My Untraditional Path: Katherine Lewin, Managing Editor of The Infatuation

My Untraditional Path: Katherine Lewin, Managing Editor of The Infatuation

I have no idea what life would look like if I had started in food and editing,” Katherine Lewin told me. While she now serves as the managing editor of The Infatuation, a restaurant recommendation site, she’s spent the majority of her career in fashion in roles ranging from celebrity PR at BCBG Max Azria to copywriting at J.Crew. And though many of her past positions seem unrelated on the surface, Katherine says, “I don’t think that I would be the person that I was or have the same approaches as I do if I hadn’t had those experiences.” To find out more about how she ended up where she is today, I sat down with her to chat about why she initially chose to work in the fashion industry, what she learned from her previous jobs, and how she made the jump from fashion to food. Here’s her untraditional path.

On how she chose to major in communications:

I didn’t really want to be a writer, I just knew that it was a skill of mine, and I knew that my path would probably end up leading to some sort of writing role. The reason that I decided on communications over journalism is that I kind of realized that it would let me study the field more broadly than journalism. I knew that I should keep learning how to become a better writer, but I also wanted to kind of get a better lay of the land from more of a theoretical standpoint than just learning how to become a better newspaper writer.

On her dream job in college:

I definitely thought I was going to be in fashion. It was my dream, so that’s part of why I signed up for communications. The dream was to be a fashion magazine editor, so I think everything I was working toward in my major was because of the thought of how I would be able to use it in the fashion industry.

On how her first internship experiences solidified her interest in fashion:

My very first internship was in high school for Kendra Scott jewelry. At the time, this was before the brand had blown up, and I just remember being so inspired by the woman who was making her dream of selling jewelry come to life. I was just helping around the office with purchase orders and operations-type things, and I think that solidified that I was really interested in fashion.

My first real internship was the summer after freshman year of college doing celebrity PR for BCBG Max Azria. It felt very glamorous getting to watch celebrity stylists come into the showroom and pick out stuff for their clients. Being new to Los Angeles, it was a way of seeing how fashion and celebrities collide in that city, so that was really cool. And that was the same summer that I had also had my first retail job, so I was working at Madewell that summer as well. Seeing the retail side of things and doing the fun higher fashion thing at BCBG, it really kept confirming that this was definitely an industry I was interested in.

On what she learned from her internships:

I think I knew that PR probably wasn’t the best fit for me; that was the first internship where I really learned what it was. I remember thinking that I wanted to be doing something closer to the words side of it—something that felt more tied the storytelling. After that, I started being a Style Guru for College Fashionista, and that was my first experience writing. I remember that it felt more in line with not just what I wanted to be doing, but also what I was more adept at.

On her first job out of college:

I got an internship at J.Crew in New York over my last summer of school. I was merchandising, which, to be perfectly frank, I had no idea what that was before I started. But I knew J.Crew was famous for its merchandising, and I was really excited about it. I hope it would lead to a job after school, which is what happened. I moved to New York like four days after graduating, and I was merchandise assistant on the teams that were choosing what menswear would end up in stores. It was really interesting that here I was predicting trends and looking at spreadsheets on spreadsheets of selling information to figure out how to improve our buys for the following season.

It was such a cool place to have a first job because it was this company with all of this heritage that was a really big deal. It felt like you were in the center of a lot of things. I was seeing Jenna Lyons walking around and feeling starstruck every day, and listening to Mickey Drexler, who had an intercom rigged up throughout the whole office that was on at all times. There was that element of constant learning.

On figuring out her real passion:

I realized early on that I was not meant to be the person deciding how many pairs of pants we should buy. I wasn’t excited by it as much as I was excited about the idea of telling the brand’s story. I loved getting to be in meetings with Mickey and Jenna and learning all of these amazing things about how to be a successful retail brand, but what I really wanted to do was tell people about the pants. And that taught me that I really needed to be in more of a marketing role where I could tell the brand’s story.

So I just started going down to HR and saying like, “I love it here, I don’t want to leave, but you gotta put me on the marketing team. I promise that’s where I’m supposed to be.” And it was tough because it was a pretty traditional company and moving laterally like that wasn’t something a lot of people did. But I got the support of a few people and then I ended up copywriting there. We were a super small team, so that was really cool to be thrown into that mix and immediately start writing all kinds of copy.

On the transition from merchandising to copywriting:

It was so weird. I just remember thinking, “Wait, this is my job?” After a very traditional, like, starting the morning, opening up the spreadsheets, being in meetings all day talking about sales strategy job to a role where the pressure is about how do we make these eight words the absolute best they can be, it was so, so different. But it wasn’t really a struggle because when I started doing it, I remember the first day thinking “Yes, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. This makes sense.”

On making the leap from fashion to food:

I loved my time at J.Crew, but I was starting to feel like fashion wasn’t where I saw myself forever and ever. It was a gut feeling. I had become super interested in food and restaurants, and that was something that I was toying with in my mind. I had been a huge fangirl of The Infatuation, and had used it from the moment I moved here, back when it was just a blog. I’m fairly certain that I cold-emailed several times over the years just like “Hey, I just want you to know that I’m so passionate about what you’re are building and I’d love to help out in any way.” I never got any responses, of course—they were too busy to respond to a random person asking them to throw them some work. I think I emailed them again asking them the same thing and never got a response, so I guess my number one tip is don’t ever let that deter you because no response doesn’t mean a no—it just means a no right now.

Then I found out that somebody I knew knew a friend of Andrew’s, the co-founder, and he connected us. From there it just happened. At that moment of connection, it was just Chris, Andrew, and our now editor-in-chief, Hillary. They were finally like “Alright, we need another editorial person in here,” and it was just the perfect time. I was also really excited about becoming an editor and not just working on my own writing, but also helping other people write better and helping craft the brand voice. It was a hard decision to leave J.Crew, but I also knew I had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be on board this thing that I had this gut sense was going to blow up. To be second in on the editorial front at this company I had so admired was just something I couldn’t give up.

On how her previous roles prepared her for her current job:

Learning how to write compellingly with a very limited number of words is something that’s useful no matter what kind of writing you pursue. At The Infatuation, I head up our newsletters and we’re sending around 15 a week. At J.Crew, in copy, my role was primarily email. So from a very tactical skill standpoint, there was a lot of overlap. From working in merchandising, I would say learning the work ethic of getting things done, getting things done well, and how to solve your own problems definitely laid the foundation for my future roles. It’s so important for people to know that you’re not married to a type of job or an industry just because you start somewhere. It’s best to just think, “What am I going to take out of this?” and, “How can I use this experience to find the skills and the learnings that I can take to something else?”

On why she’s glad she’s had an untraditional path:

I have no idea what life would look like if I had started in food and editing. I feel really lucky to have already kind of experienced two vastly different industries sort of joined through this line of writing, and I don’t think that I would be the person that I was or have the same approaches as I do if I hadn’t had those experiences. Would I enjoy my career if I had just started out in writing and editing? Probably that, too, but I feel very grateful that I’ve had the sort of varied experiences that I have.

This interview has been edited and condensed.