Talking to Connie Wang, fashion features director at Refinery29, is surprisingly refreshing: She’s bubbly and quick-witted, not to mention thoughtful and overflowing with great advice. The UC Berkeley alumna talked to The Daily Californian about the many hats she has worn over the years at Refinery29, a website she first discovered while interning at Glam Media in Brisbane, CA. After graduating, she headed to the Big City and shortly after applied for an editor position. She’s been there ever since, moving from one editorship to another, shaping the content that is so popular with women around the world.
Wang maps out her sartorial beginnings in Berkeley as an aficionado of the color black, which ultimately led to her wearing heels up and down campus’s tough hills. (The secret, apparently, is in wedges. “I have to admit I was walking sideways down hills sometimes,” she says). Wang spells out her journey from Midwest girl to big city editor, her love for Media Studies and how procrastinating landed her a job.
Editor’s note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.
The Daily Californian: What groups were you involved with on campus?
Connie Wang: I was really a part of BARE Magazine. While I was there, a friend of mine, Doreen Bloch, kind of started it, and I think it was going on for a year before I joined on. At the time, it was such a small team of people, like five or six, and it’s actually super embarrassing to think about the stuff we created at the time, so rudimentary, a little bit cringeworthy now to think about it. For a lot of us, [that was] our first experience with telling stories, writing for an audience, thinking about fashion in a way that was beyond just what we were putting on our Twitters and our Tumblrs.
DC: Can you tell me what you do as Fashion Features Director?
CW: [This] role is to orchestrate and manage all of the fashion stories that get told on Refinery29, whether it is a feature length story where I’m working with freelancers or with staff, or writing it myself to tell long form written fashion stories. Or it is to work with our marketing team to talk about shopping in a way that feels relevant in a new media age but also really fun and irresistible.
DC: What has it been like seeing Refinery29 transform over the years?
CW: As Refinery29 has grown, I’ve really had different roles. When I first started, I think my title was the blog editor, which gives you an idea of how different Refinery29 was at the time, and then I moved on into this really strange thing called the everywhere editor, where we had these local sections, and I covered international sort of news, or generalist news. So I was the everywhere editor, which my mom was kind of enough to point out wasn’t even correct grammar. And then I was the global editor for a while, but then I really focused back onto fashion.
I’ve had 50 different jobs with Refinery29, and I’ve been able to have such ownership of the kinds of jobs I’ve had. It’s a model that you don’t really find in the fashion industry, but you’re finding it more and more these days.
DC: How did growing up in Minnesota influence your interest in fashion?
CW: Minnesota was an amazing place to grow up because it was so warm — and I don’t mean this literally, because Minnesota is a very cold place. But people were so warm there that you could be anyone you wanted to be. Maybe this is just my experience in my own high school, but you could be the nerd, you could be a geek, a goth, a prep or emo or whatever and no one’s going to make fun of you or say that you’re wrong. So I never felt bullied or ostracized or like the “other,” and that’s such a privilege. At the same time, there’s a set number of stores you can buy stuff from, there’s a set number of outlets you can express yourself with, and for the most part, people dress exactly the same. We all showed up wearing the same camis, or cropped jeans or sweaters. It was so, so hard to stand out, and no one really wanted to stand out, because there was one dominant fashion story being told and you either did it or you did it badly. But no one really cared about clothes.
DC: When you got to UC Berkeley, how did your style change?
CW: At Berkeley it was a culture shock for me. Having come from Minnesota seeing so many people so casual with their clothing, I thought [the way people dressed] was very experimental and really brave at the time, and I still do. I think people dress at Berkeley in really self-expressive ways and I think that’s really awesome. But I was so contrarian at the time that I thought that, and I still think that, for a lot of people who are just getting into fashion in a really hard way you want to stand out from everyone else. I looked around me and I was like, what is something that no one else is dressing like? All black. I’m going to be that girl and only wear all black, like fashion goth clothes. I had a friend at Berkeley who was also in BARE, who would dress [in] faux fur vests and big black wedges and leather leggings, and I thought it was so cool.
DC: How did Media Studies help your career in fashion?
CW: I really, really loved what I learned in Media Studies. I had a professor, Professor Marina Levina, I took classes with her because the names of the classes were really funny to me, and I was like, oh, it would be funny if I took a class about monster movies or something. But what really surprised me, and I think this was a huge learning process for me, was things that felt silly, entertainment and the things that were so anti-intellectual, could actually be a place where you could have really crazy discussions about the way we live and what the world is. And so taking Media Studies classes helped me to be able to dissect and feel confident in dissecting items of pop culture in a way that didn’t feel like I was making things up or describing too much about something that was actually meaningless.
DC: When did you realize that fashion was the business you wanted to go into?
CW: It was this thing I procrastinated with. Even when I didn’t have any free time I was always online looking at fashion blogs, or creating collages on Polyvore. I was wasting time doing fashion stuff and I was like, what if I could make my time-wasters part of an actual job? I dreamed about it. At the time there were actually so few actual fashion Internet jobs that I didn’t even think that was a possibility. I thought I would have to work for a magazine or something. So when Refinery had this job opening I thought this was crazy, this is what I do to procrastinate from doing actual work, I can’t imagine doing this for a job.
DC: You’re living the dream.
CW: I really am living the dream. Unfortunately, now I think about the fact that I have no hobby because I turned my hobby into my job, but I’m working on that, I’m trying to figure out what my next hobby can be.
DC: What advice can you give to fashion career hopefuls, writing or otherwise?
CW: I think being brave in emailing people. I was always so intimidated to email people whose byline I would obsess over or editors who I thought were just unapproachable, and would never email me back. But once I got to know them in person I was like, oh, you’re a real person. I think a lot of people, if you write them and you do have questions and you’re respectful and you’re just brave about emailing someone and honest about why you’re doing it, most of the time you’re going to get a response back.