Spend a few hours with mother of two and British Vogue’s dynamic Rachel Reavley and your head will be spinning with ideas and inspiration – she can talk engagingly about everything from the move away from bricks and mortar stores to why chatbots and artificial intelligence are the future to changing customer experience...
She knows her stuff. Which is hardly a surprise, given her stellar career. She first joined Conde Nast in 1996, the company she worked at for over 17 years; three years launching Glamour magazine and a cumulative 14 years at Vogue.
Rachel later moved to Net-A-Porter, where she was nominated for Publisher Of The Year at the first annual FASHION NET Awards, before moving to personal shopping service Threads Styling – targeting the millennial generation, all its business is done using social media – as President of Brand Strategy.
She’s recently moved back to Vogue after six years, where she is executive director, and remains an advisor to Threads Styling, among other companies. Of returning to Vogue, she says, “I was excited to return, with a new editor in place and a new energy to British Vogue. Under Edward Enninful, Vogue has a youthful realism, a profound talent for storytelling; mixing tension between high culture and low. Diversity now being written into its future. It’s an extremely exciting time to be part of its evolution and brand development.”
When we ask her about confidence in the workplace, she says, “To build your confidence you often have to force yourself to be brave and take yourself out of your comfort zone. Every time you do this, you grow. Say “yes” when you want to say “no” and see what happens. Try and find a mentor who can help you feel more confident. I have always tried to make time for people who work with me and help them succeed. Be yourself, don’t expect to be good at everything, knowing your weaknesses is as important as your strengths.”
Raising two children – Violet (11) and Vincent (9) – Reavley is also refreshingly frank (and positive) about the reality of being a working mother (hint: you can’t do it all – something has to give). “Building a career and being a dedicated parent are compatible. For me, the way to make this work was rooted in two key things: I am willing at times to not have a great social life and I have the full support of my husband. I believe you can do two things well, but not necessarily three. So, you can work hard and be a great parent, but you can’t give much else at the same time.”
Grab a tea or a wine and enjoy every word of this insightful tale – we hope Reavley will inspire you as much as she has us.
Photography: Helene Sandberg
What are some of your most vivid memories of working at British Vogue?
Working at Vogue for over 14 years was such a privilege and a lot of fun; those were two things I never took for granted. You got to work with the world’s best and most passionate talent in the fashion industry. Experience amazing access, everyone’s door was always open to you, something I treated with respect. To be able to be part of a legacy of such an iconic world recognised brand that documents culture was incredibly inspiring. As you can tell I really enjoyed it!
How have you built such an incredible career while raising children over the years – what was your attitude to juggling both?
Building a career and being a dedicated parent are compatible. For me, the way to make this work was rooted in two key things: I am willing at times to not have a great social life and I have the full support of my husband. I believe you can do two things well, but not necessarily three. So, you can work hard and be a great parent, but you can’t give much else at the same time. I was lucky I can and have always been able to take my children to nursery and now school and be home for bedtime. Making sure when I am with my children, I am fully present. If I have to travel, my husband makes sure he carves this important time for the children, we agreed upfront this was never the job of the nanny. I’ve always spoken to my children about how exciting it is to work and whilst they are learning at school, it’s good for mummy to be out learning too. I take them to where I work so they can imagine me there and it’s no mystery. At different times in your career, you have to upscale and for sure it’s harder, but equally, there are times to lean out and I’ve managed my career to do both at different times when the children may need you more.
What has been the most wonderful part of motherhood for you and what continues to bring you the most joy?
I LOVE motherhood! I can hand on heart say I’ve enjoyed every stage to date. From the wonderment of their unconditional love to watching them develop, it’s magical. They truly complete me and amaze me. Cheesy sorry! Perhaps also having a balance between work and home means we never take each other for granted or feel undervalued. However, no work achievement matches the feeling of pride and joy I get from my children. At the end of the day, there is no contest. Motherhood is the clear winner for me.
Would you describe yourself as an efficient, decisive person? And are these traits key for busy working mothers?
Yes! I am very decisive and efficient. I am also naturally as a really organised person. Yikes, I sound dull… but I do believe I am lucky to have these traits as it means I can manage our home life and work with relative ease and no chaos. It gets worse, I am extremely tidy. Of course, there are moments where you drop the ball, and there are friction points these things are unavoidable so you mustn’t expect perfection (whatever that is). But for sure being organised, planning ahead, not putting things off and having order in all our lives is a major factor for me. However, that’s me and others may find it’s not their method and trying to be those things adds stress. Find your own path. I do personally think children like calm and order and it helps their emotional stability.
How do you tackle any challenges you face? Or criticism?
Challenges – I tackle by sharing them with my husband, he’s an amazing friend and rock to me. Criticism, well at times you feel it at the school gates, but luckily it’s not something I’ve had to deal with much. If you can disarm your critics by being friendly and self-deprecating that helps! I strongly believe no one is living the dream, so I have managed my whole life to avoid feeling much envy. If someone is critical, I merely wonder why, and think perhaps they’re not so happy and would try to empathise.
