Here it is, the first interview in the series where I will speak with vintage business women about what they do, how they do it and the times when they have failed. First cab off the ranks is me and this was more daunting then I thought it was going to be. And a little weird.
I hope you find these interviews inspiring and informative. You can read about the ideas behind this series here.
What is Lila Jean Vintage and how did it start?
Lila Jean Vintage started out as an idea casually thrown out over coffee with a friend. At the time the only publications I could find that addressed vintage were Vintage Life in the UK and Vintage Made which came out twice a year in Australia. While these are great publications, for me they were missing the sense of nostalgia and social history, which is what I loved so much about vintage fashion. Also, so much vintage is pinup or rockabilly – of which I am neither – and while I can appreciate these aspects, the saturation in the market meant that I felt there was room for a different kind of vintage magazine. A magazine that focused on the people who wore it first, that took inspiration from their stories and really went to the heart of vintage. Stories that reflected social history and how Australia has changed – through personal narratives, architecture, fashion, objects, beauty, even cooking. It’s my aim to maintain these stories through the new look website, still presenting beautiful visuals with unique and engaging content.
When creating the magazine I was hoping to encourage people to become more observant of the world around them, to look up from their smart phones and take pleasure from the simple things. Being in that fortunate (or unfortunate) position to have known a time before the internet, before digital, before mobile phones, before computers and to now be in a place where they appear to dominate my life – I have moments where I long for simpler times. A time when relationships weren’t determined by a Facebook announcement and destroyed by a Facebook photo; when you found out your best friend was engaged via a phone call to your land line, not a ring shot on Instagram; when people on a bus read books, not kindles; read maps, not a GPS; when the ability to switch off just meant turning off your television, not five separate digital mediums. Digital technology is invented to make out lives easier and to “connect” us better with the world, and in some ways it does – I’m more connected to my friends in England then I would have been fifteen years ago but I’m less connected to the people I see everyday, the strangers I encounter on my way to work, my own family – Lila Jean Vintage attempts to reconnect, to take the time to ask the important questions and to make time to hear the response.
Why did you decide to create a print publication?
I’ve always loved print media and even though I’ve built a career around online communications, I’ve always very much been an advocate for print. So I guess deciding to jump head first into the very expensive world of print was part stubbornness and partly because I recognised that the magazine had a potential audience in the over sixty demographic, a demographic who largely did not engage so heavily online. I knew I would be turning to these men and women for their stories so I wanted to publish them in a medium which they felt comfortable with. Also, I loved the idea that I was creating something that would be kept and passed around, something tangible that could possibly still be floating around long after I’m gone.
What has been the biggest learning curve with running your own business?
Dealing with the isolation. Working from home wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t great at establishing boundaries between home and work when both were situated in the same place. Some weeks would pass where I would pretty much have no contact with actual people outside of social media and email and for someone who came from a nine to five, this was a bit of an adjustment. I actually found myself missing the early morning commute and while I loved a lot of things about working for myself, not having a sounding board for ideas, wasn’t one of them.
What has been the most significant mistake you’ve made and how did it effect your business?
Thinking I could be everything to everyone and not recognising my weaknesses. I couldn’t sell umbrellas in the rain so I don’t know why I ever thought I could sell advertising. Everyone told me that the more I did it, the easier it would get but it didn’t – it actually got worse. This was not a case of if at first you don’t succeed try, try again – by continuing to try, it just made me incredibly insecure and wracked by doubt about what I was doing. Knowing your weaknesses is possibly even more important than knowing your strengths. If possible, out-source your weaknesses, work it into your budget because the bottom line is you can’t be good at everything and admitting that doesn’t make you bad at business. If I had realised this sooner, things may have headed in a different direction.
Can you recall a moment when you’ve failed, how you overcame it and what you learnt from it?
