Jean Wang is the founder of Extrapetite.com, a blog that started as a resource for a consumer base typically outside the focus of the fashion houses and designers. Based in Boston, Jean has been writing about fashion, lifestyle and travel for over seven years. She sat down with us to talk about her transition from a career in finance, her journey into the creative realm and managing work-life balance.
Interview conducted by Tiffany Chan
Edited: Catherine Harlow and Tiffany Chan
Q: What was your professional path? Did you always know/plan for/study fashion or was it an interest that grew into something more?
I always loved fashion, and had a small homegrown business in high school selling my own designs to classmates and teachers! I considered going to college for it, but ended up choosing the more practical path (finance & accounting). However, I never gave up on fashion as a side project.
Q: What is the origin story of Extrapetite.com? What prompted you to start it and how did it grow throughout the years?
I was fresh out of college working my first full-time job in financial services, and I had a hard time being taken seriously by both my managers and clients. Oftentimes, clients would joke that I still looked like a teen! It didn’t help that I had a “young” face, and that most professional wear was ill-fitting on my frame. I started this blog to document and share my journey of building a wardrobe of pieces that flattered my figure (and subsequently, experimenting with makeup and hair), which made a huge difference in my self-confidence and ultimately, how I was treated in the workplace.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your team/workflow?
I have two people I work with—a full time project manager and a part-time photographer (usually my husband, or a local photographer). At any given time, we have a number of posts/projects in various stages of completion including our regular organic content, as well as sponsored or partnered content. We work at a co-working space called WeWork in downtown Boston – it has some elements of a traditional office space, but with a more creative and entrepreneurial vibe.
Q: What is a typical day in the life (office) like for you?
It really depends, but something a lot of people may not realize is that I spend a lot of time every day responding to reader questions and comments that come through on all my platforms (email, blog comments, facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and IG direct messages). That’s one of my biggest takeaways from my days working in client service in finance —I really want to engage with people and be as responsive and helpful as possible on an individual level.
Q: I love the incorporation of Boston/city life into your photographs-how do you choose places to shoot? Can you tell us a funny story/anecdote from a shoot?
I usually try to choose locations that fit the look, for example an office building for a professional outfit, or one of Boston’s beauty gardens or coffee shops for casual wear. You have to have a good attitude and thick skin to take blog photos around a busy city … I can’t tell you the number of honks, cat calls, thumbs up, and just general shouts, questions and commentary we get from passersby, especially if we shoot near a busier street!
Q: What inspires/motivates you?
The unknown future of fashion blogging is scary but motivating. Since there’s no precedent for how blogging plays out over the long term (and I’ve already been blogging much longer than most of my peers!), I’m motivated to figure it out and continually trying to push forward since there’s no outline for how to do things.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges of running your publication/building your brand?
The name Extra Petite is a blessing and a curse. It’s helped me build a really targeted, passionate audience. But it also turns away a lot of people who I think would enjoy or find my content useful, just because they think “petite” doesn’t apply to them.
Also, something that I still find as tough now as I did in the beginning is dealing with online negativity, especially anonymous negativity. It’s hard to not let that affect and dampen your voice, but at the end of the day you need to figure out what’s actually constructive and tune out the rest.
Q: What have been some of the greatest rewards of your job so far?
Being able to work for myself, being able to connect with inspiring and accomplished women (and some men!) from all over the world, and also being able to collaborate with some brands that I’ve been a customer or fan of for years.
Q: For someone whose work is conducted online and social media platforms, I can imagine it’s easy to work 24/7 if you wanted to. How do you maintain a good work-life balance?
I probably would! My husband keeps me honest in terms of shutting off and putting the phone down completely when we’re spending quality time together
Q: What is your favorite collaboration/outfit so far?
LOFT – I had a chance to work with them and be the face of their in-store banners and Times Square billboard a few years back. It was incredible working in that capacity with a brand that I had shopped since college!
Visiting Provence, France with L’Occitane to learn about the heart of their brand and meet their founder.
Q: Some parents may discourage their children from following a creative path, out of concern for financial stability (or at the very least, worry greatly about their children). How would you address those parents/their concerns?
I meet a lot of girls and young women who are interested in starting something similar either instead of school or straight out of school. Unless you have achieved a high level of success already in the creative field, I feel strongly about getting an education and a stable job first, in order to pay the bills as you work on creative side projects. Real job experience with team members, clients (if applicable), and formal responsibilities is invaluable, and is something you can take with you wherever you go. And if you’re truly passionate about the creative path, then you’ll make sure to find time for it (on nights, weekends, early mornings) until it’s grown to the point where you can sustain yourself on it.
Q: What is one item that you think everyone should have in their closet/jewelry box? (Editor’s note: our readership is primarily female but in the spirit of inclusivity, gender neutral/ androgynous items are welcome as well!)
A classic, well-fitting blazer in a neutral color (like navy or gray) will go a long way. You can pair it simply with a tee shirt and slim jeans for a polished look for dinner or going out with friends, and of course, you can pair with with professional bottoms for career wear.
Q: Many of our readers are starting out in their career and starting to put together a career/post-college wardrobe but without much of an expendable income as of yet. Do you have any strategies for building the foundations of a wardrobe and how to prioritize acquisitions? If someone would like to change their style, where would you suggest they go for inspiration?
For anyone starting to do interviews, I recommend getting a good neutral pant or skirt suit in navy or gray. If you’re only going to get one suit, make sure it fits properly and looks sharp, so spend a little extra in hemming the sleeves or pants to the right length. Black is always acceptable as well, but is a more formal color thus will be harder to integrate into a casual wardrobe outside of a professional setting.
For those who already got a job and are about to enter the workforce, I recommend expanding on that suit with blouses, cardigans, and skirts in coordinating color families, so it’s easy to mix and match and get the most pairings out of each piece. Polyester blouses are an inexpensive alternative to nicer materials if you’re just starting out, but can look just as elegant and are easy to machine wash.
Pinterest has become an extensive source of inspiration of all kinds – you can search for something as specific as “how to pair red pants” to broader themes like “retro inspired fashion.” I will say though, a lot of “professional” or “interview” attire featured within pins on Pinterest are not actually formal enough or appropriate for work wear! So definitely be familiar with the dress code at your internship or job (i.e. shoulders should be covered, skirts should not hit too far above the knees, no open toed shoes) and treat it very seriously.
Cover Image Provided by Extrapetite.com