In Fashion Quarterly Issue #2 2017, 29-year-old Olivia Fleming talks to us about her New York-based jewellery brand, Olivia Kane Jewelry, AKA the coolest side-hustle ever.
Of course, as senior digital features editor for HarpersBazaar.com, Olivia’s main-hustle is just as impressive. How did she get there? Read on to find out.
FQ: Where in New Zealand were you born and what was your upbringing like?
Olivia Fleming: I was born in Auckland. My weekends were spent in the ocean, exploring rock pools, playing in the bush, climbing trees, and running around my neighborhood with my best friend. I was always covered in sand from the beach or mud from the Parnell Rose Gardens. I had no idea how idyllic my childhood was until I moved to New York.
After attending high school at Epsom Girls’ Grammar you studied journalism at Auckland University of Technology. Did you always want to specialise in fashion journalism?
I wanted to work in magazines from the age of 10. By the time I was finished high school, I knew I loved editing (clothes, images, and words), so I set out to learn as much as I could about that world. I wanted to have strengths in both the visual and written side of things, so I chose a double major in journalism and advertising. I actually started my career as a stylist’s assistant, but after moving to New York for the second time in 2011, I quickly realised how insidious and competitive the world of styling can be here; all the joy I had previously found in it disappeared. So I decided to focus on writing and haven’t looked back since.
You got your start at Fashion Quarterly – tell us about that.
During university I worked on the [now defunct] Fashion Quarterly-run site, runwayreporter.co.nz, as well as on the print magazine as an assistant. I did everything from writing to taking street style photographs to choosing the must-have cardigans of the season. It was my first introduction to the inside workings of a magazine, but also to the idea that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Hard work and talent is obviously important — as is relentless determination, and a healthy dose of kindness — but I got my role at FQ because I knew someone who knew someone. This way of getting a foot in the door has held true throughout my career, from my first job in New York to the job I have now at Harper’s BAZAAR, which an editor friend recommended me for. The biggest mistake you can make is to underestimate the power of networking. My advice to anyone who wants to work in the fashion or media industries is to have no shame in introducing yourself to as many people as possible, and to place high importance on fostering genuine relationships. It’s about playing the long end game.
What motivated you to move to NYC in 2008?
I left for New York three days after my last exam at AUT. I couldn’t wait to get out of the tiny country that, in my mind, was holding me back. Eight years later, all I can think about is moving home. It’s a total cliche, but it took leaving New Zealand to understand its unique magic. The thing I cherish most today is my New Zealand passport! At the time though, I had big dreams that New Zealand couldn’t fulfill.
Talk us through your career trajectory since then…
I was offered a job in ACP’s New York office (now Bauer), working as an editorial assistant, where I helped the Australian editions of Harper’s BAZAAR, Cosmopolitan and Cleo have access to breaking news from New York and LA. This was before everything was online, so I would scan and email (or fax, if the emails were too big) the latest issue of WWD, for example, to the Australian editors so they would have it by the time they woke up. Eight months later, the recession hit. The office closed down and I was faced with trying to make it in an industry where top New York editors were losing their jobs and iconic magazines were closing down on a daily basis. I made the decision to move to Sydney and build my career there instead. Three years later an assistant opportunity opened up at Teen Vogue, and I found myself back in New York.
What have been some career highlights?
My first reaction to this question, like most New Zealanders, I’m sure, is to brush it aside and say something lame and vague; to play my achievements down. But six years in America has taught me to own the things I’m proud of, so here is a small list of deserved brags: Convincing Hillary Clinton to write an essay for BAZAAR, seeing my jewellery on strangers in public, dressing Julia Gillard for a magazine shoot when she was the Australian Prime Minister, having my first piece for The New York Times’ T Magazine go viral, nabbing the first U.S. interview with Lorde before anyone here had heard of her (for Interview magazine), having O.K written up in WWD, and contributing a piece to Vogue.com, which helped to change the way people think about buying art. There are so many things I’m proud of. It hasn’t always been easy, though!
How do you juggle running Olivia Kane Jewelry with your day job at Harper’s BAZAAR?
I’m still trying to figure this out. It’s not easy, I have no time to read books or go to the movies. I no longer cook. But I refuse to give either of them up, so I make it work. I recently hired an intern to help me with operations so I’m able to focus my time outside of Harper’s BAZAAR on sourcing stones and new designs. Running a business and growing a business are two different things, though, and right now, though I’m able to successfully run O.K outside of a demanding full time job, actually growing it is another challenge. It’s a constant hustle. But it’s a hustle I’m enjoying right now!
* Read more about Olivia in Fashion Quarterly Issue #2 2017, on sale now.