Finding Success in the Fashion Industry

Joanna Faith Williams: Finding Success in the Fashion Industry from the Ground Up

In Fashion Features, Student Mingleby Hannah Hargrove

 

For Joanna Faith Williams, finding success in the fashion industry has certainly taken a lot of work, but it has been some of the most natural work she has ever done. Originally from North Carolina, Joanna moved to New York City after graduating from Appalachian State University to pursue a career in marketing and fashion. With nearly 13 thousand followers on Instagram and a successful blog to boot, Joanna has been on the right path for a while now.

From NC to NYC: Joanna’s Journey to Finding Success in the Fashion Industry

Joanna admits that she has always been passionate about fashion, and this didn’t change in college, despite the casual style most of her peers adopted. “In college, all of the students dressed really casually, just t-shirts and shorts really. We lived in the mountains so that was really just the culture there,” she said. “That wasn’t really me. In class I would have a full outfit on, a dress, blazer, makeup, nails, heels, everything. I kind of stuck out and became recognizable. So, from there I just started posting fashion and style pictures.”

It was then that Joanna stumbled across a young photographer, who also happened to be a fellow student. The photography student was working on building up her own portfolio, which coincided with Joanna’s interest in building up content. “It was really just a natural fit,” said Joanna. “I could help her build her portfolio and she could help me create the kind of content I wanted to, which really started growing my following.”

Joanna’s growing following led to more and more opportunities, and it was then that she realized where her career could take her. “From there I started developing relationships with brands and other content creators and really just kept falling in love with the work.”

What Does it Actually Take: Passion, Authenticity, and Consistency

While putting in the work is certainly important in finding success in the fashion industry, step one for Joanna was all about passion. “It’s always been a very natural thing for me. I love fashion and style, and I would be posting and talking about it no matter what, no matter how many followers I had,” she said. And Joanna encourages others who are interested in similar work to do the same. “Whatever you’re passionate about, whether it’s fashion, or t-shirts and Chacos, or food, or cocktails or whatever it is that you love, talk about it. If it’s something you talk a lot about or it’s something on your mind a lot, I’m sure other people would be interested too.”

Joanna understands that it can be daunting to enter an industry that is already full of so many voices, but she has an answer to that as well. “You make think ‘there’s already so many fashion bloggers’ or sports bloggers or whatever it is that you want to talk about, but people still want to hear what you have to say in only the way you can say it,” she said. “Even if you want to talk about something that’s been talked about before, you’d be the first person to talk about it exactly the way you’d talk about it.”

Basically, if you want to find success in the fashion industry in a similar way to how Joanna has, you have to take that step and put your voice out there. Also important? You have to make sure your voice is truly yours. “If you’re authentic to who you are and do what you love, people can really feel that authenticity,” said Joanna. “You’ll build an audience and a real community. I really care about the people who view my content and I make connections with them.”

Once you’ve made that commitment to pursue a fashion career through digital media, another important step is a steady presence. “If you’re going to do it, be consistent. I think people often confuse consistency with frequency,” said Joanna. “It’s really okay to not post every day, I don’t post every day. I keep a consistent schedule that allows me not to burn out or lose my passion.”

So, what content inspires Joanna to consistently post? In recent years, she has found a passion for attending fashion and beauty and events. “What really inspires me now is events. I love going to events,” she said. “I’m super blessed, I get invitations to go to stuff all of the time. love that I can have conversations with people and learn things about a brand or collection or product or project that I don’t know a lot about.”

While invitations have largely come to a halt due to COVID-19, one event Joanna was able to attend early this year was an anniversary event for PCA Skin, which she discusses in length on her blog, Yours in Style. The event was so well done, and the brand was so generous. They really allowed us to play with so many of their products,” said Joanna. “I got to meet the CEO and so many skincare providers who work with the products every day, so I got to hear what they had to say instead of just listening to a marketer telling me about it. I learned so much and I loved it.”]

Now that she is living permanently in New York, Joanna looks forward to attending as many events as possible once COVID restrictions have lifted, and it is deemed safe to hold such events.

To Hashtag, or Not to Hashtag: What Goes into Creating the Perfect Post?

While Joanna is passionate about keeping up her blog, her most important platform is her Instagram page. “In college, Instagram was one of my jobs, it was a source of income for me, and I loved doing it,” she said. While she took a long break from the platform due to a major injury and limitations created by COVID, she is planning on upping her content in the near future. “Since moving to New York, I’ve been working on getting back into it. I can’t really consider it a side gig right now, but I’m hoping to build it back up to be.”

A lot of work goes into each of her posts; while her most recent posts have been done by herself in order to maintain social distancing, Joanna often has her photos taken by a professional or someone with photography experience.  

Once she has the perfect shot, Joanna has a couple of platforms she uses for editing. “I’m a huge Facetune queen, I love it,” she said. “I’ve also been using the Adobe Suite for a while, and I use the mobile version of Lightroom from Adobe Suite.” The preset filters she uses have been selected to highlight her personal aesthetic. “I love pink so a lot of my photos are filtered to really bring out pink tones,” she said.

Following image creation, Joanna focuses on captions and tagging. “When I’m creating my captions, I really like to make my captions conversational. I’m a big talker, so a lot of my captions are really what I’m thinking about,” she said. “Then I always tag the brand I’m wearing so that maybe I can get that brands attention. You never know who’s going to notice the right post at the right time.”

While her process is time consuming and meticulous, one of the most complicated parts can actually be hashtags. “As far as hashtags, there are a lot of thoughts and opinions and processes that people go through when using them,” she said. Regular social media users debate on whether or not using the maximum number of hashtags will garner their post attention, or if it will cause the algorithm to push it down in relevance.

