Susan Bender, Creative Director and Contributing Editor of British Vogue has had a full and exciting career from aspiring Stuntwoman to fashion commentator and Creative Consultant . We met with her to discuss her journey and the shape of her career.
What does it take to be a woman in journalism?
It’s important to hone your craft and your voice, to constantly learn and be fed by life. I am continually evolving so that I can expand and grow beyond the person I was yesterday, the person I was last week, or last year, and to learn from my mentors and others that inspire me. Read, stay current, stay aware and open, and observe what your peers are doing. Inspiration is key. One important lesson that has helped me along the way is to accept my uniqueness and trust in the way my mind works and what I am trying to achieve.
Why did you decide to become a journalist, and what is your main driver?
I’m not a journalist per se, I would describe myself more as a Creative Director that works across all mediums in the Fashion Industry.
I started out as a Stylist working as an assistant and navigated my way around the industry from there. I’ve been very fortunate to experience many different roles, and this comes down to my being open to new challenges and responsibilities, and my curiosity. I’ve been a Producer, I’ve done PR, marketing, art direction, consultancy and even at one point I did my part as the model!
When you’re quite young in the industry working with young designers or clients that don’t have a lot of money, you have to be open to taking on roles that aren’t your profession, or that are beyond what you had perhaps intended to do. It’s important to be involved and do as much as you can to help the brand, and in return you experience what it feels like to have creative freedom. Ultimately through this you learn to believe in what you do as well. Let’s put it like this; I’m not a PR person but I can do PR because I’ve watched people who have done it or I’ve seen brands develop from a foundational stage into something influential, I’ve been on that journey with them, so I can lend what I’ve seen, what I’ve experienced and use that to take on many roles.
In terms of what drives me, it is the need to create and to be constantly fed visually. I am stimulated by art, words, fashion, culture, music, nature, life, everything! I see and ingest as much as possible from every experience, and this is what inspires me in my work.
What does success mean to you?
Having time and being able to make my own choices at work. I can pick and create projects that I want to work on rather than just having to take the things that are offered to me. I have the freedom to pick and choose, or I can devise my own projects and take them to a client or a brand to bring them into fruition together.
Something else that makes me feel successful in myself, is sharing my knowledge and experience to help and empower others. Being able to connect people, to be a mentor, and give advice to those wanting to get into the industry or who are already in the industry and need some direction. I feel good contributing in this way and I feel like I am honouring those who empowered me by doing so.
When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a Stuntwoman! I had lots of energy and was a bit of a daredevil as a child so that was my first career dream. I think I was 5 years old at the time. I suppose I have performed stunts throughout my career, maybe not the feats I once imagined as a girl, but creatively and I would say physically during the busy times, I am a Stuntwoman to some extent. Perhaps we all are.
Can you share with now any advice you would have liked to receive when you were younger?
Learn to fight the fear.
There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open ourselves to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully realise to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.
Surround yourself with people who are more knowledgeable than yourself who you can admire and learn from. Their success will rub off on you and you’ll learn much from them.
Is there a feminist who you thank for getting to where you are today?
My mother was the first feminist in my life, and the one I attribute to my determination. She shielded me from a young age and instilled in me the importance of morality and humility. My mother encouraged me to embrace my individual interests and passions without apology, rather than sacrificing the things that made me happy by following expectations about having the “right job” or getting married, or whatever other concerns that women face.
Do what makes you happy because you will spend most of your life doing it.Do everything without apology but be kind and gracious to everyone.You can achieve success without being mean or stepping on people to reach your goal.
4 QUICK BOLD QUESTIONS
A WORD TO DESCRIBE YOURSELF?
YOUR MOST BOLD ACHIEVEMENT?
Owning who I am.
Recently I needed to explain to a friend who’s kindly helping to organise a party for a special occasion that’s coming up in my life. They were trying to dictate certain aspects of it to keep another person happy, so I told them in no uncertain terms, “I appreciate your help but the only person that will be making the final decision as to where and what we do is me! It’s MY party and MY day, so please respect my wishes.”
AN INSPIRING QUOTE?
“The only limits in life are those we impose on ourselves.”
“We come this way but once. We can either tip toe through life and hope we get to death without being badly bruised or we can live a full, complete life achieving our goals and realising our wildest dreams.”
A BOOK THAT YOU LOVE?
Purple Hibiscus by Chimanada Ngozi Adiche. A coming of age story about the different meanings of freedom.
A BOLD FEMALE IDOL?
I have two: Bozoma St John, CMO of Endeavour, and Vanessa Kingori, Publisher of British Vogue.