A few years ago, Vanessa Kingori became the first black female publisher of British GQ. Adding additional titles to her name, last year she was awarded an MBE for services to the media and announced as Walpole’s ‘Leader in Luxury’ 2016.
During the twenty-five-minute long phone interview, the (very) well-spoken Kingori told of her journey into the fashion industry and how she keeps herself motivated on a daily basis.
Born to a Kenyan father and West-Indian mother, Kingori developed an interest in fashion at a young age. Skimming through her mother’s pattern magazines, which featured beautiful dresses, she then became interested in fashion itself;
the garments and how they make you feel.
Fast forward a few years, her maternal grandfather moved from St. Kitts in the Caribbean where Kingori lived at the time, to London and returned back to the island with suits from the well-known bespoke tailoring street – Savile Row. “I remember being really fascinated with his suits and his clothing and his cologne and all of these kinds of things, so when I think about it now, it is quite interesting that
I’m working on the men’s side of things,” she said.
Although growing up with an interest in fashion, when it came to choosing her future career, it seemed that fashion could only be an interest of hers. This was, as she told, due to growing up in an era where the advice on creative jobs was limited.
However, despite obtaining a degree in management and sociology at the Royal Holloway University of London, with a passion for business, she did not give up. It was only a matter of time before, she’d soon find a way to combine both passion and interests.
“I had to think very broadly and take a lot of different mentors and it hasn’t been the most straight path because I didn’t know what it was that I wanted to do,” she explains.
Finding her way to the industry required a lot of ‘happy accidents’ and exploring of different jobs in order for her to find her best fit. Before landing her position at British GQ, Vanessa Kingori worked at the London Evening standard and then progressed to being fashion manager at Esquire Magazine.
Rarely thinking about her gender or race on a day-to-day basis, as she claims this would make things rather overwhelming, Kingori chooses to focus on her skill sets and on becoming the best at what she does.
In a professional position where no two days are the same, the publisher describes that the best aspect of her job is the variety of categories that she gets to work with.
While the magazine is fashion focused, it also deals with grooming, cars, technology and many other lifestyle sectors. “Fashion is a big part of what I do but there’s also a whole lot more to it, we work with lots of other sectors; drink brands and all of the things that make up luxury lifestyle,” she said.
Kingori is always on the go – from one meeting to the other. Often having early mornings or late nights, she adds that she would normally have three meals a day: breakfast, lunch or dinners, which are all meeting-based.
Kingori admittedly says that a lack of time is a current challenge of hers. “Trying to make time to think and to innovate within all of those other meetings is quite challenging if you’re always in a meeting when are you doing work and when are you thinking about strategy,” she explained.
Time is perhaps my most important commodity.
Therefore, time has become her biggest asset as she laughingly adds: “I find that now, time is perhaps my most important commodity even more than money – of course it’s amazing to make money, I don’t want to make any less money, but it’s hard to keep your health and income strong if you don’t have the time to reflect and rebuild.”
When asked what her best experience in the fashion industry has been so far, she pauses and says that it’s a difficult question to answer. Not because there haven’t been any, but rather because they are too many to choose from.
“I mean, I think for me the role of a publisher was interestingly something I was never aiming at. I didn’t ever think it’d be open for me,” she said.
Kingori entered the industry at a time where one: the digital aspects of publications weren’t as fully developed as they are today. And two: there were only a certain amount of roles available. Therefore, securing the publisher role was a great moment for her.
Creating a plan, Kingori decided to build on to her experience in the industry and see where it would lead to. The publisher then faced the infamous competitive side of the industry.
“It’s quite a personality based industry. Media and fashion outwardly celebrate difference: ‘we like new images, new things to look at’ and inwardly, they are very challenged by it,” she stated.
Learning to build a tough skin in the early stages of her career was something that took time for Kingori. This was due to her being used to getting along with everyone around her when growing up, therefore, facing this as an adult was a challenge.
Nevertheless, as always, Kingori didn’t concede defeat. She used the negative experiences as a mechanism to build herself and her character.
“I’ve always been the kind of person where if someone says to me: ‘you can’t or you won’t’ that spurred me on and what’s really interesting is that my haters have been my biggest builders in my career. I’m so driven by being a positive role model,” Kingori added.
On who or what inspires her, she quickly answered: ‘my family’. “I’m lucky to come from a family who are great achievers in their own right, and I feel a sense of responsibility to that,” she adds.
Growing up in a home where her parents worked hard to create great lives for Kingori and her sister is also a driving force for the publisher.
“You can’t go through that and see someone working really hard for you, going the extra mile and not deliver yourself,” Kingori said.
Then sharing what keeps her going, she adds that her weekly routine of wellness such as trying hard to get enough sleep and making time for herself is what motivates her.
“The things I do now is to try and save time and energy; I look at how I sleep, I ‘try’ to go to bed early,” she said. Kingori admits that her weekly yoga routines are her headspace, where she can organise her thoughts and keep her mind clear for her busy schedule.
In retrospect, the publisher would have advised her twenty-year-old self to see any ‘challenge’ as an opportunity.
Confidently, yet still (very) well and soft-spoken she said:
“I think I would advise myself that just because someone else thinks something is a challenge doesn’t mean you accept it.”
So if you’re a woman and you look into a space and you don’t see any other women, lots of people think that means it’s a challenge but I think now it’s an opportunity.”
The publisher particularly emphasises on using anything that makes you stand out as an opportunity. Seeing difference as something great, Kingori doesn’t believe that we need to be homogenous.
“So, perhaps just don’t believe in the hype. You don’t have to look or think like everyone else or be educated like everyone else,” she adds.
Another advice she would have given herself would be not to worry about difficult people too much, as she did in the beginning of her career.
“I think as long as you know you’ve approached a situation or relationship with integrity and you behave well if another individual then chooses to behave badly that is on them. And by doing so, they are creating an opportunity for you,” Kingori explained.