Joanna believes that using hashtags can be incredibly beneficial, but they haven’t necessarily been make or break for her. “I haven’t been super focused on hashtags lately, but I actually used to have such a solid hashtag strategy, and I think that was how I was able to build my audience so fast,” she said.

This strategy includes tracking the specific hashtag, counting how many posts were attributed to the hashtag, and looking at audience engagement with the top posts attributed to the hashtag. “That was my method. I have all kinds of spreadsheets from it. It sounds crazy but it really worked for me,” she said. “Now if I have the energy and the time, I’ll put work into the hashtags, but sometimes I just want to post a picture.”

The work Joanna has put into her Instagram page has certainly paid off, and has led to multiple sponsorships from various beauty and fashion brands. To promote a lot of the brands she works with, Joanna uses Like to Know it, a platform that helps audiences find the products influencers are using. “It makes it so easy for my audience to see what I’m into and I’m using and then get it themselves,” she said in regards to Like to Know it. “It’s such an easy process.”

One of the most exciting sponsorships Joanna has featured on her Like to Know it page was with Utla’s 21 Days of Beauty campaign. “It was a dream, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. Because Ulta is such a major brand, they gave her specific brand guidelines, content expectations, and promotion scheduling. While her experience with Ulta was really positive, Joanna does note that working with big companies can get complicated. “When I’ve spoken with other creators and they’ll say that sometimes they get feedback from a brand saying they them to change some part of a post which I do understand, I mean you’re in a business transaction and creators want to make sure the brands they’re promoting are happy,” she said. “But at the same time, they’re paying you because they love your voice, so there’s a balance you have to find. If they’re trying to change you and your message or your voice, it’s okay to pushback.”

Fortunately for Joanna, she has been able to keep her voice authentic, and has even been able to get it into some major publications. Some of her stories and experiences have been featured in publications like Self Magazine, Readers Digest, and the Wall Street Journal. “Those are all very pinch me moments,” she said.

Just how did Joanna appear in these publications? “I always thought that in order to appear in those kinds of publications, you had to really be somebody and have all kinds of accolades, but really what I realized is that these people have a job to do,” she said. “They have projects, they need sources, they’re always looking for people who can help them with a story. When I realized that, I thought, ‘okay, well what kind of stories do I have to tell?’” This has led her to establishing and growing relationships with journalists, who can be incredible contacts for growing her following and notoriety.

And it’s not just with journalists that Joanna has learned to network with. Her networking opportunities began in college, and have grown exponentially since then. “In school I actually had a ton of opportunities to network. I was super involved in my sorority and in student government and other clubs,” she said. “So, I had opportunities to network with students that I really looked up to and also with professors.”

Now much of her networking is done at events, where she really makes an effort to put herself out there. “At events, I just tell myself, ‘the worst thing that could happen is they could tell me no, shoot me down.’ Or, they could become a great connection or back-pocket contact,” said Joanna. “And if the worst thing does happen, if they say no, it doesn’t change anything. But if you don’t even give yourself the chance to have a conversation with someone, then you’re giving yourself the answer no.”

This ability to put herself out there has opened up some real opportunities. Funnily enough, Joanna had the chance to test out her actual elevator pitch with a gentleman who happened to be the president of the company she was applying for. While she didn’t know who the man was at the time, she went on to land the gig, and it is now her full-time job. “I thought, ‘I’m in New York, I don’t know who this guy is, but I’m going to be nice,’” said Joanna in regards to the incident. “You shouldn’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You just never know what’s going to happen.”

And while in-person elevator pitches may be out of the question right now, virtual networking can open some incredible doors as well. “When applying for jobs on LinkedIn after college, I would look for graduates from my college who were working at that company and reach out to them and ask if they had a few minutes to talk with me,” said Joanna. “Then I would contact the job poster directly and attach my resume and cover letter to that conversation as well. I would also go to the company website directly and see if I could submit my information there. I was really relentless.”

Her relentlessness certainly paid off, and Joanna has already established a successful career as a young 20-something content creator. A lot of this started, though, with internships. Joanna completed multiple internships throughout her college career, and admits they taught her a lot. “When I did my PR internship in NY, I threw myself into it. I asked questions every day, I tried to learn and soak up as much as I could,” she said. It shows, too. “What is important about those internships to me is that not only could I say that I did them, but I could prove that I learned what I was taught through my own brand, my own Instagram. So, I wasn’t just taught it, I really learned it. I soaked it up and applied it.”

While COVID may have put much of the industry on hold, we’re all certainly excited to see what else Joanna has to learn, and what else she has to teach us.

4 Tips from Joanna Faith Williams:

  1. Educate yourself as much as you can.

“Keep learning. Keep researching about roles in the industry you may not even know exist. There are an unbelievable amount of fashion jobs and types of jobs and things that people need help with that you couldn’t even imagine.”

  1. Do what works for you.

“If you’re trying to become a fashion influencer, don’t immediately overwhelm yourself with web design and content, just do what you are able to do. There are so many good resources out there but right off the bat, so don’t feel like you have to have best camera or best equipment. You’ll always be growing and evolving, so don’t compare your chapter one with someone else’s chapter eleven.”

  1. Intern!

“I learned so much and I was able to prove what I learned, which I think was really impressive to companies.”

  1. Be relentless, especially in your job searching.

“I changed my resume and cover letter for every single job I applied to just to make sure it really fit with what that job was looking for. It sounds like it’s a lot of work, and it is, but it worked.”

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About Hannah Hargrove

Originally from New Mexico, Hannah Hargrove moved to Durango, Colorado in 2014 to pursue a college volleyball scholarship at Fort Lewis College. Following the completion of her bachelor’s degree in English, Hannah moved to Denver to continue her education with a graduate degree in Communications with a specialization in New Media. Hannah is planning to pursue a career in the fashion industry in a marketing or professional communications capacity.

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