Extraordinary Women

‘Extraordinary Women’ is a series of interviews with some of society’s most inspiring and intriguing women. It is an attempt to redefine the conversation around women in the media, without sensationalism but instead to authentically listen to and record their voices.

Jo Linehan

Taking an active interest in fashion, particularly within the Irish landscape, has taught me a gargantuan number of lessons but more importantly, it has introduced me to an array of exciting individuals whom I am lucky enough to now call friends.

Jo Linehan is one such talented person and friend. I could scribe a litany of characteristics to attempt to describe Jo’s enigmatic personality and professional drive but the reason as to why I would define her as extraordinary is that Jo never looks at a challenge as an obstacle and whether you meet her at 8am or 8pm, you always leave her company her with a smile on your face!


Tell me a little bit about yourself

Ok, so I’m Jo Linehan and I’m Junior Editor here at Image Magazine. Unusually though, journalism isn’t my background. After school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I was really interested in third world policy so I decided to study that. I went to UCC for a year and while there I thought ‘There is plenty of food in the world, I can totally sort out this whole poverty-hunger issue’. Then I realised that actually it’s this ginormous ‘thing’ that no one is going to fix in just a week or a day – not even me! I studied a lot about women’s right, women in literature and men’s rights – it really opened up my mind to a broad range of really interesting new subjects. I did that for one year but then decided to study music; which had always been my love. I studied music for three years – majoring in singing and percussion. Whilst I loved it, I knew that it wasn’t something that I wanted to explore as a profession.

It’s rather difficult to make money from a career in music.

Absolutely. Whatever about there being no money in media, you are literally living hand-to-mouth working a musician. Especially if you love something, putting that kind of pressure on it to also become your income…

It’s really difficult.

Yes, that amount of pressure would just break your heart. So, during my second year of studying music, I started to develop my interest in fashion. I was reading a lot of magazines but I had always written. I had written for the newspaper in UCC and I had written bits and pieces but I decided to start a blog – purely for myself, just so that I had an outlet. I really, really loved it. Back then though, blogging was in a different place where no one was really doing it, it was only just starting off…

Just you and Susie Bubble paving the way!

Ha!  The two of us – together! Back then though, I was just doing really small posts such as interviewing Sonya Lennon from ‘Off the Rails’. Then I entered a blogging competition with Vogue and was shortlisted. They had my blog up on their website for what I think was a couple of months – that gave me a real ‘bump up’.

In the midst of all of this, fashion and blogging were still just hobbies and I remember finishing my music degree thinking ‘What am I going to do?’ Stefanie Preissner who I grew up with, who is a writer, was pitching a play for the Fringe Festival and needed a percussionist. She asked me to move to Dublin, write the music, be in the play and she would pay for my accommodation for a month. I just thought, ‘Look, I’ve got nothing else to do, why not?’ and when I moved to Dublin it just felt like ‘home’. I loved it immediately and although I love Cork, I have never really felt that connection to Cork. So, when the month was up I just thought, ‘I’m in Dublin, there are plenty of magazines, let’s just see if there’s an opportunity to get an internship’. At the time, internships were just starting to become popular.

Image Magazine was my number one and I literally spent weeks getting up at 7am and cold-calling Image, writing to all of the different editors, researching them, going to events hoping to run into people who worked in the fashion industry and just made a huge effort to try and get to know the community – all the while I basically stalked Image. That went on for months and everyone back home thought that I was absolutely off my rocker. They all said that I should have just come home and got a job teaching music. I won’t lie, I was tempted to do that but I really felt that I had to give this whole fashion ‘thing’ a go.

Then one day in November, Kate O’Dowd – who was Junior Editor at the time…

And now Editor of Bash Magazine!

Yes, she rang me and said ‘Listen, we’re up the walls before Christmas. We just need hands on deck to make tea and to keep us fueled. Will you come in?’ I did…

Was it the Holy Grail?

I guess you could say that. I went out, I bought a new outfit and didn’t sleep for four days before hand – literally, to just go into Image to make the tea.

Ha! You were the new Emily!

Yes and I was never so happy to be the new Emily. It was just one of those things; I spent my time in the office making myself really indispensable. If I was making tea, I made it exactly how everyone wanted it, if someone was asking for something to be done, I volunteered to do it. I literally did all kinds of everything – I tided shelves when I had nothing to do, I tried to pick up on the vibe of the office and the magazine and most importantly, I really tried to listen to what people needed and what they were doing.

You wanted them to question how they ever survived without you, I guess.

