“People never understand that when you are a person of color, you just have a different responsibility,” said Lindsay Peoples, who in January 2021 was named editor in chief of The Cut. “Everyone has to choose how much of that they take on. It is something that I literally wake up and think about every single day.”
Peoples, 31, is busy living the change she wants to see. Only the second editor of the buzzy vertical, her ascension came after two years as the top editor of Teen Vogue (from 2018 to 2020) which made her the youngest-ever Condé Nast editor in chief and one of the very few Black editorial leaders in the Condé firmament. At The Cut, where she was the site’s fashion editor from 2015 to 2018, she produced an influential 2018 piece for which she interviewed more than 100 people of color working in fashion about the lack of opportunities and representation, the racism and microaggressions. It was a comprehensive and long-overdue examination of an industry with an entrenched Euro-centric world view. Two years later, the racial justice protests that erupted following the police murder of George Floyd impelled a reckoning throughout corporate America.
“Much of the industry has been the same for a very long time. Even now, a lot of publications rest on the fact that they can put somebody they consider diverse or nontraditional on a cover and think that does it,” said Peoples during a recent Zoom call from her office, one that took place before Kanye West’s Paris Fashion Week controversy. (Peoples attended West’s show, but a representative for The Cut declined to make Peoples available for follow-up questions.)
For her first Cut cover, Peoples enlisted Gayle King to interview CNN anchor Abby Phillip, who was hired to cover the Trump administration and quickly became one of the network’s leading political anchors. Since then the cover has been occupied by a who’s who of formidable women of color — Cynthia Erivo, Sandra Oh and Tracee Ellis Ross and Cori Bush, the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress, who appeared on the Oct. 4 cover as the country lurches toward the midterm elections. The goal, said Peoples, is to grow The Cut’s highly engaged community with stories — whether they’re cover or inside features — that hit a nerve, that demand to be read, seen, shared.
“Our [Black Lives Matter cover on the 10th] anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s [death] was really important to me,” she said. “We’ve done some pieces with Breonna Taylor’s family and a piece with Samaria Rice, Tamir Rice’s mom; I wanted to make sure that the experience of a Black mother who is stuck in time and in her pain was really given space on our platform.”
As Roe v. Wade was on the cusp of being overturned by the Supreme Court, the May cover of New York magazine offered a state-by-state guide to abortion services reported by The Cut’s writers and featuring the memorable headline: “This Magazine Can Help You Get an Abortion.”
“There’s no point if we’re not actually moving things forward,” she added. “At The Cut, I really wanted to pursue ambitious journalism, what we were calling our own sense of fearless usefulness, in order to be something that people really needed.
“Even the fashion covers continue this conversation [around] really important things that are happening in the world,” she added.
Naomi Campbell covered last year’s September fashion issue; the photos were accompanied by an essay from writer, activist and filmmaker Michaela Angela Davis that enumerated Campbell’s trailblazing stature. This year’s September issue featured dual covers with Meghan Markle and Megan Thee Stallion. (Last summer, Peoples enlisted stylist Jessica Willis as style director overseeing The Cut’s photo shoots.)
The Markle interview, conducted by Allison P. Davis, took place before Queen Elizabeth II’s death and recent reports that Meghan and Harry are at odds with producers of their Netflix documentary series over edits the couple has requested. Still, the Markle interview was one of The Cut’s top-performing stories of the year.
“Women of color are not really given the space to share their own story and narrative. They are often bullied and talked about in a negative way instead of actually being given the space to explain where they are,” said Peoples. “And so I just felt like there was no better representation than the Duchess of Sussex and Megan The Stallion; two Black women whose lives have been filled with criticism. To me, they are just really inspiring for taking the heat and coming out like gold.”
But such ambitious cultural dissections can also live side-by-side with frivolity such as “The Global Pursuit of a Bigger Butt,” “Why Am I Not Surprised that Grimes Wants Elf Ears?” and this post about the raging TikTok battle between the “line wives” and “bucket bunnies” of Florida. (You’ll just have to read it for yourself.)
In August, the vertical launched The Cut Shop with shopping recommendations spanning fashion, beauty, wellness and home products curated by Cut writers and editors. “It’s another way for us to engage in conversations about style,” said Peoples.
And the e-commerce dollars don’t hurt, either. A spokesperson for The Cut declined to share data about The Cut Shop at this early stage, but said the vertical generated an 83 percent increase in monthly subscriptions to New York magazine in 2021. Last year, The Cut had a total monthly audience of about 6 million visitors, according to data from ComScore.
If The Cut is very much Peoples’ day job, she also walks the walk in her moonlight hours. In 2020, Peoples and fashion industry publicist Sandrine Charles founded the Black in Fashion Council, a nonprofit that promotes diversity in the fashion, beauty and media industries. The organization has partnered with Color of Change to create an industrywide vetted directory of creatives, including set designers, groomers, hairstylists and makeup artists. BIFC’s Corporate Equity has enlisted pledges from close to 100 fashion brands to hire and promote people of color. For several years the organization has partnered with IMG at Spring Studios to curate a showroom of emerging Black designers.
Peoples grew up in Wisconsin and attended college in Iowa, two so-called red states where Black people make up a tiny minority. When she was a kid, her dad worked at Quad Graphics, which at the time had a contract to print all of Condé Nast magazines, including Vogue. He brought the magazines home for his daughter, who cut out pictures from fashion spreads and plastered them on her bedroom walls. She recalls begging her mother, a court reporter for the Milwaukee judicial system, to take her to Eunice Johnson’s Ebony Fashion Fair in Chicago.
“We didn’t know anybody that worked in anything creative at all,” she recalled. “My mom would say, ‘If you’re going to [work in fashion], it’s going to be harder than you think.’ She was very clear that [the fashion industry] wasn’t inclusive. And it probably was going to be an uphill battle and that I was going to have to work harder than everyone else. And it still may not turn out to be what I want it to be.”
While still in college at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, she landed an internship at Teen Vogue. “My first day was literally merchandising 100 pairs of Converse in different sizes and colors. And I was hooked. I loved it from the beginning.”
After she graduated she moved to New York for a job as an assistant at Teen Vogue while waitressing on the side. Her experience as a low-paid assistant was fraught. “I think if you’re a young person of color, you have to realize that your journey is going to be different. And not everyone is mentally equipped or prepared.”
There was the time a fellow assistant borrowed Peoples’ monthly MetroCard for an errand and lost it. In a panic, she retreated to the freight elevator and tried to psyche herself up to ask her boss to reimburse her the $125 in order to buy a new MetroCard.
“I worked up the courage to [ask] and they were like, ‘No, go buy another one. Like stop talking. Leave,’” she recalled. “To people in fashion, if you come from money and a certain background, it’s just not a big deal. But that $125 was a really big deal to me. And it wasn’t like I couldn’t have called my parents and ask them to send me the money. But it was a point of pride. I want to be able to support myself. So then I was like, ‘OK, well, I’m going to be behind on this bill. I’ll eat whatever Frosted Flakes I have left in the house.’ I think that people, especially starting out, don’t understand if you don’t have certain things, your experiences can be very different.”