Sitting Pretty

Lisa Messenger talks shaking up the digital beauty sphere with Issue 25 cover girl Eleanor Pendleton

Sitting Pretty

Hear Lisa & Eleanor share their insider knowledge at our upcoming Sydney reader event ‘A New League’, find out more and book your tickets here.


I am beside myself with excitement to have Eleanor Pendleton, founder of groundbreaking online beauty magazine Gritty Pretty, as part of our Issue 25 cover series. With an enviable list of beauty editorships behind her (at mags including InStyle and FAMOUS) she daringly decided to take the plunge in 2014 and start her own thing – which we’re all about here at The Collective. When I asked her why she leapt, she replied, “Because I’m insane – isn’t that what most entrepreneurs are?” El and I have more than a little bit in common. Here’s what went down when we got together…

I’m fascinated by your journey because you were one of the greatest beauty editors in this country and then you went out on your own. How did you make that leap?

I think, first and foremost, you do have to believe in yourself. I definitely went through probably a six-month battle trying to find that confidence and deciding, “Am I good enough? Am I going to be able to make this work? Can I trust in my eight years of publishing experience and is it going to carry me through?” And it wasn’t until my partner said to me, the day before I quit my job, “El, you just need to believe in yourself.” That was the moment where it just kind of clicked for me.


That gives me shivers because I hear so many people say their number one thing is lack of self-confidence or belief in themselves, and I always say you need to have an unwavering self-belief… 

Yeah, I mean at the same time you kind of need to have that tenacity as well. I’m very tenacious and I’ve always been very career-focused and very business-savvy. So I’ve always had that element, but then you also need to have that aspect of humility, you need to be humble. And you also really need to have a point of difference. Gritty Pretty was the first beauty blog that was created in Australia that had that kind of raw, edgy feel to it.


I launched a print magazine and everyone said I was completely mad, but it gave me the opportunity to have something physical and tangible – something people could pick up and feel – and it ironically gave us some cut-through, so how did you get that cut-through online where there’s so much clutter? 

I like to approach my site, and any content we create about beauty, as if I’m the reader. What do I want to know? What do I want to learn? If I’m a 25- to 39-year-old-woman, what do I want to know about skincare? So I was looking at the business that way… and it just kind of like hit me like a lightning bolt. There’s no online magazine in this market. I’m not even sure if there is one in the world. I know there is definitely not one in Australia that is an online magazine just dedicated to beauty. That was my cut-through.


A lot of people say to me, why did you start The Collective? Because there was nothing for entrepreneurs out there! And I think when you start something with that integrity and passion and from a good place, it just seems to work. You have extraordinary brands backing you now. How did you attract the big guns from all over the globe? 

The relationships I have from my years of working in magazines really assisted me in that aspect… [But] when I was going out and selling that first issue, there was nothing to compare it to. We had our mock ups and our different designs, but there was nothing that I could even say it was similar to. So there was a lot of trust involved [with] those brands and I was very fortunate to get advertising in the first issue. But since then it has just grown and spiralled.


I’m big on value exchange and always say there are many currencies other than cash, so that’s largely how we’ve grown The Collective. I love that whole sense of community. Has this been at the forefront of growing Gritty Pretty as well?

Definitely. It’s a meeting place at the end of the day, so creating that community is a large part of the brand, but obviously in terms of revenue and exchange, traffic is currency as well. We’re always looking at ways we can create content or exclusives or do amazing partnerships where the reader is getting so much out of it, but also the other partner is as well.


Then business is fun, isn’t it? There’s just no limit to what we can do. Did you have a lot of business acumen before you launched?

I learned a lot of it on the job, [but] I certainly developed a business plan before I launched the site. My partner is a project manager and he was right there behind me. I think I’m more of a creative so he was the one who was kind of like, “You need to write this business plan… You need to type it out…” and I was like “No, no, no, it’s all in my head.” I owe a lot of credit to that, because whenever I’ve felt that maybe the brand’s evolving very quickly, which it has, I can always go back to that plan and see what our core values are. I think it’s allowed me to stay on a very straight path… one that I’m very true to.


Has it morphed and pivoted as you’ve gone through the journey?

The brand values, no, definitely not, but it’s moving so quickly sometimes I try to make a point of pausing and reflecting and looking at what I have built. I think that’s really really important. In our crazy, frenetic lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the spiral and run on adrenaline, so I try to stop, and when I do look at the brand and what it’s become and the fact that the online magazine is only a few issues in, it’s mind-blowing. But at the same time I’m so focused on the next thing.


What is the next thing for Eleanor Pendleton and Gritty Pretty?

Really we just want to expand, we want to grow our audience. I’m really lucky that I have about a 70 per cent audience here in Australia. Outside that the market is the US and the UK, so we definitively want to grow worldwide. We want to keep pushing the boundaries more than anything. I think with the online space, and in digital in particular, we’re in this amazing grey area, and there is so much that can be done with animations… I just want to keep pushing that.