Trends in Transition: Rita Polidori O’Brien Takes Fashion to Digital

Rita Polidori O’Brien wearing Isabel Marant

Photo courtesy of Rita Polidori O’Brien

In the clean, graphic offices of 9Threads, Earnshaw’s and Footwear Plus sat a petite woman with short blond hair and piercing blue eyes.

She was wrapped in a heather gray sweater dress.  Tall black leather boots covered her legs.   Her pushed up sleeves revealed tattooed wrists and neon blue nails.  Rita Polidori O’Brien is not an editor, but she was essential in creating content for some of the most notable brands in the industry.  She returned from Austin’s South By Southwest Interactive Conference (SXSW) where 9Threads, the marketing and custom content agency for which she served as Vice President of Business Development, was named a finalist for a SXSW Interactive Award in the Business Category for its  “Big Canvas Idea” website.

“Now that we have so many digital offerings it’s important that we keep up with the latest in digital marketing and interactive marketing initiatives so that we can put together solutions for our clients that include the most up –to-date, cutting edge services,” O’Brien said of what she learned in Austin.

As the former VP of Business Development, O’Brien targeted certain companies and worked to build their web presences by contacting them at trade shows or simply visiting a retail site she thought could use a make-over and reaching out to the retailer over the phone.

“The vertical that we chose to focus on were any companies in fashion, beauty, and retail because we were already servicing those types of clients via Earnshaw’s and Footwear Plus, so they became the first tier of clients that we approached and said ‘hey, not only are we disseminators of your message on a b-to-b [business to business] scale, in terms of print ad pages, but we can now build your website, we can now create a blog for you and one of our editors can be the voice of that blog. We can now feed your social media on a daily basis,’ ” O’Brien said.

Not only has O’Brien found clients in the fashion and beauty industries and improved their online existences, she was also the publisher of Earnshaw’s Magazine, a children’s wear trade publication.

“With Earnshaw’s or Footwear Plus [Earnshaw’s sister publication] the focus is so laser sharp that you really get to know a market inside out, you really get to know the editorial content inside out which I like.” she said.

She also liked the freedom to make decisions “in-house” that comes with a small staff and small circulation.  Another pull toward trade for O’Brien was trend forecasting.  While consumer magazines present the styles of the current season, trade publications look to the future to inform the businesses they serve about the next big thing.

“We trend ahead 6 months so what’s kind of fun is you get to see what’s coming 6 months from now either on the footwear side or on the children’s wear side,” she said.

Although the former news editor of the Fordham University campus newspaper, The Ram, intended to pursue broadcast journalism a lá Katie Couric, she switched her focus to print at the end of her career as a student.  She accepted a job in circulations at World Press Review, a news magazine with a global focus.

“It was really luck, I wanted a job at a magazine, that was the first one that came my way so I switched from the editorial side to the business side and that’s just the path I stayed on from that first magazine,” she said.

This time at World Press Review taught her every aspect of the magazine publishing business as she moved to advertising sales, and then became assistant to the publisher.   She then had a stint as operations manager at American Baby before accepting the job at Earnshaw’s.

“I just loved the management of magazines and the publishing of magazines so that’s how I ended up in this seat as publisher,” the mother of two said.

Of course her personal style and a love of fashion play a pivotal role in her career.

“I tell my children all the time that it’s very important to be very careful about how you present yourself and I think fashion is just an extension of that.  Making informed choices, making conscious choices as opposed to reaching in the closet and pulling out any old thing, that’s really what it boils down to for me,” she said.

O’Brien dresses her daughter in brands such as Rachel Riley, Milly Minis, and Lemon Loves Lime and her son in Ralph Lauren and Lucky Brand.  For herself she prefers “modern, edgy, hip, and still classic” labels like Isabel Marant, Alexander Wang, and Rag and Bone, and treasures her Chanel classic flap bag and her Schott motorcycle jacket.

What’s next for this former digital business developer and publisher? Exploring “the client side of the business” as the Vice President of Licensing and Marketing at United Legwear & Underwear Company, a sock, hosiery and underwear manufacturer and client of 9Threads and Earnshaw’s.  The company holds licenses for a number of brands including Cynthia Rowley and Puma.  “This exciting move offered me the opportunity to expand my horizons and focus my skillset on a singular company, instead of creating programs for many advertisers,” she said.


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