After a long career as a fashion stylist, Sharon Haver was inspired to use her knowledge to empower women through fashion. Using her business-savvy skills, she started FocusOnStyle.com, an online fashion magazine with reality-based beauty, style, and fashion advice. Fifteen years later, the site has evolved, with a corresponding blog and new features like mentoring sessions and programs. We talked to her about her experiences leading up to the site’s launch, and what she’s learned about the fashion industry in the years since.
Q: Tell us a little about your background in marketing, and how that turned into a career in the fashion industry!
A: My mom said that she didn’t want me to be pigeonholed to one field, so therefore wasn’t sending me to school to study fashion! I was always fascinated by marketing and business– with that knowledge you can enter any field. After graduation, I was an account manager at a press release distribution agency much like the Cision of its day. By night, I had some rocker, event, and lifestyle PR clients. The PR agency was going through management changes and I left with a very handsome bonus that afforded me the time to chill out and make up for all the time that I worked through school. I became bored with the free time and an art director friend asked me to be a stylist on a three -week location shoot in St.Maarten for a major clothing manufacturer. He figured that if anyone could shop, it’s me, with the right eye to conceptualize how something should look in a photo to best suit the brand’s image. No one else knew it was my first job as a stylist, so I guess you could say that styling came naturally to me. Once I got back to New York, photographer friends booked me for more jobs and my career blossomed. Within weeks of my return I styled my first VOGUE Mexico cover. I was a photo stylist on fashion shoots for more than 15 years.
Q: Congrats to FocusOnStyle celebrating its 15th anniversary! What made you decide to create the website, and how has it evolved with the introduction of social media?
A: Although working on fashion shoots provided invaluable opportunities, I felt a disconnect in reaching the real style needs of everyday women. When asked what I did in social situations, women would constantly respond that they could never look like “that,” which was a model. It bothered me that ordinary women felt that knowing how to turn it on was unobtainable, so I pitched a Q&A fashion advice column to the Scripps Howard News Service, where any woman anywhere could make the most of what she’s got–using my behind the scenes tricks of the trade. Focus on Style, the column, became the SHNS fashion sked header and was distributed to 400 newspapers weekly! When I became a new mom, I took FocusOnStyle online so I could run my own show while my infant son napped. That was 15 years ago and the Internet was certainly a different place, way before there even was such a thing as a “blogger.” If the Interwebs aren’t instant enough, social media has taken it down to the nanosecond. Add the plethora of free blogging platforms and gazillions of personal blogs, we all suffer from an overload of shiny penny syndrome as to not miss something in our social feed. I try to keep the core of FocusOnStyle.com content informational rather than fleeting so that my reader knows to return for timeless stylist advice rather than a picture of what shoes I wore today. FocusOnStyle is about helping the reader better her style with actionable advice, rather than a voyeuristic look into the minutia of my personal life or what some celebrity is hawking.
Q: What was one of your favorite opportunities as a fashion stylist?
A: Simply being there and having the access to priceless jewels and couture gowns to making a pair of polyester sweats look stylish or styling the persona to make you want to try a new face cream–fashion is broad, but the bottom line is that you need to have someone engaged in your style story to see themselves in it. I’ve had a very multi-dimensional career in style and consider myself lucky enough to be able to share my stylist perspective from so many different vantage points.
Q: You say you want women to be empowered by “the style of her personal brand.” What do you mean by this?
A: Every profile image, headshot, or social pic of you is what a cover represents to a magazine. People make snap judgements of how you look, so you want it to instantly convey who you are in the very best light (pun intended). It’s not about putting on a pretty dress but how the person wearing that dress is perceived. How you present yourself should help boost your confidence so the rest of your busy day seems that much easier.
Q: The daily Styleword feature on your site is really cool. What other new features can you tell us about?
A: A journalist interviewing me once said that I give good quotes, so I took it to the next level. #StyleWord is my new daily fashion quote and motivational style tip. It’s free and very shareable to kick-start your day. On the other spectrum, I am launching a limited amount of V.I.P. One on One Style Mentoring Sessions to help you finally understand how to put it all together. Additionally, I’m developing several programs all with a “learn how to style yourself” theme, the first being StyleWorkout: Core-Centric Digital Stylist Sessions to Understand Style from the Basics & Beyond.
Q: What is your favorite piece of fashion advice?
A: Since my career centers on giving fashion advice, it’s hard to turn the tables to what I’ve been told. But I always get a kick out of the truth in this ditty from Mick Jagger, “It’s all right letting yourself go, as long as you can get yourself back.”
Q: Can you give a few tips to other fashion entrepreneurs who are thinking of starting their own online business?
A: Be organic to yourself and don’t fall prey to copycat mode. If you’re going to hang a shingle out that you are an expert in something, spend a good amount of time finessing your craft first.
Q: What are you PR pet peeves?
A: If I could paraphrase what is probably a David Olgivy axiom that I learned in school, “Public relations you pray for; advertising you pay for.” That said, some pet peeves include: sending an email with RE: (or another cheesy ploy) in the subject line when we’ve never communicated before; saying “I would love it if you would share my client’s [insert any commercial venture] with your audience; sending pitches for editorial guest posts that are not even veiled attempts at advertorials; having no clue about what I write about; mistaking what would be professional public relations practice to what amounts to a Craig’s List dump.
Q: Any tips for PR professionals who want to get in contact with you?
A: Sure, first be familiar with my voice and FocusOnStyle. How to pitch us publicist guidelines are listed on our site, as are media requests for interviews, spokesperson opportunities, or commercial partnerships.
For more beauty and fashion insight, check out our Video Q&A with Michelle Madhok of SHEfinds Media.
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