It’s Reigning Women: Brianna Arps

Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you and where are you headed?

Hey there! I suppose I’ll start by putting this out there: Even as someone who loves to write and couldn’t image doing anything else career-wise, answering the “who are you” question still makes my palms sweat. Perhaps that’s just the indecisive Gemini in me speaking, but overall I like to consider myself a fun-loving journalist known to report on a myriad of topics ranging from beauty trends to millennial finance. Through my current role at Refinery29 as the Lifestyle & Entertainment Editor, Branded Editorial, however, I strive each day to maintain a personal mission of creating content with character all while inspiring women as they strive to reach their full potential. A few of my 2018 goals include phasing out my blog, The MouthingOff Blog, to focus on a new venture, as well as, configuring ways to utilize my passions more purposefully and in the benefit of others. Unofficially, yet most importantly, I go by my last name – Arps. 

How did you get your start in beauty, fashion, and lifestyle content creation on your blog and for various publications (INSIDER, Refinery29, Elite Daily, etc.)? Who or what inspired you?

Whew, taking a trip down memory lane, blogging all started because I simply had way too much to say and felt semi-restricted. For those unfamiliar, I’m a natural gabber with the free spirit and personality to match. So ultimately, I decided to channel my frustration into something productive, which meant creating a platform of my own where I could be allowed to “MouthOff” about any and everything, whenever and wherever. As a person who grew up reading magazines, beauty and fashion have always held my attention. Adding “lifestyle” was a way for me to further insert my opinions about, well, life in general – especially from the vantage point of being a young college student with big dreams and a bright future. Hence, The MouthingOff Blog was born. That was back in March 2014 while I was a sophomore at the University of Missouri a.k.a when very few individuals on campus cared to know what a blog was unless it dealt with receiving school credit. Upon graduating in May 2016, however, word about “The M.O.B” had spread far and wide, resulting in a host of successful events and even my first team of interns. 

The extended story about my start with writing for pubs also began in college. My first two super exciting clips came during a summer internship at ESSENCE Magazine. While technically I was hired on to assist with the Marketing department, I got clearance to pitch ideas to the then Digital Beauty Editor. (Tip: Do a DAMN GOOD job wherever you land first, but then ALWAYS seek to do more with the opportunity you’ve been given. No matter how big or how small. Showing initiative will take you far, so don’t be afraid to ask and then execute.) 

From there, I sought to continuously leverage my experience of writing for a major press outlet until the next one gave me a shot. That process eventually led me to INSIDER where I was the first Beauty/Style Editorial Intern, Elite Daily where I was among the first to freelance under the brand’s new Beauty vertical and now Refinery29 where I was a freelance Production Assistant just under three months ago. 

As far as those who have inspired me along the way, there’s honestly so many it’s hard to count. From my former managers at ESSENCE who I still chat with and thank to this day…to Deena Campbell and Julee Wilson plus other Time Inc. staff including InStyle’s Kahlana Barfield who I had the pleasure of meeting…to women such as Elaine Welteroth, xoNecole Founder Necole Kane, HeatFreeHair Founder Ngozi Opara, Allure Editor-in-Chief Michelle Lee, BuzzFeed’s Essence Grant. My personal mentors Renae Bluitt of In Her Shoes, Kitiya King of Mischo Beauty, Aeshia DeVore-Branch of PrettyGirlsSweat, Ylorie Taylor of EDENBodyWorks and Brown Girl Marketing and Meagan Ward of Creatively Flawless and The Powerful Women. 

There are dozens who have played a part in shaping the woman I am today. Only God knows where I would be without their patience, love, support, and generosity over the years. Therefore, I am a firm believer in mentorship and the importance of reaching back once you’ve seen some sort of success. When one of us wins, we all win. That’s law.

What narratives do you think are missing from reporting and journalism in the beauty, fashion and lifestyle arenas? What do you hope to bring to these fields over the course of your career? Why does diversity in these areas matter?

Addressing the first question, asked a few years ago I would have immediately mentioned a need for greater diversity and inclusion within these spaces. Like so many I know, I too grew up feeling insecure and wrongfully misguided due to the lack of proper media representation. 

Now, from both an editorial and branded editorial perspective, I’m starting to place more importance on authenticity – not because the world as we know it has reached its capacity for diversity and inclusion, but because it’s becoming ever so difficult to tell who and which media platforms are really about “that action.” The same thing goes for consumer and retail brands.

Quite frankly, for a lot of these companies – especially those that were slow to innovate or, in general, are struggling to compete – it seems as though our nation’s cry for change coupled with today’s wave of activism presents a financial opportunity they simply can’t afford to miss. 

In other words, I find myself skeptical of media companies that appear to only see Black women, the LGBTQIA community, people with disabilities, women participating in the #MeToo movement, etc. as dollar signs rather than important subjects with valid arguments, all deserving of attention. So in true journalistic fashion, I hope to act as a constant champion for authenticity, bringing it to both my work at Refinery29 and my career wherever I head next. 

Lastly, being aware and accepting of difference is arguably the most progressive step one can take when striving to make any true impact. Therefore, diversity to me isn’t just about gathering/including people who don’t think or look like you for the sake of doing so; it’s about understanding the unavoidable fact that success in a global society on all fronts requires collaboration and cooperation with those who share different backgrounds. Diversity within media matters because, again, representation is power and can help unlock a person’s potential in ways they had never imagined. I am living proof.

A New York City transplant, talk to us about moving away from home to pursue your dream. What highs and lows have you faced? Any advice for those out there who want to do the same thing?

