Despite all our previous aspirations and achievements, when we become mothers, our careers inevitably shift...
Some of us dive in deeper with a renewed passion to set an example. Some of us lean out to find some semblance of balance when juggling it all. Others find that their priorities have changed and it’s time for a shift. When your job before children was a dream, these realisations (and any subsequent changes) are never easy. When that job was at Vogue? Well, we can only imagine it’s infinitely harder.
This was the case for Ginnie Chadwyck-Healey, who worked at British Vogue for 12 years, firstly managing the British Fashion advertising portfolio and latterly, as the Executive Retail Editor. After the arrival of her second child, Ginnie realised she was being pulled in a few too many directions, which led her to launch her own business – VCHStyle.com, a platform for her new foray into brand consultancy, presenting and personal styling.
The refreshingly honest and inspiring Ginnie shared her story with us, and left tidbits of invaluable advice along the way. For example, “Ask yourself what makes you happy, what makes you satisfied, and what’s important. Do the maths and work out what you really need to bring in each month. Then value yourself, so others will value you too.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Tell us about your childhood – where did you grow up? What was it like?
I am the youngest of three, with two older brothers. My parents still live in our childhood home in Surrey, England. It is so special to now see my children wandering around the garden, hiding in the same places, going on a lot of ‘Bear Hunts’. My mother was a huge presence in our lives, mainly because my father commuted to London each day. Early mornings and late nights meant weekends were extra precious – as I’m learning now. I was sent to boarding school at 8 which seems totally unnatural to some but was quite normal then!
Talk us through your career path and how you ended up at British Vogue?
I think it’s fair to say it was determination and endeavour that got me to Vogue. I was always the girl who had dreamt of Vogue. I did work experience at World of Interiors, at GQ, at American Vogue in Paris, I entered writing competitions, I organised a charity fashion show at my school working with a lot of the well known high street brands, and of course, I wrote a LOT of letters to Alexandra Shulman. In the end, it was ‘right place, right time’, with a good CV to match. For the next 12 years, until April 2018 I was at Vogue – a HUGE amount of time!
What do you think it takes to achieve your dream job – determination, hard work? Have you always been ambitious?
I think hard work does and should pay off. I’m not saying you always get what you want, but navigating your own journey and trying to focus on an area that you genuinely love does make you strive a bit harder.
I do wish I had done a business degree – maybe I will. I think the freedom to do what you want to do has never been more possible than now – especially for women and mothers. But you have to work at it. It doesn’t just come to you. I meet a lot of young people who expect to get into fashion just because they ‘love clothes’ or they ‘write a blog’ or they have a large following on Instagram – and I don’t think that’s enough now. You need to have a slight point of difference – keeping my feet on the ground could arguably be my point of difference however unglamorous that is. A lot of people don’t!
Talk us through your journey to motherhood – did you have a smooth pregnancy, birth etc?
I LOVED being pregnant. I am very fortunate that both of my pregnancies were wonderful surprises. (I think the second was less of a wonderful surprise to my boss at the time!)
I did battle morning sickness – but had a loving husband holding my hair and feeding me crackers and pretzels. I also craved chocolate milkshakes – in fact I knew instantly I was pregnant with my second when Isaw someone with a milkshake and had to nip into my nearest Byron Burger there and then! I then bought a pregnancy test.
I did The Bump Class ahead of my first child and that has genuinely given me some great friends, for life. In London I used the NHS for both my births and I can’t praise them more highly. I was induced with Nancy, and then had a waterbirth with Maggie. But no one told me delivering a placenta was like birth all over again!
What about post-partum – can you share your experience with post-natal depression and how you got through this?
Well, it sort of crept up on me. We had moved to the countryside, to our new home in a sleepy village in Berkshire, England. No more Hyde Park, no more friends around the corner, no more Peter Jones baby department, no more GP on my doorstep.
I think I put on a brave face for a long time but eventually crumbled after realising that after my first weekend back in London, visiting my girlfriends, I didn’t actually want to go home. I didn’t want to see my family. It was such an alien feeling, terrifying, that I burst into tears and offloaded everything.
