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