Fashion Week Tell-All: Behind the Scenes With Lord Ashbury

Originally published on MYSA.

How do the professionals capture the behind-the-catwalk excitement and madness of Fashion Week? We  spoke with photographer Simbarashe Cha to find out. Simbarashe opens up on Fashion Week, his fashion blog Lord Ashbury, and his career in one of the world’s most competitive industries. From working 9 to 5 as an insurance claims manager to becoming one of New York’s most preeminent fashion photographers, Simbarashe now spends his days shooting behind the scenes for brands like Carolina Herrera and Lacoste. From behind the desk five days a week to behind the scenes every season, Simbarashe Cha discovered not just his passion, but also that with a little grit, he could gain access to the coveted world of haute couture.

New York Fashion Week’s Evolution

When Simbarashe started a few years ago, Fashion Week was still reserved for industry insiders. With the rise of Instagram, Fashion Week became more accessible and mainstream.

Some people in the industry were not very happy about this change: “As [Fashion Week] became really popular, there was this immediate backlash with all the long-time media and trade people who were kind of like, ‘All these people were showing up and they really know nothing about the etiquette of the fashion world.” As a behind-the-scenes photographer, Simbarashe captures the authentic moments of the characters playing out in the staged annual affair.

 Behind-the-Scenes at Lacoste, New York Fashion Week Spring 2016. “Of course, I shoot Lacoste a lot.. but that’s because I’m a genuine fan of that house.” – Simbarashe

New York Fashion Week Spring 2016

This year, Fashion Week is moving away from Lincoln Center and moving downtown with many designers selecting various private venues. One of Simbarashe’s favorites: “I really loved that Carolina Herrera had her show at the Frick. It’s a legendary venue and well known for its restrictions involving photos and a strict no-children policy. It was the most beautiful presentation you could imagine.”

Carolina Herrera chose the Frick Collection’s courtyard, which matches the designers sophisticated, feminine appeal. Penelope Cruz and Anna Wintour were in attendance.

This year, Simbarashe took a new approach: “Every season I set out to cover the fashion week calendar in a different and unique way. This season, I’m making a radical change to the way I shoot. The 85mm Zeiss that has really come to define almost all of my work over the past 3 years has been semi-retired in favor of a 35mm. This has forced me to completely ditch the way that I’m used to shooting. With a 35mm, everything is wider, so to make my subjects more compelling, I have to get close, sometimes extremely close to take the right kind of photo. It’s awkward, both for me and the person I’m shooting. But so far I love it; because I’ve never shot this way before, and it forces me to think outside the box, especially when I use it on the runway.

Before Lord Ashbury

Working for a camera retailer in Brooklyn, Simbarashe spent his days mediating customer claims for those who had bought their cameras online. After three years there, he started to feel restless: “I had a job and it was just a job. I didn’t like that it was just a job and I wanted to do something else with my life.”

One day while seated at his desk, it hit him: “I know everything about every camera on the market, but I don’t own a camera. Why don’t I own a camera? I should get a camera.”

Harry’s First Wand

In August 2011,a visit from Sony reps to his office offered Simbarashe the opportunity to try out their newest line of cameras. “It was like Harry Potter’s first wand. The photos came out exactly the way I wanted them to look,” Simbarashe describes his first experience with the Sony. He has shot with the brand ever since.

Following that experience, he has been one of the few photographers to shoot with a Sony. On March 11th 2011, an 8.9-magnitude earthquake hit near Japan causing a tsunami, flooding Sony’s camera factories. Sony ran out of stock for months. “When I went to that first Fashion Week, I was the only person there with a Sony camera and was probably the only person there with a Sony camera for two to three years,” Simbarashe explained. Today, the Sony’s A7 is one of the most popular cameras for consumers, but Simbarashe is one of the few professionals using the brand.

Taking to the Streets

Now that Simbarashe knew he wanted to become a fashion photographer, he didn’t let his day job get in the way. After working a long week as managing claims, he’d set out across New York after work and all day Saturday and Sunday, at least 6 days a week, seeking portrait candidates.

Finding the right person isn’t just about fashion, it’s about the subject’s inner confidence: “[Outside of Fashion Week] I look for people who seem to have a good, positive energy about them… For me, their energy comes first and what they’re wearing comes second. They just really stand out in a way that speaks to me. Even if they’re not the most fashionable person in the world, it doesn’t mean I can’t take their portrait.”

