We recently got to meet and collaborate with Demi Vitkute, founder of The Urban Watch Magazine. Lithuania-born, America-educated and now New York-based journalist and editor, Demi is doing some important reporting on the fashion industry.
Please briefly tell us about yourself and where you come from.
I grew up in Lithuania. Since middle school, I knew I wanted to be a writer so I got involved in a literature club and wrote for a small, local paper. At 10 years old, I came to the U.S. for the first time to visit my lovely aunt who lives in Connecticut and since then, knew that I wanted to live in the States. I finished the last two years of high school at a boarding school in Connecticut, where I re-opened its newspaper after 20 years of its inactivity. Then I went to Emerson College for journalism and graduated in three years. At 22, I was already pursuing my Master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, which was probably the best decision I could have ever made.
How did The Urban Watch come to be?
The summer of 2016, after graduating from Emerson, I went home to Lithuania and was having coffee with one of my Lithuanian friends, who lives in London. We started talking about city life and comparing New York and London. That’s how The Urban Watch was born. We wanted to juxtapose the culture and fashion of the two cities. We worked that entire summer, developing the website and looking for contributors. We were really surprised how many writers and photographers were interested in our idea and wanted to come on board! Then, I moved to NYC and started Columbia. We launched the website in September of 2016. It was wild launching at the time when I had started a very intense year of studies at Columbia! But I am very grateful for my co-founder Laura, who managed the website then. Laura soon became a full-time consultant in London. And I took over The Urban Watch and switched its focus to New York City and fashion. It was our passion project and it will forever remain our baby.
How did you start focusing on fashion in your career?
My mom is a textile engineer so from a young age I was introduced to the heart of fashion: fabric for clothing. But I didn’t see where I would fit into this industry as a writer. It wasn’t until recently that I fell into it. An editor commissioned me last minute to do a piece on the best New York Fashion Week parties. He liked my first feature and hired me to do more articles; the invites to NYFW started landing in my inbox and that’s how the fashion world slowly sucked me in. At first, like many people who don’t work in fashion, I had a bit of a shallow perception of the industry. But once I started attending the shows and talking to the professionals, my views changed. I love the New York fashion community— they’re all very creative and inspiring.
But it was after the Harvey Weinstein scandal shook Hollywood and trickled down to other industries, that I realized how underreported the fashion industry is. While most industries are covered by a pool of reporters, fashion is not. There are plenty of fashion writers, who cover the trends and colors of the season, but not fashion journalists who investigate the industry. That realization bothered me and made me restless to act because there is so much to cover in this industry: from garment workers dying abroad for fast fashion to models being abused here in the U.S. Many of these problems have persisted for decades, like open secrets. It’s just the beginning of my work, but I’m on to something.
Tell us about the importance of mentorship in your career.
The journalism industry has changed so much in the past decade. There’s no set path like it used to be— that you work at a local paper first and climb your way up. A lot of those local papers don’t even exist anymore. The industry is constantly changing and you have to move with it. I am happy to have a mentor from Columbia and I try to mentor other young writers as much as possible. For example, one guy really wanted to start making videos— The Urban Watch provided him with a platform— and later he was able to secure a job as a videographer. I had another wonderful writer, who was finishing her undergraduate degree in journalism. She wanted to write about music and art and produced some great profiles on NYC musicians. Those clips helped her build a strong portfolio and she got an internship at a newsroom in Paris; right now she just got into Columbia Journalism School! I wrote her a recommendation letter for a scholarship. Not only I edit my mentees’ articles, but I also give them advice on the industry; share my contacts. They appreciate it so much and it makes me so happy. I truly believe in helping other people. What goes around, comes around. They could be my boss one day, too. It’s a small industry; we must help each other. Your character matters so much. You may be an excellent writer, but if you’re not a great person, I won’t hire you.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
It won’t become true if I tell you! To give you an idea— I want to have my own digital journalism platform, whether that means taking The Urban Watch to the next level or starting something similar. There’s still so much to accomplish in my career. I’ll let you know where the road takes me.
Thanks, Demi, for the interview! We wish you the best of luck.
Make sure to follow Demi on Instagram @demiivit. She also offers media consulting, so if your brand needs PR help—don’t hesitate to reach out to her.