I don’t want to relive those feelings here but I will say that what was a very casual blog entry on the UK site, Mumfidential, was then picked up by The Telegraph and unfortunately (or fortunately) is now the one thing that pops up when you Google my name. BUT the floodgates opened in terms of support and contact from both clients in the industry (yes even the tough ones) and friends who had thought I was getting on fine in our new life. It also came ahead of a huge movement in terms of exposing mental health issues so in a way it was good timing – I am proud to say ‘it’s okay to talk about this’ and mental health is something I am comfortable talking about.
On reflection, is there anything you did that you could have done differently in those early days?
I think I would have enlisted the help of a maternity nurse for our second child. But I thought I could handle it. But an 18-month-old and a newborn was never going to be an easy combination.
I also should have found more relaxation tools to help ‘switch off’. It was just as social media was kicking into our daily routines and that really didn’t help – that urge to look at my phone was genuinely dangerous. The one thing I say to anyone who is pregnant is ‘SWITCH OFF’ – and see how little you actually miss out on. The power of a phone call with a friend beats any number of ‘likes’.
You went back to Vogue after your first daughter was born – how did you find the juggle of working for a corporate and raising a baby? What were your time hacks back then – things you did to make the day run more smoothly?
I went back to Vogue after both children and it was very different each time. After my eldest, we were still in London, business was not as challenging for print media and it was quite nice to be thinking in a commercial way again, compared to just nappies and apple puree. I felt I was in control. I walked to work, I was strict about after-hours events, I got a lot of work done early at my desk before others got in. Nothing groundbreaking but women are far more efficient at this ‘juggle’ than we give ourselves credit for.
By 2017 when I returned after Maggie I think the conversation about women returning after work had gotten so loud in the press that it was starting to feel like we were almost fighting our way back in. No woman goes back to coast after a baby. I was ambitious but I think opting for a 4 day week can be misinterpreted as totally the opposite.
So then you feel like you have to prove a point, and do your day job, and be a mother, and be a wife, and earn 20% less in order to handle the childcare costs – oh and try and bring home some income. The pressure just mounted, because I think work took more time than I had realised it would and meanwhile I had two babies and a husband who all wanted more time from me too.
How can businesses offer more flexibility to mothers?
Working from home should be seen as a positive thing. I am not saying we should work with children at our feet, but that isn’t what ‘working from home’ is!
I think a greater amount of trust is imperative between employer and employee. I have to say I get far more done without the distractions of an office – but I do miss that environment for the camaraderie though.
A back to work interview before your return to work would be key, with the HR team. They should be aware of things you might not necessarily want to tell your boss. It would be a good way to understand exactly what mothers feel before they return to work. It can be terrifying for a lot of women. I see that a lot in my new job.
You recently moved out of London – what inspired the move and how are you enjoying the change?
We just needed space! We need green fields and we needed something a little different. I am not saying it was easy – it was both the hardest and the best thing we ever did. On a good day, I can leave home at the same time as someone who lives on the outskirts of London and be in Mayfair at the same time. It’s really NOT that groundbreaking.
I love the change and in my new business drive, I am trying to remind all the brands I used to work with in London that there is life outside of the bubble of the capital. There is life, there are fashionable people, there is a fondness to buy new, undiscovered brands, there are high net worth individuals – you just have to break out of London and speak directly to them!
What kind of things do you love to do together as a family in the country?
We love trampolining on a Saturday. Now if ever there was a test for your pelvic floor … ! We love going out for walks and a babyccino when it’s cold, and we visit our families a lot. Friends from London might come and stay for the weekend, my husband cooks, we go to Bucklebury Farm, we eat pizza. It’s just special to all be together because really it’s a mad rush each morning and the tantrums start after teatime so at the weekends we can ‘just be’.
What led you to leave Vogue and how has the transition been?
I just knew working at Vogue with a commute into London and my two young girls, and my long-suffering husband was not sustainable. Financially, and emotionally. In my role at Vogue it was a mix of creative and commercial ideas and in many ways, I do the role still, I just do it for myself, VCHStyle.