Hitting Hard Times

Committed to his passion, in November 2013, Simbarashe left his position and worked full-time as a fashion street photographer: “I was updating the blog 3 times a day, so 21 different portraits a week.”

By February 2013, during his second full year touring fashion weeks all over the world, all out of his own pocket, the industry began transitioning. Instead of buying specific images from various photographers, the industry began hiring one photographer, commissioning them to shoot all the content for the entire season.

At this time, street fashion was booming. Magazines sought street photographers to commission. Unfortunately, Simbarashe was never one of those photographers:

“I was paying my way through fashion weeks and it was costing me a lot of money. I said to myself, ‘I really love doing this, but if I want to keep doing this, I need to find another way because I’m going to go broke doing these international sites.”


Moment of Clarity

Simbarashe had a particularly depressing season. On site in Paris, in a crowd of photographers snapping pictures of a model on the street, he had an epiphany. “I remember looking around and everyone was shooting. I stopped and said to myself, ‘Alright, what am I doing here. What is everyone else doing here, and how can I not be doing that?’

When Simbarashe had first started shooting, he wanted to be a documentary photographer, acting as the behind-the-scenes house photographer for a famous musician, but street fashion photography had led him in a different direction. Still, the spirit of his inspiration remained the same – if he couldn’t capture backstage moments at a concert, the flurry of activity behind the catwalk provided the next best subject.


Establishing a Niche

Simbarashe explained his sudden success: “I saw Adam Katz Sinding’s backstage shots and thought, ‘No one else [was] doing that – let me just ask designers if I can come backstage and shoot’. From there, all the other opportunities opened up. It first came in the form of weddings – I came home and people said, ‘These photos are amazing. Can you shoot our wedding and make it look like this?”

“Then brands started taking me more seriously when they saw me getting [this] level of access. There are some brands that I have a really good relationship with. The documentary style in the way that I shoot is probably the basis for everything I am doing.”

Today, Simbarashe has an extensive portfolio of brands with whom he works regularly. His main client is Carolina Herrera for whom he shoots social content, such as Instagram, year round. During Fashion Week, he also works with Lacoste, Valentino, Tommy Hilfiger, Burberry, and the Italian magazine Grazia, to name just a few.

New Routine

It wasn’t until 2014, a year into working full-time and four years from shooting with his first Sony, that Simbarashe broke even financially. Now, established within the industry, he has a routine: “The way that my schedule works, I shoot fashion primarily from the start of the fall Fashion Week, which is the second week of September all the way through the conclusion of spring Fashion Week in early March. From September to March, it’s pretty much all fashion and in the summer, I’ll shoot weddings here and there. Now, I spend more of my time on these other mediums than street fashion, but I still shoot just as much outside as inside. Other than Lord Ashbury, I also have a formal portfolio site.”

All those days shooting on the streets of New York paid off: “ I have spent so many hours outside shooting people, in different lighting, every single type of weather from 8 degrees to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Because I’ve shot in just about every element, I am at a point it’s not completely automatic, but it’s close. It’s from so much repetition. It’s become second nature at this point.”


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FOREO Photoshoot: Behind-the-Scenes

As originally posted on MYSA. Working with a local production team, managed and developed behind-the-scenes content for FOREO photoshoot. Representing the brand’s values, the objective was to develop premium and refined, yet relatable content through interviews with the brand’s models.






Behind the Brand: Meet Baja East’s Dynamic Duo

As originally published on MYSA.

It’s hard to get two people to agree on a single vision, which is why co-founder conflict is a main cause of startup failure. For Baja East, their East Coast v. West Coast backgrounds did not result in a West Side Story ending, but instead the creation of the rapidly growing clothing company committed to Loose Luxury.

Sitting down with founders John Targon and Scott Studenberg, MYSA got the inside story as to the brand’s successful partnership…

Can you tell us about how you two met and what was your inspiration for the brand?

Targon: We met 13 years ago at this really great abs class on Tuesday nights, it was at Equinox. We did abs and got a bite after with a group of guys and became quick friends.

The inspiration for Baja East was all about creating a new approach to everyday dressing which we call Loose Luxury, west coast laid back beach vibes meet NYC grit. We always have a bit of beach and a bit of a more graffiti or street vibe.

As co-founders, how do your skills complement each other? 

Targon: It’s the best to know you have someone that can pick up on things when you can’t or when it’s an off day or when you need some support to take on a project from two different sides. So our skills complement each other because we approach things in different ways but for the same goal. It’s pretty fluid and we don’t overthink things.

