Janice Breen Burns, editor-in-chief at VoxFrock

Photo by Tayla Wilson
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“Fashion is the visual history of us as human beings. It is reactive and it’s something that you can watch evolve in front of your eyes.” Janice Breen Burns, editor-in-chief at VoxFrock, speaks to Tayla Wilson.

How did you get started in the journalism industry? And how did you get to where you are today?

I started off as a writer while I was working as a receptionist at a fashion newspaper called Ragtrader. And that was a time when I was also studying a night-time degree in Journalism. I ended up working so hard as a writer that I had to drop out of my degree. I then moved on to work at a regional paper in Geelong as a women’s editor where I re-joined my degree at Deakin University. But again, I ended up working too hard at that. I dropped out of my degree and eventually I was headhunted back here to Melbourne at the Herald Sun as a fashion editor and finally I finished my degree at Melbourne University. From the Herald Sun I went to The Age where I worked for 19 years writing a fashion, arts and culture column called ‘Babble On’. From there I started working as a fashion editor at The Age, and for the past few years I’ve been working on the blog scene with VoxFrock where I am editor-in-chief.

What is it about the industry that appeals to you so much?

My creativity plugs in so neatly to it. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was a child and the idea of actually being able to make a living from it was irresistible. Fashion plugs into every single category of news. You can look at each story through the lens of fashion because fashion is the visual history of us as human beings. It is reactive and it’s something that you can watch evolve in front of your eyes. It has micro and macro reactions and sometimes fashion itself can actually trigger a cultural movement or social change and that’s what I love… that it’s so varied.

What were the challenges you faced and how did you cope with them?

The greatest challenge in my career is that I’ve worked for newspapers that don’t understand the breadth and relevance of fashion as a lens of looking at news. You have to generate your own stories from the fashion desk and very often because the fashion related news story was not considered as important as say a political one or a story from the courts it tends to get relegated to the end of a news list on a daily basis. I went through a period during my work at The Age where virtually half of what I wrote was not published. But that actually changed when we became a multi-platform news organisation. I went from 50 per cent published to 100 per cent published as soon as we introduced the digital age. But that was very tough.

Photo supplied by Janice Breen Burns

What’s been a memorable story from your career?

I wrote a piece for The Age called ‘Dress circles’ which was one of the most deeply researched of my recent career. I looked into what we called fashion tribes being the socio-cultural tribes of Melbourne who dressed, lived and looked according to their fashion genre. We followed goths, rockabillies, ravers, hip hop, punks, skinheads… there was about 12 different tribes overall. There were these whole niche communities of people who dressed a certain way and lived a certain way and it was terribly interesting. That was about 15 years ago and I’ve noticed that since then the tribes have changed in Melbourne and there are new ones that evolve every year so it’s an ongoing story.

What is the best thing about your job?

The variety. Every day. And I never get sick of it. If you think about fashion as a prism you can apply it to anything. Every storyline that you can possibly think of can be looked at through the lens of fashion.

Any advice for future fashion journalists?

When you’re looking at traditional media organisations and news services I think that it can sometimes seem pretty hopeless because they don’t seem to be hiring people specifically as fashion journalists. But that’s ok! There are so many opportunities. Even now there are millions and millions more opportunities than there were back in my day because you can actually generate your content online and it’s one of those areas that is incredibly popular as a digital resource. People who write through the lens of fashion on sites like Who What Wear and Racked and Business of Fashion are tremendously popular and they need good, well-trained, ethical journalists to write through the lens of fashion for them.