Stylist’s editor in-chief Lisa Smosarski looks back on a decade of change since the magazine first launched in 2009…
“A lot can happen in 10 years. Four prime ministers, three royal weddings, followed by four royal babies. Three social media platforms launch that change our entire lives. 3G becomes 5G. Televisions become iPads. Heels become trainers. Netflix and Uber redefine everything. Plastic becomes passé, gay marriage becomes legal, fascism rises, abortion laws are passed and restricted, activism finds a new voice. Women march… powerful men fall.
At home for me: a marriage, three house moves, the birth of three children and the loss of a beloved grandmother. A lot really can happen. I have spent 10 years at the helm of Stylist – the fastest, busiest, most exciting decade of my life – and yet it seems like yesterday that we launched from a small room on Emerald Street in London, just 100 metres from the large office that now replaces it.
The small team that started Stylist was built on a combination of passion, ambition, talent and takeaway pizzas. We had a vision to create a magazine that treated women differently; intelligently. No paparazzi photos, no gossip, no diets, no mumbo jumbo. Well-researched, thought provoking articles for multifaceted women interested in politics, careers and culture as well as fashion and beauty.
We were feminists, but in 2009 we weren’t in the majority. We talked about “feminism with a lowercase F” so as not to frighten those scared of what they called a “dated man-hating” movement. But we were a team who expected gender equality as standard. We wanted change, demanded equal pay, explored quotas on boards and championed changes to the law that protected women. In 2010 we asked three creative agencies to rebrand feminism and watched the world follow.
From small beginnings
The morning we launched Stylist is one that will always stay with me. After weeks spent working from 8am to 2am, exhausted but excitedly huddled in our threadbare offices, Stylist hit the streets. I included my personal email address to get feedback on that first issue. By 9.30am I’d had 350 emails from readers thanking us for creating a magazine that reflected them so well. The emails continued to flood in for the rest of the day. If it had been 2019, we would have definitely been trending.
When we launched, a lot of people thought Stylist wouldn’t survive. That in a post-recession period a magazine funded entirely by advertising revenue was absurd. Compound that with our strategy to not put pap photographs or gossip on the cover, and some thought we were mad. I remember an industry executive saying to me: “Well, we’ll see how long that lasts.” It fills me with delight to now be able to answer that with more than a smile.
I’m often asked why Stylist has been so successful, why it still feels relevant 10 years on. The answer, I hope, is that we listen… that although we have our own purpose-driven agenda, we always evolve, and hear what you are telling us. Our mission is to understand what you are thinking before you’ve even found the words to articulate it. When you talk directly to us, we listen too. Tell us we are wrong and we will change. Tell us you love something, we will try and give you more. And if you tell us nothing? Well, that makes us think too…
We are only as good as the women who engage with us. So if you ever see me on a bus, one headphone removed listening to your conversation or looking at what you are reading or watching, don’t be alarmed. It’s all in the name of making Stylist ever more relevant.
As editor-in-chief, I have evolved in my own ways too. I have overseen Stylist from a purely print magazine to become a dynamic website, video producer and creator of events – Stylist Live, the Remarkable Women Awards, Book Clubs and Life Lesson talks, and most recently as part of the team behind our new fitness studio, Stylist Strong. I count myself lucky to have been able to learn on this journey, both in the skills I have but as a creative and manager too.
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This January I also joined Stylist’s board of directors, a personal achievement reflecting our brand’s ongoing push to promote more women to board-level positions. I have worked with the absolute best talent in the industry (this is not an understatement… the Stylist-born media mafia now runs far and deep), and these are the people who have been the most important teachers of my life. I am an amalgamation of them all.
From 2018’s Visible Women initiative, our Fair Game for Women in Sport campaign that raised funding and the profile of women’s sports in 2012, and most recently our Love Women campaign, which we launched in May, our commitment to ensure women are represented inclusively in all media.
These ideas are all connected by a fierce desire to be a champion and advocate for women, to fight on your behalf for a better world where women are treated and represented equally in all areas of life. I will forever hold dear the iconic and fun moments, too – watching behind my hands as Nigella was smothered in caramel for that cover, the time Stylist became an art installation at the Saatchi Gallery and the first time I met and interviewed Hillary Clinton.
The trips to Downing Street to meet prime ministers, Buckingham Palace to rub shoulders with the royals, the front-row catwalk seats in London, Milan and Paris. It’s all been beyond my wildest dreams. In 2009, I simply could not have imagined the great things we would go on to do and create.
It’s true for all of us that a lot can happen in 10 years. In 2009 we didn’t know about Instagram, influencers, wellness, millennials, fake news, the Obamas, President Trump, #MeToo, cake pops, Brexit, body positivity, the climate crisis, Extinction Rebellion, Malala, Greta Thunberg, fidget spinners or Gangnam Style… now we’ve witnessed it all.
So much change – some good, some bad, some that remains to be seen. I can’t begin to imagine what the next 10 years have in store.
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