Upon the first few seconds of talking to Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power, the duo extraordinaire who created a fashion media empire that includes Who What Wear, it’s evident how complimentary they are. They are ying and yang in everything from their drinks (Hillary orders a bourbon on the rocks, Katherine a white wine spritzer) to their looks (Hillary is a blonde, Katherine a brunette), but perhaps most evident, and most importantly, in their personalities, which is a huge attribute to their immeasurable success. However, as with any duo, they are also incredibly similar – both smart, business-savvy go-getters, who saw an unchartered realm in the fashion world and took the opportunity to become moguls, cementing all their endeavors under Clique Media Group, a media and commerce company, which includes a fashion line available at Target, and various media outlets, including Obsessee, My Domaine, and Byrdie.
But despite their success, Kerr and Power are warm and approachable, and soon enough we were laughing together, reminiscing about platform flip-flops and about the mistake of giving away vintage designer goods. Ahead of their talk at NeueHouse Madison Square, where they discussed their latest business venture, ‘The Career Code,’ a book about everything from business to personal anecdotes, the duo sat down with us to discuss the challenges of building a career, their summer must-haves, and what they value most about each other.
NeueJournal: What do you intend to share with your book that isn’t already available in the myriad of successful platforms you own?
Hillary Kerr: I think this is the first time we’ve put everything together in one easy-to-digest format, not to mention the fact that this is everything we’ve both been personally taking notes on, learning from, and seeing over the last decade of building our company, not to mention our careers in general. It’s also, I think, perhaps the most personal book, because not only does it speak to all these things we’ve learned and noticed about our most successful employees, but there are also snippets from our lives throughout, which is something we haven’t really talked about before.
NJ: It’s incredibly beneficial that it touches upon the challenges you’ve faced, because challenge and failure are a part of success. What has been the most challenging aspect of your careers?
Katherine Power: I think the most challenging aspect has been scaling our company, so in many ways it was pretty easy to jump in and start this. I’ve always been very entrepreneurial since I was small, so I’ve always missed that part of my brain that is fearful about what people think or if I’m going to fail at something.
HK: And I’m just hyper-enthusiastic! (laughs)
KP: I dragged Hillary with me, and I don’t think we necessarily knew what we were getting into, and I think sometimes it’s the unknown that helps. Maybe some of the ignorance really was bliss, and that’s sort of what drove us, but once you get past that early stage – and I would say for the first seven years it was very trying as entrepreneurs – but then you get to this stage where you actually have to grow the business. We have 170 employees now, so at a certain point your job becomes not so much about the actual work or content you’re putting out as a company, but kind of the orchestrating of the people, and the growing of the departments, and making sure that everyone else has a career where they feel fulfilled. So I think that’s been an unexpected challenge we’ve had, but also one of the most rewarding – to be able to give a great career to that many people.
NJ: If you could say something to your younger selves, what would it be?
HK: Learn how to code. Immediately. It was frustrating for us, especially in the beginning…we’re both very hands on, detail-oriented, and incredibly passionate about our company and our work and what we’ve created. We know little bits and bobs here and there about coding, but I think that if I had a deeper understanding of the code and the engineering behind something and the language of code, it would’ve been really helpful, especially back in the day when we were hiring our first CTO and some of that team. Also, who doesn’t want to know code? It’s like learning another language.
KP: I would say, keep all your designer vintage (laughs). I cycled through it and gave a lot of it away or sold it, and I wish I had kept it all.
HK: I feel like you were a very early adopter of the Spark Joy movement, where you Marie Kondo’d your closet long before Marie Kondo was around.
KP: I get that from my grandmother, to go through and clean out our lives, and get rid of a lot of stuff.
NJ: That’s something I’ve always told my mom. I see photos of her when she was younger and hound her. “Why didn’t you keep that?!”
KP: I know! Or like vintage Levis that I had when I was 15…
NJ: That you’re buying now, anyway.
NJ: What do you value most about each other?
HK: I value Katherine’s entrepreneurial side. It is in every fiber of her being, and I feel like that is such an important and lucky quality to have in a business partner. Also the fact that when you make Katherine laugh there is nothing more rewarding, because she’s not an easy laugh, so she finds something funny it’s really funny, which makes me strive to be funnier in my day to day.
KP: This is actually a really good question and I don’t think anyone has ever asked us this. I really value Hillary’s open-mindedness. She is very against change by nature, and I’m looking for change constantly, so she lets me push us there and is very open-minded. It might take a little bit of walking through…
HK: Well, I’m cautious. It’s the Virgo in me. I think I’m still weirdly dealing with ramifications of the recession, especially the nervousness of it. But it’s true, I am a more cautious individual.
KP: But very open-minded. She’ll hear anyone out, and if they feel strongly about something then she will support it.
NJ: Absolutely, and it’s evident that you play upon each other’s strengths. What is your favorite way to treat yourselves?
HK: I’m a pretty voracious reader, so a new book or a new magazine. By treating myself I mean like three times a week, which is just like a little carrot that gets me through the day sometimes. Knowing that I can get to the bookstore or the newsstand and read somebody else’s content is very relaxing to me.
KP: For me it’s probably an afternoon with cheese and meats and wine. Sounds great.
NJ: Looking back, what is the most embarrassing look you ever rocked?
HK: Oooh, there have been so many. I was a devotee of very large platform flip-flops in college.
KP: I believe they’re called Rocket Dogs (laughs).
HK: I was trying to stay away from a brand name (laughs), but yes! I went to college in Southern California and that was what everyone wore, and I for sure went along with it. I look back and I think, “Why?” I mean, it’s not a platform, it’s not chic, it’s cheap and clunky, and just not…not my best outfit era.
KP: I’m embarrassed by what I wore to my interview for Elle, because I wore flats. I was 24 when I went to interview with Nina Garcia, who was the Fashion Director of Elle at the time, and Brandon Holley, who was the Editor in Chief of Elle Girl, and I was interviewing to be the West Coast Editor for both magazines. I mean I looked cute, but I was so young and I was wearing these flat boots, and now I shudder to think I was wearing flats to meet the Fashion Director of Elle.
NJ: What are you most excited to wear this summer?
HK: I have to say, even though it’s been around for a second, I’m such a big fan of all the off-shoulder tops, which are in their peak right now. Not to work, of course, but I look forward to wearing the dresses, and we have some in our line that we do for Target. Just in general I think it’s very flattering, seasonally appropriate, and romantic without being fussy. I’m quite fond of that silhouette.
KP: I love that we have a range of lightweight, chiffon-y, pleated skirts that are really great to wear in the summer. They’re midi-length elastic waist, and they come in rust, pink, and olive green, which I love for summer. We also have some interesting linen pieces, like vests and dresses.
NJ: If you were an inanimate object, what would you be?
KP: Dark sunglasses.
HK: I would be a vintage pineapple cocktail shaker in brass or copper. Decorative and fun, but functional and silly.
NJ: Wow those really paint a picture of either personality. What is your definition of happiness?
KP: Being at home with my husband, watching some TV and eating some good food.
HK: My fiancee makes everything better, so even if we are stuck in an airport together it’s better just because he’s there. If you can throw in friends and food and fun, that is nice as well, but if not, I’ll just take him.
Photography: Bec Lorrimer for NeueJournal