What You Can Learn From Talking to Creative Women

Clémence Polès wanted to know. So she started asking questions—and ended up creating one of our favorite websites in the process.

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When you live in a big city, it's impossible not to take inspiration from the people who pass you by every day. "I'm French, so I'm very big on people-watching. I could just hang out in the café and read a book and stare at everyone for hours," says Clémence Polès, founder of the website Passerbuys. "My site is kind of an excuse to get into a conversation and meet these women who pass me by every day who I know nothing about."

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On Passerbuys, Polès profiles women with interesting jobs, stories, and styles, asking them about everything from their favorite books and beauty products to their career struggles and triumphs. "I got frustrated by the content I was seeing," she says. "It was just always the same recommendations from the same eight girls—always very one-sided. It didn't feel like there was much diversity."

"I try to feature every age group and to be as diverse as possible with professions so anyone can look at the site and see how all these women got to where they are now." —Clémence Polès

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With her love of people-watching and with a curious mind, the New York transplant began Passerbuys in late 2015, teaching herself how to photograph and code to bring her vision to life. Now, the site has expanded to feature inspiring women in Los Angeles and Belgium, in addition to New York—many of whom she found by simply approaching on the street.

Here, Polès shares what she learned while chatting with some of the coolest women around.

Tip No. 1: Realize That Everyone Has Insecurities

Illustrator Kaye Blegvad wears all black, but her creations are vibrant. Photography by Maggie Shannon

"I was shocked by how self-critical many of the women I featured are," she says. "It felt like many of them didn't realize or really acknowledge everything they've accomplished or how beautiful they are. I often feel that way, but I didn't realize that these women, who on paper are so successful, have so many insecurities." Everyone is human—and realizing that can make it a lot easier to approach people for advice and companionship. Speaking of….

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Tip No. 2: Finding a Mentor Doesn't Have to Be Hard

The women featured on Passerbuys—including artist Molly Surno—are a well-read bunch. Photograph by Clémence Polès

"Everyone has been very supportive and open to just having people come up to them and ask them questions and even open to mentorship," Polès says. "It seems that the way that they advance through their careers is through this community, through mentorships. They work hard towards their accolades, and this support system seems to be extremely valuable in how far they get in their career." Don't have a mentor? Find someone you admire and reach out—it never hurts to ask for a little advice.

Tip No. 3: Strangers Are Nicer Than You Realize

Graphic designer Alaa Balkhy's closet is a vintage treasure trove. Photograph by Clémence Polès
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"I think people have been so open to me because I'm a stranger to them," she says. "I don't know anyone that they know. One person gave me details on how to get rid of butt pimples, and another person, their sex toy collection. There hasn't been much of a filter, and I think it's because of that need to create that community. We all know how hard it is, especially in New York City—the hostility is extremely real. I think everybody's just down to help."

Tip No. 4: Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Floss Gloss CEO Janine Lee knows a good photo opp when she sees one. Photograph by Clémence Polès
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"A big piece of advice I received from many women was to not be afraid to ask things, whether it's for a job or just something that's on your mind," Polès says. "The worst thing that could happen is them just saying no or 'Sorry, I can't answer that.' It's not a big deal! I think in terms of progressing in a career, if there's someone that you admire or would like as a mentor, don't be scared to shoot them an email and just ask them for help."

Tip No. 5: There's No "Right" Path

Jeweler Arpana Rayamajhi proves the importance of statement pieces. Photograph by Clémence Polès

"I think seeing people's stories can definitely inspire you—reading about what they felt they did right or wrong," she says. "For example, Ellen Van Dusen of Dusen Dusen worked out of her basement for four years until she got a factory. She did everything by herself until she realized it was not the way to progress. Reading a story about someone not taking enough risks versus someone taking too many risks, and then realizing that there's no real wrong way to do things—that your mistakes are as valuable as the things that you do right—is really helpful."

"I think these profiles are meant to be there as inspiration, to show everyone out there killing it, from someone who's 17 to someone who's 56. I try to feature every age group and to be as diverse as possible with professions so anyone can look at the site and see how all these women got to where they are now."

For an inside look at the lives of some of the coolest women around, visit passerbuys.com.

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