How Elvis Kawedo is Building a Lasting Beauty & Fashion Journalism Career

Elvis O. Kawedo is a beauty, culture, and fashion journalist who has worked with leading brands like BBC News, Essence Magazine, Folklore, Okay Africa, Quartz Africa, Mail & Guardian, and many more. In this interview, he shares what it means to be a fashion journalist, how his career began, and much more.

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What does it mean to be a fashion journalist?

Fashion journalism is doing stories around fashion. Beyond featuring designers, photographers, stylists, and anyone in the creative industry, I want to use my stories to tell something much more nuanced.

Fashion journalism is having conversations with more depth and nuance but also using fashion as its core and premise — Elvis Kawedo on the Marketing Over Wine Podcast.

I believe that fashion can be used to tell several things. When you think about politics, business, racism, sexuality, and gender, you would agree with me that one language that connects them is “Fashion.”

That’s how I feel or how I would describe fashion journalism. It’s about having conversations with much more depth and nuance but also using fashion as its core and premise.

Is there a difference between a fashion blogger and a fashion journalist? 

Both fields are working on the same thing, fashion, but there are a few differences. Firstly, fashion journalists are more grounded and have a professional approach than fashion bloggers. 

For instance, I’m currently in the UK for a fashion journalism course because I want to have that professional degree, but fashion bloggers might not necessarily go through that route.

In my opinion, fashion blogging is more about social media content creation. There’s a bit of writing to it, but with the emergence of the creator’s economy, it’s more about creating social media content around a personal perspective.  

Fashion ​journalism ​involves ​a ​lot ​more ​research, ​practice, and ​talking ​to ​designers, ​stylists, ​and ​anyone ​who ​works ​in ​the ​creative ​field. ​

I will liken it to bricklaying and engineering. If fashion blogging is bricklaying, a fashion journalist is engineering.  While a bricklayer knows about building a house, he knows only a little technical know-how that the engineer knows much about. 

How did you get into fashion writing? 

I have always been involved in fashion since I was way younger. I attended a fashion school, but a fashion school in Nigeria is more of a fashion house. So, think about going to any of these established brands and learning under them. 

​​I learned about ​pattern ​drafting​, other sewing-related methods, ​fashion illustration, and the fashion business. It was more about the practical aspects. 

So, I know how to use a sewing machine. I even had a fashion brand built on Instagram back then, and almost all the famous people were following me.

Also, I had parents who leveraged their children’s skills and helped us build on them. I was more of an English person and did a lot of writing. My father saw all my qualities and made me write long and short stories. He helped me build my strength.

When COVID happened, one of my friends was going to Port Harcourt. The school had dismissed everybody, and I didn’t want to go home. So, I told my parents that I would go with my friend. 

When we got there, we lived with one of his friends. The visit was supposed to be for a week or two, but that turned into three months because of the intra-state ban later on. The governor was very strict, so we couldn’t travel back to our cities.

While we were there, it just didn’t make sense that we should be liabilities to the person hosting us with everything happening in the country. We decided to utilize the lockdown era, my friend Robert Solomon and I, to learn about pitching. 

That’s how we began pitching ideas to a few magazines and publications, and that’s how I landed the role of the first African Fashion Editor for Vanity Teen.

At that time, Vanity Teen was very Eurocentric. So, we wanted to bring in a new kind of African audience.

While I was doing that, I became active on LinkedIn. That’s how I started my passion for writing. I began to interview photographers and stylists and work with them. We started to create unique editorials and campaigns. 

Later on, somebody from Business Day in Nigeria reached out to me and said they wanted me to contribute to a franchise on Business Day. It was going to be a weekend column, to which I agreed, and I worked with them for nine months.

How did you learn to pitch your business?

Everything I know, my friend and I learned from the Internet. We read about how to pitch ideas, who to contact, and the best format.

Before then, there were some successful, quote-unquote freelancers in Nigeria. I remember reaching out to one of them, and the response I got was not encouraging at all. 

It’s great to reach out and ask for help, but when it doesn’t seem like help is forthcoming, you have to look out for yourself. 

I began to pitch and put myself out there, and that’s how I got on Vanity Teen, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, BBC Africa, BeautyMatter, and many other brands.  

Currently, I am the content director for Marmalade Collective, the media agency in the UK, and a guest lecturer for universities in South Africa and the UK.  

What is the most you have earned on a gig or a project since getting into fashion writing?

