StyleWatch editor Lisa Arbetter ’89 talks diversity in fashion

By Sophia Melissa Caraballo Piñeiro

February 26, 2016

Though it almost turned into a Skype session due to bad weather and flight delays, the planned talk by alumna Lisa Arbetter ’89, editor of StyleWatch, was held in Newhouse’s Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium Feb. 24.

Arbetter graduated from the Newhouse School’s magazine program and went on to work for Condé Nast’s Cargo and InStyle before becoming the editor of StyleWatch.

In conversation with magazine chair Melissa Chessher, Arbetter discussed diversity in the fashion world. “The fashion industry has been very slow to diversify,” she said. Arbetter also made the point that it is not only racial diversity that is lacking in the fashion industry. Models of different heights or with diverse body and hair types are still uncommon.

Arbetter attributes the awareness of the lack of diversity in the fashion industry to social media. Because of its influence, models and fashion bloggers who use social media are showing that fashion is not just for an exclusive group. Social media has forced the hands of designers and the fashion industry, Arbetter said.

Arbetter strives to include body and racial diversity in every article published in StyleWatch. “We want to make sure that when someone picks up our magazine, they see themselves in it,” Arbetter said.

This is part of her vision that the magazine should be a reflection of real life.

“To be honest, I hadn’t ever thought of diversity as much as I have in the past five years,” Arbetter confessed.

She also recognizes that she could be doing more to diversifying her magazine and the industry.  

Runways and magazine covers are not the only places where diversity is lacking, Arbetter said. One of the main reasons why more diverse models are not featured is because those in charge, along with designers, are not diverse, according to Arbetter. At her own publishing company, Arbetter said, there is only one black editor-in-chief, though the company is always striving to increase diversity.

Another topic touched upon was branding. StyleWatch started as a special edition of People magazine. After it became a monthly magazine, it was separated from the People brand, Arbetter said. Because of this, StyleWatch is only just beginning the branding process. The main challenges now are building the magazine’s own identity and increasing traffic to its new companion site, The Outfit.

Arbetter said that, in addition to diverse models, other parts of the StyleWatch brand include advice from fashion bloggers and clothes and jewelry that sell for under $100.

Lastly, Arbetter said that fashion is a form of expression that everyone can participate in, even if they’re not conscious of fashion trends. And the one thing she most admires, she said, is someone who decides to step outside the box, even when wearing the same thing as everyone else.

Sophia Melissa Caraballo Piñeiro is a graduate student in the magazine, newspaper and online journalism program at the Newhouse School.