Brand Manager / Intimo
I am bursting at the seems to introduce you to Kirby Hughes. In a world that has flipped upside down, Kirby and her team at Intimo have elegantly morphed the business into a purely online model, while keep the brand integrity and poise. But this isn’t a story about the gorgeous brand, it’s about Kirby’s incredible career trajectory, and it’s a good one.
Growing up in the leafy suburb of Warrandyte, in Victoria, Kirby originally wanted to be a dancer, but quickly moved onto fashion, and hasn’t budged since. In this interview Kirby takes us on a journey from high school to University and beyond. Make sure you read her must have tips and advice, they are THAT GOOD.
If you don’t know Kirby yet, get ready to join our queue.
Where did you grow up and how did that experience shape the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I grew up in Warrandyte on a big property surrounded by trees nearby the Yarra river. I loved playing dress ups and would constantly be dressing up in long skirts and mermaid outfits. I think the love of fashion started here – first presenting itself through a love of dance and performance before finally culminating in a specialist brand management role that consists of lots of styling, trend forecasting and creative direction.
When you were a young girl what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I got over my dream of being a dancer and owning my own dance studio, I quickly moved onto fashion. I knew I would end up in the industry, but didn’t really know what part until I reached year 10 and started to really focus on my writing.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to Warrandyte High School from year 7 to year 12. I completed my VCE there and I actually really loved it. I had incredible teachers and friends that I will cherish for life. Most of my closest friends are friends I made at Warrandyte High. It’s amazing to look back at high school now and appreciate how fun it was. I know I’m incredibly lucky to have had such a great school experience, and even luckier to take those friendships with me into my thirties.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
Definitely. I worked hard at school and did my best to balance study and a social life. I have always been quite driven and my closest friends are all quite driven as well. I really believe that the friends you surround yourself with at school have a big impact on your work ethic and desire to achieve. Although not all of my friends went on to study, they all went on to pursue a career, and I think having motivated and focused people around you helps to keep you focused on your own goals.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
I did work experience in high school, but really started interning properly in my first year of University. I started out as a contributing editor on a site called College Fashionista, which captured and profiled on-campus style from colleges and universities all over the world. I also
started my own blog, and worked for an online fashion publication part time. To me this real-world experience was more valuable than my degree. It gave me a better insight to the industry and allowed me to try different creative roles to help refine my course outline and subject choices.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I studied Journalism at La Trobe University in Bundoora. Communication and writing were my strongest subjects in high school, and I loved all of the work I was completing for my internship< and part time editorial roles. The journalism program really solidified my desire to find a role with versatility and depth. I loved communication – both through visual and written mediums – and< it’s still my passion today. I selected subjects that gave me a broad knowledge of all types of communication and I still apply a lot of what I learned at university to my job now. One of the best choices I made was to vary my skillset and electives, as so many employers now require potential employees to have a broad spectrum of abilities.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights?
After finishing university I was offered a full time job working as an editor at an online publication called Stylehunter.com. This was an incredible starting role for me, as it allowed me to attend and write about fashion weeks, events and the industry as a whole. The fashion week and events circuit can grow tiresome, which is why I started to look for something more wholesome. That’s how I ended up at Intimo, and I’ve been there ever since. To be completely honest with you my entire career at Intimo has been a highlight. From my first day I have had incredible mentors and have been trusted with opportunities that I doubt would have come my way in any other organisation. I have such an incredible team and together we’ve managed to completely modernise and change the face of the brand. We’ve travelled overseas on international campaigns to Mexico, Italy, Bali, Thailand and Vietnam and worked with some of the most amazing creatives in the industry to help bring our vision to life.
How did you get into the job that you are in now?
I applied for a marketing assistant role at Intimo through an advertisement on job seeker. I had three rounds of interviews and had to complete writing tasks before my final interview with the directors of the organisation. After that interview, I wanted the job so badly that I called the recruitment agency and demanded that they tell me the outcome. After working in this role for 12 months, my manager went on maternity leave and I was asked to look after the marketing department in her absence. This was such a huge learning curve for me. Managing people is one of the hardest parts of any job, and although it wasn’t easy, I loved the challenge. When my manager returned from maternity leave, she worked with the directors of the organisation to create an entirely new role for me as brand manager. Intimo isn’t really a title driven organisation – if you want an opportunity you are encouraged to go for it and the management team will support you when you need it. It’s truly unique and focusses a lot on team work and personal development.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
I think the hardest part of any brand management or creative director role is being switched on 24/7. We live in a digital world, and our consumers can reach us at all hours of the day. It’s certainly not a 9-5 job and it requires you to be in tune with public sentiment across trends, social media, politics, humanitarian issues and climate change. You have to be nimble and responsive; case in point the current global pandemic. Lockdown restrictions meant that in the space of hours we had to pivot a 25 year heritage of face-to-face bra fittings to virtual Zoom and Facetime fittings, all while training 1,500 bra fit specialists across Australia and New Zealand to do the same. There are highs and lows in fashion, and you have to learn to just roll with it and enjoy the ride.
What does a typical business day look like for you in your current job?
My day could involve anything from seasonal collection forecasting to travelling on product development trips, running a PR event, dressing models for a runway, travelling overseas to manage a campaign photoshoot, sourcing shoes and accessories for campaigns, speaking in front of a room of 200 women on the importance of branding and service, fitting clients in a pop up boutique, travelling to Fiji to fit women in local communities, building tools and marketing material for our bra fit specialists or testing a new website until 4am.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
My greatest inspiration has always been those who I surround myself with. Both my mum and dad are incredibly hard workers, and they’ve always told me that I can do whatever I want as long as I am willing to work for it. My older sister is incredibly intelligent and independent, and I look to her for guidance and energy whenever I’m feeling uninspired or need help making sense of something. My best friend Katie is an incredible creative, and I love having her to bounce ideas off. Having an amazing support network is incredibly important when you work long hours, especially if you struggle to switch off like I do. A supportive and forgiving partner also helps which I am lucky to have!
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
Be prepared to work hard! People often tell me that I have the dream job – and I do – however there are a lot of unseen hours that go into any role in fashion that don’t always make the highlights reel. There’s a common misconception that the industry is all champagne and gifting, but in reality it’s a lot of early starts, late finishes and managing budgets and spreadsheets. The other bit of advice I’d give.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Websites: Business of Fashion – it’s the first thing I read every day.
- Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: @gabwallerdotcom. I get a weird thrill watching what people from all over the world ask her to hunt down for them. She’s one of a kind and I’ve never come across anyone who loves the hunt for designer fashion items like she does.
- Favourite Podcast: It’s a close tie between Radiolab and The Daily by New York Times.
- Favourite Netflix/Stan/ Series: Queer Eye. It restores my faith in humanity.
- Who is your mentor? (This can be a person you follow for advice, or an IRL person). My amazing mentor would have to be Intimo’s marketing manager, Amy. She has taught me the value of being part of a team and of being detail oriented even to the point of annoyance. She’s also taught me that everything is figure-out-able. I feel incredibly lucky to have her guidance every day and we have had some amazing career highlights together.
- Favourite all time book/s: I am a closet Jane Austen fan. Don’t ask me why – I even did a Jane Austen subject at uni. This year I have read (and loved) Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates, Becoming by Michelle Obama and Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? By Alyssa Mastromonaco (Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff). Now that I think about it, there’s a definite trend of strong female leads.
- Favourite App that you use every day: Plann. It helps me curate my Insta feed. Without it my socials would be a hot mess.