Back then, one of the highest-paying gigs I did was $600, and I swear it was so good because it was such a huge amount considering the economic situation in Nigeria. 

I remember I was still in school, and I didn’t even have money on that day, but I needed to travel from Benin to Lagos. So, I went to Zenith Bank’s head office to ask them what was happening – what was causing the delay.

I also remember working with a fashion tech company that paid me around $800. It was freelancing, and that was how much the publication paid out then.

Another agency hit me up and wanted me to also work with them. The money was around $950. These are some of the highest amounts besides my work with BeautyMatters.

Would you say the fashion journalism course you’re currently taking in the UK has significantly impacted your fashion journalism career?

Of course. That’s one of the primary reasons I had to leave to study the course. 

I was already doing so well in fashion journalism, but I wanted a more grounded experience. 

Fashion journalist, Elvis Kawedo in front of Nottingham Trent University for his masters in fashion communication.
Elvis Kawedo in front of Nottingham Trent University for his masters degree

All of the things I know in fashion are very focused on Africa alone, and while we are also trying to shape the cultural zeitgeist, I wanted to have this experience. I wanted to see what European fashion was all about. 

I wanted to expose myself to the culture and the people. Today, the people I am closest to right now are from Asia. They are Indians and one ​of ​the ​major ​people ​with so ​much ​impact ​within ​the ​fashion ​industry presently. ​

Sometimes, the doubts creep in, and I ask myself, “Wait, did I just travel to a place to study fashion?” 

Studying fashion journalism means I’m becoming niched, which can create doubts. But fashion can be used to talk about anything. It depends on how well you sell yourself and how convincing you are at the kind of job that you do. 

If it’s going to be for you, it will come anyway.

Did you have to post on LinkedIn daily or send personalized connection requests and email messages to get gigs?

I have been preaching the LinkedIn gospel for a very long time, and at this point, they have to make me an ambassador. People often get misinformed on how to use the platform.

Somebody taught me to send personalized messages to people, which worked for me at some point, but it wasn’t giving me jobs. It just made them know who I was. 

That process involved looking for a full name on Google and searching for anything you had said. 

Did you appear on any video? What did you say?  

Then, I will send a personalized message that I loved what you said here and would love to connect with you. 

That made them recognize me, but it didn’t bring me jobs. 

Instead, what worked for me was that I was very intentional about the kind of people I connected with. I wanted to work in fashion, beauty, and culture. So, I began to connect with fashion editors or beauty editors on LinkedIn – people who worked in magazines, and I started communicating with those people.  

I also began to interact and build relationships and a community. “Oh, ​this ​person commented on ​my ​post; I have to comment on theirs, too.”

If you’re just starting out, you have to optimize your profile. That’s ​LinkedIn ​101: ​great ​picture, a ​description of ​the work ​that ​you ​have ​done, and a ​banner. 

​I ​made ​sure ​I wasn’t looking like a ​one ​badass ​professional. I won’t ​wear ​a ​suit, and ​I ​ ​have ​a ​nose ​ring ​on. 100% personable. 100% me.

The ​current ​climb ​of ​LinkedIn ​is ​people ​who ​are ​not ​scared ​to ​be ​vulnerable – ​who ​are ​not ​scared ​to ​be ​transparent. ​

Another thing I did was that I began to post from a place of authority. I knew so much about fashion, especially African fashion, and wanted to build a community around it. 

So, I began sharing my experiences around that and added a call to action.

What you are ​consistent ​in ​doing is ​what ​people will ​know ​you ​for. ​I wanted people to know me for fashion, ​beauty, culture, ​queerness, and ​masculinity. 

Fashion journalism involves a lot more research, more practicing, and more talking to designers and stylists than fashion bloggers — Elvis Kawedo on the Marketing Over Wine Podcast.

Another thing to add is that there is no pressure to post, but ​consistency ​is ​not posting ​once ​in ​two ​weeks or ​once ​in ​a ​month. Nobody ​is ​going ​to ​see ​your account that way.

How do ​you ​stay up-​to-date ​on ​the ​trends ​and news ​of ​the ​fashion ​industry?

I read ​publications, follow ​fashion ​editors to see what ​they ​are ​doing, and some hashtags. I also subscribe ​to ​a ​few ​newsletters, like the ​Marmalade collective ​newsletter.

What skills does a fashion journalist need?

I know it’s going to sound weird, but learn to write. That’s mostly it. If you don’t know how to write, it might be tricky.  

