Heartleigh Little | Freelance Fashion Journalist
I grew up with an obsession for magazines. From the age of ten, I can remember devouring pages and taking every opportunity I could to pick up an issue of Vogue. I was obsessed with models, clothes, designers - everything fashion. I decided at an early age that I wanted to be part of that process. When I moved to New York to attend NYU, I was completely inexperienced and naïve about this industry. Through some good connections and finagling my way through the depths of the internet, I was able to get in touch with a few assistants at magazines, and landed my first internship. I began working as an editorial intern at CR Fashion Book, run by Carine Roitfeld, not understanding at the time what a momentous career move that would be. Once I graduated and struggled to secure a full time contract with the company where I was working at the time, I decided to abandon hope of a “nine-to-five” and jump into the world of freelance. I offered myself as an intern to stylists’ whose work I admired, and within the first week of sending cold emails I had set up a few interviews. Unexpectedly, one of those stylists emailed me frantically as her assistant had fallen ill and she needed a last minute replacement. I filled in for three days, and must have made a good impression because she continued to hire me. My mom always says that work begets work; and as I continued to book small jobs, more and more emails came through asking for my assistance. By December, I was working full time and making enough to support myself financially. Nearly two years later, I can count a number of international publications, commercial clients and celebrities I have worked for.
Working in the fashion industry in New York, you begin to see how small the community is and how little room there is for new ideas. When I began working, I was excited by every job I booked as it was all so new; it gave me independence and I felt that I was constantly learning.
"Around the one-year mark, I found myself constantly frustrated with the lack of outcome for as much work as I was putting into the job."
Working as a fashion assistant is incredibly stressful, as every project is without fail thrown together last minute. I wanted to be challenged in a way that was creatively stimulating and pushed me to exercise my skills, rather than stressing myself with deadlines to get the right look from Valentino or making sure I had enough red stilettos on set. My work didn’t differ from that of any other assistants, and I felt that I was becoming less and less valued in an industry full of young people competing for the same position.
In the spring of last year, I found myself drowning in fashion cynicism. I was leaning on criticism rather than taking action into my own hands and being creative in a way where I felt valued for my time. While working full time as an assistant, I was too exhausted to scrap together shoots of my own work. I had no creative outlet. Then, I returned to my writing; It became a place where I had the freedom to explore different subjects, challenge myself mentally, and push ideas further on paper than I could in the real world. I realized that this revival of passion I felt for writing would lead me to my next career move. Not wanting to abandon the contacts and resources I collected over the years, fashion journalism revealed itself as a clear cut path. I applied to Saint Martins on a whim, but when I was offered a spot on the course, it was an opportunity I just couldn’t turn down.
"I’ve always been a little weird - convention just doesn’t suit me."
My work is based more than anything on personality, on understanding that there is something deeper than the surface value of fashion. I love reading critical theory - Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin - and thinking how fashion can be explored in a more interpersonal, exploratory way.
Working in fashion has allowed me experiences that I never dreamed of. The biggest advantage is the aspect of collaborative process and getting to work with stylists, photographers and fashion that I’ve idolized since childhood. There is so much to learn and observe when being exposed to industry veterans with 20, 30 plus years of notoriety. Just to be in the same room as them is inspiring. That being said, it’s easy to get sucked into the fashion world and lose touch with reality. It is a small and tightly knit community that can be really self-absorbed at times. Taking a step back every now and then is healthy. The best piece of career advice I’ve ever received is to never discount a relationship. I learned early on that you will rarely meet someone and only work with them once. All of my jobs have come from referrals and it is essential to respect your peers. You never know who you could be asking for work in a couple of years. Even the smallest actions like grabbing a coffee for the makeup artist or saying hi to the producer can make an impact. We are in a people pleasing industry and you have to always remember that.
"It’s taken a while to learn, but I’ve finally accepted that it’s alright to be scared."
Working freelance, every next day was filled with uncertainty - when will my next paycheck come? will my job come through next week? What got me through this was self confidence and knowing that I was good at what I did and that was enough. In taking that risk, I’ve learned to embrace my skills and be proud of every small accomplishment. I would never have quit my job and moved to London had I not built my experience working freelance. Knowing that my fear will be overcome by accomplishment has pushed me to chase my dreams.
The career advice I’d give to a reader is to fake it ‘till you make it. This sounds cliché, but it is absolutely true. So much of what we do as creatives is learned by doing, and often, there is no better way to do so. Approaching a situation with openness and confidence will absolutely transform the way people look at you. You can only move forward if you give yourself the opportunity. So be proud of who you are, be proud of what you want, and go get it.
I think that fashion is at an incredible time where gender issues are being explored openly and without barriers. This is one of the few industries where men and women potentially hold equal power – I’ve never felt less than or compared to a man in any of my positions. Fashion is meant to interpret our world in this moment - and what an amazing moment it is to be a woman! Right now, the creative industry is being led at such an exciting pace by women. More than ever I feel a collective pride for working women that only seems to be growing with each day.