- Fashion entrepreneur Rachel Zoe talked to the “Second Life” podcast about how she’s mastered the many pivots she’s made throughout her career.
- Zoe shared that she’s governed her entire career by making decisions based on what feels right at the time.
- A few takeaways from Zoe’s interview include never saying never, starting small, and checking your ego at the door.
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It’s hard to categorize 48-year-old Rachel Zoe. She’s a Hollywood stylist, fashion designer, bestselling author, TV personality, and media mogul, among other things, so perhaps she’s best described as a fashion entrepreneur. From her roots as a fashion assistant at YM magazine to starring on Bravo’s “The Rachel Zoe Project” and launching the style website The Zoe Report, which she sold to Bustle Digital Group in 2018, Zoe has continually reinvented and reimagined her career and has carved out a niche for herself in the fashion industry time and time again.
On the “Second Life” podcast, Who What Wear’s cofounder and chief content officer Hillary Kerr spotlights successful women who’ve made major career changes and mastered the pivot. She’s featured women like actress Mandy Moore, Instagram’s Eva Chen, Outdoor Voices’ Ty Haney, and Parachute’s Ariel Kaye.
The interviewees share the ways in which they’ve found success and fulfillment — whatever that means to them — both professionally and personally, and detail the triumphs and tribulations that took place along the way … all in an effort to inspire the next generation of women.
On the November 4 episode, Kerr chatted with Zoe, who shared a few of the secrets to her success.
Throughout her career, Zoe hasn’t been afraid to take chances. She left a job in fashion at YM magazine to pursue freelance opportunities; said yes to projects she wasn’t yet entirely ready to handle, like styling an ad campaign for Tommy Hilfiger; and launched a hit reality television series long before they were de rigueur.
“Change is the scariest thing you can do in your career,” Zoe told Kerr. “But do it while you can. It’s not that you can’t later in life, it’s just that it gets way harder to change the deeper you are in the career that you’re in. It’s a safer time to change now than it ever has been before.”
Zoe and her husband Roger are business partners, and Zoe told Kerr that, in order for spouses to work together successfully, boundaries are important.
“There needs to be a clear and definite line as to what part of the business you own, and what part they own, and I don’t mean ‘own’ literally,” she explained on “Second Life.” “We also try not to bring work home or around our children. Home life needs to be home life.”
That said, Zoe said her brand’s subscription box, Box of Style, was created as an idea in the middle of the night. “The pro is that your business partner’s right there,” she said to Kerr.
Zoe joked to Kerr that she used to say, “Nope, never,” about writing a book, working on a TV show, and launching a fashion collection — all things she’s since done. “Now I know to never say never,” she said. “I’ve governed every part of my career based on if it felt right at the time.”
She’s also been unafraid to be a first mover. Zoe received pushback from the fashion industry when starting “The Rachel Zoe Project” on Bravo, but it eventually aired for five seasons and Zoe hints on the podcast that she might soon be returning to reality television.
Zoe explained that stylists are often paid by how many looks they’re styled to do or by how many days they’ll be on set. But, for Zoe, the money has always been secondary.
“My passion drove me,” she told Kerr. “I never looked at the money and never thought, ‘I’m only being paid to do three outfits.’ It’s so crazy to think like that. I genuinely just loved it so much that I always over delivered.”
Throughout her career, Zoe has often had to start something from nothing and, as her company grew, the decisions she made became bigger. “I’d wake up in cold sweats, feeling like I couldn’t trust anyone,” she said to Kerr. “When you have the most limited means is when you’re forced to be your most creative.”
For Zoe, this meant starting with a small newsletter, simply showing how to wear a seemingly unattainable trend. Little by little, it became bigger, and today it’s turned into what’s now The Zoe Report.
Zoe’s first major job as a freelancer came from Tommy Hilfiger after he’d heard great things about her from his brother, whom she’d worked on projects with at YM magazine. “There was no such thing as social media,” she said to Kerr. “It was all word of mouth.”
Later, when she moved to LA, Zoe had coffee with a publicist she’d been introduced to, who worked with Jennifer Garner. That connection eventually led to Zoe’s first Hollywood red carpet moment.
“You remember the people that took a chance on you,” Zoe said.
Zoe had to learn that it wasn’t always about her artistic vision.
“As a stylist, you have to check your ego at the door,” she told Kerr. “Ultimately, every job you do is a collaboration between yourself, the talent, the photographer, stylist, makeup artist, and hairstylist. Know your audience. In an ad campaign, you’re selling a product, and that product has to be the hero. It’s not about me. You walk into those situations as a collaborator.”
After September 11, Zoe felt like what she was doing was superficial and insignificant, and she went back to her childhood dream of wanting to be a social worker. But a friend reminded her that she was making women feel better about themselves, and her dad said to look at fashion as her art.
“This is my purpose,” she told Kerr. “I knew I’d spend the rest of my career doing what I love but also figuring out how to teach as many women as possible to look and feel their best by letting the outside inform the inside, and vice versa.”