I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. That’s home for me today, and it will be home for me forever. The idea of moving away resulted from a surprise trip to NYC when I was still in high school. My mom and I went, and we shared an amazing time together. It felt like magic just being in Manhattan and experiencing all the things that make this place so special. Boarding the plane back to The Lou (I’m dusty, I know.), I was convinced that I would attend NYU for college and live this lavish city-girl lifestyle. When that didn’t happen, after graduation I decided waiting any longer wouldn’t do, and I wound up signing a lease in Brooklyn a month-and-a-half later. 

While I didn’t have a job when I moved in July 2016, God came through rather quickly and I soon started at Us Weekly (before the magazine was sold) as the Integrated Marketing Assistant. Six months later right before Christmas, I was let go from that job with no real income and no alternate plan. I was beyond devastated. I felt like a complete failure given that I had left the University of Missouri with honors, was my commencement class speaker, did all this amazing stuff, yadda yadda yadda. But in hindsight, this “low” and the mistreatment I had endured (that’s another story) was a blessing in disguise. 

Not only did I take time to build up my freelance business, while unemployed I took the opportunity to reevaluate my career and what it was that I really wanted to spend my life doing. Eventually, it dawned on me that I had a degree from the first ever and number one School of Journalism in the country but wasn’t using it. Bingo! “I’ll apply for writing positions,” I told myself. In short, that’s how I landed INSIDER, Elite Daily and ultimately Refinery29. 

I guess another major “low” worth discussing deals with a romantic relationship I recently ended. Before moving to NYC, I constantly joked that I’d find my soulmate in Brooklyn…crazy how life works sometimes. Just over a year ago, I met him – or at least that’s what I thought. I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty details; however, it’s important to note how lost and “caught up” I had gotten that I began neglecting my goals, ambition, health, and sanity. I was too far gone, and when we broke up I fell into a deep depression. It took faith and friendship to pull me out…and help me truly realize my potential and understand my current purpose, which is to be the best version of me for myself. God’s continued blessings have been pouring down ever since. 

What opportunities do you see for womxn/WOC/girls like you in media and how do you intend to positively influence the space?

There’s plenty of opportunity! Women and girls of color bring tremendous value to media organizations…from our unique perspectives to our varied talents, there’s more than enough room for everyone to shine. I think the biggest way I intend on positively influencing the space includes bringing more WOC on to help fuel the movement. It’s one thing to preach it, but it’s a totally different task to actually do the work. I’ve been personally affected by this, by people who look like me but ultimately showed no interest in being a resource to fuel my professional growth. To me, that is unacceptable. The whole “crabs and a barrel” mentality is toxic and stems from insecurity. There’s not a job position or any amount of money that could ever persuade me not to take a chance on someone who’s clearly talented and worth the effort. I challenge more women in media to adopt the same philosophy. 

What message would you give millennial WOC who are trying to break into your field?

“You gotta prioritize to secure the prize.” That’s my mantra – I swear by it, I live by it. New York City is fun. A great place to lose focus. And if you’re careless, an even greater place to lose money faster than you earn it. Therefore, YOU HAVE TO PUT THE WORK IN, too. YOU HAVE TO GO ABOVE AND BEYOND THE BARE MINIMUM, good sis. There are no handouts – getting what you want, whatever that may be starts with setting an intention, remaining dedicated and figuring out a way (or multiple ways, in my case) to make it happen for yourself.  

Also, please stop contacting people on social media to discuss business. Instagram and Twitter are cool starting points to collect contact information, but seriously, my biggest pet peeve is when people DM repeatedly to ask “favors” and whatnot. The absolute best, fool-proof way to connect from what I’ve seen, learned and read is by sending an email. Not only are emails professional, they help keep a viable track record of your conversations. (I barely even check my DM notifications. When I do, I almost always delete them.) And honestly, social media is a form of entertainment – assistants, writers, editors, directors, etc. have personal lives, too. Keep that and all the above in mind, and I can almost guarantee you’ll get a response – which can sometimes take a while but will come. 

Lastly, work on building meaningful, two-sided relationships. Another pet peeve is when people only reach out when they want something that’ll benefit them. Just them. If you’re emailing (because, again, email is best) for the very first time, the approach is everything. If the person receiving your inquiry feels used, you’ve wasted both your time and theirs. Requesting an informational interview is an alternative; it shows that you’re serious about the individual, their career, their advice and keeping in touch. 

What can we expect from you and any ventures moving forward? How can we be of support?

Becoming an editor at 23 has been exciting, yet also weird/scary. I legit just started in January – most of my peers are much older than me, and I’m sure many have raised eyebrows about whether I’ll sink or swim. But rather than focus on the weird parts or the scary scenarios I’ve made up/talked myself through, I know this is another God-ordained step leading me closer towards my goal of becoming an editorial director. Or, perhaps, an editor-in-chief somewhere. The main support I’m seeking is constructive feedback, so make sure to head over to Refinery29 and read up on ya girl: http://www.refinery29.com/author/brianna-arps.

Also, feel free to reach out via email at Brianna.Arps@refinery29.com – my inbox is always open. Once my new venture launches, however, I’ll be sure to follow up on my request. *winks*

In the end, how do you want your story depicted? What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

At the end of this life, I want people to view me as someone who dared not to give up no matter what obstacle came my way. As someone who never stopped laughing, dancing (horribly) and sharing stories the world deserved to read. My legacy? Ask any writer – the best part of the job is that our words, unlike flesh, live on forever.

Just for kicks:

Ulta or Sephora?
Oh without a doubt Sephora; I live off in there – just the thought of stopping by and browsing what’s new gets me all excited.

Instagram or Twitter?
That’s a tough one since I use both platforms very differently. While Twitter provides me with quick news and comedic relief, my IG fam gets way more of my attention. So, let’s go with IG. 

Heels or flats?
Heels. Give me all of them. 

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