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After CeCe Vu graduated with an economics/finance major from the University of Southern California in 2011, she began a career in investment banking. In a few short months, she recognised it was “not the path for me” and started working for television production company Dick Clark Productions, for which she attended the Golden Globes in 2012.
On the red carpet, Vu encountered her next opportunity in the form of her future boss at Mobli Media — a photo-video sharing app backed by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire before it shut down in 2016. Becoming “truly fascinated by the intersection of digital media and fashion,” she moved to New York to continue her career in social media.
When she was recruited by Musical.ly — now TikTok — to lead their social media team, Vu had worked in social media at the likes of Netflix, Digital Kitchen and InSync Plus on the West and East coasts of the US. Today, she leads up fashion and beauty partnerships at the Gen-Z favoured short-form video platform which has been downloaded over 2.3 billion times, working with brands and businesses on adapting their content to the engage the digital community. Now, she shares her career advice.
How did your career in fashion begin?
I attended the University of Southern California and graduated in 2011 with an economics/finance major. I started out my career in investment banking but after a few months, I realised that it was not the path for me I was trying to figure out what my next move should be. I started at television production company Dick Clark Productions as a sponsorship coordinator, for which I attended the Golden Globes in LA in 2012 as my first red carpet event. That was where I encountered my first boss at photo-video sharing app Mobli Media.
I moved to New York to work for Mobli because the world of online videos fascinated me, and I was able to build out my very first project at New York Fashion Week in 2012 for Mobli. That was when I became truly fascinated by the intersection of digital media and fashion, and the storytelling aspect of it. My passion started there and fast-forward to 2018, I was recruited to Musical.ly, now TikTok, to lead their social media and transitioned to lead beauty and fashion in 2019.
How did you build out a major project at New York Fashion Week in your first job?
It was 2012, so Millennials — like Gen-Z now — were firmly in the limelight. My content marketing role was focused on making Mobli Media the space for that audience, their group focus and interests like fashion, electronic music, festivals. I pitched to the team at Mobli how Fashion Week could offer a real opportunity for content and a presence in this space, to work with real tastemakers in the world.
At the time, the notion of influencers did not yet exist, and social media was still a very new concept at the time, but I worked with people in the industry to have a presence on the front row and cover content, as well as all the after parties in New York. The plan was approved and we were able to cover a beautiful and curated feed of content for New York Fashion Week.
How did you approach major projects as emerging talent?
Taking ownership of everything that you do and having institutional knowledge will help carry you through in your career. One tip that I learned the hard way is to always be solutions-oriented. Especially in industries like tech and fashion where everything is so fast-paced.
One tip I learned the hard way is to always be solutions-oriented.
We need to think critically and come up with a solution to accomplish the end goal, which in my case at TikTok today is to help brands understand the community here. Critical thinking skills is what drives that sense of ownership in the project you’re working on and helps you get to your goal faster.
The last thing that is so important and has definitely helped me is to have empathy. To really understand and lean into diversity and different backgrounds is crucial for any industry that you’re working in.
What skills do you believe are necessary for your work?
I definitely think a curious nature and ability to ask the important questions helps, not just in fashion or technology but in entertainment. I built up my career starting in entertainment at Dick Clark, working on a lot of Netflix and HBO projects. Rather than accepting the status quo of the industry, you need to ask important questions, like how can I approach a project differently? Public speaking is important — the ability to hold a room, to actually carry through a big presentation.
I also believe it is so important to be professional but personable at the same times. That’s how people can relate and trust you, and so that you can trust them in return. Helping them understand that you know what you are talking about, that you can help them get to their goal, must come with the ability to trust.
How do you ensure you remain informed in such a fast changing industry?
I’m passionate about fashion and beauty, so I read a lot of editorials on business and creative topics. I keep up with trends on other platforms. I am fascinated by Gen-Z and how they communicate, how they are able to connect with brands and the level of empathetic thinking that goes into it, because they want something that’s real.
In order to keep up, I need to have institutional knowledge and the curiosity to constantly learn every day.
In order to keep up, I need to have the institutional knowledge and curiosity to constantly learn every day. I love that storytelling is key in social media, so I’m curious to dive into comment sections when brands post something or when creators share their work, to see how people communicate.
For example, I was fascinated by the JW Anderson cardigan virality last year. In the regular world, I would not imagine Jonathan himself would open up the knitting patterns for the community in a way that celebrates them and keeps them top of mind in his creative efforts. That was surprising to the community and generated a tremendously positive sentiment.
How would you describe your daily activities?
It all boils down to education and communication — thinking about how we can help brands understand TikTok and its best practices, to help them craft hashtag challenges and invite the community to engage with them. It’s also about ensuring we have everything to offer them in a product-focused and commerce-driven way that makes sense in a fun, relatable manner in keeping with their business goals.
We are at the epicentre of trends and cultures, and we educate brands on how to embrace those trends, like how JW Anderson again jumped on the front row challenge trend with our creators and made it their own. Our advice orients around community-centric goals, and champions diversity and inclusion because we are no one without our bread and butter, which is the diverse creative community.
We also want to be the first in market for everything that we do. We have been working on democratising the fashion industry experience, giving everyone the front row seat and helping the creator become the model or the collaborator in collections, and also celebrating with artists.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your role?
The fashion industry is really protective of its image, the creativity and the legacy feel. So, education was challenging in the beginning to help brands understand why TikTok can provide new ways of communication and make your stories spark in a way that would relate with people on a much higher engagement rather than just the everyday social media.
The most rewarding is when I see brands embrace the community because it’s a learning curve for the industry to embrace authenticity and how they can tell their story in a way that makes sense for the consumer of tomorrow.
You need to tell your story first. You need to help others understand why you are where you are.
It’s rewarding to see brands taking our advice to heart and adapting it to their content strategy. For example, when Balmain jumped on the ‘Wipe It Down’ challenge or how Dior adapts its craftsmanship videos on TikTok. They accentuate it with ASMR so you can hear the audio of craft really clearly. People love these behind-the-scenes videos because they provide value.
What drives you in your career?
I always identify as a global citizen given that I originally come from Vietnam — I was an international high school student in the US, so I always have that background of being an international kid. That’s what fascinates me — to be able to learn what other people are doing well in different countries and different nations and identify the missed opportunities in different parts of the world.
I always want to learn and start new things and I just have to go with my gut. I think that global mindset really helps. Also, our passions help drive that desire to wake up early for calls, stay up late for meetings and projects. The willingness to learn and also having a global mindset of making things possible with your passions really help. I’m also always in a constant learning mode, always curious and constantly networking.
What networking advice would you give those starting out?
You need to tell your story first. You need to help others understand why you are where you are and be kind, because everyone is going through different career paths, struggling with different challenges.
I know it’s hard to be networking and sending cold emails or that LinkedIn message, but I believe people have a sense of wanting to give back. The ability to be authentic and have that curiosity also helps because it’s a two-way relationship. If someone reaches out to you, there might be something beneficial to you while you’re also providing value to them.
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