Exactly! I really had no idea what was going on, if I’m honest. I had never worked in publishing and I remember Google-ing words from conversations people were having in the office. I remember people asking ‘Is this a DPS?’ and ‘subtly’, I would type into Google ‘What is a DPS?’ – it means a double-page spread. I just had no idea – I was in over my head!

From there, things just went from one to the other. It’s really interesting though, whatever you do in your life will help with future projects and goals. For example, I remember Image asked me to come back for a second day and one of the editors had a recording machine and she was freaking out. She had been sent by Brown Thomas to do an interview abroad but she couldn’t find it on the recorder. At the end of the day, she was quite upset and I just said to her ‘Can I take it home?’ She said ‘Yeah, please do whatever you can’ but because I had studied recording in my music degree, I was able to download some software and retrieve the file of her. Looking back, I think that was one of the things that made the magazine realize that I was ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’. In the middle of my degree, I never thought that studying music would have a hand in furthering my career in fashion but everything you learn helps.

From there, I interned with Image for six months. I set up Jobsbridge here at Image Publications so that I could stay on and make a small bit of money. Since then, that has helped other interns but when that came to an end, I needed to get paid so I asked them if I could freelance which meant that I got paid for big articles that I did.

At Christmas time in 2012, they gave me a job as staff editor which meant that much of my role was the same but I would work across Cara and Bash if those editors and staff needed assistance. Then in August of last year, Melanie (Morris – Editor in Chief) offered me the job of Junior Editor which meant that my role would not so much include tea-making and doing the post but a greater emphasis on writing and taking over the front of the magazine, which is the job that I always wanted. That’s where I am now – I guess you could say that was a whistle-stop tour of my professional journey so far.

More and more, it appears that the first route into a profession is through an internship. In particular, the fashion industry has quite a negative reputation in terms of its treatment of interns, did that influence you and how you interacted and worked with the interns in your office today?

Absolutely and that was a big reason as to why I wanted to start up Jobsbridge here. I know that Jobsbridge gets an awful lot of criticism but as long as there is someone employed to ensure that it is being done in the right way and that people’s expectations are managed, it’s mutually beneficial. I think Image have such a brilliant intern system. People come in, they are told that they can sign up for Jobsbridge or they can come in a work for six months, which is unpaid – there’s no bones made about it! While you’re here, not only will you make the tea and open the post but you will also work events, you’ll work within PR, you’ll work on the online element of the magazines, you’ll see how the design team function and you will also be given an opportunity to write for different publications. At the end, your CV will be bursting.

From the perspective of the employer, managing expectations is important but you have to be in a position to give interns your time. You need to sit down with interns, ask them how their day is going? Do they have too much on? Have they been left with nothing to do? What are they finding difficult? Do they understand what’s going on? If you just bring people in without having that level of interaction, it can be really overwhelming and a lot of the time people want to do well, so they’re afraid of admitting that they don’t understand something or are unsure of how to do something. I spend a lot of time sitting down with them, talking with them, having the craic with them because after all, it should be fun too!

So yeah, I would see that as one of my biggest roles here at Image and even though the fashion industry has a bad reputation when it comes to interns, we need to work at making it a really valuable experience for both the intern and the employer.

I found it really interesting how you mentioned earlier that your skills from your music degree better equipped you for a career in fashion and the fact that you’re not alone in training in an area alien to fashion. For example, Simone Rocha studied Fine Art in NCAD and Aisling Farinella has a Masters in Film. Would that be something you would recommend to those who seek a career in fashion, that perhaps they should explore a different field first to equip them with other skills rather than just fashion or journalism?

Absolutely! Fashion is so much more than just clothing; it’s art, it’s history and it’s people. The broader understanding you have of life, the more that will impact upon your take on fashion. Without being hugely controversial, the people who have come to Image who have a Masters in journalism or their primary degree is in media, sometimes they’re very focused – so much that it can sometimes be a hindrance. They have been trained in a certain way of doing things and within publishing, different companies have various ways of working and sometimes they find it difficult to adapt to our way of working.

They almost have to re-train themselves, it seems.

Exactly, the most important thing about working within the fashion industry is not your primary degree but having a passion and a genuine interest in fashion. You know yourself with fashion, it’s about being able to chat with people, it’s being able to pull out different references and it demands a wide range of skills.

Fashion is so encompassing now, it’s not limited to just one domain. Fashion has infiltrated the music industry. For example, on Beyoncé’s recent tour, her costumes and the designers who created them, were as much a talking point as the music itself. She spent more time in Tom Ford and Emilio Pucci than she did on stage!

