Gritty Pretty’s Eleanor Pendleton talks tears, triumphs & truths
This month marks two years since award-winning journalist Eleanor Pendleton launched Gritty Pretty Magazine, an extension of her popular blog of the same name. And while the magazine industry may be sadly witnessing a decline in readership figures, Gritty Pretty Magazine is bucking the trend – with the publication receiving almost one million views and counting.
But producing a magazine and blog isn’t the only feather in this multi-tasker’s cap. Heading to the media launch of her latest venture – designing a shoe collection with Shoes of Prey – Husskie Editor Yelena Fairfax caught up with Eleanor for an intimate chat on everything from balancing multiple commitments to crying alone in hotel rooms to what’s coming up next…
Can you give me a bit of background on Gritty Pretty and the concept behind the publication?
Essentially I started Gritty Pretty when I was an Editor at Famous way back when. I launched it early 2010. I originally launched the site because it was at a time when there wasn’t that many beauty blogs around; there definitely wasn’t any beauty editors that had blogs at that point in time.
I was going into work, having my coffee, checking my emails and then looking at fashion blogs. Because I loved beauty so much, I wanted to go to a place online where I could be inspired. Even though I was a beauty editor and my job was centred around writing about beauty, I still wanted to be able to read about beauty myself. I couldn’t find that online anywhere – so that’s the reason why I started the site. I literally just created a platform I thought I would enjoy reading.
When I went over to InStyle in 2011, I had to put the site on hold as it was considered a conflict of interest – so the site sat dormant while I focused on my magazine career. That was unfortunate, but when I left the magazine to go freelance in 2013, I decided to relaunch the site and then later I added the component of the online magazine. Essentially what Gritty Pretty serves to do is to educate, inspire, and empower women all around the world when it comes to all things beauty.
When you left InStyle, I feel like Gritty Pretty was a secondary focus to freelancing. What made that turn around?
You’re right. I actually spent about six months thinking about going freelance [before making the step]. There were a lot of sleepless nights thinking about whether or not I should essentially leave a job that was perfect on paper to go into the unknown and sometimes insecure world of freelance; but I couldn’t get it out of my head. I desperately wanted to write for other publications and use different tones of voice. I definitely didn’t leave InStyle to work in the online world, it happened very organically.
When I did leave InStyle and was freelancing, because Gritty Pretty was sitting there dormant – I thought ‘let’s start it up again. I can get back into my groove and start writing in the way I use to enjoy that is more a direct reflection of myself.’ So I started doing that. It then took about three or four months until the site really started picking up again. Some of those original loyal readers stayed with me while I was at InStyle – and they seemed to come straight back as soon as I relaunched, so that was amazing.
It really only took three or four months until I started seeing revenue coming through the site; I had a moment where I was like, ‘If I’m going to do Gritty Pretty, I’m going to do it properly and I’m going to invest the very small amount of money I have and all of my time into the site’. But yes, for those first few months after leaving InStyle, I was definitely [focused on] working freelance – I was writing whatever I could for whoever I could –and then whatever money I earnt I used to put back into the site to relaunch it and reskin it.
People flip through your Instagram and it looks like you have this incredible life. Is this a true reflection?
It’s like #Instagramfilters! Instagram is definitely a visual diary and glimpse into my life. It showcases aspects of my life – which do go through a filter! – but it’s not all aspects of my life. There are definitely moments in my life I like to keep private and to myself; put the phone and camera away and just be present and live in those moments. And then there are other moments of simply running a business that my followers might not necessarily get to see. I spend a great deal of my day just dealing with business admin – talking to solicitors, real estate agents and internet providers… people like that.
You’ve had such an incredible career already, but can you talk me through some of the key defining moments since launching Gritty Pretty?
Most recently I would say it would be launching a shoe collection with Shoes of Prey! It was so mind-blowingly crazy that it would even happen. It’s definitely a massive highlight for me to be able to collaborate in that way, and now have a shoe collection where people can buy my shoes which have my name inscripted in the soles – it’s just insane! I seriously can not believe it. I think I will be even more excited and shocked when I see someone walking down the street wearing my shoes. That has been a huge highlight for me.
