Create & Cultivate 100: Entertainment: Nina Garcia

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Don’t call it a comeback.

After working as ELLE’s fashion director in the 2000s, Nina Garcia moved on to Marie Claire, where she eventually became the title’s creative director. But a little over a year ago, she returned to ELLE to serve as its editor in chief, and she’s already making waves in the publishing world because of it.

If you don’t know Nina from her magazine accolades, then surely you know her from her 15 years serving as a judge on Project Runway, where she’s helped launch the careers of countless hopeful fashion designers. She’ll be back for Season 17, set to premiere this year on Bravo.

Somewhere among her busy days, Nina’s also found time to write four books that put her on The New York Times’ bestselling list. She’s a force in fashion, and we can’t wait to see what 2019 brings for Nina Garcia.

How has working on both the editorial and creative teams changed how you now run Elle as its editor-in-chief?

I feel very lucky that I was at ELLE as a young editor and was really able to immerse myself in its DNA and work with Gilles Bensimon. Gilles lived and breathed ELLE and really pushed me to think creatively and outside the box. It has been amazing being able to carry that into my role as editor in chief of the magazine.

Each brand that I worked at – from Mirabella to ELLE to Marie Claire and Project Runway – has taught me something new which I carry with me and am able to apply in this role.  All of our experiences make us who we are today.

I am a strong believer that you are only as good as your team and that’s why I surround myself with the best of the best who help me bring my vision of ELLE to life and make it what it is – I always say, team work makes the dream work.

You’ve been a judge on Project Runway since its inception in 2004. How has the fashion industry changed most starkly in the past 15 years?

There have been so many changes, but I would say social media has really brought in the biggest changes to the industry. Now, people all over the world can watch shows that are livestreamed on Instagram and look at all the collections immediately.

For designers starting out, they need to have the skills but they also need to have that capital on social media to push their work out there. It’s a double-edged sword – you have to work to build up that following but it’s also a great place to connect with people in the industry, especially if you’re not in a major city.

Any new Project Runway insider info you can spill for the new season?

After celebrating our sweet sixteenth season last year, this new season of Project Runway is all about keeping what made Project Runway one of the longest and most successful shows of American television and adding some new elements that will make the show a little more contemporary. Fashion is all about change, and Project Runway is embracing that change with a new host, Karlie Kloss, and with a new set of judges that I adore, like Elaine and Brandon. It also made me so happy to have a former alumni, Christian Siriano, as the designers’ mentor. He started his career on this show and has built an incredible business.

I am so excited for our fans to watch this new season. We have a lot of big surprises planned. Working with Brandon, Karlie, Elaine, and Christian and watching the designers develop over the season has been incredible. It’s an exciting time in fashion; we’re finding designers on Instagram!

What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?

I love design – I could play with ELLE’s pages all day – and I love being able to sit with my team and go over elements in each feature.

Once we put the issue together and it’s out in the world for everyone to read, I love getting feedback from our readers offline and online and hearing what they think of the issue. Being able to connect with people who love ELLE as much as I do is the best feeling. We can now reach so many more people through social media, and receive immediate feedback; it’s really an engaged conversation between readers, editors and talent. Our brand has such a bigger footprint with the mix of mediums between digital and print.

How do you stay up-to-date on what’s happening in your industry? Where do you get your news?

Every morning I flip through the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, WWD, Business Insider, Variety, Business of Fashion, New York Magazine, The Cut, Twitter and Instagram (Diet Prada, especially) on my iPad.

What are the common challenges you've seen among female business owners and entrepreneurs?

One of the biggest challenges women face is limited access to funding. For example, in my first issue at ELLE we profiled Katrina Lake, the founder of Stitch Fix. She shared how difficult it was to persuade male investors to back her company. They simply couldn’t understand that there was a need in the marketplace for a wardrobe solution for women. Now Stitch Fix is valued at more than $1 billion. Imagine how many great ideas we might be missing out on simply because women are not given the proper financial support.

When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find new roads + switch gears to find success?

I have always valued mentorships, and think individuals should play the role of both mentor and mentee at any given time. More than once, I’ve gone to a mentor for advice on how to tackle a specific problem at my job, how to expand beyond my current situation, or how to think about a more focused career path. People talk about networking as a way to have an “in” somewhere, but the real value of networking is the support and advice you gain.

People talk about networking as a way to have an “in” somewhere, but the real value of networking is the support and advice you gain.

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What advice would you give to young women trying to break into the magazine industry?

Be open to any task – even the smallest ones – and any ask because you never know where it may lead you. When I was first approached to work on Project Runway, I was incredibly hesitant. I had never imagined doing television and it was a foreign idea. But I knew it was an exciting opportunity and has opened so many doors for me. I also think you should find someone who inspires you and can help you along the way. Mentors played an integral role in shaping my career, giving me advice, coaching me through difficult decisions. The fashion and media industries are based on mentoring and I think it’s our responsibility to cultivate the next generation of leaders.

What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?

It’s impossible for me to choose just one, but coming back to ELLE as editor in chief has been a major highlight for me. Coming back to lead a brand that I grew up on as a young woman in the industry is an incredible honor.  

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?  

Never say no to an invitation – each invitation is an opportunity to meet people. When I started out in New York, I didn’t know anyone in the industry. I interned as much as I could and went to every event that I was invited to so that I could put in face time with as many people in the industry as possible.

What are you most excited for in 2019?

I can’t believe I’ve already been at ELLE for a year. I’m excited to continue bringing talented photographers, stylists, writers and models to the magazine as well as growing our existing platforms like Women in Hollywood and the SO ELLE campaign. The new season of Project Runway airs this spring; I’ll be in Bogota for fashion week, which I always love; and I’m planning a trip to Villa Maria in St. Barth’s with my family.