You want to learn that and understand what’s going on around you. I’m always talking about African fashion, and I know people who contacted me because of that. ​

For ​example, ​they’re ​like, ​” Oh, ​you ​really ​know ​what’s ​happening ​within ​the ​fashion ​and ​beauty ​space ​in ​Africa​, and we want ​you ​to ​help ​us ​bring ​this ​market.”

You should also be a good reader because it might be harder for you to find your voice if you do not understand the kind of voices that people write from. Most people like to write from a place of storytelling. 

What misconception do you get almost every day about becoming a fashion journalist?

People think you will get ​invites ​to ​top ​fashion events because you are a fashion journalist. You’re ​going ​to ​be ​getting ​a ​lot ​of PR. You will get flown out to ​South ​African ​Fashion ​Week, see Chanel in ​Senegal, and visit other countries. 

No, it ​doesn’t ​work ​like ​that. 

A ​huge ​misconception is ​how ​glamorous ​and ​glitzy ​the ​fashion ​industry ​is. ​The ​fashion ​industry is ​so ​stressful, ​to ​be ​honest. ​Forget ​about ​the ​glitz ​and ​the ​glam. ​You ​have ​to ​do and sacrifice so ​much.

How do you keep track of creative ideas when the writing process begins?

When an idea hits me, I go to my email ​draft. Presently, I have ​99+ ​drafts. ​Immediately an idea comes to me; I open my email app and ​drop ​it ​there ​because ​if ​I ​don’t ​do that, I will forget it.

Sometimes, I also use ​Google ​Docs ​because it ​saves ​automatically. ​I used my ​iPhone ​Note in the past, but you ​could ​just ​restart ​your ​phone, ​and ​then ​it’s ​no ​longer ​there.

So, I jot down the creative ideas that pop up on either ​my ​email ​draft ​or ​Google ​Docs. And if I don’t have my phone nearby, I quickly scribble it on ​a ​book ​before ​I ​forget.

What role does storytelling play in your content writing process?

Storytelling plays a 100% role in my content writing process.

If you even check my LinkedIn profile, I want to tell you how my day went and what I did today. Then, I will use that to create content that aligns with fashion, beauty, or culture.

​I ​don’t ​write ​from ​a ​place ​of ​nonexperience ​because ​I ​feel ​ ​I ​don’t ​have ​the ​authority ​to ​do ​that. 

​I believe that ​if ​you’re ​going ​to ​write ​about ​queer ​people, ​you ​have ​to ​be ​a ​queer ​person. ​If you’re ​going ​to ​write ​about ​religion. ​You ​have ​to ​experience ​both ​worlds.

What tools do you use daily as part of your workflow?

  • Miro
  • Canva 
  • Google Docs is a major one for me. I use it to draft my pitch idea and to construct my CV or cover letter. 
  • I use PowerPoint for school presentations.
  • I also use Google Spreadsheets to keep track of my pitches. Did ​I ​get ​a ​response? ​Do ​I ​have ​to ​follow ​up? 

I also ​have ​another ​spreadsheet ​where ​I ​have ​the names ​of ​editors ​and ​their ​emails, where ​they ​work, ​and what ​stories ​they ​like ​to ​commission so that ​I ​can ​always ​reach ​out ​​when ​I ​have ​stories ​that ​can ​work ​for ​them.

What mistakes have you made along your career journey, and what lessons did you learn from them?

My number one mistake was pitching obsessively to an editor. Don’t ever do that. Previously, if you rejected my pitch, in two hours, I would send you another one.

That is a mistake because most editors will think that you didn’t take the time to read about the publication to know whether or not it will work.

Another mistake I made was not respecting people’s privacy. I once reached out to an editor on Instagram because he didn’t reply to my email. They removed me from their following because they were following me at that time. 

I wish I realized these mistakes on time. 

Another mistake I also would like people to avoid is having the idea of “I don’t think I’m good enough.”  It dampens your self-confidence and how well you think you are or how great you are at something. When these feelings come up, I go on a social media detox. 

What are some of the successes and accomplishments along your fashion writing career journey?

Working with the BBC. Being the first Nigerian to contribute to Essence Magazine. Contributing to OkayAfrica, one of the most revered publications on African news. 

I’ve also taught MA students in the UK and South African BA students. These were defining moments for me. 

I did research work for Bloomsbury. It’s about awareness and the fashion industry in Africa. 

Where can we go to learn more about Elvis Kawedo?

LinkedIn – Elvis O. KAWEDO 

Twitter – @ehlvhis_

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