At the beginning of this journey my goal was to create a quarterly vintage publication in Australia. After producing four issues, financially and to an extent emotionally, I just couldn’t do it anymore. A bunch of little failures along the way combined to signal the end of the print publication. I should have gotten more print and design quotes, I should have started with a smaller print run, I should have devoted more time to building an online presence first, I should have been more realistic, I should have sought more advice before I started, I should have found someone to handle all the advertising, I should have sought out a partner or financial backer – In hindsight there are a lot of things I would do differently and admitting them here is a little uncomfortable but I made every single one of the decisions that effected my business so I need to own them. I have no regrets. Every step I took and every mistake I made has lead me to this point. I came to realise that everything which was important about Lila Jean Vintage – the history, the nostalgia, the emphasis on family – all this could be transferred to an online platform which would be more manageable for me. Essentially the ethos behind Lila Jean Vintage hasn’t changed, simply the package it’s wrapped in.
I haven’t turned the music off, I’ve simply changed the song.
What is the best piece of advice you would pass on to someone looking to start up a print publication?
This advice was actually passed on to me from Glory Days Magazine in New Zealand (but it was kinda too late when I heard it!) – build up your online following first. If you are able to engage people through a website and social media and build up momentum and hype, there’s your first couple of hundred sales right there. You could even do a pre-sale so you have an idea of a print run. Having it online first also gives you an opportunity to trial content ideas and stories that you are considering for a print publication. Exercise every free device available to you in order to build your network – online, newsletters, social – gauge from that how successful a print publication would sell and go from there. If I had my time again I would have worked on the online for at least a year prior to committing to print.
What has been the biggest challenge with running your own business?
Self doubt. I think I must have played Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off on repeat for months as there were a lot of people telling me what a mistake I was making. Even though things haven’t exactly gone as planned, I don’t regret the choices I made – every mistake I made was mine. Lila Jean Vintage may not be a print publication anymore, but the brand and what it stands for still exists. Deciding to move it all online wasn’t a decision I made lightly but ultimately it was the only decision left. I was so stubborn, I didn’t want to give all the doubters the satisfaction of seeing the print version fail, but then I realised that failure is completely subjective and at the end of the day the only person whose opinion mattered when it came to the success of the business was mine.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about women who dress vintage?
That we’re really high maintenance and take forever to get ready. I can be out the door in thirty minutes if need be and I’ve never kept anyone waiting because I was brushing out my pin curls. I think there is also a misconception that we’re all pinups like Dita Von Teese. While I do get a lot of my inspiration from Dita and other pinups – I am most definitely not pinup. My love of vintage steams from my love of history so I opt for a more toned down, authentic style which mixes genuine vintage with contemporary pieces. Basically, I dress like my Nana. Also, you can totally be a feminist and wear 50s dresses and love baking. Dressing feminine and being a feminist are not mutually exclusive, and I have felt the sting of discrimination in the workplace based on my vintage style. It reminds me of what Bob Thaves said about Fred Astaire, ‘Sure he was great, but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards…and in high heels!’
What do you love about your job?
Meeting people – especially the people I met through the I remember when section of the magazine. Many of these were older people and the excitement and joy that seeing their story in print gave them was such a highlight for me. I received numerous emails from people who had submitted stories letting me know how much their parent or grandparent had loved it. In particular I had a beautiful email from a woman who had submitted her grandfather’s story. She wanted to thank me for sharing his story and to let me know how much he enjoyed seeing it in print. She also wanted to let me know he had passed away and that the magazine was passed around at his funeral. This is why I want to record these stories, to immortalise them for not only the people who lived it, but for those closest to them.
Best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Never assume anything. Ever. If you have any questions regarding a collaboration or exchange make sure you ask it up front – don’t wait until after the fact. If possible, have everything in writing, even if it’s in an email exchange. People can and will change their minds and you can loose money by wanting to always come across as “nice”. Sometimes as women I think we are too concerned with not wanting to come across as a bitch in business but the sad truth is that there are a lot of people out there who are just waiting to take advantage of your niceness. I’m not saying be suspicious of everyone’s motives, but just be aware that, like you, they are running a business and in this world you generally will never get something for nothing. I’d rather be pleasantly surprised then severely disappointed.
Stay tuned for our next interview in The F – Word Series with Margeaux of The Distinctive Dame. To be published March 11th, 2016.