Ha! Exactly.

 fashion industry, thoI suppose to dwell further on the role of women in these who work externally to this domain are often very critical of how fashion treats women, in a sense. My insatiable interest in fashion came about from feeling that it was an industry I could not interact with because I stood at 3’5” tall and I actively sought a way to gain access. What do you perceive to be fashion’s role in representing women and do you think the industry as a whole should be doing more to encompass a wider spectrum of women?

It’s one of those ongoing debates and I think that anyone who works in the fashion industry is very aware of it and is something which they are very sensitive towards. Personally, I’m very interested in the weight debate and also the age of models – those are two areas which I actively research and do a lot of work on myself. At Image, I work very closely with the fashion team to ensure our models are never below a certain age or weight. The industry on a whole has a lot to answer for but at the same time, some changes have been made. For me, all I can do on my small scale is start from the grassroots up.

I think fashion is for everyone though, but as you said, you do have to find your own way to enjoy and interpret it. There have been great things, people like Penneys who make fashion really accessible. Ireland is great for the high-street and permits people access to the trend. At the magazine, we’re constantly publishing brilliant finds from the high-street whilst also featuring the Mary Katrantzou €12,000 jacket. To answer your question though, it takes people, like you and I, who are working on the ground to start questioning the norm of the fashion industry, we have a responsibility to demand such improvements and I’m very passionate about putting people on the hot-seat.

As am I. In your journalistic career thus far, you’ve achieved an incredible amount but what does your ‘Bucket-List’ for the next five years consist of?

There are SO many things. I’m really starting to become interested in styling, which isn’t something that I have had a huge chance to explore just yet.

Aisling Farinella takes all of those jobs, damn her!

Damn her, exactly!

We’ll forgive her because she’s so mesmerisingly talented.

Exactly, I want to see her doing as many shoots as possible!

I would be interested to get into styling and one of my favourite things to do is to champion new designers. I’m constantly looking for new talent and I’m also intrigued by the digital side of things and how the future of the digital sphere will impact upon the fashion industry. Finally then, we’ve already touched on it but I would be hugely interested in working on those areas of the fashion industry which aren’t functioning as they should.

Should Melanie Morris (Editor in Chief of Image Publications) and Ellie Balfe (Editor of be concerned about you looking for their jobs sometime in the near future?

They should be terrified! This is something that I tell them every day…

(We both guffaw in a non-lady-like fashion…)

My primary reason for undertaking this series of interviews was to mark, in my own small way, the incredible women who intrigue and inspire me but who would be the people you look to for ideas, advice and critique?

There are so many. Obviously, Aisling Farinella is someone who is…

Mind-blowingly talented…

Mind-blowingly talented and is also someone who has done incredible things for the Irish fashion industry, both at home and abroad. Paula Hughes, in terms of styling – she has married a very creative mind with a commercial income which is a challenging feat.

My friends back home in Cork are some of the most inspiring people to me. They’re like you in that they’re teachers – sometimes when you’re working in fashion, I think it’s really important that we do realise that at times it is just shoes and bags. After a tough day, I’ll ring the girls and they’ll ask me how my day was and I’ll complain about the challenges of interviewing etc. I’ll then ask them about their day and they’ll say ‘Today was really hard. I have five children in my class with ADD, we’re low on funding and my job isn’t permanent’ – they’re really inspiring to me because their job sometimes feels more ‘real’ than mine. I am really so lucky to do what I love every day. Those are the people that really inspire me…

Even with all of those challenges, they still carry on and continue to greet their friends or class with a smile…

Exactly! I don’t know where they find the energy or the enthusiasm. I don’t know how they do it!

For me, teaching is similar to entertainment. You are a constant performer to a group of thirty children. You have a stage at the top of the classroom and it’s your responsibility to engage them in an interesting way so they have a memorable experience that they are actively involved in.

You’re right, it’s an element of entertainment.

It’s the marrying of the entertainment and the creative industries because the content that you present to the children has to be creative in order to spark their interest. Much like yourselves here in Image, if you released a stagnant issue or continuously pitched your content to American or Parisian readers, your loyal fan-base here would become disengaged. It’s extremely similar to the classroom, your content has to be innovative, presented in a way that embraces digital technologies and it has to be pitched at the appropriate audience.

Who knew fashion and education were so intrinsically linked.

Ha! Exactly, our teachers will be so proud of us.

Yeah, I guess those are the people who inspire me most but also the people who have stayed in Ireland. It’s a difficult time in Ireland, so I’ve great admiration for those who didn’t emigrate – we’re making it interesting to be here! 

A huge thank you to Jo for being so enthusiastic about this project. If you’d like to stalk her via social media (who wouldn’t?!), tell her I sent you via Twitter and Instagram!

Interview originally published May 30, 2014

Sinead Burke