For Elena Romero, the power of words has always been in style. What’s dope is how she penned stories for fashion bibles like WWD and the now-defunct DNR at the height of ‘90s hip-hop culture’s introduction to clothing lines and merchandising.
“At the start of my fashion journalism career, I was in my early twenties — an aspiring journalist looking to tell and share stories from diverse perspectives,” Romero says.
Not only did she get to critique new brands like FUBU, Phat Farm, Ecko Unlimited, Rocawear, and Sean John, but her reviews were said to “make or break a new designer.” All the while, she had no idea just how big her voice had become in fashion journalism.
“I knew I had the attention of business executives, retailers, and decisions makers. However, I did not let that interfere with my reporting. While my influence grew over time, it never changed my approach to reporting or my personality. I stayed grounded, humble, and focused on my job — to tell the best stories, to be the first, and to do it well.”
Romero didn’t realize how much she influenced the industry until 2002 when she left DNR. It was then that she made a transition into academia and has been teaching fashion journalism and various media courses as an adjunct assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and The City College of New York Division of Interdisciplinary Studies at the Center for Worker Education (CWE) since 2004.
“I’ve been teaching now for 14 years and a day doesn’t go by that I don’t learn something new,” the author of Free Stylin’: How Hip Hop Changed the Fashion Industry says about her career shift. “While you are the expert, you always have to keep an open mind and continue to hone your craft.”
But who better to show aspiring fashion journalists the way than an industry vet that teaches her students two key lessons:
“Never get caught up in the industry; remember your job as a fashion journalist is to report news and trends and not make friends. And don’t worry about getting people upset and writing nice-nice stories — worry about getting the job done well.”
It’s that candid approach to her career and life that has shaped Romero into a true professional and a kickass Latina anyone could look up to.
“Be more confident,” she says when asked to give advice to her younger self. “This came with experience and age.”
After years of hard work, honing her craft, and now paying it forward as an educator, Romero is the epitome of a trailblazer and will receive the high honor of Trailblazer of the Year at Harlem Haberdashery’s Third Annual Masquerade for NYC Health & Hospitals on March 5.
“It is truly an honor when you are recognized for your work … my goal has always been to leave an impressionable mark,” she says. “A trailblazer is a person who blazes a trail for others to follow. Not only would I want someone to follow, but surpass my accomplishments.”