At a time when fashion makes up a bigger part of our cultural lives than ever before, it often feels as though there isn’t enough thorough coverage of the industry. Fashion critics, once a newspaper mainstay, are now a luxury, and business-side reporting seems strangely lacking, giving fashion’s global impact. Fortunately for us, Digiday agreed, and on May 2nd launched Glossy, a publication dedicated to coverage of the fashion and luxury sectors with a focus on how they’re adapting to a digital world. We spoke with Managing Editor Shareen Pathak and Senior Reporter Hilary Milnes about Glossy’s mission, how not to do luxury e-commerce, and why legacy publications are struggling to establish themselves online. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
First of all, since this is a brand new publication, could you just start by telling me what Glossy is?
Shareen: Glossy is a brand new publication, as you said, but we’re also more than that. We’re out of Digiday Media, which is our parent company. To give you some background, Digiday is eight years old. We cover marketing and media, how brands and agencies change. Glossy is a fresh, honest look at fashion and luxury and how those industries are going through these major changes. The idea is that we’re going to cover fashion brands, luxury brands, everything from apparel, to accessories, to media. Media properties like Vogue as they navigate basically this new digital landscape. There’s a lot happening with digital. The way these companies operate is changing, the way these companies work internally and externally is changing. We’re hoping to be the one place to go for people to find out all about it.
Why did you feel like now was the right time to make this move and expand your coverage?
Shareen: I think there’s a couple of interesting things happening in the landscape. For one, I think with our brands coverage at Digiday, we did a really nice job of chronicling what a lot of brands are going through. Then, we started realizing that a lot of these struggles that these brands are facing seem especially interesting in the fashion space. There’s a few different cultural aspects to this. A lot of fashion labels have a stronger identity than other types of brands, for one. Also, a lot of them have very big legacy structures, which makes going digital or changing things around a little harder for them. A lot of those challenges are just more interesting and a lot more pronounced in these industries.
Two, from a larger luxury and socioeconomic perspective, I think there’s a lot of interesting things happening in the world. You’ve got the rise of the super rich — more rich people than have ever existed before with a vast amount of wealth, right? These people are starting to redefine what luxury really means in a lot of ways. We’re trying to understand how brands are figuring out what exactly to do with the rise of these new consumer classes. How do you provide experiences that are tailored to the super rich? For the rich, how do you change existing experiences? Because these rich people look nothing like the rich people from twenty years ago. Then for the middle-class, they’re doing a lot more discretionary spending than ever before. You’ve got this entirely new definition of what it means to be a luxury brand. It just feels like we’re on this cusp of this huge change that’s about to happen, and this is the time to cover it.
Hilary: From an internal standpoint, we were at a place where we had the ability to look beyond the retail coverage that I was doing for Digiday. I think fashion and luxury is the type of industry where it really needs its own space. People who read that want to have that coverage split off, at least for a company like us. It just didn’t feel like it really fit under Digiday for us to go at the speed that we wanted to.
What makes covering the fashion and luxury space different from, say, business coverage of the tech industry? What makes it unique? What makes it fun?
Shareen: It’s a whole new language, and a whole new set of challenges for these companies. For the Glossy podcast, we’re going to bring in people that we think are at the forefront of the change in these places. For our the first episode, we’re going to have the founder of Spring, Alan Tisch. Spring really changed mobile shopping, I think it’s really proven a point when it comes to it. I think a lot of what happened is, you’ve got this increasing divide between brands, you’ve got these legacy brands that were unwilling to change, and now they’re finding it really hard to change. Then you’ve got these new brands that are filling this space and becoming nimble and changing a lot of things.
Hilary: E-commerce is still brand new to some of these brands. For other brands it doesn’t even exist yet, because the people at the top don’t believe in it. They’re really at their own pace, and it just seems like there’s a lot of room to educate the people who are interested in this industry, whether that’s a Snapchat strategy or the internal structure of an e-commerce site. For a person in the tech industry might be like, “Wow, are you serious? It seems like this is very obvious,” but it just hasn’t happened yet for luxury.
Shareen: I think the media side is interesting, too. Hilary wrote a really good story today about Vogue launching a mobile app. We’ve been covering publishers for eight years. We’re a modern publisher, we live modern media, and it’s really interesting that Vogue is launching an app now. It’s April 2016, right?