Another highlight was when I was going out to market and selling this concept of an online magazine that did not exist in the marketplace yet; it was really difficult because I had nothing to compare it to. I couldn’t walk into these meetings and go ‘this is what it’s going to look like’ and ‘you can compare it to this because they’re quite similar’ – I had no comparison. But when I was in Berlin – I was there with Gucci on a media famil trip – and I remember I got this email and it was from Chanel’s advertising agency confirming that they wanted to advertise with the magazine for the year. That was such a defining moment for me. I remember just being in my hotel room, I’d just travelled for 40 hours to the other side of the world, and just crying tears of joy because I had managed to secure one of the world’s most prestigious, luxurious brands and they wanted to be aligned with Gritty Pretty magazine. That was so huge for me. It’s easy to sell a brand that might have history and DNA, like an Elle or a Harper’s Bazaar, but it’s a real challenge to sell a brand that is so new and offering something completely original to the marketplace.
And lastly, even just going to Fashion Week. I remember I was once at London Fashion Week and I was a million rows back, but I was just so excited to be there. I was at the Matthew Williamson show with Toni & Guy and could see Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington in the front row and my mind was blow – it was just such an incredible pinch me moment.
Have there been any lowlights that stand out as being really hard?
Every issue is a challenge to put together – it’s not easy to produce the magazine of the quality and scale of what we do with such a small team. Magazines have staff of 20 – 30 sometimes more people, and I have three other girls – so there’s four of us. Actually the fourth one is just about to start, so we’ve been doing it with three of us. It’s a real challenge to put it together. For example, when we published the Lily Aldridge issue shot by Mario Testino – the amount of sheer work and hours and exhaustion and sweat and blood and tears that went into that is unparalleled. No-one will quite be able to understand how much passion and love we put into what we produce.
You have moments where you are so exhausted or something is just not going your way – a cover has fallen through the day before it’s meant to happen or the make-up artist cancels on you on the way to the shoot – there are so many things like that where I feel I have to just pull my hair out, but at the same time I’m a big believer in learning from experience. Every experience I’ve learnt from; I have come out of it the other end and thought to myself ‘okay, that was meant to happen – we were meant to lose that cover or we were meant to lose that make-up artist’ – because in the end, we end up getting something better or creating something better. There’s definitely been some moments that are pretty hairy.
You have quite a large following as ‘Eleanor Pendleton’. Do you think this is essential to the growth of Gritty Pretty?
Gritty Pretty is an extension of myself, it’s my baby – so I think Gritty Pretty and I go hand-in-hand. However, in saying that, I think Gritty Pretty has really grown to become its own brand. It’s established by an incredible, well-experienced team – so I think the two can co-exist, but they can also exist without each other. It’s been an organic growth – as Gritty Pretty’s profile and audience grows, more and more people become aware of its founder. And as more people become aware of the founder of Gritty Pretty, the more people become aware of the website.
Gritty Pretty is about to expand. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
We’re introducing e-commerce to the website, which I’m so excited about. When I came up with the concept to launch the online magazine, I had an epiphany moment where I was like ‘no-one is doing this, why is no-one doing this? Why doesn’t this exist for women?!’ I had a similar moment when I came up with the idea to create the e-store, and that was ‘why can’t we provide a Gritty Pretty service where our readers, who already shop from our pages and our stories, why can’t they purchase directly from us in the most beautiful first-class Gritty Pretty shopping experience?’ We are building the e-commerce store at the moment and I think what will make it really exciting is that we are only going to be curating a very select edit of beauty products, we’re only going to be selling the best-of-the-best – the iconic products, the best-sellers, the ones that are multi-award winning.
You’re running an online magazine and blog, doing brand ambassador campaigns, shoe designing, now e-commerce… How do you manage to do it all?
I love my job so, so much – and I think if you love your job, you always make time for it. Even the word ‘job’ has a negative connotation, it really is such a joy to be able to work on Gritty Pretty full-time and have created an amazing workplace for my staff. But there are definitely times when that work ‘balance’ gets thrown out the window and I might get sick or rundown, or I might have a cry – but I try really hard to maintain some type of balance. For me, balance comes in the form of swimming in the ocean, practising yoga and spending time with my fiancé, family and friends. If I can make sure I do those three things, then I feel like I’m able to maintain some type of balance for myself. I don’t have a 9 to 5 job, I work most days 14 hours a day – but I love it and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Where do you see Gritty Pretty heading?
There’s always plans! Right now it’s all about growth. We want to grow our audience. We want to get our website and our magazine and our beautiful stories into the hands of as many women as possible. We want to grow our team. We’ve just moved into a brand new office, so I’m really excited to see our office be filled with four people for now, but I’d love to see that grow into even more people – maybe 14 or 15. Right now it’s all about growth for us.
Words and pics by Husskie Editor Yelena Fairfax.