Get to know Sofia Celeste, the editor of the FMA online magazine and Italy-based Diversity and Inclusion officer, who has shared her story and vision for the future with us.
Sofia is a veteran journalist and editor who started her career as an intern for Women’s Wear Daily and Footwear News in Los Angeles and Milan.
After completing an MA in Journalism, she moved to Rome to cover the Vatican for The Boston Globe and went on to write about Italy’s economy, political arena and luxury and retail industry, as a staff reporter for Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal. She returned to fashion in 2011, first as a fashion critic, and later as the deputy editor of online magazine NOWFASHION.
With a concentration in fashion tech, sustainable fashion, haute cuisine and Italian craftsmanship, she now works as a content consultant for luxury goods companies and regularly contributes to Vogue Arabia and still writes for Women’s Wear Daily. She lives in Milan with her two daughters.
Let’s talk about the beginning of your career. How did you get started in fashion?
Well, my start was really very random. One day, I went to the career services offices of my university because I needed to find an internship. When I got there, the first internship posting that I laid eyes on was at Women’s Wear Daily and Footwear News in Los Angeles. The rest is history!
What first ignited your passion?
As a kid growing up on Guam, the ocean and sports were my life! I was never particularly interested in dressing up, BUT I was always very entertained by my mother’s copies of Vogue as well as my grandmother’s curious Japanese fashion and beauty magazines. And I absolutely adored “The Last Word,” a satirical social column in W magazine penned by John Fairchild under the pseudonym Countess Louise J. Esterhazy.
Who inspired you when you started out in the industry and how did you open the door to get in?
I always say fashion chose me because I never really had this epiphany that I wanted to work in fashion. So the door really stood in front of me. The editors from Footwear News and the WWD in both LA and Milan were supportive from the start. They were my first real journalism teachers, helping me to get my articles published in the paper straight away. Those first clips were key to launching my career as a professional journalist. That said, I felt fairly nurtured and I am really thankful, I had never been subjected to a “The Devil Wears Prada” experience in my life.
What has been your best learning experience to date working within the industry?
That would have to be writing about finance and covering the luxury sector for Dow Jones Newswires, without having taken a single economics or finance course prior. It was pure baptism by fire. Net profit, EBITDA, CAGR etc… was a whole new language I had to learn in both English and Italian.
If you could go back in time, and give some advice to your younger professional self, what would it be?
I am not a rich woman, nor a particularly famous one, but I feel like the manner in which everything happened, happened because it was supposed to happen in just that way. And I think my younger self would be jaw-droppingly astonished at all the places I have been and the successes big and small. So I guess, I would have said, just work hard, do your best, have some tough skin when need be but be as nice to people as possible and let destiny take its course.
Who inspires you within the industry today and why?
The scientists and brands behind the sustainable fashion movement. And those fighting for inclusion and diversity in an industry that is neither particularly inclusive nor truly diverse. The BLM movement has really forced the fashion industry to look within itself and ask if it really equitable? Is it inclusive of people of all backgrounds? Is it a place where the privileged excel faster than others? As a Pacific Islander living in Milan, I feel a need to be a part of that conversation.
What would you say were your “milestone moments” so far?
Aside from becoming a mother… surviving a papal conclave, the financial crisis and my first fashion week.
What has driven your success?
My parents. They made a lot of sacrifices so that I could live a full and eventful life that is full of travel and experiences. Doing my best and making them proud is the only way I know how to really say thank you.
Why is intersectionality important for the future of the industry e.g. ethics, sustainability, intersectional feminism, diversity?
I think fashion is facing an era of reckoning. It has been too exclusive for so long, and in nearly every way. To survive this age of waste and excess, the industry across the board is now being forced to look beyond itself into the worlds of science and technology. And to remain relevant in key markets and among vital consumer demographics, it must embrace ethnic groups, different identities, varied communities and a wider range of socio-economic backgrounds that it had never previously taken the time to understand.
Speaking of challenges and change, what would you say were the main hurdles that you had to overcome working within an industry, which is predominantly homogenous, and then moving to Italy?
A mixed-race child of an Italian (American) father and Japanese, indigenous Chamorro (Guamanian) mother, I’ve never viewed people or groups as black, white or brown… or Italian or Japanese. In my world, everything is more vivid in multi-colour.
I feel very blessed to come from a family as diverse as my own and to have grown up on Guam, an occupied territory in the Pacific that continues to struggle for self-determination. Inequality has been woven into my family’s history and it’s something I simply accepted as a child. But that sort of naive acceptance is innate among many island cultures, and I look forward to that ending with my generation.
My father encouraged me to return to my “paternal” homeland to pursue unique opportunities… and while all that happened and so much more, there have definitely been times when I have never been made to feel more second class “brown” in my life. I embrace my “brown” journey, and I hope that it will inspire others, who find themselves on a similar path.
Do you have any hints or tips you can share for young people within the BIPOC and minority community wishing to work in fashion?
Don’t set out with a chip on your shoulder. Have faith that you are deserving of the best. Work hard, be kind, never burn any bridges and know when to get out of a toxic situation. History has been written around champions of race and otherness. Their struggles have made for some of the greatest stories of all-time and yours could too.
You are part of FMA Italy and the Brand Inclusion Committee. What are you hoping we will achieve/how do you see your involvement in both committees bringing change.
My personal hope is to promote awareness of the minorities right here in our backyard. Italy’s real immigration boom just started about two or three decades ago and continues today. There are hundreds of thousands of Filipino, African (Egyptian, Moroccan, Nigerian and Sudanese), Chinese and Eastern European workforce aged young people that were born and have grown up here in MILAN! They ARE Milan. I hope my work with the FMA and within the Brand Inclusion Committee can help pave the way for them, and afford them a real chance at an enduring career in fashion.