Anabel Maldonado - Teaching us the Psychology of Fashion!

Anabel and I met for breakfast at Aster in Victoria, for some much needed caffeine to set up for the day ahead. Anabel has recently launched her own venture, The Psychology of Fashion, after an incredibly rich and diverse career traversing research, healthcare, fashion and journalism. After being uninspired by much of the fashion content being published, finding it either too derivative or without substance, or both, she decided to combine her two modus operandi, psychology and fashion, and create a basis for a fashion psychology framework to help people understand their “style sense of self” in order to make better choices and enjoy more authentic styling in line with who they are and how they want to feel. My impression of Anabel is that she is a founder with an incredible sense of self, off-the-charts authenticity and a huge amount of grit, elegance and intellect - a powerful combination if you ask me, so watch this space as she builds her brand and a new frontier in fashion. 


Meet Anabel

Current Job Founder, The Psychology of Fashion. Fashion Journalist. Luxury Brand Consultant.

First Job Research Assistant

Education BSc in Psychology from York University, Toronto.

Go-to meeting spot The lobby at the Bulgari Hotel, it smells amazing, they have plush couches, dark walls, and a nice fireplace.

Necessary extravagance Ubers and ginger shots.

Favourite productivity tool I tend to make my to-do list in an email draft addressed to myself. It works well as it’s hard to ignore.

Favourite book The Power of Now. If you want to read one life-changing book, make it that one.

Recent inspiration The book I’m reading now, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck. This is another game-changer. It’s been out for a while and I’m a bit late to the party reading it, but I am so grateful that I picked it up. It’s a very counterintuitive approach to life success, and it has profoundly changed my mindset.

What do you believe that most around you disbelieve I believe that you can actually have whatever you truly want. I am very led by the Henry Ford quote: “whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”. It illustrates that without a doubt, our thoughts clearly shape our lives, and I don’t think most people really do believe that. It’s always easier to blame something outside yourself - other people, the market, circumstance, politics, your family, or the past – rather than to take responsibility for doing what you need to do to stay resilient. But it’s up to you, and nothing is impossible.

What do you wish you could change in the world of fashion I wish the industry could operate like a real meritocracy. There’s still a lot of nepotism and status games. What often isn't talked about is that wealth is also a huge barrier to entering the fashion industry, which further prevents it from being a meritocracy. Many talented people can’t afford to take the endless unpaid internships required, and then survive on years of minimum wage. If you don’t have a safety net, it’s extremely difficult, and many talented people abandon it in the early stages for this reason. As a result, we end up with a handful of people who are only in their positions because they could afford to go through that process, but not because they’re particularly skilled.

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The Journey

You began your career in health and diagnostics in particular, after you had graduated with a degree in Psychology, and a focus on Neurobiology. Tell us why this was your entry point, what you learnt whilst at the NHS?

Motivated by generally wanting to help others fulfil their potential, I started out wanting to be an elementary schoolteacher and after an Intro to Psychology class we had to take as part of that programme, I fell in love with the science of behaviour. Understanding what drives the actions of others and how we can change our programmed behaviour is such a key part of learning how to motivate others. In London at the NHS, I ended up working in a team that carried out developmental assessment and treatment to children under five. There was a lot more paperwork than there was the clinical work I was seeking in that job, and I didn’t feel I was making a difference on a grand scale. I also couldn’t deny that I liked fashion a lot more than the average person and cared way more about apostrophes and synonyms than the average person, so I thought I’d stay in London a little while longer, and see what happens with fashion writing. The rest happened fairly organically.

When you left, did you ever think you would be returning to your roots of psychology? 

The funny thing is, there’s a quote by Oscar Wilde that says “It is what you read when you don't have to, that determines what you will be when you can't help it.” When I was at the NHS, I was always reading about fashion and trolling Tumblrs, and when I entered fashion, I was missing the world of research, academia and always kept up to date with the latest in neuroscience. I also felt there was not much intellectual fashion content out there, so I suppose it was fate that I return, or rather, fuse the two.

