This Refinery29 Co-founder Is No Stranger to Leaps of Faith

The digital media company wasn't Christene Barberich's first bold move

Barberich helped found Refinery29 in 2005. Frankie Martin for Refinery29

Making courageous moves amid a lot of uncertainty has colored the life of Christene Barberich, the global editor in chief and co-founder of Refinery29, the lifestyle-focused media company.

Take, for example, an essay she wrote in 2015 about her five miscarriages. “It was incredibly terrifying, but also liberating,” Barberich recalled. “I wrote it for myself at first, and then I showed it to one of my co-editors, and said, ‘Is this crazy? Should I publish this?’ And she said, ‘You have to.’”

After reading the essay, a fertility doctor reached out, giving Barberich new reason for hope. And now, she’s about to give birth.

Earlier in her career, she faced another critical moment when she decided to leave her secure job at Condé Nast to join City magazine. “I got a lot of criticism from people in my immediate circle—that I was doing something crazy by launching a magazine,” she said. But in fact, serving as City’s executive editor “was one of the most extraordinary creative experiences I’ve ever had.”

Barberich—who has held posts at now-defunct Gourmet magazine, The Daily and The New Yorker—took another leap when she helped found Refinery29 in 2005. The gamble has certainly paid off: From an initial staff of four, the company has grown to over 400, with an audience footprint of 425 million globally.

In addition to providing a shopping conduit for fashion and style brands (a topic Barberich, the host of podcast UnStyled, is passionate about), Refinery29 is female focused. Its original content includes a series of short films created by actresses Gabourey Sidibe and Kristen Stewart; Dove Chocolate helped get the series off the ground.

Barberich also cited Lane Bryant as a stand-out brand that collaborated with Refinery29 on “The 67% Project.” That’s the percentage of American women who say they wear plus-size clothing, according to a Refinery29 and Social Context Lab study. The initiative included newsletter, video and social media content, along with special photography from Getty Images featuring women of all shapes and sizes—not the ultra-sleek bodies that the media tends to glorify.

Serving up content with a purposeful angle is paramount for Barberich. “I never want Refinery29 to be a company or a platform that’s just throwing more [content] on the pile without a lot of meaning behind it,” Barberich said.

Biggest Mistake

“I’m definitely a proponent of regretting the things I don’t do, not the things I do do, no matter how scary they are,” she said. “I would say the one regret I do have was in a particular internal negotiation where I didn’t push hard enough to convince colleagues to move in a certain direction.”

Lesson Learned

“It was an important reminder to trust my instincts, even in really stressful or uncertain situations,” Barberich explained.

How She Got the Gig

The other co-founders of Refinery29 approached Barberich about joining them. “I had this distinct feeling I didn’t want to get left behind, and this was an amazing opportunity to learn about [digital media] and develop it,” said Barberich.

Pro Tip

“When you do put in the extra time to figure out a unique or original angle for a story and care about the results, it really pays off,” Barberich advised. “It shows in the performance and engagement. That really motivates me.”

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Janet Stilson is a freelance writer for Adweek.
Publish date: October 15, 2018 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT