Alexis DeSalva Kahler
Alexis is a Senior Research Analyst at Mintel. Alexis focuses on US Retail and eCommerce reports.

As a follow-up to Women’s History Month in March and in honor of Earth Day in April, Mintel’s Senior Retail and eCommerce analyst, Alexis DeSalva Kahler, spoke with entrepreneur and secondhand fashion expert Meredith Fineman, CEO of FinePoint, Author of “Brag Better: Master the Art of Fearless Self-Promotion” and Secondhand Society. They discuss the importance of self-promotion in the workplace and how successfully promote accomplishments, as well as the importance and future of the secondhand fashion market. Below is part one of the interview.

Alexis DeSalva Kahler:

Let’s start by sharing a bit about your background. I am familiar with you because of your work in the secondhand fashion world, which we’ll get into, but you’re also an entrepreneur and writer. You run FinePoint, a development company that helps to elevate individuals and leaders, particularly women, and most recently, you published the book Brag Better: Master the Art of Fearless Self-Promotion. Can you tell us a bit about your work at FinePoint and what motivated you to write Brag Better?

Meredith Fineman:

First and foremost I’m a writer; I have been a freelance writer for about 16 years. I write about business, entrepreneurship, women’s issues, secondhand fashion, sustainable fashion, sometimes how all those things intersect. I started FinePoint about a decade ago, as more of a PR shop. I had always built a personal brand, and I was good at getting attention on myself and other things, and so I became a PR person. I realized that the tenacity, and the storytelling, and the pitching, and the packaging, and the practices of a publicist were super valuable for an individual; for anyone of any age or level of seniority or any background. It’s a great skill set to have, and that was not being talked about at all. I also realized that nobody knew how to talk about themselves and that became very apparent when people started to ask me to represent them individually.

ADK: What types of people asked you to help them? Who does this affect?

MF: There’s this idea of nobody knowing how to talk about themselves, particularly women, but not only women. My audience is the Qualified Quiet; people that have done the work, but don’t know how to talk about it or tout it. It’s irrespective of gender, and irrespective of the level of seniority and that was not changing with success. So I would be having the same issues interviewing someone who wanted to intern for me, as I would with a very high-level person in the C suite.

ADK: Why do you think bragging or self-promotion is so challenging? Why is it difficult but necessary?

MF: We don’t have a vocabulary to talk positively about professional accomplishment; it’s easy for us to do it for other people (but not ourselves). I noticed a very obvious, inverse relationship between volume and merit. People are not going to take the time to figure out what you do and what you do well; you have to tell them. And you also want to be the person in control of that conversation and that narrative. I define bragging as stating facts about your work strategically and cohesively to advance your career. Brag Better is a framework to learn how to talk about yourself and tell your work, because it is an essential part of being good at your job, and it is work, and so this idea that your work will speak for itself or that you’d rather put your head down and do the work it’s not going to work. If it’s you and someone else up for a promotion, and that person is probably not as good as you are but has marketed themselves more heavily and everyone’s aware of the work they do, they’re probably going to get the promotion over you. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it’s not good, but it is what it is. I don’t see how we pay attention really changing, so you have to play the game.

ADK: I can personally relate to that. When I was younger and starting my career, I was under the mindset of “the work will speak for itself” and “actions speak louder than words.” I’m not shy, but it’s uncomfortable to talk or brag about yourself, but I’ve seen that people who are vocal get attention.

MF: You have to be your own publicist. This is for your career and for your work because we reward loud; that’s just how we pay attention and how we digest information.

You have to be your own publicist. This is for your career and for your work because we reward loud; that’s just how we pay attention and how we digest information.

ADK: You mention controlling the narrative. Can talk about what’s an effective way to do that?

MF: This idea of bragging better is a mindset, it is a framework. A place to begin is to understand your goals. The pillars of bragging better are to be proud, loud and strategic. Proud is to acknowledge your work to yourself; loud is to then start acknowledging it to other people and sharing it, and then the strategic piece is the most important. There are opportunities all around you to promote yourself, but basically what you’re doing is building a mosaic. It adds up to this image and profile that you are creating of yourself. What breaks through when it comes to visibility and messaging is repetition and consistency, so how often are you saying a message and then how similar is it. It’s a practice. Maybe start with once a week saying to yourself, “here’s one thing I did this week that makes me really proud,” and then calling a friend and sharing it with them. Bragging better is a team sport; you can’t do this all by yourself.

ADK: What are some things to avoid?

MF: The one thing that I say is a big no-no is verbal undercutting; phrases such as “shameless plug” or “I hate to brag, but.” To share your work with pride and not apologize is inherently radical and it’s also vulnerable, particularly as a woman. That’s the hardest part of bragging – asking people to be vulnerable because what you’re inviting is judgment and that’s what makes it scary and hard. But this is about the “campaign of you” and when you phrase something like that (“not to brag, but” etc) it stops whatever message you’re trying to convey and perpetuate. It’s a hard habit to break, but it’s something that you know you need to flag because it’s just hurting you. It will actually have the opposite effect.

ADK: The book came out over the summer, which was obviously in the throes of the pandemic. How has any of this changed since then?

MF: I’ve seen this change bragging in the past year, so I’ve added a free chapter on the Brag Better website on how to brag better from home and online. There are some silver linings to being at home when you’re doing something that’s scary, like bragging, or speaking, or promoting your work. You’re on your home turf, but there are other things you have to consider. Your boss physically cannot see what you’re working on, so you have to communicate it because it’s part of your job. Being extremely direct is important; the fourth pillar now is explicit. You have to know how to communicate your wins and properly promote your work.

Check out part two tomorrow, as Meredith Fineman discusses secondhand shopping and sustainability. 

Visit Meredith Fineman online or on Instagram. To find Meredith’s newsletter on secondhand and sustainable fashion, visit Secondhand Society and to learn more about her book, visit Brag Better.