Founding your own company can be very stressful and this oftentimes can lead to conflict. As co-founders, how do you work through business decisions when you disagree?

Targon: We laugh and move on. It’s important to have some points of conflict and discussion because that’s how we often get to the next best creative idea or breakthrough moment. But things can’t fester, we have to make, often, quick decisions because things are so fast paced so there isn’t room for a grudge or holding onto things. We are also living our dream, so being grateful and getting in a work out solves a lot.

What advice do you have for those interested in started their own company?

Targon: Ask a ton of questions to people who have started a company before.  Listen to all the things they say did and didn’t work. The biggest thing is to most definitely take the advice around legal! But don’t be afraid to ask questions and for sure don’t be afraid to make mistakes on your own!

How do you know when you’ve found the right co-founder?

Studenberg: We are lucky to have each other as a team – we balance one another out if we are ever weak in a particular area and two people are stronger than one.

Before starting your line, Studenberg as Lanvin’s national sales director for North and South America, and Targon as Céline’s sales director for North America and Burberry’s director of wholesale for menswear and men’s accessories, you both traveled a lot, what places inspired you most and how has travel impacted your design?

Studenberg: As part of our jobs, we were always on the go. We’d experience new cultures on a regular basis – whether it be Los Angeles, Chicago or Paris – and always were intrigued by how people lived their lives and dressed for them.
Why did you want to do ambisex, or clothes that can be worn by both men and women?

Studenberg: We felt a void in the market for this idea of Loose Luxury – off-duty essentials that didn’t need to be bound by gender. While we also make pieces specifically targeted to women, our core is gender obsolescent.

What inspired your most recent collection?

Studenberg: Our Fall ’16 collection was this idea of our Baja Babes leaving a 3 day dance party at Berghain in Berlin and trekking to the jungle to chill out and catch some sun.

Want to see more behind-the-scenes from their Fall ‘16 collection? Click here.


To read the original article, click here.

Refinery29 Resists Growing Pains with Renewed Focus on Content, Consumers

As published on brandchannel on September 27, 2013.

Refinery29 has hardly had a chance to settle into its new, larger office and its updated online digs. With 800 percent revenue growth in the past 24 months, it is the fastest growing company in the media division of Inc. Magazine’s 2013 5000 list. The fashion-focused site uses its strong consumer loyalty to help brands connect with Millennials, a consumer base that spends $200 billion annually, according to Chicago-based investment firm William Blair & Co.

“A lot of marketers are asking a lot of questions or intrigued by how it is they speak with a whole generation of consumers that are growing up with very different viewpoints, and technology, and opportunities, some challenging and some good that the generation before has had to deal with. It’s created a very interesting conversation,” Melissa Goidel, Refinery29’s Customer Relations Officer told brandchannel. “The thing that makes [Refinery29] unique is that we are actually creating the content of the conversation, where as those who play in the space with us are really more of the channel for the conversation.”

Known internally as the ‘R29 wink,’ the site has developed its own voice that is approachable and tailored to its users. As Christine Barberich, Refinery29’s Editor in Chief explained, “Our readers come to us for our own unique point of view, as well as the reactions and conversation from their fellow readers. Our audience feels personally connected to Refinery29, our editors, and our content because we create it with them at the very center of it…we share and talk to each other, we never dictate. And that really does make a reader feel like this experience and content was created expressly for them.”

One way the site achieves its ‘friendly’ nature is by avoiding out-of-reach, aspirational model shots that you might find in Vogue or W Magazine, instead opting for ‘real’ people, sometimes its own employees, to model new trends. The down-to-earth approach stretches across its content, too, with the site presenting a mix of high- and low-fashion in an effort to be relatable on all levels.

“They’ll be Alexa Chung and then another [article] about someone who knows how to rock a pair of Keds in a new way that’s totally dynamite,” said Eben Levy, the Director of User Experience. Women are especially attracted to the site because they can find trends that fit their own style using items that are in their price range or are already in their closet.

But perhaps what has made the site most successful is its ability to mix R29 content among branded, promotional pieces. For one thing, Refinery29 always has a role in the branded content. For instance, Levy exlains that a recent article featuring Levi’s clothing was written and shot by R29, who interviewed 10 entrepreneurs and photographed them in Levi’s attire. For the consumer, this content helps reposition Levi’s from its cowboy image—and protects R29’s content standards.

