Eleanor Pendleton is speaking at our upcoming 9 to Thrive expo, we took five with her to talk beauty, growing her audience and the changing digital media landscape.
Upon meeting Eleanor, the first thing you notice is that she literally glows from the inside out. Her spirit and nature are incredibly generous, warm-hearted and admittedly infectious. Her skin is flawless and her perfectly highlighted complexion would be the envy of any beauty aficionado.
Eleanor is the epitome of the brand she has meticulously crafted over the past five years – she’s authentic, she’s straight talking and, as she eloquently puts it, she’s “a no bullshit kind of person”. Like Gritty Pretty, an online beauty destination that fuses high-end products with practical tutorials, Eleanor strikes the balance between luxury and accessibility with pinpoint precision. It was perhaps these qualities and her innate drive to succeed and continually push herself that saw her become Australia’s youngest beauty editor (for FAMOUS at age of 20) before shaking up the beauty industry when she went out on her own.
Growing up on the Central Coast of New South Wales in “a very normal middle-class Australian family”, from an early age Eleanor had a clear vision of what her future held. Her father owned a newsagency and it was in the back room of his shop that her obsession was born. “I think [because of her dad’s business), I was exposed to that kind of glamorous world and that feeling of when you would open up a new magazine. It was completely and utterly glamorous to me,” Eleanor recalls fondly. “I knew with the utmost conviction that was what I was going to do with my life.”
“And there was absolutely no other option for me. I didn’t think: ‘What if I can’t get a job in a magazine, what will I do?’ I just never ever thought like that. It was kind of like, ‘This is what I was put on this Earth to do.”
Upon graduating from high school, Eleanor was accepted into two universities – Sydney University and QUT in Brisbane. Not wanting to spend three to four years studying at university, Eleanor decided to fast-track her career by deferring university offers in favour of Sydney’s Macleay College, which offered a two-year journalism degree. Knowing that a degree alone would not guarantee a foot inside the mag world’s proverbial door, Eleanor religiously emailed her favourite publications seeking an internship. The Cosmopolitan editor at the time, Sarah Wilson, took a chance on the tenacious Eleanor and placed her under the guidance of Zoë Foster (now Zoë Foster Blake), then legendary beauty editor. “Prior to working with Zoë, I didn’t even know that a job as beauty editor existed. I always assumed I would just go on to become a features writer or an entertainment writer, because I had no idea there was even such a role,” says Eleanor in a matter-of-fact tone. “Zoë opened my eyes to the fact that you have this incredible opportunity to write about products and play with products and research trends and ingredients and experts and combine that with journalism. So I kind of owe it all to her I guess. I would never have even known it existed and I sort of fell into it by accident.”
Going out on her own
Her accidental career saw her offered her initial role as beauty writer and editorial assistant, followed by beauty editor of FAMOUS and then beauty editor at InStyle. Eleanor’s job has seen her travel around the world, attend New York and London fashion weeks, rub shoulders with celebrities, be flown to exotic private events and of course have unfettered access to many highly coveted beauty cupboards. Having always wanted to work for an international masthead, eight years into her career Eleanor found herself creatively stifled. “I was with InStyle at the time, which is such an incredible magazine to work for,” recalls Eleanor. “[Due to the licensing agreement with the US] everything goes through an approval process. And I think when that’s put into place, it’s very easy to lose your creativity. You know you can spend weeks on end putting together an eight-page feature and then you find out they’ve slashed it and it’s gone to the cutting room floor. I think as a writer in particular that eats away at your soul.”
Finding herself in the position where she was a) writing beauty stories in her sleep and b) wanting to rekindle her own “voice” and writing style, Eleanor found herself in a conflicting position. “I probably spent six months thinking to myself, ‘Should I quit my job? Should I go freelance? I really want to write for other magazines like Harper’s [Bazaar] and Vogue and I want to write for the newspapers and I want to write for other websites overseas like Refinery29 and I want to write for as many publications as I can to push myself’. So I thought about it every single day. I woke up every single morning and I thought about it. I went to bed every single night and I thought about it.”
“More often than not, there were tears because I was so conflicted. I was so torn. I had no confidence. I definitely had moments where I just thought, ‘Am I even good at what I do?’”
