Shawna Strayhorn

Shawna Strayhorn

Photo Credit: Amelia Alpaugh


How did you get started with your career? How does your current role as Director of Business Intelligence at Refinery29 reflect your personal aesthetic?

I graduated from Harvard in 2007. From there, I went into management consulting, a ripe business training ground. I quickly pivoted into e-commerce marketing and finally, just over 3 years ago, landed at Refinery29, coming onboard as the first marketing hire and the 13th employee. The ethos of Refinery29 is to cultivate personal style by mixing high and low and distilling down to only the very best. My personal style aesthetic draws on the same principals – mix designer with 125th street, vintage with so-this-season pieces. But, in the end, tie a look together with one eye-popping element, many times in black, and let the look sing.

Cultural trends constantly change. What do you do to stay relevant, connected, and ahead of the curve?

I believe there are two types of people in the “world”: those that use the Internet to connect, explore, and discover in a true and deep way and those that do not, simply. What do I mean by true and deep — that is, a rejection of the rinse-and-repeat nature of social media that engages only with the ideas, people, music, style, and friends that one is already familiar with in the human world. What is the point? Why sit at a wellspring of information and culture only to redraw the lines of your locality time and again? I use a reader to comb through content voraciously, follow links liberally, and seek inspiration for essays to read and songs to listen, etc. In addition, my city and neighborhood are fully-formed pillars of inspiration; many New York men and women style with effortless cool and Harlemites embrace pattern and bold shapes. Lately, I have been drawn to album art for inspiration. The project of bringing music to visual life in a small square is lofty (i.e., seeing sounds) and limiting (i.e., fixed space).

How do you balance your personal and business goals and stay creative at the same time (even when you are exhausted)?

I let technology work for me and eliminate the white noise. I am laser-focused on what needs to be done now and, in doing so, free myself up to dream, to fellowship. I use an email app to keep my inbox at 0 messages as frequently as possible. I push email reminders to myself (i.e., drinks, dates, plays, networking events) and delay messages and to-do items until they are absolutely time-critical. I save music, files, inspiration images, and documents to the cloud. I consume my news from RSS feeds in one central place (Feedly). My approach is not to let how I do the work impede me from doing the work. Mitigate the friction, make it easy, and get to the good, creative stuff.

I do my best thinking in the mornings. I rise about 5:30 each morning and take an hour to read, answer emails, and do some of the big picture thinking that only a good night’s sleep can afford.

In my transition to business school, I faced the seemingly daunting task of committing my business goals to essays – a cathartic experience. In hindsight, I’m thankful for the exercise – my goals in 500 words double-spaced. Do I expect to pursue them down to the letter? No. But, the path as it stands, is mapped out. I expect detours.

Shawna Strayhorn

Photo Credit: Amelia Alpaugh

How important are mentors? Who is your mentor?

Mentors are mission-critical. The best mentors, personal or professional, have a point of view that they want to impress upon you. It is simply not enough for a mentor to be someone “who achieves.” A mentor not only achieves, but also has a credo on how she gets the job done and the language and perspective to pass on her knowledge. My life mentor is Jennifer Nash, Assistant Professor of American Studies at The George Washington University. I met Jen at Harvard; she was pursuing her PhD and I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

Define your idea of success.

Success is legacy – what positive thing will people remember you for and did it have impact beyond yourself.

What is your advice for women entering creative fields or starting their own business?

My advice for those looking to get into fashion marketing is to have an editor’s eye for impeccable style and value, to sharpen your business acumen and analytical skills, and to be results driven.

Place that inspires me the most:

A specific place does not inspire me. However, I feel most inspired when I give myself time to think. It seems so intuitive. But, in the rush of life, time to “just think” is precious. If I have an hour, I’ll spend nearly 45 minutes thinking about the problem — what went wrong, what is up, what is down, and why. In a phrase, I like to put the problem back into problem-solving – don’t rush the solution. Get intimate with the problem, get what the real rub is, and get it right.

I feel most powerful when: 

I wear lipstick and arrive 20 minutes early.

I love what I do because: 

I have the pleasure of gazing upon stunning, beautifully composed images daily. I derive such pleasure from being able to refine and focus my taste overtime and to appreciate and prop up things that are beautiful and special to me. My most rewarding career experience is leading Refinery29′s growth efforts. Through aggressive acquisition efforts, I lead Refinery29′s audience development growing the email database by 200% in one year.

Best advice I have ever received: 

Your inner-circle should be filled with people who are willing, able, and esteemed enough to challenge you and tell you “no.”

About Refinery29
Refinery29, the largest independent fashion and style website in the United States, is a lifestyle platform that delivers nonstop inspiration to live a more stylish and creative life. In addition to its global and local newsletter editions and 24/7 original editorial content, Refinery29 connects over 10 million visitors every month and over 1.25 million subscribers with content, commerce, and community, giving them all the tips, tricks, and tools they need to live a more beautiful life – and share it with the world.

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