“[Brands] are coming to us as this authoritative connection to this audience. And they want to engage,” Goidel told brandchannel. “Generally speaking, it starts with activation against this audience because they know we have the credibility and they want to approach them with a new idea—they either have that connection or the consumer doesn’t realize they have that offering or service.”

Its personalized approach, to both readers and brands, is what continues to set Refinery29 apart from its competitors. “It is our business to create amazing content that Millennial women want to engage with and we do that as passionately for brands as we do for our own purposes,”—and it shows.

To read the original, click here.

Content Meets Commerce: How Thrillist and Refinery29 Turn Brand Loyalty into Sales

As published on branchannel on July 5, 2013.

Founded in 2004, Thrillist started as a guide to New York City for recent male graduates. Today, Thrillist Media Group generates over $40 million in revenue , 45 percent of which comes from its e-commerce site, JackThreads, which it acquired in 2010 to complement its content offerings on its Thrillist and Crosby Press sites.  Refinery29

Unlike most media companies, Thrillist has over half a million credit card numbers on hand. The seamless shopping experience, where men can discover and purchase product on the same site, means that the user is more engaged and more likely to have intent to buy. “They’ve got their wallet in hand. They’re looking for recommendations and what to do and what to buy,” Eric Ashman, Thrillist Media Group’s strategic advisor told brandchannel. “Reading GQ, your feet are up on the coffee table, you’re leaning back. And when you’re [on Thrillist], you’re leaning forward and looking for ideas and looking for recommendations and things to share with your friends.”

Refinery29, like Thrillist, is also at the forefront of seamlessly joining content and commerce. With 5 million visitors per month, Refinery29 focuses on building brand loyalty for the brands advertised on its site, but without a major complementary online store.

Whether it’s driving sales or driving loyalty, both sites utilize and prioritize content over commerce. “At the Thrillist Media Group, we’re talking about dropping people into a full e-commerce experience, where we run everything from buyers on one end making product and curating product, all the way through to a warehouse where we do fulfillment,” Ashman told brandchannel.

Both sites support the same strategy: content drives users to the sites and engages them to buy, whether its directly or indirectly. Understanding this relationship, the sites focus on content-based metrics such as audience engagement, audience growth, engagement growth, and time on site to measure their success as opposed to solely focusing on direct purchase metrics.

With regular display advertising, a 1 percent click rate is impressive, but on Thrillist, most of the site’s content has a 25 to 30 percent click rate as users seek to learn more or purchase a product. The products highlighted on Thrillist come about through a unique and tested approach that sees the site’s editors choosing which products they want to write about. The process allows for a more natural feel to the curacted content. Through this content focus, brands highlighted on the site receive benefits across the purchase funnel, impacting awareness through loyalty.

Refinery29’s CEO Philippe von Borries said at a recent NewsCred event that, “Famous brands are 50 percent merchandising and 50 percent inspiration. Borries also spoke of the tricky balance faced by e-commerce sites in which online shops seek to minimize time on the site (pre-purchase) while fashion content sites try to maximize time.

Unlike Thrillist, Refinery29 focuses more on brand loyalty without the emphasis on direct purchase. For example, an article on Alice + Olivia’s ‘whimsical’ office has little to do with showcasing the clothing company’s products and yet, develops a relationship with the brand. The site subtly advertises the boutique Nasty Gal in the article, “20 Crucial Fashion Lessons We Learned From Arrested Development”: “All of Rita’s outfits are just amazing, and we’re only about 40 percent joking here. The heart-shaped glasses, smiley pin, Clueless-inspired beret—these are all things that have populated Nasty Gal and more of our favorite downtown-cool shops in the last few seasons.”

Here, unlike what you might find on Thrillist, there is no link to Nasty Gal’s site, only a reference. The upshot: readers may feel they’re getting the insider scoop. The only section of Refinery29 devoted to direct purchases is discount giftcards and small boutiques highlighted as “Vintage Across America,” which clearly differs from Thrillist’s full e-commerce experience.

While both sites have different end goals to monetize their content and communities—Thrillist Media is looking to launch shops on Thrillist and Crosby Press that leverage Jack Thread’s e-commerce platform, while Refinery29 doesn’t alude to any retail expansion—both remain to be trendsetters in a space that aims to marry the disjointed worlds of content and commerce.

For original, click here.

Content Meets Commerce