Seventeen’s How I Made It features professionals across various industries that are making waves in their careers. In the series, Seventeen Editor-in-Chief Kristin Koch interviews these leaders to answer your career questions.
Lauren Chan began her career as a plus-size model in New York City where she continues to walk the runways for some of the biggest names in fashion. Chan then became a fashion editor and went on to write award-winning pieces for publications like Vogue and Glamour. Through her work as a model and editor, Chan started to focus on size acceptance and body positivity.
Most recently, Chan launched Henning, a luxury womenswear line available in sizes 12 to 26. People like Ashley Graham, Stacey Abrams and Cori Bush have all been spotted wearing her pieces, NBD.
As a pioneer in bringing size-inclusive fashion to the forefront, Lauren shared all the details about being involved in multiple aspects of the fashion industry. Read on for Lauren’s interview to learn how she made it and to pick up some inspiring advice.
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17: Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Lauren Chan: I am currently the founder and CEO of Henning, which makes ethical luxury womenswear in sizes 12 to 26 here in New York City. I had a past life where I was a fashion editor; a few years ago, I was the fashion news editor at Glamour so I was overseeing the fashion front-of-book section, the fashion writing team and helped the marketing team as well. Before that, I was a plus-sized model.
It’s been a journey that’s been kind of all over the place but has always had the same true line of wanting to work in fashion and represent and demarginalize women who have been put on the outs because of their size.
17: What inspired you to start your own fashion brand?
LC: I didn’t always want to start a fashion brand. I really thought that I was going to be an editor for the rest of my life. I really wanted to be an editor-in-chief and helm a title that I could have many different aspects of that work and iterations of that creative fulfillment of fashion for many years to come.
That has taken, as an industry, an entirely different shape but at the same time, I discovered my niche and purpose and passion, more so in advocating for size inclusion in fashion. I just got to a point where I thought the best current iteration of that was my own brand.
17: How did you go from having the idea and inspiration for starting a company to actually making it happen?
LC: That process is so scary. People who have done it before would joke and tell me that it’s almost a good thing if you don’t know what you’re in for and you don’t know how scared you should be because that naivety kind of protects you from not taking the leap and not actually going out and doing it.
The best way to start is to just start. I basically had a never-ending to-do list for the entire year that I was building Henning pre-launch. Whether that was little tasks or big tasks, just starting and crossing them off one-by-one eventually built me a brand. I’m someone who, if I see a list and I know my tasks, I can cross them off so I know I’m achieving them. Even if it’s going slow, I know that I can put one foot in front of the other and move forward and it mentally helps me.
17: How did you make the jump from modeling to becoming an editor at Glamour?
LC: I tried every which way. I was applying for jobs, I was going to interviews. I was freelance writing where I could, I was just pitching everybody that I had a relationship with. I was going to networking events, whether that was with people who I admired that were editors or peers from Ed2010.
I interned in every kind of department that I could think of because I didn’t go to fashion school, so I thought that I would educate myself that way. I did internships for digital media, fashion design, for programs and nonprofits like the CFDA and I just kind of figured that if I really tried at 110% and stayed resilient and kept it up, something had to give. I did that for two to three years and eventually, something did give. I was at Cosmo for a bit and then ended up at Glamour, which is where I spent the bulk of my career.
Then, I was so hungry that it was like in every fiber of my body, that’s what I was driven to do every day and it didn’t even matter how tired I got. I was just so excited and energized by the opportunities and by the possibilities that I just kept going hard.
17: How did you work toward providing more size-inclusive coverage while working at a magazine?
LC: I think that, in so many ways, it has nothing to do with me. It was Jane Keltner de Valle’s idea for hiring me and having that faith, and Cindi Leive’s idea to start a size-inclusive column and Laurel Pinson’s idea to launch an entire vertical dedicated to size-inclusion online and Lauren Dreeland’s idea to go to Lane Bryant to co-design collections with them.
I think that the reason that we were all such a great team in achieving all those things was that I was the plus-sized person in the room. By no fault of any singular person there, the magazine and the company didn’t really have a lot of fat people. Without that particular “secret sauce” of having that experience, you can’t fake it. The clothes in our collaboration wouldn’t have been as great unless they had someone like me designing them. The column wouldn’t have resonated with so many women unless someone who had had the experience of being a bigger person loving fashion had been writing it.
