Upon first hearing Sean Loughran’s story, it’s hard to believe he’s only in his mid-twenties. His career path started out at 15 and from there, he’s given it his all. His drive led him to several seasons of New York Fashion Week where year after year, he would save up his earnings to volunteer backstage. His CV includes an intense stint at Condé Nast International where he held the position as First Assistant to Azza Yousif. Based in Paris, the role allowed him the opportunity to work on a variety of jobs for American Vogue, French Vogue, Vogue Russia, Italian Vogue, Vogue Hommes, and more while also working closely with Dior. On paper, there’s no denying the impressive nature of his experience in the fashion industry and his moves from Belfast to New York to Paris will fill any fashionista with envy and admiration but the reality saw Sean facing serious burnout in an industry he’d worked tirelessly to leave his mark in.
In the depths of burnout, Sean made the decision to travel to India where he spent a transformational few months training to become a yoga teacher. From there it was a move to Toronto where he spent a year as personal assistant to one of Canada’s wealthiest families before taking a job in Vancouver as Executive Assistant to Jamie Cormack, Co-Founder of Herschel Supply Co. Yoga played a prominent role in Sean’s new life in Canada and while he still remains incredibly driven and ambitious, he’s more proactive in fending off threat of another burnout experience.
When speaking to Sean it’s clear, he’s humble, a self-professed introvert and when it comes to his dreams, he won’t take no for an answer. Here, he shares with The Style Edit his experience in the fashion industry, lessons learned from burnout and why wellness is his new priority.
What first drew you to the PR and fashion industry?
My first glimpse into the fashion industry was when I was 12 and my best friend got a gold Dolce & Gabbana flip phone. I pretended to know what Dolce was at the time but when I got home I watched dozens of runway shows on YouTube. I was most inspired by Alexander McQueen and John Galliano for Dior.
Watching shows and reading Vogue became a hobby of mine for a few years then I remember the release of Kell On Earth, Kelly Cultrone’s reality TV show. I instantly fell in love with Kelly (and later applied for a position at People’s Revolution). That was where I found my love of PR.
Tell us about your first job and how it prepared you for the realities of NYFW and the fashion industry in Paris?
I did my high school work placement with Cathy Martin at CMPR. I started out as an intern for a week, and due to my ongoing interning for a couple of years after that, I was able to land a PR Assistant position when I finished high school.
Before starting full time at CMPR, I spent a summer interning in New York with Catherine Malandrino. It was there that I was exposed to the New York fashion scene and at 18 years old, that was totally mind-blowing, I was hooked and had a dream of moving to New York after that.
(After that summer internship) I got back to CMPR and worked incredibly hard for a couple more years. I worked my way up, had my own clients, developed CMPR Talent, and worked in a range of positions during my tenure there.
What did the internship in New York entail?
That summer I was working in the PR department. It was around the same time as Gossip Girl was filming and they used to use a bunch of clothing from Catherine Malandrino so I would go and deliver them to set. One time we got to deliver a dress to Beyonce’s house which was the highlight of my entire summer. They didn’t tell us who it was for until we got back to the office and saw her wearing it. We were so excited.
What were some of the biggest highlights during your time working in fashion in New York City?
Having the opportunity to work with luxury brands that I had admired from afar for years beforehand. My first show was BCBG Max Azria followed by Lacoste. I was assisting on those shows back when it was at the Lincoln Center and the buzz was unbelievable.
What fuelled your decision to move to Paris?
I’d decided I was going to move to New York. I was so excited but then the visa fell through. I had a friend that was living in Paris and she suggested I just move there. I’d saved loads of money for moving to New York so it was a no brainer. Paris is only an hour away so I just went for it. I basically decided over two days that I was going to move there. It turned out that in France, you need to be studying full time if you want to do an internship. My existing experience in fashion wasn’t worth very much over there because I didn’t speak the language but I just thought, I’m going to make it work anyway. I reached out to a bunch of people. I reached out to Carine Roitfeld because I’d met her in NYC and I wanted to work for CR Fashion Book. She put me in touch with her assistant to go for an interview but because I didn’t speak French it was a no. Then I went to Acne Studios and it was the same again. So then I had a friend who basically wrote out an interview for me in French and I just bluffed my way through a PR interview and got the job for a 3-month contract. From there, someone I had worked with in New York put me in touch with another stylist who worked at Vogue.
“I just thought, I’m going to make it work anyway.”
With the idea of traditional career paths changing within society and your own experience holding testament to that, do you feel not going to university impacted your journey at all?
