Jessie Bush bursts out laughing and cringes when, halfway through our conversation, I say, “Let’s talk about fashion bloggers.” The best players in fashion are those who don’t take the game too seriously, and Jessie falls within this well-dressed, well-humored camp. A fellow Kiwi, Jessie Bush is behind street style blog We The People, and is a photographer and contributor for the likes of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and Elle. Jessie might make (and take) a pretty picture, but she truly comes to life in conversation: she is candid, smart, down to earth, with the self-deprecating humor that feels like home. This is Jessie’s story on how one gets from Blenheim to Paris, the importance of being light-hearted, and whether her life is actually as good as it looks.
“I’m originally from Blenheim, New Zealand, and studied PR in Wellington. After university, my boyfriend Sam and I traveled to Southeast Asia for four months. We bought a camera together before the trip, and I got really into photography while traveling. When we came back to New Zealand, neither of us were working, and I basically spent my time reading shitloads of street style blogs. Sam was like, ‘Why don’t you go out and shoot street style here?’ So I went out onto the streets of Wellington and started photographing people, which led to shooting at New Zealand Fashion Week. Everyone who I met throughout that week said that if I wanted to work in fashion, I needed to move to Sydney. So Sam and I booked tickets and went two weeks later.
Once we arrived, I got a job in fashion PR and did my blog on the side. After a year or so, I got a six month street style contract with Westfield, and a few other jobs along the way. I was able to leave my PR position and do We The People full time. I got a rolling contract with Vogue Australia, a column in Grazia Australia, and things started to flow from there. Blogging in Sydney changed a lot over that period. When I arrived, it still felt like this very amateur but very positive community. By the time I left it was big business. After two years Sam and I moved to London, arriving right before Fashion Week. By sheer good timing, I ended up having a full month of work and hit the ground running.
I never consciously set out to build a brand—I really had the luxury of the unknown because there weren’t any expectations. In that way, I guess all of those cliché things people say about passion naturally pushing you to make things happen is true. When I started my blog back in Wellington, I had no idea that people were going to send me places, buy my work or pay me to create content. I think that I missed that generational expectation of instant gratification only by a fraction. When I moved to Sydney, I had to work a full-time PR job, an internship and a weekend job—just so I could make enough contacts to get a better PR job. As We The People has progressed, I’ve tried to keep the big picture in mind. I’ve always been very careful to maintain a transferable skill that I can offer clients, which is one of the reasons why I enjoy shooting content for other platforms. Blogs will continue to evolve, and there’s no guarantee of where they will end up, or whether I want to be participating in that. I’m really conscious of not pigeonholing myself.
Because We The People happened so organically and somewhat unexpectedly, this is the first year I’m trying to be more savvy in how I grow the business. Sam, who has been the poor blogger boyfriend along the way, is now coming on board as the business director. We’ve tried to keep work separate until now, because it’s tricky to balance it all—you live together, travel together—add work to the equation, and are we in a relationship or are we business partners? It’s quite a big leap and all relatively unknown. Like all creative work, nothing is for certain until it’s done and dusted.
You can’t force it and you can’t guarantee anything.
I’ve learned to take things as they come, the good and the bad. It’s important to be driven and hardworking, but also not to have too many expectations. I don’t expect anything to come easy. This sounds incredibly negative, but I’m quite a realist—maybe even slightly cynical, which I don’t mind. Working in fashion, it’s good to be able to take a step back and evaluate the situation at hand, and be able to roll with the ebbs and flows. One week you’ll have a bunch of awesome opportunities come along at once, and the following week everyone wants you to work for free. Generally I find everything always evens out.
Obviously what you see online is a heavily curated version of our lives. Sam can attest that every meal will be re-arranged—the waitress did not set it up that prettily! At the same time, there is an element of glamor (such a gross word). Brands do send gifts and take you on trips. You do get to go out for nice meals. My wardrobe is kind of ridiculous. My time is mostly my own, so my days often are really enjoyable. So while what you are seeing is not the full picture, there is some element of truth for sure. As a female I’ve always felt a certain pressure—particularly one interested in fashion—to adhere to specific beauty ideals. But in terms of blog life, I don’t feel the need to be perfect all the time. I’m usually the only one who turns up wearing flats without my hair done, and in retrospect I’ll be like, ‘Whoops, I probably should have tried.’ I guess I’m a little more relaxed from a small-town New Zealand upbringing, especially compared to some of the girls I meet in this scene. I also try and sidestep a lot of the everyday fashion stuff. When I realized this was going to be my full-time job, I made a conscious decision to maintain a separate personal life.
I definitely give off a different impression in real life compared to the online persona that I’ve created. People often comment that I’m not what they expected. I’m quite loud, I swear—I think I’m just very New Zealand. Maybe because we’re easygoing people, or perhaps because of tall poppy syndrome, I can be pretty sarcastic. There have definitely been times when people have not gotten my sense of humor, and thought I was being really rude or negative. I’ll have to be like, ‘I’m joking! It’s all fine, don’t worry!’ People can take things (and themselves) pretty seriously.
to be passionate and work hard, but there’s no harm in keeping things light and taking it easy now and again.
During fashion week, there might be 50 photographers (including myself) standing in the middle of a highway with ambulances and trucks flying past, all for the sake of getting one photo of a girl. Like it’s Saving Private Ryan or something. In that situation, how can you not take the piss a little? We’re not going to save the world one street style photo a time now, are we!”
Photography by Sam Flaherty
As told to Amy Woodside, April 2015