Thom Bettridge

Thom Bettridge on the Intersection of Content and Commerce

Show Notes


Writer, editor, and creative director Thom Bettridge navigates the realms of storytelling, experience curation, and audience expansion with seasoned expertise. From editorial leader at 032c, Highsnobiety, and Interview to Head of Creative and Content at SSENSE, Bettridge has come a long way since his beginnings as a student of philosophy in New York City. His series of compelling statements showcase an impressive grasp of worldbuilding, adding context to the evolving landscape where editorial content and e-commerce converge. In an industry where magazines and retailers traditionally kept their domains separate, Bettridge’s approach to keeping consumers engaged signals a potential future trend for others. His insights reflect a shift toward a more integrated and dynamic relationship between content creation and commercial endeavors. Bettridge has seen—and been behind—much of the changes to the fashion industry as it enters an inundated era obsessed with viral moments. His connectedness to contemporary culture is only rivaled by his closing remarks: that true contemporariness might be found in uncharted, offline territories.

Episode Highlights
  • After becoming interested in art criticism via philosophy studies, Bettridge started an art space in Medellín, growing attracted to the fast-paced evolution of Colombian culture and society.
  • On interning and moving up through the ranks in New York: “That was my idea of hell. So I wanted to go somewhere where I could make more of an impact even if it was an uncertain terrain.”
  • Noting that “the only two things that were still alive and kicking when I finished school were fashion and, like, tabloids,” Bettridge explains how he came to fashion through his love of magazines and editing them.
  • The solitary nature of writing didn’t suit his personality, and Bettridge found he enjoyed editing more, with creative direction being an extension of that kind of collaboration.
  • “360 control over how a story looks and appears”: Creative direction was never a target for Bettridge, who considers it more of a byproduct of writing and editing—what he was already doing—and born of necessity along the way.
  • His first foray into magazine editing was at 032c, where he gained firsthand experience observing creative direction before moving on to Interview.
  • Considering philosophy as a way of creating and applying systems, Bettridge sees an analogy in being a storyteller adept at making connections.
  • Coming to SSENSE as the company was nearing its 20th anniversary, Bettridge leaned on the experiences of the people who had been at the company for a long time.
  • Bettridge has a strong understanding of brand DNA, pushing the company further into its “anti-nostalgic, anti-heritage” heritage.
  • “Mind-share”: Bettridge’s creative process aligns naturally with SSENSE’s ability to tap into a young, digitally native generation, which communicates via social media.
  • Using a metaphor of a hotel with a great coffee shop, Bettridge expresses the relationship between editorial content and e-commerce, where content regularizes exposure to a company and signals what it’s about.
  • To cater to a younger generation, Bettridge notes that youth culture demands that brands be good storytellers that tap into the current social and political moments.
  • Old-school print magazines tell stories through image placement (much like Instagram), but in a way, that decisively marks a certain zeitgeist, which Bettridge says somewhat outlasts the neverending inundation of social media.
  • Bettridge remarks on learning that intuitively marked anchors within a magazine or brand’s vision create cohesion and that visual storytellers are the individuals most capable of creating brands with palpable foundations or clear identities.
  • Hyper-niche-ification: Pulling research from tech into fashion, Bettridge remarks on icons like Rick Owens or Thom Browne, who have large cult followings and stable appeal. “That to me feels a lot more powerful than creating an It Thing that goes viral,” he says.
  • On the balance between incumbent designers and emerging creatives: Bettridge sees the essence of fashion in newness.
  • As for AI, “the raw power of it is immense, but you hear a lot of goofy ideas about what to do with it,” Bettridge says. However, he remarks that SSENSE uses chatbots to simulate a conversational discovery process between consumers and fashion brands.
  • What’s contemporary now? The potential for offline culture, a culture that “isn’t solipsistic or self-isolated.”

Notable Quotes:

  • “Fashion for me, it really came through my love of magazines.” —Thom Bettridge
  • “For me, the creative direction thing really stemmed directly out of wanting to—and at a lot of points needing to—create a compelling visual to accompany whatever story I was trying to tell or whatever story in my magazine was trying to tell.” —Thom Bettridge
  • “I want to create that doorway into a story that’s exciting for people and gets more people’s attention.” —Thom Bettridge
  • “We live in this time of overstimulation where there’s so many things happening. There’s so many images out there. And I think, for a lot of editors or creative directors, we almost act as the people who connect those things together and make those connections that maybe seem far, but then when you put them together, they make perfect sense. And so that, to me, is a lot like what philosophy is about.” —Thom Bettridge
  • “I think what’s really special about SSENSE is that it’s in fashion where a lot of brands and ideas are based around these personality cults. SSENSE is really like an egoless company; we try not to make it about who’s creating the thing. We really try to quietly put something out and just let it speak for itself.” —Thom Bettridge
  • “Instagram, Tiktok—those are like the digital water coolers of our generation. If you can participate in that conversation, you can have mind-share, you can steer the conversation, you can laugh with people, you can get people arguing about all the issues of today, etc. Really existing in that terrain constantly and always having something to say, that’s like a big part of keeping that mind-share with audiences.” —Thom Bettridge
  • “The younger generation of shoppers, they really want to know what the brands they like are about, what do they believe, what artists they like, what’s their taste in music, etc. What do they stand for?” —Thom Bettridge
  • “The new generation of designers, in essence, are content creators.” —Thom Bettridge
  • “A lot of luxury brands are like making really nice expensive things and then scratching their head about how to make Instagram posts about it, but I think the sort of the double-edged sword of that is that I think you see a lot of people build momentum and the attention economy and then, maybe the operations aren’t there.” —Thom Bettridge
  • “I’ve always been someone who came from art, came from philosophy, and I was attracted to fashion for the way in which it’s this large industrialized metaphor for our culture. I see it as a kind of bellwether of where aesthetics are today, how people project their identity, et cetera. So for me, I’ll always see it on those terms because I just find that to be a much richer story.” —Thom Bettridge
  • “In terms of the industry, I feel like you’re really seeing this kind of turn to, ‘let’s make it about the clothes again.’” —Thom Bettridge
  • “You can’t just have incumbent creatives controlling everything because all ideas need to be challenged. And new ideas always need to enter the bloodstream.” —Thom Bettridge
  • “In its essence, fashion is about newness; the people who have been doing it forever, you go back every season to see what new idea they came up with. So supporting the new in that context is—it’s not optional. I see it as being vital.” —Thom Bettridge
  • “A lot of these tendencies we seem to have about the past and the future are a lot more cyclical and omnipresent than we think they are. That’s how I feel about AI.” —Thom Bettridge
  • What’s contemporary now is: “What offline culture looks like in a way that isn’t solipsistic or self-isolated. I feel like there’s a lot of untapped potential and contemporariness to be found in these uncharted spaces. A cultural operator, you find the contemporary by swimming to where the ocean’s a little more empty.” —Thom Bettridge
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