Leaving Vogue was a huge step. I think I grieved! 12 years is longer than anything else in my life. I will never ever forget the team at Ralph Lauren for giving me my first major project within a month of me leaving Vogue. It was a huge boost, both emotionally, professionally and financially – which any self-employed person knows is paramount.
Many mums suffer from a loss of identity after they have kids – particularly when going through a career transition. What is your advice to them?
First of all, you are not alone. Instagram is NOT a good way to judge your community and behind all of those accounts are people probably doing the juggle with all the tears and uncertainty that goes with it.
Ask yourself what makes you happy and what makes you feel satisfied. Ask yourself what’s important? (You wouldn’t believe how little shopping I now do – clothes are just not as important as they used to be). Do the maths and work out what you really need to bring in each month. Find a hobby that is unrelated. Find a class or an exercise routine, possibly with people you don’t know.
The BEST advice? (From my counsellor no less.) ‘Value yourself and others will value you.’
What did working at Vogue teach you?
People like to do business with people they like.
What were some of the challenges of working at Vogue?
The income versus the dreamy clothes we were surrounded by! It was torture. Oh, and people always assume you are going to be a certain (unfriendly) way because you work at Vogue – but I’m telling you I have some great friends from my Vogue days. I really loved it.
What do you love about now running your own business?
I manage my diary. I don’t have to navigate any hints of office politics. I can contact any brand, not just the advertisers.
The best bit? I was worried people wouldn’t want to see Ginnie for a meeting, ‘because I’m just Ginnie, not Ginnie from Vogue’. And guess what? They do. Believe in yourself – you haven’t come this far to drop the ball now.
Can you take us through what your working life now looks like – from styling to hosting events?
Tomorrow I am doing a day of private client styling, then I’ll go onto a press dinner with the gorgeous Chinti & Parker.
The next day I’m not in London; I’ll be doing pre-school drop-off and catching up with other mothers. I’ll have a Skype call with my web designer as we plot the next stage of VCHStyle.
The following day, I’m hosting an event so I need to prepare and research the new collection and write a rough overview of my speech.
Finally, I’ll do my much-loved boxing class and then post a lot of returns to brands.
Somewhere in between I’ll go to Waitrose (my dream place) and a lot of caffeine will be consumed all week.
A lot of mums find themselves in a fashion rut after having kids – how can we overcome this?
DON’T BUY because your friend looks good in something or you have been bombarded by some algorithm on Instagram. Ask yourself what do find it most difficult to concoct an outfit for. Then ask yourself when you feel great. Seek out the gaps in your wardrobe and then fill in with a few great pieces that you can wear in a lot of different ways and which you will still love when you are bombarded with the next load of algorithms on Instagram!
If you haven’t shifted the baby weight, choose light, silk shirts that disguise your lumps and bumps. Pick a high waisted trouser to feel more pulled in. Wear a shoe you can walk in, rather than totter in!
5 brands you love which are chic and mum-friendly?
Do you shop off the high street – is so, where?
What’s a typical look for you day-to-day and how long does it take you to get ready in the morning? Do you plan your outfits?
I plan the night before if I have a London day and need to get the train. I would say navy cropped trousers, a sleeveless waistcoat and a silk shirt are my staples – and either my Nicholas Kirkwood (low) heels or a Gucci or Veja trainer.
What have your girls taught you about perspective?
They are in such an early, unblemished stage of their lives, at ages 2 and 4, that I just want to enjoy them, nurture them and teach them the basics in life in order to send them on their way into the big wide world. I like them seeing me work, it is healthy. But perspective is key to my role as a mother and my relationship with my husband. We are lucky to have each other as a family so I don’t ever want to take that for granted.
What are you loving right now?
Best career advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s okay to ask for help.
What’s your take on social media – is it good or bad for us?
Treat it like a daily newspaper – read it in the morning, then get on with your day. (But I have to say it is phenomenal for free marketing, so thank you Instagram!)