You then embarked on a long tenure within predominantly fashion journalism, spending time at the Mail on Sunday, Marie Claire, publishing, then as an editor within e-commerce at CoutureLab, before going freelance, working with brands and also becoming an Op-Ed writer. Can you share some details about that journey, perhaps demystifying some of the roles and outputs that you were responsible for, what skillsets a good editor needs and how you made the jump from health research to fashion journalism? 

I made the jump from health to fashion with classic North American tenacity, what some Brits may consider ‘pushy’. I say this, as because it’s crucial to know that if you want to make it in fashion, you can’t be a wallflower.

I had no connections whatsoever, but I made them. While I was still at the NHS, I was reading a Marie Claire magazine that announced they were running a mentorship programme, where the Editor-in-Chief, Trish Halpin, was offering herself to mentor anyone wanting to be an editor. I decided to enter and thought that if I were to win, then it would be a sign that fashion journalism was the right direction to go in. The application was a simple online form asking to outline your motivations in 100 words or under, but I really went to town on mine. I produced an actual magazine with laminated pages, and filled it with various content I had created, even my own style shots. I had it bound, packed it into nice stationery, I think I even had someone write the names in calligraphy on the envelope, and I hand-delivered it to Marie Claire. I thought if that didn’t stand out, I don’t know what will. And it worked, and it was my sign, and Trish was so wonderful and reassuring. I then got my Mail on Sunday internship by accosting an editor at Whole Foods.

A really good editor needs to be gifted in both the visual and verbal - which is rare. Creating sexy editorials and having slick art direction is great, but strong literacy and being in touch with the zeitgeist is equally important. When one area is lacking, it becomes evident in the content.

There are two ongoing myths about working in fashion editorial. That it’s always sexy and glamorous. And that it’s not really that sexy and glamorous. I’d say it slides between both extremes. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, tears, frustrations and doing lots of tasks the average person would never do, but then there are also extraordinary pay-offs.

Can you shed some light on what it is like to work freelance? What was the motivation behind that and what were some of the highlights and drawbacks? 

It happened naturally as I tend to work better alone and I like to use my time efficiently instead of sitting in those two-hour meetings that could have been emails. I also had a lot of requests from emerging luxury brands for consulting on everything from copy to product development, and they were based in different parts of the world so working for myself made sense. The highlight is being responsible for your own schedule, being able to work from anywhere, and working with a variety of different people. The drawback is definitely the daily isolation. You know when you’re ruminating on a negative thought because you’ve had too much time to think, but then you have a funny chat with people at the office and your mood lifts? Freelancers don’t have that. You're kind of stuck with yourself.

You have worked with Carmen Busquets for several years. How did you meet Carmen and what have you learnt from her these past few years? 

I met Carmen when I started my role as market editor at CoutureLab. I remember the first day that she came into the office - she was such a paradox – in this fierce all-black Alaia and McQueen outfit, but so warm and unfiltered, like a child. I’ve learned many things from her over the years, but I think the most important is the value of self-love, staying independent, and nurturing the relationship you have with yourself above all.

What does it mean to be a luxury brand today? 

To be luxury, you have to offer something that is scarce – not easily found. It means that you as a brand stand for something specific, that resonates deeply with people, and that speaks to the most elevated parts of themselves. It’s not about heritage or craftsmanship or design details alone. It’s about whether you have a real, rare and relevant identity that engages the emotions of your consumer group.



The Psychology of Fashion


Tell us what The Psychology of Fashion is and the inspiration behind founding the business? 

