On paper, at least, Hilary Novelle Hahn jokes that her career could be charted with crayons.
“My path would look like a little kid drew it. It would be a bunch of zig-zags all over,” says Hahn, the 27-year-old cofounder of Los Angeles-based fashion startup the Style Club.
She toured with pop music A-listers such as Christina Aguilera and Destiny’s Child and boy bands 98 Degrees, O-town, and ‘N SYNC before landing roles as a fashion designer, television correspondent, Ivy League graduate, and, most recently, tech entrepreneur. But follow along. In a time when chaos is the norm, a CV with jagged turns makes perfect sense.
Hahn’s current venture, an online community and e-commerce site aimed primarily at teenage girls with style icons such as Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus, is, in many ways, the culmination of the many gigs she’s already had. Members of the Style Club, part of L.A.’s Start Engine, visit the platform to interact and shop apparel inspired by what young Hollywood is wearing.
“You look at a magazine and you see Miley Cyrus on the Red Carpet, and she looks fabulous … And you’re thinking, ‘I want to look like Miley Cyrus,’ but usually the dress is not accessible to [teenagers] because they can’t afford it,” Hahn explains.
To remedy that, Hahn’s site aims to offer teenage girls access to affordable, trendy apparel through limited edition capsule collections designed in collaboration with teen-loved lines such as Naven and compiled into looks by the same stylists who work with teenage celebrities, as well as prominent fashion bloggers, style video “haulers,” and fashion insiders with followings in their own right.
That kind of platform, it turns out, is not so unlike her former life on and around the stage.
“The foundation of my life was built on touring and selling to teens,” Hahn says.
These days, she’s still at it. Only this time, her stage exists not in a stadium arena, but online.
“The internet has become a stage. It’s now a platform where you’re able to reach a huge audience.”
Instead of maintaining loyalty to a linear career path or any one industry–she’s worked in entertainment, fashion, television, and beauty (she launched a cosmetics brand when she was 15)–Hahn created a skill set that transcends a single vertical.
Even during her single-digit years, Hahn had a sense that she wanted to be a connector, someone who could create something to be held out in front of others, admired and enjoyed.
“One of my first experiences was going to a Tina Turner concert, and seeing the impact that she had on the audience and seeing how she could connect with so many people in a positive way. There wasn’t a frown in that crowd. Everyone was so happy and enjoying the concert, and I felt like that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to reach people in a positive way, and that’s always been my direction,” she says.
From connecting with audiences during gigs in bars and dance clubs as a young teen, Hahn went on to spend her high school years touring with pop icons. Her entrée into the fashion world came when Levi’s tapped her to create a limited denim line based on the ripped, shredded jeans she’d been creating as a hobby and sharing with celebrity friends while on tour. Later, she parlayed her experiences in entertainment and fashion into work as a television correspondent covering New York Fashion Week for The Fashion Network.
“Even though I’ve changed paths, it’s always been the same path,” she says.
“When you feel like you’re hitting the wall, that’s what I was doing with music, it was becoming an unhappy experience, I knew that it was time to change gears,” Hahn says.
Sure, failure is spoken about today in almost reverential tones. If you haven’t failed, the logic goes, then there’s no way you’ll succeed. But there’s much to be said for switching gears before you’ve gone too far down the wrong path. As much as Hahn enjoyed being a singer, she hedged her bets:
I also saw that there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether a pop star would become successful or not, and if you don’t become successful–a lot of pop stars don’t go to college–then you’re kind of stuck. Then what do you do? I think that was the point I was at in my life. I wanted to go college. I wanted to grow as a person, and I didn’t think that I was going to get that experience in [the music industry].
Hahn’s next move: Columbia University. Soon after graduating in 2007, she made another timely redirect. From dabbling in acting and television work in New York, Hahn moved to Los Angeles and ended up working for YouTube network StyleHaul.
Hahn has never let lack of prior experience be a barrier. She’d never designed clothing before she began working with Levi’s, and when asked during college to be a fashion correspondent on television, something she’d never done before, she was, she admits, greener than green.
“At that point I had no idea what Fashion Week was. I didn’t understand what a big deal it was. In New York, it’s madness. And I interviewed everyone. I interviewed every designer, every celebrity. It was my first exposure to that whole culture. I saw it as another art form, another way to connect with people, having a [fashion show],” she recalls.
Here’s what Hahn does know: teens. And she lets that guide her.
“I’m pretty good at knowing what trends will spike at any given moment. I was on tour from 11- to 17 years old learning and understanding the market. That’s what I know…. I was able to tour the country and get to know the teen audience on a firsthand basis. That’s really it. I don’t think you can be able to bring that knowledge or understand that marketplace by looking at stats or in a book. It was all just being there, shaking their hands, meeting them, seeing what they like, what they didn’t like,” she says.
With that knowledge in tow, Hahn plans to move forward while she continues, in a sense, to retrace her steps. She’d ultimately like to go on tour with the Style Club to introduce the online community to the legions of fashion-hungry teens living in small towns around the country. She’d like to help them feel less isolated, she says, by helping them connect with other like-minded girls both online and off.
“My plan with the Style Club is not only to connect users online, but also offline as well by taking this idea of being on tour when I was young to take the Style Club on tour.”