Name: Cameron Williamson
Job: Editor-in-Chief at FLARE
Did you always know you wanted to work at a fashion magazine? How did you break in to the industry?
As a kid I watched every episode of Fashion File and Fashion Television and read every issue of Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair, plus any other style pub I could get my hands on, but I never thought I could actually get a job in the industry. The fashion world seemed like some mythical place that only super-connected and cash-rich New Yorkers had access to. It wasn’t until my second year at UBC that I figured out a way to enter this world: I would become a world-renowned fashion designer! The problem was that I couldn’t sew, so I bought a Singer and some vintage patterns and taught myself enough skills to fake my way into Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s design program [in Surrey, B.C.]. After two years and too many sewing projects gone horribly wrong, I realized I had no business making clothes, though I could certainly talk about them and knew more about the fashion industry than anyone else in my classes. So what did I do with this knowledge? Nothing. I went back to UBC and finished my arts degree. I was all set to write my GREs with the intention of specializing in forensic psychology, when my former roommate, who had just gotten a job at Saturday Night Magazine, told me that the publication was looking for an intern. I applied, my friend put in a good word for me and a few weeks later the gig was mine, so I moved to Toronto.
From the very first day on the job I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. The internship was four months long, but they ended up hiring me two months in. That was 16 years ago. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to have worked at some of the country’s best publications: The Globe and Mail, Toro Magazine (R.I.P.), Chatelaine, and, of course, FLARE.
What would you say was your first big break? Who gave it to you?
Besides my friend who helped me land the internship at Saturday Night Magazine (oh hi, Jessica Johnson!), it was Dianna Symonds, the publication’s editor-in-chief at the time, who gave me my first break. She challenged everyone to do their best work, but she also trusted the people on her team. The one piece of wisdom that she gave me, which I still follow to this day, is to surround yourself with people that are better than you at something. This makes you look better but also elevates the publication or brand.
What was the most pivotal move in your career to get you to your current position?
I would say quitting my job as EIC at Glow in 2011 and moving to Panama with my partner, who was transferred there for work. It gave me a break from the daily grind and made me reevaluate everything, including whether I wanted to stay in publishing. After two weeks without a job, I started to go nuts. I obviously had a lot of free time so I was reading everything—online though, because mags in Panama were in Spanish—and I started to get really revved up about what brands were doing in the digital space. I started consulting and doing contract work after the first month.
What are the main responsibilities of your role?
Overseeing everything to do with the brand, content-wise—the monthly print and digital editions, the new daily app FLARE Morning Fix, the website, the social platforms, plus any sponsored advertising initiatives. I also have to manage external relationships with advertisers, publicists, agencies, etc. And, of course, a big part of my job is keeping everyone on the FLARE team inspired and focused, even through the tough times.
What are the most important qualities a person needs to have for your job?
You have to be decisive. You have to trust the people you work with. You have to be both practical and creative. And now, more than ever, you have to comfortable with constant change.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about being an EIC at a fashion magazine?
That it’s all just freebies and fancy parties. Working at a Canadian fashion magazine is a much more humbling experience compared to being at a U.S. or international brand. There are no car services, clothing allowances or first class travel. Sure there are perks—great trips with fashion and beauty brands, discounts at certain retailers—but it’s still just a job like any other with a lot of meetings and a lot of work to be done. I used to say that there are show ponies and workhorses in the industry, but with tighter budgets and smaller staffs, there aren’t that many show ponies prancing around anymore.
What continues to surprise or amaze you about your job?
I’m amazed at the people I work with who are able to adapt to anything I throw at them. Pretty much everyone on the team has to write, direct shoots, produce and appear in videos and take turns managing our social sites. That is a lot more work than even two years ago.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?
Keep on looking forward. Don’t focus on the negative. And don’t be nasty.
If you were just starting out today, how would try to break into the business? Anything you would do differently?
In today’s world, I would have had a hard time getting my foot in the door. Most publications, including FLARE, now only hire interns that are affiliated with schools and need the experience to complete their programs. So I would say, definitely get into a school and get that internship! Also, stop being so nostalgic about print and think digital, digital, digital.
What would you say to a fashion intern looking to leave their mark? What impresses you?
Don’t be afraid to speak up. The interns that stand out come to meetings prepared, contribute smart ideas and work quickly. Enthusiasm also goes a long way. A lot of Gen Yers don’t think it’s cool to be eager, but trust me, editors-in-chief like keenness.
What are your essential morning reads/feeds/media check-ins?
When I’m out with the dog I’ll start reading all my newsletters (Digiday Daily, The Business of Fashion, BoSacks), then check Instagram and Snapchat. While I’m commuting to work I’ll read Quartz, The New York Times and scroll through Twitter.
Which industry people/publications are killing it on social media right now?
DJ Khaled is killing it on Snapchat, but that’s a pretty obvious answer. Chatelaine is changing the way it speaks to its social media followers, which is super interesting to watch evolve. And the duo behind the clothing brand Baja East are super engaged on social, Instagram in particular (see @johnlovespinecones and @scottlovespalmtrees), and they are pretty fun to follow. Their approach to social perfectly embodies the free-spirited, downtown ethos of their brand. I’ll follow pretty much any photographer, editor, influencer or pub that I find on social. But post too many sexy photos or humblebrags and I’ll unfollow you.
Let’s finally set the record straight: what did the movie The Devil Wears Prada get right about the role of the EIC in the fashion world?
From my POV, nothing/nada/zilch/zero. I would hate myself if I was anything like Miranda Priestly and I’m pretty sure everyone else would, too. There are definitely some people in the fashion industry who embody the stereotypes seen in the film, but for the most part, the people who are the most talented and respected are actually fabulous, not just pretending to be.
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