It’s a platform that looks at the fashion industry and the role of clothes in our lives through the lens of psychology. Our content examines why we wear what we wear, the relationships between personality, emotions and aesthetic, as well as industry dynamics. The motivation came from being uninspired by much of the current fashion content. It was missing a level of depth. I love fashion, but I’ve never cared to be dictated to about “the hot new colour for spring” or too much about basic recycled trends in general. I feel our aesthetic tastes are fairly steady. I was also frustrated by the common cultural narratives around fashion being frivolous, and always having to defend it. I want to demonstrate that we’re all sensitive to aesthetic in one way or another and that our choices can have a great effect on us. Even those who claim not to care about fashion make aesthetic decisions that say something about them. The aim is to help people understand their “style sense of self” in order to make better choices and enjoy more authentic styling in line with who they are and how they want to feel. Secondly, I want to help brands better understand their consumers’ profiles. Lastly, through better self-awareness and understanding of psychology, we can decrease the nepotism, abuse and mental health issues within the fashion industry so that it becomes a better place for those in it.

What is the best piece of advice that you have received and by whom? 

“Don’t sell yourself short”. The first person to tell me this was my first mentor, a psychiatrist and clinic director where I volunteered as a research assistant in Toronto. We had a conversation where he noted all the ways I was doing just that and thwarting my potential. I booked a flight to London a week later. I was meant to stay six months, but 10 years later, I’m still here and my life wouldn’t have unfolded this way if he hadn’t pushed me to think bigger. Before starting The Psychology of Fashion, I then had a similar talk with a designer friend, who made me realise I was ready to launch my own project. “Stop selling yourself short” seemed to be a recurring message. I think we all don’t really realise that we sell ourselves short far too often just to feel safe, and it really helps when someone points out where we’re playing small.

Tell us more about your inaugural study and what can we expect in the future? Is there a certain business model you are pursuing? 

It's the first of its kind to try to establish correlations between traditional personality traits studied in psychology, emotions, and aesthetic preference. The goal of this research is that it serves as a basis for a fashion psychology framework I want to create to better understand how we can use “clothes as therapy” to compensate for different inner needs. I am planning to commercialize that concept in a smart way that can benefit both brands and consumers.

What is your vision for the company? 

For consumers, I want it to be the place where they go to better understand themselves and their relationship to clothes, why they like what they like and how they can make better buying and styling decisions. For brands, I want it to be the place where they go to better understand fashion psychology, their consumer, their own point of differentiation, and discover how they can tap into the unique emotional value they are offering.

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Women in Business


In your opinion, and it is of course multivariate, but what do women need to do more of to push themselves forward in the workplace? 

I’ve noticed that a lot of my female friends who feel stuck in their careers don’t like to ask for what they want. They skirt around issues. Women need to be more confident and assertive. To just calmly say what they feel. No pretence. No apologies.

What advice would you share with women in the early stages or thinking about launching their own venture? 

Make sure it’s something you’re truly passionate about. Passion is the only thing that’s going to get you through all the hurdles of launching your own venture. And the fact that you care so much about this thing that you are creating, that’s what’s going to make people take notice and believe in you and what you’re doing. As I’m in the field, I’ve had many great ideas for brands that could have been successful if executed, but deep down, I knew my heart isn’t primarily in products. It’s in ideas. Lastly, ask yourself if and how what you’re creating is really going to add value to people’s lives in some way. Don’t do it just because you want to live an entrepreneur life or you like the sound of having a start-up. You get value by adding real value.

What advice would you give to those seeking investment, having worked closely with successful angel investor Carmen? 

First and foremost, write a short concise subject line and succinct email outlining your project or idea when pitching. Don’t write long emails, hyperbole or incessantly name-drop industry friends. Invest in good imagery. For any luxury investor, this helps get their attention and demonstrate that you “get” the industry. What I’ve learned from Carmen specifically is to make sure you “think big, but start small” and scale steadily. She really believes that a company can become profitable from a small seed investment, and that this is more beneficial in the long run, than lots of funding up front.  

What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success? 

Resilience, self-awareness and unwavering self-belief. Self-awareness is necessary so that you can look at what you’re doing critically and assess what’s working and what isn’t. With self-belief, it’s not to say that I feel confident all the time - I most certainly don’t. But even on the worst days, when consumed by fears and anxieties, there’s still that belief underneath it all. That quiet reassurance that I’m on the right path and that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Photo: Stefan Jakubowski

Photo: Stefan Jakubowski