What about self-confidence – many women experience self-doubt. Have you always been a confident person? Where does confidence come from/how can you build it?
I am confident, but no one escapes self-doubt. I feel I built my career by having the mantra that every day, you just do your best, and your best will be good enough. As it turns out, your best is normally more than what others may be putting into the equation so you progress. Confidence is, in my opinion, something that is instilled in you as a child, so how we parent is so crucial to our children’s future happiness and ability in this area. I believe in trying to build happy work environments, where you collaborate not compete. In my experience, this works particularly well with female staff. To build your confidence you often have to force yourself to be brave and take yourself out of your comfort zone. Every time you do this, you grow. Say “yes” when you want to say “no” and see what happens. Try and find a mentor who can help you feel more confident. I have always tried to make time for people who work with me and help them succeed. Be yourself, don’t expect to be good at everything, knowing your weaknesses is as important as your strengths. Be decent, share insights for no reason, help each other up the ladder. Treat people well, earn respect through example, never rule by fear, chose your reputation. And be most proud of how you behave, as your career grows you will meet all the same people again and again along the way.
How, in your opinion, has media changed in the last 10 years and what do you think the future of print magazines is?
Media now is more about modern distribution, making sure you are where your audience resides. You find them, they no longer find you, and they too have a voice and feel part of your brand. In the magazine industry, it’s not the death of the old, but a change in the status quo. You must know your relevance and offer something with purpose that fills a need. We all live online and offline, digital is pervasive, but the blend of how we consume media or shop will co-exist, however, the regularity has changed with more options and greater ease. Hence, the importance of being able to pivot into new spaces and stay in the slipstream. There is human fatigue around content, e-commerce and all the noise and self-serving. If you can “humanise digital” and make the customer/audience journey as frictionless as possible this is the future. Artificial intelligence and chatbots will revolutionise how we are serviced.
You were nominated for publisher of the year at the first annual FASHION NET Awards – what leadership skills/strengths do you think lead to this?
Leadership to me has always been “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. You must lead by example, your team know that you would do anything that they are being asked to do and listen. Be decisive and create a feeling of security. Supported people will take more risks if they know you’re behind them and will aim higher. Try to bring everyone on the same journey and don’t expect everyone to be as invested as you. I have an expression “don’t look for what’s not there” be realistic about what people are capable of and try and build a team that reflects different strengths, styles and diversity. Culture always comes from the top.
What took you to Net-A-Porter and what are some of the biggest lessons you learnt while you were there?
I wanted to work for a digitally prioritised company. To make sure I remained relevant and to move with the pace of culture. I learnt to be more spontaneous and think fast, be able to think on the spot and become immersed in a digital landscape, as well as, learn about global retail.
And then with Threads - what’s the most exciting part of building a company?
When I joined Threads Styling we were less than 30 people (two years on we were +120 with an office in NY and HK). It was incredibly exciting to take a new future facing concept to market. I love to tell a new narrative to brands and personally loved the learn. Working with millennials meant I could be inversely mentored as well as bring my own experience to them.
We all need to keep moving/evolving and the fashion and media industry is becoming increasingly saturated – what do you think will set apart companies/brands in the next 10 years and keep them one step ahead from the rest?
Over the next 10 years, customer expectations will out pace company ability to evolve. You will need to operate at the speed of the market and deliver individualised experience at scale. Customers demand what they demand, keep pace or they will take flight, lose interest – the leaders will adapt and thrive. Those slow to change will struggle and fall silent in the market. The gap will grow between the two.
“ At different times in your career, you have to upscale and for sure it’s harder, but equally, there are times to lean out and I’ve managed my career to do both at different times when the children may need you more ”
Talk us through how Threads Styling is a complement to other people’s businesses?
Threads is a compliment because it is a service proposition. We offer an amazing qualified young consumer to the brands, one they can’t necessarily access on their own. And to the customer, we offer a world of unparalleled convenience, personal service and curation in luxury shopping.
Not as many people go into bricks and mortar as they used to – where do you think bricks and mortar will be in 10 years?
On a human level, we will still want to go out! Right now, the belief is that stores need to become an experience; make your store a destination, somewhere to spend time. For example, if you’re a sport’s brand offer training advice, on site classes, a healthy cafe. People still want human interaction, good old-fashioned advice, help (and time away from digital). I think a successful blend of the two is the future. Chat-based commerce will create a seismic shift in how companies promote their services and engage their customer base wherever they are in the world. This, in my opinion, will have the biggest impact on the future of B&M.
Is carrying zero inventory the future of retail for many companies?
Not necessarily for all, but certainly, there is a big and growing demand for it. Plugging into a global network of brands gives the customer an endless ability to be able to find anything they desire, and the brands the ability to sell their own inventory to a much wider global customer base. Win/win.
How do you switch off/unwind/unplug?
Being with my husband and children. I particularly like watching my children play sport. I love getting involved in their activities, it’s an amazing way to unwind and a great leveller of what’s really important.