Digital media and entertainment company Refinery 29 started as a style and shopping brand, but today it has evolved into a place where young women can see themselves reflected in the culture, said Refinery 29 Chief Content Officer Amy Emmerich at the New York Television Festival on Thursday.
“At Refinery 29, everyone is a unique individual and you are celebrated for that,” she said. “We started as a website 13 years ago for fashion and beauty, and that changed into more of an online platform showcasing the cool and unique places you should know about and where you should shop. We started to create a story of sorts behind everything you should buy, which I call the substance behind the style.”
“I was sort of a tomboy who shopped at Target; I really knew nothing about these different brands,” she added. “But they brought me in to produce these videos, and we eventually started to focus on music and entertainment, and politics and tech. And we were building an inclusive space for women. No matter what size you were or what you looked like, you could be your true self. And then social media kicked in, which was a whole new experience.”
With a mission at Refinery 29 to be a catalyst that leads to the empowerment of women, next up at Refinery 29 are enacting a few key initiatives. The first is called 67% Promise, which means that 67% of the women in this country are plus size, which Emmerich says “needs to be acknowledged and embraced.” And the second is a glossary in conjuction with GLAAD called Gender Nation, which will include all a listing of all the gender terms of what you can use.
What Women Want
Emmerich knows about reaching women: she began her career as an intern on Warner Bros.’ syndicated daytime talk show The Rosie O’Donnell Show.
“We recently did a 20-year reunion of Rosie’s show and I think about 50 percent of the people that worked there all now have Emmys,” said Emmerich. “I think Rosie drove us to understand what we needed. It was a very high stakes, wild kind of environment. It was live television, and you just strived to do you best. Rosie has a way of acknowledging regular people. She remembered everyone’s names and it is that type of mentality I have strived for in my own career.”
Following Rosie, Emmerich segued as a field producer and director to female-focused Oxygen, which was then in its infancy.
“Oxygen started as a feminist network, and I remember when Gerry Laybourne, who was running it, predicted there would be a website for every television show. Everyone thought she was nuts.”
“It was at Oxygen that Michael Rosenblum, one of the producers, sent me to Newark, New Jersey, for three weeks to shoot the local police department for a reality show we were doing. He would watch it, scream at me and tell me how bad it was,” she said. “But I got better, I loved filming real people, and that was my first of many experiences working in the field.”
“Through the moral support at Oxygen suddenly my name was out there and I was then offered the opportunity to work as a producer on Cathouse on HBO.
Next for Emmerich was a senior producing role at MTVU, the MTV spin-off created for the college audience, followed by moving from the field to what she refers to as “the dark side,” where Emmerich became in charge of other people’s producing efforts.
“As much as I missed being in the field, I was suddenly a cheerleader for others, and that was when my experience working for Rosie O’Donnell really kicked in. I remembered that positive experience working on her show.”
Stints in production and development at Travel Channel and Vice Media were next, followed by a programming role at Scripps Networks and, ultimately Refinery 29.
“If I have any advice to give I would say to embrace the youth of today; this milennial audience is the voice of tomorrow and must be understood. I would treat everyone the same way you want to be treated, which in today’s world under our new regime and given the recent headlines is no easy challenge. And, most importantly, never give up.”
“All it takes is hard work and that one initial opportunity,” she said. “And that is what we empower at Refinery 29.”