With doubts running through her mind, including: “Will I ever get work again?” and “Will I have to eat rice and tuna for the rest of my life?” Eleanor found herself at the most vulnerable point of her career. Plagued with a lack of self-confidence, it was her boyfriend at the time (now fiancé) who had patiently supported her throughout the entire process, who gave her the not-so-subtle nudge she needed to take the biggest leap of faith in her career. “He was so patient with me and upon returning home upset from the day I had just had, he took me aside and said, ‘Eleanor I think it’s time for you to quit.’ That’s all he said. And the next day I went in and I resigned.” What followed was a month-long sabbatical in Bali where she practised lots of yoga and for the first time in her life, didn’t worry about work. “And then I got home and I had no savings. We had a sunroom, but I had no desk. I had no computer, I had no internet and I remember just sitting on the sunroom floor and I burst into tears. I was on the phone to the internet provider trying to sort out Wi-Fi and I just had a complete breakdown. I was like, ‘What have I done? I’ve thrown away my entire career, and for what?’” recalls Eleanor. “Then the next day I got everything sorted – I went to IKEA and bought a desk, I went to Apple and picked up a computer. Then I got freelance stories the very next day.”
Being a big believer in The Universe, Eleanor thinks that subconsciously she was never going to allow herself to be out of work. “I’m such a proactive person that I’m constantly pitching ideas and I managed to get published in Harper’s, SMH and Refinery29. I also relaunched Gritty Pretty because it had sat dormant (since its initial launch in 2009) while I worked on the masthead because that was considered a conflict of interest.” About four months into her freelance career, Eleanor decided that if she was going to do Gritty Pretty, she was going to do it properly. So she reinvested everything back into the website – she did a re-skin while thinking, ‘What else does it need?’ In 2009 her point of difference was that she was the first blog dedicated to beauty in Australia. However, in the quick-moving digital world, every beauty editor now had their own beauty blog. “I thought, ‘Well, what can I create and what can I bring to Gritty Pretty that no one else is doing?’ It was like a thunderbolt moment. I just remember sitting there, thinking ‘No one in the entire country is doing an online magazine that’s just dedicated to beauty. Not Bauer, not Pacific Magazines, not NewsLifeMedia, no one. So I was like, ‘I’ll do it!’ I spent six months developing the idea, finding the right software, shooting it, working with people, writing, sub-editing, everything.”
Launching a digital magazine
Gritty Pretty magazine launched with a proverbial bang, with the stunning Australian model and musician Cheyenne Tozzi on the cover. Fifteen months into the journey and seven issues later, Eleanor has seen the likes of Lara Worthington, Jessica Hart, Phoebe Tonkin, Bambi Northwood-Blyth and Shanina Shaik grace the digital pages of her publication. Premium advertisers such as Chanel, Balmain and Clinique have come on board (with Chanel recently re-signing for another year), giving Eleanor full creative freedom to communicate their brand, something incredibly rare for luxury heritage brands.
In such a crowded and oversaturated market, how does Eleanor see Gritty Pretty continuing to stay current and innovate in the digital space? “We’re so committed to our brand values and our brand that everything we do is very much focused; it’s very tunnel vision. I think with the way digital is growing so fast, I really try and push my team to be at the forefront of any type of digital trends. That’s why we embraced cinemagraphs so early on. Everyone else is doing them now, so we’re onto the next thing.”
So what is the next big thing for Gritty Pretty? “So many things I can’t tell you!” she exclaims. “We’re looking at offshoot platforms and different kinds of extensions to the brand, which we’ll see in the next six months and I think that will take you by surprise. We really just want to create an interpretative user experience where it gives the female reader, that little ‘oh’ moment. Like, ‘Did that palette just open and close?’ Because they never get to see that in the still magazine. You get to see a beautiful gorgeous makeup palette that’s open in a magazine, but you don’t get to see that incredible packaging on the outside. So I like to create those little moments for her,” says Eleanor.
As we wrap up our time together, I jump on the opportunity and ask Eleanor to recommend a new mascara (when you have an audience with a true beauty guru, why not?!). True to her values, rather than responding with an off-the-cuff suggestion or reeling off the latest big brand name, she takes the time to understand what it is I’m looking for. Moments later she’s rummaging through the beauty cupboards and slips two mascaras into my hand for me to take home. Once again, her generous spirit shines just as bright as her expertly applied highlighter.