I don’t think I would have benefitted from the university at all. I’m a very disciplined person and everything I know I’ve learned along the way. I come across as very introverted but the truth is I spend about 95% of my time listening to others and about 5% talking. Thanks to Google I’ve also been able to teach myself website building and coding, digital advertising, marketing, and many other skills that have come in handy over the years and will continue to benefit me in the future.
Let’s talk about burnout. Looking back, what were some of the warning signs?
I’m not sure if I was mentally prepared to cope with the stresses that arise in the industry. All of a sudden I was working with leading publications and luxury brands and the pressure was high. I was doing everything I’d ever dreamt of but it didn’t satisfy me. I started to doubt my abilities which led to a lack of self-confidence and eventually burn out.
(In fashion) There’s always someone behind you who could and would take your position in a second. It’s really competitive so you’re always striving to be the best, always striving to do something better and basically, just exhausting yourself. I just don’t think I was built for that. I’m a very quiet person and I’m not super-confident and loud and I think I needed to be that in that industry.
“I was doing everything I’d ever dreamt of but it didn’t satisfy me.”
You’ve travelled around a lot and really created a path your own path to success. What advice would you give to those reading this and longing to do the same?
I don’t ponder decisions for a long time before making them. Once I decide to do something, I’m set on doing it. I’ve always been like that. I decided to move to Paris a week before taking off, same with a life-changing trip to India and a few other moves and decisions I’ve made in my life. It hasn’t been easy but I’ve always been able to make things work out. I’m lucky to have the support of my family behind me, encouraging me and cheering on all my decisions whether they agree with them or not.
Follow your heart. Life is way too short to overthink.
“Follow your heart. Life is way too short to overthink.”
How do you juggle your various work projects with managing your mental health and avoiding burnout?
I find it hard to switch off. I’m thinking about my career, my businesses, and my relationships constantly. I admit to finding it hard to have conversations sometimes because I’m so wrapped up in my own thoughts working things out in my head, striving to succeed in everything I do. It’s not healthy but it’s what’s driven me to get to this point in my life.
One thing I cherish that calms my mind is my early morning Ashtanga yoga and meditation practice. It’s completely changed my life and the direction in which I want to take my career in the future. Yoga has changed how I interact with people, how I treat my body, how I approach my work and relationships.
Tell us about your own startup, Fifth Limb
Fifth Limb is a wellness brand with a range of organic tea blends. I started Fifth Limb about a 6 months ago with the intention to retail to yoga studios and wellness centres in Canada and the US. I’m stocked at several studios in Canada right now and also selling on my website www.fifthlimb.ca.
What inspired you to start Fifth Limb?
I was inspired by my Ashtanga practice to start Fifth Limb. The translation of Ashtanga is Eight Limbs, and the Fifth Limb of Ashtanga yoga is Pratyahara which is essentially the blocking of outside distractions and the act of drawing inwards.
What does success mean to you?
I’ve never dwelled on success long enough to know what it means. I tend to brush off accomplishments and focus immediately on the next project or milestone. I’m lucky to have achieved so much so quickly, but that all comes down to my discipline and hard work. I guess if I was to define it, I’d say that success is achieving whatever you set out to achieve.
How has your view of success changed over the years?
I feel there’s more pressure on me to succeed now than there was before. There are also more opportunities to succeed now than there was back then.
Who are your biggest role models?
If you had asked me 10 years ago I would have named models, fashion designers and magazine editors but as I’ve grown older I’ve noticed a shift in who and what inspires me.
Two of the biggest inspirational figures are my parents for always believing in me and pushing me to achieve great things. My yoga teacher Fiona Stang is another, her patience and teachings are the most valuable thing in my life at present.
“Two of the biggest inspirational figures are my parents for always believing in me and pushing me to achieve great things.”
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Driven. Disciplined. Focused.
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
Be strong and if you really want to do something, stay focused and never take no for an answer.
Can you tell us about some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced and how you overcame them?
I had a particularly hard time in high school. Being homosexual in an all-boys Catholic school wasn’t an easy ride and I had to deal with hateful comments and criticisms every day. It resulted in years of self-loathing followed by years of mental healing.
I’m not sure I would have been as driven to succeed if I hadn’t experienced the trauma of high school so, in one way, it definitely pushed me to want to better myself.
“Be strong and if you really want to do something, stay focused and never take no for an answer.“
What are you most proud of so far?
I’m proud of the collection of stamps in my passports. I’m lucky to have seen so much of the world already. It’s changed who I am as a person and how I view the world. I’m 26 and I’ve lived in 7 cities in 5 countries and have developed a close network of friends and professional relationships along the way.
“I’m 26 and I’ve lived in 7 cities in 5 countries and have developed a close network of friends and professional relationships along the way.”