Emerson College – B.A., Writing, Literature & Publishing
Allyson Rees considers her path to becoming a freelance fashion journalist “an education.” Taking lessons from fashion closets, seminar rooms and more than one desk, Allyson managed to combine a whole lot of experience into a fulfilling career writing for fashion, interior and beauty brands on everything from breaking news to fashion trends to travel. And if that sounds like all the makings of a pretty big to-do list, don’t worry about Allyson who admits, “I get immense joy from crossing things off lists.”
In addition to her freelance work Allyson decided busy enough wasn’t busy enough when she co-created The Politesse with a friend. Dedicated to helping young women navigate the real world, The Politesse offers sage advice on all the business etiquette that you might not have learned in business school. We’re all about a resource that candidly offers, “You can climb the corporate ladder in heels, but we’re here to make sure you don’t flash us on the way up.”
When you reach a goal, you have to take a moment to celebrate.
What’s it like to be a freelance writer?
I’m always balancing several different projects at once. For example, right now, I’m writing and fashion editing a 4-page bridal story, prepping for the Magic tradeshow (where I’ll be reporting for a few different publications), researching for a round-up on beach house interiors, doing trend coverage of New York Fashion Week and posting to The Politesse, the career website I created with my friend and colleague Andrea Bell. That is all on top of work for two retainer copywriting clients—one is a fashion client and one is an interior design/architecture client. So many irons in the fire! There are a lot of lists going!
How did you get this job? What was your career path leading up to this position?
I got my start in NYC working in the fashion closet at O, The Oprah Magazine. I was (and still am) an Oprah super fan, so it was an amazing experience (I got to meet her a few times), but the job showed me that I didn’t want to be a stylist like I had originally thought. Instead, I realized I liked brainstorming trend stories and wanted to write the words on the page.
When I moved to Los Angeles several months later, I built up my clips with small pieces in 944 magazine and LA.com. After a few months, I interviewed for an associate editor position at WGSN, a huge trend forecasting firm headquartered in London. I was super green and didn’t even know what trend forecasting was! No surprise, I didn’t get the job, but Sally Lohan, WGSN’s former West Coast content director took a chance on me and brought me on in a contract intern role.
A few months later, I was promoted to the associate editor position, and three years later, I was promoted once more and moved to NYC to become WGSN’s U.S. retail editor. There, I was in charge of all NYFW collection coverage, retail coverage and commercial womenswear trends. I also had the opportunity to present seminars at WGSN events around the world.
I reported a lot of fashion startups and tech while at WGSN, and I really wanted to experience the fashion startup world first hand, so I moved to San Francisco and became a content editor at the luxury consignment site, The RealReal. It was truly an education—learning about what it takes to build and scale an ecommerce business. While in San Francisco, I never stopped writing and reporting on trends. I had a few freelance side jobs and would fantasize about being my own boss and being a freelance writer full-time. I worked at The RealReal from 9 to 6 and worked on freelance gigs mornings, nights and weekends, saving money to make a cushion of cash so I could take the leap into the freelance world. In October of 2013, I finally did it!
I’ve been really pleased with how I’ve combined all my previous career paths into my freelance career—I’ve written newsy fashion stories for WWD and Fashionista.com, I do reporting for WGSN and their interiors site HBL on seasonal retail trends, I write about fashion and design for consumer mags like LA Confidential and I dabble in travel writing for Fodors. I also do some copywriting for fashion, interior and beauty brands. I feel very lucky to be able to flex all my writing muscles!
How do you organize your day?
Every day is different, but typically I wake up around 7:30 a.m. and read the fashion bible, WWD, to get the news of the day. I reply to morning emails from my editors in London and NYC and flag any press releases that could be fodder for a potential story. I write a post for The Politesse, promote it on social media and then head to Pop Physique, my favorite workout class that doubles as my lunch break.
After lunch, anything goes. Some days, I’ll be researching and crafting pitches to send to editors. Other days, I’ll be conducting interviews for a story or writing an 800-word piece. Some days, I’ll be out at retail shooting visual merchandising or seasonal product. On fun days, I have a new store, gallery or restaurant opening, and I’ll get to sip champagne with some colleagues.
What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?
I’m a very goal-oriented person, and being a writer is all about working toward the final goal—the published story. You need to research it, pitch the editor, get reputable sources, interview them, create an outline and finally, write the story. It’s the ultimate puzzle.
From a freelance perspective, I’ve always been independently driven. I’m not one of those people who needed their parents to tell them to clean their room or do their homework. I get immense joy from crossing things off lists. After working in a corporate environment for six years, I came to realize that I am my best manager, both for my time and my career path. I’m not saying I’ll never return to a full-time job, but at this point in my life and career, freelance really suits me. I am 100% responsible for every dollar I earn, and that is both terrifying and motivating.
What inspired you to launch The Politesse?
As editors, Andrea and I are constantly facing with people just entering the work force. We noticed that the young professionals we were dealing with—be it assistants, interns or interviewees—had lots of questions about business protocol, modern etiquette and social skills. Parents are often out of touch with the job market and career services is often the first things to get cut if budgets are tight on campuses.
To be honest, we both have a reputation as being good advice givers, so we wanted to create a space where young women could ask anything about careers or life—anything from “How do I write a cover letter” to “How do I deal with my boss from hell” to “How do I cope with my BFF’s terrible boyfriend.” The difference between The Politesse and other career sites is we talk to our reader like a friend or a peer. It’s Career Builder for the Man Repeller reader.
What does success for The Politesse look like for you?
From a content standpoint, Andrea and I want to be the go-to resource for young women looking to excel in their careers. If we can make them laugh while doing so, wonderful!
Beyond that, we’re planning career workshops and seminars at various universities, and we’d like to eventually develop our posts into a book series.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
I am by nature a professional sleeper, but you will find me lost in thought at my desk, worrying if I’m pushing myself hard enough. Where will my next story come from? How come that editor never emailed me back? Am I saving enough money every month so that I can retire comfortably? I oscillate between feeling incredibly prolific and incredibly lazy all day, every day.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
I work from home, so technically, I am always at work. Thankfully, my boyfriend lets me use our second bedroom as my dedicated office, so during nights and weekends, I avoid that room at all costs.
I also try not to use my computer when I’m not working—I’ll use my phone or a tablet so I’m not tempted to open any work docs.
What project have you worked on that you’re most proud of? Why?
My first story for WWD was a big deal for me. I’ve been reading the publication since I was in college and it was really gratifying to see my byline in “the fashion bible.” I had several glasses of champagne that evening—when you reach a goal, you have to take a moment to celebrate.
What is your biggest regret?
Not becoming fluent in German. My mother is German and it was spoken just as much as English in my house growing up. I took German in school, can understand most things and could probably hold a decent conversation with an 8-year-old, but I wish I had full mastery of the language. I’d love to be able to write for German fashion mags.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Keep your word. Treat everyone equally. Always say “please and thank you.” It’s OK to go to the movies alone.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
Start a blog (it was 2005). Also, learn to drive stick shift.