I was pitching with evidence that these women were out there by way of actual hard data and what was in the market that already talked about fashion and plus sizes — not a lot, basically showing the market opportunity. Then, when I got the approval to do things, I worked so hard on them to ensure that they would be successes that could feed off each other so that when we had a few great columns, then we pitched an online vertical. When that went really well, we pitched an entire sponsored print issue and when that went well, we pitched an entire clothing collaboration.
The other part of it was not just staying in “my lane,” so when there was a well editorial that had to do with love for the February issue, asking that I got invited to those casting meetings so I could be sure to keep suggesting folks who looked different than what was usually found in magazines. Like I said, when you’re not marginalized in that beauty ideal, you don’t always remember something as simple as putting their names on the table for the casting pool.
17: What do you think the future of the body positivity movement is?
LC: I feel like there’s a conversation about body positivity as an institution and there’s a conversation about body positivity as a practice for people to apply to their personal lives and feel better. I think that for the latter for how we use body positivity for the betterment of ourselves, the future of body positivity is turning toward body neutrality, which is just to take the value out of the beauty ideal and how we look, to find that worth and fulfillment in things beyond our physical selves. It’s so exciting that Gen Z is kind of there. They helped start so much of the way that we culturally feel about individual beauty and different beauty.
Systemically and as an institution, body positivity was started in the 60s by fat women of color, black women. It was meant to demarginalize people who were completely othered because their bodies were so far out of the beauty ideal which also has racist implications and socioeconomic implications. I hope that with body positivity as a system, we actually trace back toward those roots and find more value in education and conversation in that idea.
I think we’ve kind of flown too close to the sun on co-opting that movement and watering it down and making it so that if somebody who fits in the long-held beauty ideal can put a post on Instagram and lean over so that they have two small rolls is getting rewarded with likes and campaigns and money heralding body positivity. I just think that it’s a little far gone and hopefully, there are people at large who want to learn more about where that started, where that comes from, why it’s important and what we can do to demarginalize people who have long been systemically marginalized for what they look like.
17: What would be your advice for people who want to combine a passion and make a difference, whether it’s through a traditional industry or starting their own company?
LC: I mean, I don’t think there’s any other way than that. I think that’s what’s so admirable about folks who are in Gen Z and coming into the industry now because on the one hand industry-wise, you have this dismantled, crumbled situation that needs to be rebuilt with a new foundation in some places. But then you also have these individuals who don’t just want to work in fashion because they saw The Devil Wears Prada and because that’s all we were allowed to see of the industry, but who care about things. I think it’s going to be incredible to see their ideas and the ways they participate in an industry that is right for change but hasn’t been great to the world.
If you want to work in fashion, beauty, entertainment or one of those industries that seem glamorous — it’s not, I guarantee you — you should definitely make sure that you have a purpose and a passion and a way to care beyond participating because otherwise, it won’t be mentally sustainable. It won’t be that fulfilling; on the flip side, it can be very much sustainable and fulfilling if you have that purpose. The way to find that is to think about what you get energized by if someone argues with you about it. Could you just list the facts out, prove them wrong and feel good about it? What would you do for free? What would you wake up every day and contribute to or work towards for free? I think the way to actually implement that is to take that lens and apply it to everything.
I think always having that mentality of “Did I check that box, did I apply my passion to this? Is there a way to intertwine them together?” is a really practical and easy way to have great ideas and get ahead.
17: What advice do you have for anyone who’s trying to make it in the fashion industry?
LC: Find your niche and what makes you different and really hone that, fine-tune that. Make sure you have a way to apply that lens to whatever you’re doing because the question you really have to answer when you’re just breaking into something, whether you’re new to it or want to switch careers and move on to something else, is “Why me?” That’s the question that you’re always going to have to answer with the sea of people who are already working in fashion and the other sea of people who want to.
Stay tuned to our Instagram for future installments of How I Made It, where you can learn how to land your dream job straight from industry professionals.
Parts of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.
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