In ELLE.com’s monthly series Office Hours, we ask people in powerful positions to take us through their first jobs, worst jobs, and everything in between. This month we spoke to Claire Sulmers, the founder of Fashion Bomb Daily, a go-to source for celebrity style and fashion intel. What started as Sulmers’ online diary has transformed into a multi-pronged business, including the Fashion Bomb Daily Shop, an e-commerce store focused on diverse, emerging designers, and The Bomb Fashion Show. “Going from being an outsider—crashing fashion shows and literally having anxiety attacks when fashion week came around, because I wanted to go so badly and didn’t know how to get in—to having a sold-out fashion show and giving opportunities to people is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done,” Sulmers told ELLE.com. Below, the blogger-turned-businesswoman shares how she charted her own path into the fashion world—and how you can do the same.
My first job
My first salaried job was as a researcher/reporter at Real Simple magazine. I graduated from Harvard in 2003 and wanted to work in media, but I didn’t have a lot of experience, so I was doing a lot of unpaid or poorly paid internships. I was really thrilled to work at Real Simple, because it was a full-time job, so I had regular hours, I had health insurance. But it really wasn’t the place I wanted to be. I wanted to write about fashion, and they only had an opening in the research and reporting department. But I was able to learn so much that has carried over to my career today. I’m such a stickler for us making sure things are spelled correctly, that the price is correct. It made me very detail-oriented.
The biggest career risk I ever took
I worked at Real Simple for four years. But I had this degree in French and African American studies that I hadn’t really used, and I always had this dream of living in Paris. So I thought to myself, how am I going to make it happen? I decided to quit my job with the goal of working at Vogue in Paris. I was 28, and I moved. I knew one person there; I hadn’t saved up any money. It was probably one of the craziest things I’ve ever done in my life, and it took me a year and a half before I was able to get an internship at Vogue. But when I moved, I became more courageous and really started to go for what I want.
Why there’s never a perfect time to make a bold move
If you have something in your heart and in your mind, I always say it’s an assignment from God. There’s a reason you feel this tugging, and you can come up with so many different excuses as to why you shouldn’t do it. But if I hadn’t made that move—and mind you, my Caribbean parents were like, “You’re crazy. You should stay in this job. Save up your money some more”—I don’t know where I would be. I did have to take a step back and seriously sacrifice and deal with all the problems that go along with moving to a foreign country without having saved up a lot of money. But at the end of the day, I ended up making multiples of what I was making at my old job. I learned so much about myself from that big move.
How I’ve created opportunities for myself
I once crashed a Louis Vuitton party that was happening at the Brooklyn Museum. At the time, I lived across the street, and I was like, “There’s no way a big fashion event is happening across the street from my house and I’m not going.” So I put on a Jessica McClintock prom dress and costume jewelry and finagled my way in. I grabbed a glass of champagne, and I said hi to Marc Jacobs. I had my digital camera, and I took a selfie with him, and he was nuzzled up in my ear like we were friends. I was just taking pictures with everybody. I handed out my business card to Anna Wintour. I was going to meet as many people as possible. A few months later I was crashing a show, and I sat next to a writer for Teen Vogue. I handed him my card, and he saw the picture of me and Marc Jacobs [on Fashion Bomb] and wrote about me as a blogger of the moment.
One of my favorite phrases is: I couldn’t find a seat at the table, so I made my own table. Sometimes my attitude can seem a bit aggressive, but I’m always like, “Why not me?” It’s always been one of those things where I’m trying to prove myself and go with my gut and my heart. A lot of times I am fearful. A lot of times I’m thinking, okay, if I go up to Marc Jacobs, he might pour champagne on me. But most people that I’ve met are so kind. Try to carve out a space for yourself. It’s paid off for me ultimately.
On fashion’s diversity problem
Does Black-owned media really have a space in fashion? When we go to a fashion show, for example, there’s really no representation from Black-owned media, Black editors, Black influencers. In a lot of the luxury spaces, Black-owned media is not given a seat at the table. We don’t get invites to a lot of the big shows. We don’t get interviews with a lot of the big designers. It’s been an endemic issue, and in my opinion, you go where you’re celebrated, not tolerated. There could be more access given to people of all colors when it comes to fashion. It’s important that all of us come together and address these issues until we’re at a place of true equity.
How I open doors for other Black women in fashion
We had our second Bomb Fashion Show this September to give not just Black models, but Black designers an opportunity to show during New York Fashion Week. I know from experience that running a fashion show is very expensive. So for me, it’s about using my platform to create opportunities for other people. I really felt like when I was coming up, it was a cold world. I would be like, “Can I please come in? Can somebody help me?” And I just heard “no.” E-commerce started for that same reason—encountering a lot of designers who don’t have access to consumers or marketing or stylists or celebrities, and me leveraging a lot of my contacts to help them to drive sales and build their businesses. If I can just be who I wanted to be as a young woman in the industry, then I feel like I’m doing something right.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Madison is a senior writer/editor at ELLE.com, covering news, politics, and culture. When she’s not on the internet, you can most likely find her taking a nap or eating banana bread.