A lot of our coverage is going to be different from existing fashion and luxury business coverage because I think we’re going to, pardon my language, call bullshit on some of this stuff. We have a brand of humor and we have a brand of fun that we’ve proven over the last eight years, and I think we’ve really made a name by calling things as they are. That’s going to be really a hallmark of our coverage. We’re going to be insiders because we’re part of the community, but we’re not going to be insiders because we just feel like we have to be.
I saw a headline an hour ago that the New York Times is sending 300,000 of its subscribers Google Cardboard VR headsets. Is VR something that you two feel excited about, or is it something you would call bullshit on?
Hilary: In terms of retailers and fashion brands using it, a lot of it is faddy and feels like people trying it for the sake of trying it. It doesn’t really add value in terms of what’s important at the end of the day, which is driving conversion. I think especially in the luxury sector, these brands that have been around forever are struggling. What’s going to actually revive the brand? Is it a streamlined, more concentrated vision for the brand? Or is it going to be VR in one store in Manhattan? I think if brands have the ability to test it out, I don’t think there’s ever a punishment for being early to the game and getting some of the press around this fun experience, but focus on improving your e-commerce site first.
When I think of brands jumping into new platforms early, I think of Burberry, who seems to be first to try everything new. Do you think that eagerness to be on top of every single new development can be harmful to a brand? Or is any press good press?
Hilary: Burberry really sticks out in that way because when you think of luxury going digital, they’re the first name that comes to mind. They’ve taken this approach where they can do so many things that if one thing doesn’t stick, it really doesn’t matter. They built this reputation for being innovators in that space. I think other brands should be a little bit more selective and figure out what works for them.
Shareen: I think the issue with most brands comes down to one of strategy versus tactics. This happens across CPG [consumer packaged goods] brands, it happens across pharmaceuticals, too. There’s this top level of people who too often, I think, worry about tactics but they should be worrying about strategy. Tactics don’t inform strategy, strategy informs tactics.
What happens with tactics is they’ll read an article in, I don’t know, TechCrunch, about Peach. “Oh my god, there’s Peach! Peach is where the young people are. Let’s do a Peach campaign. Put a lot of resources into this.” Have you got the resources for it? Maybe not, but do you have an existing Instagram presence that could benefit from those resources being devoted to it? Maybe! Probably!
A lot of the time, I think there’s a huge divide between what happens at the lower levels of an organization, the people who are really in the trenches, the people who are doing a lot of that work, and the upper levels, who are just reading things on the surface. We call it “exec-level fomo,” because a lot of these decisions are being made purely because of the fear of missing out.
I think Burberry is absolutely a unique example, but that’s because Christopher Bailey is a unique person. You can really see his strategic vision shine through, whereas a lot of companies that rush to copy, or that rush to do a lot of these things, they’re focused not on a strategic vision but a tactical one. I think that’s the thread running through a lot of this internal brand coverage. What does it mean to be a strategic brand versus what does it mean to be a tactical brand?
One more question along these lines, then I want to get back to talking about Glossy. Do you think e-commerce can ever provide a real luxury experience? If so, what does that look like?
Hilary: That’s something we’re trying to answer a lot of the time. When luxury brands first tackle an e-commerce store, they think huge pictures, moving video, and that can slow down the site experience. If you’re just trying to check out what’s on sale and there’s a video playing that’s crashing your computer, that doesn’t feel luxurious.
I was on Gucci’s e-commerce site the other day. They have a good e-commerce store. Everything’s there. You can really shop the runway looks cohesively. They’re selling $30,000 coats in their online store, and then you get to checkout and if you want one-day shipping, it’s $55. If I’m spending $30,000, do I really have to spend $55 more? It’s more about execution, the little technical things that brands need to think about.
Shareen: That’s insane. You can buy a $15 thing on ASOS and it’s shipped free to you.
Hilary: Right, like Amazon. What people want is speed and that extra touch. I think chatbots are interesting. I’m not saying that every brand should be on Facebook Messenger, but I think if you’re going to sell these luxury items online, it’s important to have that point of contact. Someone who’s there 24 hours a day and can really zone in on where you are and figure out the best way to actually deliver the item to you.
What is a quintessential Glossy story topic and what angle are you coming at it from?
