Seeing through her mother’s message means extending inclusivity beyond the covers. Where a 2010 teen may have turned to the magazine for stories about Hollywood’s hottest boys, today they expect to find a column on failure, alongside sex education tips for transgender teens. ‘We used to look at their experience from a surface level,’ says Peoples Wagner. ‘Now, we talk about abortions and nude selfies. If you don’t give them a place to get that information, as well as the tools to make their own decisions, you’re expecting young people to figure it out for themselves.’
The strategy seems to be paying off, with teenvogue.com averaging 6.7 million monthly unique views, more than 13 million followers across social-media platforms, and more than 45 million video views across channels in 2019. ‘With digital, we can have fun with things, and if it doesn’t work out it’s not the end of the world,’ she says.
With no print magazine, Teen Vogue still strives to connect with its young readers beyond the screen. In addition to the annual Teen Vogue Summit – a day of interactive workshops and talks – last August, Peoples Wagner launched Generation Next, a new scheme that gives five up-and-coming young designers the opportunity to present their clothes during New York Fashion Week. ‘It had an incredible turnout and Anna [Wintour] was one of the first people there,’ says Peoples Wagner. ‘She went around to each designer and gave them advice – that’s something they’ll never forget.’
With so much already under her belt and more plans afoot, including a #TeenVote2020 project and content centred around young athletes for the upcoming Olympics, Peoples Wagner readily admits the pressure can take its toll. ‘This can be a really taxing job, and when you’re the only black female editor in chief [at Conde Nast], it can be very lonely. So, I’m most proud of myself for coming out of my first year energised and optimistic about this work.’
Despite these pressures, Peoples Wagner is adamant that she continues to be much more than just a figurehead for inclusivity. ‘When a lot of people do get a seat at the table, they take the approach of just feeling grateful, pushing the mentality of, “Now that I’ve got here, I’m going to say thanks and do whatever I’m told.” That doesn’t help you or anyone coming after you. You need to show that the person in that seat is going to speak up.’
Images by Mamadi Doumbouya