Sara Mitzner, 34, creates viral ad campaigns for ultra-inclusive swimwear brand Swimsuits For All.
Sara Mitzner's work is her life — and she likes it that way. The 34-year-old helped jumpstart the body positivity movement with her work as the VP of creative and branding at Swimsuits for All, a size-inclusive swimsuit brand. Here's how she made it to PRWeek's list of 40 Under 40 this year, and made a career for herself that doesn't feel like "just a job."
I’ve wanted to work in fashion since I was very young and started collecting subscriptions to every fashion magazine, and that continued through college. But I wasn’t educated in the different careers you could have and it didn’t seem practical, so I majored in English and minored in political science at the University of Michigan. I thought I was going to go to law school, so I had interned at a law firm during all of my summers in college. But while working on a law school application, I realized that I actually didn't want to be a lawyer.
So I decided to do a three-day magazine and book publishing seminar at the end of college and a book publishing program at NYU the summer after I graduated. They had a career day at the end, and I met with Hearst and Condé Nast HR, but nothing was really coming through because I had no experience. It’s very hard to get a job at a magazine, and a lot of people at the program had an advantage over me because they had interned every summer at magazines.
But at the end of summer 2005, I landed an editorial internship at Complex magazine through a family friend’s girlfriend, who was their associate photo editor. The following January, my best college friend’s aunt worked for Harpo and set me up with an interview for an editorial internship at O, The Oprah Magazine. I didn’t get it. But the managing editor heard my passion for fashion during the interview, and I ended up getting a fashion internship there instead. I worked in the closet unpacking the samples, assisting, doing administrative tasks, and filing all the lookbooks.
I loved the long hours and the hard work. When I worked at Complex I was paid a stipend and when I started at O I was paid minimum wage, so I was still living at home in Glen Rock, New Jersey back then. I would go into the city to work on the weekends because I loved it. There was one night that I missed my train connection and my parents were already asleep, so I slept in the Secaucus station and got on a train in the morning to go back to the city and keep working.
My personal life definitely took a backseat for a long time, but working is what I love to do the most, so it didn’t feel that way. It’s a little bit the nature of the industry, and it was fun. All my friends worked there and we all worked late together and went to events after work. That’s what my 20s were really about: establishing my career and working a lot because you don’t have those other family responsibilities. I did have some friends who were dating and working on their personal lives, and I woke up like, 10 years later and they were married and starting families and I was like Wait, what?
I went on a date once and I had to step away and take a call or do something work-wise. When I came back, they said, “Oh, they’re making you work on a Friday night?” And I said, "No one is making me work. We’re working on something I feel passionate about." I thought that was such an antiquated way to think about work. I’m lucky that what I like to do is a career that I can get paid for. I don’t really have other hobbies.
It wasn’t until I was an assistant at O that I was able to move out of my parents’ house, but I was only making like, $34,000 at first, so I went into a lot of debt. There are a lot of really beautiful, really wealthy people in fashion who dress amazing, and I bought into the whole lifestyle. This was before Rent the Runway, where you could just rent things to wear, and I wanted to wear high-end things to compete with some of these other editors. It took me a long time to get out of that debt.
Overall, I stayed at O for six and a half years. In late 2007, early 2008 when it would’ve been a natural time for me to move on to get experience at a different magazine or get an assistant editor job with more responsibility, the economy crashed, and magazines were folding left and right. No one was leaving anywhere because there were so many people out of work. It was the beginning of the death of print, and I saw it happen.
I stayed, but I started carving out different jobs for myself within my current position. For instance, no one was really covering the consumer electronics market, so I just started covering it. I don’t think I knew it at the time, but I was sort of future-proofing myself. Because when we started to do gift guides, I became an essential member of that team by covering that market. In order to stay in a competitive job, you have to make yourself indispensable.
I eventually was promoted to assistant editor, then by the time I left O I was the associate editor. I continued to get more markets while I was there, including outdoor clothes, hosiery — all the weird odds and ends — but also swim and plus-size.
A publicist I had worked with represented Catherine's, a plus-size business that at the time sold Swimsuits for All, and the woman at Catherine's mentioned Swimsuits for All was looking for someone to do marketing. It was a new business; I was only the 11th hire, and they were willing to give me a chance. At first I was like, I’ll spend a year here, I’ll get some business experience, and then I’ll move on to a more high profile brand. I didn’t tell anyone I worked there for a really long time. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed, I just didn’t know what it was, what it could be, and what it was going to be.