Shareen: I’m glad you brought up topics, because I think that’s a good way to get into it. Think of a newspaper. What happens when you open a big newspaper? You get a World section, a Business section, that’s because that’s the way people have learned to read things. This is a website, it’s the internet. A lot of times people don’t even go on the homepage.
We organized our site very differently. We have about fifteen hot topics. Each one represents basically an obsession for Glossy. That can be anything from the Instagram Effect, to The Rise of Streetwear, to Unlocking Luxury. So, if we were to write something about Gucci figuring out e-commerce, that would be Unlocking Luxury. What we’ll do is surface three of those topics on the homepage. Those will rotate as often as we need them to. Maybe they’ll be up there for a week because those three topics are what we’re obsessed with currently. Maybe they’ll change every day because things in fashion change every day, so why shouldn’t the site that’s going to cover the fashion industry and the luxury industry change every day as well? We’re moving along with the pace of the industry, and you can see that as a living thing.
As far as a quintessential Glossy story. For me, there’s a story Hilary wrote for Digiday that remains one of my favorites. Do you want to tell him about it?
Hilary: Yes, I think it was in January, and at the time our Digiday coverage didn’t really allow us to cover the news of every single designer leaving a fashion house or swapping in. 2015 saw a massive amount of change that way. We took a look at it and said, “Why is this happening? What is driving this, especially from a digital perspective?” How has digital and the way that people shop and how they’re seeing everything in front of them on social media driven this to a head and created that domino effect that we saw? Here’s a scenario with a personal, human element. These are still people, they’re not design machines. Why is this happening right now? It really all traces back to digital and technology and social media and the immediacy that it creates.
How do you feel fashion media has changed in the time that you’ve both been involved in some way?
Hilary: Recent years have obviously given rise to more bloggers, like Man Repeller. Business of Fashion has really come up as a strong influencer in the US relatively recently. Then, there are the older players like Luxury Daily and Women’s Wear Daily that feel like they haven’t really changed. The few new players that I read, like The Fashion Law and Fashion Unfiltered, it’s all good stuff, but we really feel that there’s space for a modern publication that acts like a modern publication. That also really does its duty on reporting and goes deep, and shows an honest view, and isn’t a curator or an aggregator, and does it on a daily basis.
Shareen: My short answer would be they haven’t. They haven’t changed. That’s why we’re doing this.
Why do you think these legacy publications have been, a, been resistant to change, and b, struggled when they have attempted to make the jump to digital?
Hilary: I was actually talking about this yesterday with our editor, Brian Morrissey. If you pick up Vogue, there are 500 out of, what, 730 in their March issue, which is their second biggest, dedicated to ads. When you’re a legacy publication like Vogue, you have the leisure that to take your time and. It’s crazy that they launched an app today. It’s crazy that they really fully launched their website in 2010. They’ve really been taking their time. I think, for now, it’s not serving them, because their publication still exists and still attracts all the advertisers, but I think that’s definitely going to change in the next few years. Right now, they’re just not concerned about it as a revenue channel.
Shareen: I think publishers, whether fashion or not, are seeing a reckoning. You’ve got legacy publishers, then you’ve got publishers focused on niche markets. We’re a vertical publisher and we’re very proud of what we’ve done because we have chosen a focus. There’s different ways to go about it. When you launch a new site, you could go really broad. You could say, “I’m going to cover fashion and luxury, and that means I’m going to cover every designer that leaves every fashion house, and I’m going to cover every runway show and whether prints were big this season, and I’m going to cover also the business of it.”
I think the age of distributed, broad media is over. The people who got in a hundred years ago, I think they’re still fine because, like I said, fashion is a closed industry. People will not stop reading Vogue. I don’t think our hope is that people will leave Vogue to come read us, of course. I think there’s a lot of room in the industry for niche, non-distributed models. We’ve seen this happen with the rest of the publishing industry. We cover this all the time. I think the rise of Recode, or a travel-focused publication like Skift, or the rise of Digiday points to this narrow focus for media, and it hasn’t happened in fashion.
I think it’s just that it tends to lag behind. You’ve got the bibles of the industry, then you’ve got these newer upstarts, but the upstarts don’t have editorial rigor and the bibles don’t want to change because what they’re doing is working. There’s no question about it. We fit very nicely into the middle there. We’re doing original journalism and we’re doing it really well, but we’re going to do it with fun, and we’re going to do it daily. We’re not going to do it monthly.