This interview series in partnership with @barbiestyle is dedicated to celebrating women who believe that anything is possible. These are women who have created independent and uniquely modern careers and have blazed their own paths toward success. They did not follow a road map or climb a corporate ladder. Instead, they believed that their unique vision could a fill a void to empower themselves and those around them.
Katie Sturino is a rare example of someone who has not only achieved the inspiring feat of turning her hobbies into thriving businesses—but she has become a champion for body positivity and puppy mill adoption awareness, as a result. Katie is the face and force behind The 12ish Style: a blog dedicated to great style in sizes 12–18 and celebrating body acceptance. The 12ish Style has gained rapid popularity since its launch in 2015, with features in publications such as Glamour Magazine, Man Repeller and Refinery29. She has also created wide-reaching platforms for her Instagram famous pups: Toast, Underpants and Muppet—whose publicity she uses to raise awareness for puppy mill exposure and dog adoption. Katie is also the author of ‘ToastHampton: How to Summer in Style,’ and recently launched Megababe, a beauty product line designed to make women’s imperfections a little more comfortable. This is Katie’s story on how she turned her personal passions of fashion and animals into a career with powerful and positive messaging, how stepping out of her comfort zone inspires others to do the same, and why connecting with women drives her motivation.
“I had always loved dogs and fashion as personal hobbies, but I didn’t think they were available to me as proper careers. I like dealing with product and I liked talking to people, so public relations seemed like a good fit. I had my own PR company for nine years, and about five years ago I started to feel like I was in a bit of a rut. I started to think about what was next, and it took a few years for the path that I’m on now to become clear. I moved on from PR in December 2016 to focus on The 12ish Style, managing the dogs, and projects of my own. I currently run five social media accounts and have just launched a beauty product line called Megababe. My career is pretty unique in that I’ve built a brand out of my own personal interests. I took two things that I’m passionate about in real life and turned them into businesses, by figuring out what trends I want to participate in and being comfortable with my body, and rescuing dogs. Having a PR background has given me a huge advantage too. I can see both sides—as a blogger, I understand what a brand is looking for when they approach me, and how to deliver to make them happy. I also understand, from the creative side, what you can and cannot ask for. I couldn’t have done what I’m doing 10 years ago. Without technology I wouldn’t have a job and because platforms change so quickly, I have to stay up with the trends. When I start hearing that teens are using a certain app, I pay attention.
When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a fashion model because I was tall and I loved Christy Turlington. But I didn’t really know what being a model meant. When I got signed to a casting agency two years ago it was a dream come true, but I soon realized that being an actual model was not something I wanted to pursue—I wanted to be the one driving the content around the shoots, and be in control of the creative. I also wanted to do something with animals as a kid, but I didn’t want to be a vet. I wanted to play with dogs, and it’s funny how that is actually part of what I do now.
It’s important to understand that sometimes you achieve a dream only to realize it’s not what you thought it was going to be.
What I always recommend to younger girls who are figuring out their path is to go out into the world and intern. Interning allows you to pretend that you’re doing that career, and you get to see how much you like or don’t like it. Some people complain internships are only about fetching coffee, but I think an internship is what you make of it. If your job is to get coffee, make sure that you get those orders right. And make sure you let people know that you want to learn from them. I had so many internships during college and would always say, ‘I would love to shadow you on this meeting, if that would be appropriate.’ There is so much value in working for someone, and you have to be proactive.
With my work, there’s the professional success and then there’s the personal success of connecting with women, which is what I am trying to do. I love the body positivity element where women will say to me: ‘I wore a swimsuit for the first time this year because of you.’ There’s a woman in Miami with stage four cancer who I’ve connected with. She reached out to me and said, ‘I was in chemo all day today but your post made me smile.’ That is so meaningful. Or with the dogs, I love that we raise awareness for dog adoption and puppy mills. When someone says to me, ‘I didn’t know puppy mills were a thing, and we just adopted our first dog.’ That’s great. That means you’ve directly impacted someone’s choice for the better.
I feel responsible to go to places where I’m not necessarily comfortable going.
Recently, I went on The Today Show in a bathing suit and thought, ‘Is this something I want to do?’ And then, ‘I have to do it.’ Going that extra step further and leading by example is important, because if I do that then maybe a woman is going to think: ‘She did it on TV? I can go to the beach.’ You have to go a little further out of your comfort zone so that someone else can do the same. There are no rules, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I resonated with Barbie as a kid: she was this busy, grown-up girl and you got to write her life however you wanted to. I have such great memories of Barbie—I had a Barbie Condo and Barbie Truck, and all the horses. When she was with the horses I would put Barbie in her western gear, and if she was entertaining in her condo she would wear her gold strapless dress. Playing with Barbie was imagining the life of an adult woman that you could see yourself having.
Right now, particularly on social media, we have a tendency to want to do what everyone else is doing and look like everyone else. I spent a really long time trying to be someone else, and once I stopped doing that great things started to happen for me. Starting The 12ish Style was a big risk. I really had to put myself out there. It was my face, my personality, my beliefs and that was a very vulnerable position to be in. You’re opening yourself up to a lot of people judging you. You have to make the decision that you’re not going to get sucked into that.
I knew I was going to have to deal with that judgment and decided to do it anyway.
Writing a book was also a big deal because it was something I always wanted to do. It was a hard process, but now you can go into Barnes and Noble and ask for it, which is pretty cool. I’m at a point in life where I pretty much do what I want. I think that obligation to things that don’t bring you joy will slowly chip away at you. That was a big life lesson for me—that you have the choice to change your life. It is easy to forget that we have a choice.
Creativity is really easy to lose when you start to get bogged down with work. You have to protect yourself by taking time off, traveling, spending time with inspirational people who make you feel good. One of those inspirational people for me is my sister, who I started Megababe with. My sister has always been my hype-girl—she’s four years older and she does not let me doubt myself. I’ve never been afraid to just start something up and get into it—but details and follow-through are my weak points, which is why my sister and I make a great team. Amelia Diamond and Leandra Medine from Man Repeller are also women who I am grateful for, they are the reason I started The 12ish Style. I had other people in this industry who told me not to, and so I’m happy I listened to the right women. I always disclaimer this career path with: It is not for everyone. You need to know your limitations and know what you’re good at. But if it’s right for you, this path is worth it.”
As told to Amy Woodside, May 2017
Photographed by Amy Woodside & Zlata Kusnoor