Join columnist Vicky Ellison every month as she meets with inspiring women from the worlds of wellness, business, fashion and art to bring you a snapshot of their story and advice to take into your day.
Preparing to meet Jo Ellison, fashion editor at the Financial Times and former features director at Vogue, many questions came to mind – what to ask someone who’s interviewed global A-List talent? What to wear to meet one of London’s most fashion savvy editors?
Thankfully Jo’s down-to-earth humility and the fact that we spoke on the phone allayed all fears. We quickly got to chatting about her career path.
A move to Ireland saw Jo unexpectedly take her first steps into journalism. With a degree in history and no journalistic experience, London had felt like a ‘closed shop’ while Ireland presented an opportunity with a national paper ‘so I trained through from the bottom up doing night shifts on the subs desk [moving into features] and learning the ropes as I worked,’ Jo explained.
Relocating to London, Jo stepped into the role of Features Editor at The Independent, before moving on to Vogue and now the FT. With such an impressive career path I was surprised to hear that Jo, like many of us, still has moments of uncertainty.
‘I think there’s always a little bit of that fear… the feeling that I’m slightly unqualified to do this as a journalist – because I think we’re generalists, that’s the whole point. We try and explain things to people that they may not have heard of or may not understand, and you’re just trying to filter it through a kind of prism of language that makes it understandable to someone that doesn’t know anything about it; so our job is sort of a little bit like a translator, that’s how I like to think of it.’
No two days are the same in Jo’s world, she shares with refreshing honesty, ‘obviously you’re learning all the time, but your brain is going in 5000 different directions, I’m writing a piece today that’s making me feel sick.’
The variety and opportunity to meet incredible people motivate Jo in her ‘all-encompassing job’. ‘I’ve got quite a low boredom threshold, so I love the idea that I can get up, get something done and finish it and that’s it, it’s off the plate – I’m quite a deadline-oriented person, so I like that.’
The hardest part is dealing with feedback, ‘you get a lot of comments and reactions…you’re accountable for everything you write and that can be very wearing’ Jo explains, ‘you’re a voice out there and sometimes that can be a bit overwhelming.’
I’m curious how a fashion editor packs for the relentless schedule of global fashion weeks. ‘It’s a bit of a weird one,’ Jo discloses ‘I think about it for ages before I go and I bring all of these clothes…and then of course by day 3 …you haven’t slept, you’re trying to write 1800 words on different subjects every day and all you can think about is where are my jeans and a t-shirt?’
‘Some people are amazing at it, they plan for what they want to wear and they wear it, but I’m the sort of person who wakes up in the morning and although I thought about what I wanted to wear the night before, invariably it’s like no I don’t want to wear that at all, I want to wear this – so it’s quite difficult to predict.”
Photo by Rokas Darulis, Jason lloyd Evans
I had to ask about Jo’s go-to designers and outfits. A well-known Celine fan and lover of tailoring, Jo explains that having suits made is an ‘expensive new habit… I don’t have a go to designer as such, but I sort of have go to outfits, which is a blazer and pair of trousers usually.’
When it comes to recharging, like many of the high performers I’ve spoken to, Jo loves to walk outdoors, ‘We got a dog about 7 years ago, and walking the dog makes me so much more aware of the seasons. I think you learn to appreciate your environment and look around you a bit more, so that’s been a good thing.’
I ask how she manages a busy work and family life, Jo responds that ‘I just think it’s all a bit of a nightmare really, I can’t even pretend to have an answer to it all, if anyone has one let me know!’
We finished our chat touching on advice for anyone striving for a career like Jo’s; ‘I think the most important thing is just to listen and ask lots of questions but make sure you listen to the answers’ she says, ‘do a lot of reading around something and be as prepared as you can.’
‘In terms of getting into the fashion industry, I think you’ve just got to be really persistent…don’t give up after the first email, make sure you go back and follow up. [Don’t be annoying, but] don’t assume things will happen, you have to bring something to the table. I think persistence is a hugely important factor in getting your foot in the door.’
For more fashion and business insights follow Jo on Instagram @joellison22