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How I Became… Global Head of Digital Marketing and Social Media at Aesop

Leslie Caswell held roles at Burberry and Meta before starting at Aesop. He advises juniors to focus on knowledge not seniority when approaching mentors, and to remember your first job doesn’t need to be your dream job.
Aesop products displayed in store and represented on social media.
BoF collage of Aesop products displayed in store and represented on social media. (Shutterstock / Instagram)

Discover global job opportunities in digital marketing and social media on BoF Careers today.

While working at a cinema on his gap year, putting up the lobby film posters, Leslie Caswell made the decision to pursue a career in marketing. He went on to study an undergraduate degree in Marketing Management at De Montfort University before landing a job at a start-up digital marketing agency, Atom42.

“I applied for loads of internships and got none of them. I applied for loads of grad schemes and got none of them,” he told BoF in the latest Building a Career in Fashion live event on LinkedIn. “If you are determined to get to any particular industry or job, you can always start wiggling your way there — it’s not a straight line.”

After Atom42, Caswell moved to Burberry, first holding the role of global digital marketing coordinator, then global media manager, leaning on his SEO skills as a way into working at the luxury heritage brand. He spent 5 years at Burberry before joining Meta as a client manager in luxury and fashion, working with clients like Rolex, Farfetch and Chanel. In 2021, he joined Aesop as their global head of digital marketing and social media.

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Leslie Caswell, global head of digital marketing and social media at Aesop.
Leslie Caswell, global head of digital marketing and social media at Aesop.

Now, BoF Careers shares key insights from Building a Career in Fashion with Aesop’s Leslie Caswell.

How did you land your first role in fashion?

LC: My first job was at Atom42, a start-up digital marketing agency. [...] It was quite performance heavy, not branding heavy, but they really taught you about being concise. They taught me Excel-related stuff and PowerPoint-related stuff — what you don’t really spend time doing at uni — and I got to meet incredible people who I am still friends with today.

The job that I applied for [at Burberry] was not the job I wanted to do in my career, but one of the skillsets I had picked up at Atom42 was SEO. It’s a very geeky job and I think that was the only reason I got into Burberry — because you don’t get a lot of applicants come through for that type of role in fashion.

For me, it was about getting into a brand [in an industry] that I was interested in, which was fashion. While I was there, I saw so many different personalities. I think it’s the advantage of working in a much bigger organisation, which is that you get to see loads of different people and different ways of approaching things, which also allowed me to become and act more like myself.

What advice would you give those looking for their first job opportunity today?

LC: Don’t think that you necessarily need to get your dream job from the get go. I applied for loads of internships and got none of them. I applied for loads of grad schemes and got none of them. If you are determined to get to any particular industry or job, you can always start wiggling your way there — it’s not a straight line. I think it’s about being open to dedicate a year and then move on to something else.

Is a degree necessary for success in your field?

LC: I don’t think a degree is necessary for my field. I champion university because I think it’s a great way to meet people and to mature and to become your own person. I think after leaving school, it’s a good incubator for yourself and your interests — to develop to be a standalone individual.

If you are determined to get to any particular industry or job, you can always start wiggling your way there — it’s not a straight line.

I think marketing moves way too quickly for it to be a [good] degree, but I would also say that it is helpful when applying for your first job.

If you’re going in for an apprenticeship and it’s something that you’re passionate about, then definitely do it. If you’re going into an apprenticeship just because it’s a job, but you have the opportunity to go to university, I’d choose university if you need more time to figure out who you are.

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What skill sets do you value in entry-level talent?

LC: I think it’s just interest and passion. [...] Especially in junior roles, if [you are] willing to roll up your sleeves, to work with people, willing to understand not just your needs but the business needs, and also want to learn. You can’t go into a junior role and think that you know anything. [...] If you are willing to learn, you can do multiple jobs within the fashion industry.

As you become more comfortable in your skillset, you become more comfortable speaking to senior stakeholders about anything and everything, and you’re also more comfortable in saying, “I don’t know.” [...] If you can hold your own and then just speak about whatever you need without it being loads of um’s and ah’s, or coming up with an answer because you think you have to, helped me move into a different role at the time.

How can a junior make their CV stand out?

LC: One lecturer in our last term [at university] said, “Show us your CVs”. Someone had a really nice CV and sent it around to all of us, so we basically all had the same exact CV. [The lecturer said:] “Why do any of you matter if you all look the same?”

A CV doesn’t do anyone justice but you can put your own spin on your interests and what you are trying to sell.

It really just changed how I saw what the purpose of my CV was — it is a representation of yourself on an A4 piece of paper. It doesn’t do anyone justice but you can put your own spin on your interests and what you are trying to sell.

At uni, I had this dream of becoming a CMO of an extreme sports company, a snowboard company or a skateboard company. I put a bit more about that within my CV. Your dreams change as you go along, but that was the starting point of it. I’m pretty sure that the person that picked up my CV probably was interested in snowboarding or something, and that’s probably why I got picked up.

What motivated your career move from in-house to a tech platform?

LC: I needed to learn more, to take in more information as quickly as possible. I think some people are happy to leave their jobs and become managers, senior managers, and just move up. I really wanted to be the best version of myself, so in order to do that, you have to learn from different sources.

There was a role that came up at Facebook and it seemed to give me an opportunity to see loads of different [organisations] in one go. I don’t think you’re going to have the opportunity to see how Chanel works, how Rolex works, how Burberry looks from the outside, unless you work in an agency or a platform. So, it was me working out, is this job going to [help] me to become a more well-rounded marketer?

Equally, I knew the people that worked at Facebook at the time, and they were incredible and super smart, and [you should] surround yourself with that type of greatness wherever you can. It was more like a learning opportunity to be a better marketer, but also it was about trying to learn from other people, and that’s where our culture really matters.

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What role should company culture play in a job search?

LC: When you join a company, what you’re looking for in the culture is that they know who they are, and there’s something that actually interests you. I think it is about companies that want to see growth — to see their teams grow, their people grow. If you can learn, you will always be interested in your job and you’ll always be wanting to progress.

You want someone that’s going to nurture you and make sure that they care about your growth.

Before you even take a job, you’re going to know if you’ll be the right fit for it. I think that comes mainly from a line manager that’s interviewing you. If that person doesn’t remotely seem to have your interests at heart, or growth opportunities, I think it is probably not the right job for you, because that relationship is the most important, especially at junior levels. You want someone that’s going to nurture you and make sure that they care about your growth.

What role can mentorship play in the start of someone’s career?

LC: I really believe in mentorship. I think it’s an incredible tool [...] and you can build a network via your mentor. But it’s hard to figure out who to have [as your mentor]. I think if you can get on with someone that has a knowledge that you are interested in — not just seniority, but knowledge — they will put you in the right places at the right time to speak to other people. If you ever work at an agency, it is basically one of the best networking places ever.

But whoever you work with is your network. People move on — suppliers, partners — and they are your network. I’m very fortunate to have had an incredible set of people I worked with at Burberry and they have now gone everywhere. They introduce me to people all the time when you need something, and I think it’s a powerful tool to consider your colleagues and your network as a starting point.

Reach out to people but be precise in your ask. If you ask someone, “Can we go for coffee?” — people have enough coffee. But if you explain: “I’m actually really interested in this part of your role and want to understand X, Y, Z — how come you did this?” [...] I’ve gone through brands I like in the past, worked out who their CMO is, worked out how they get to become a CMO, and then asked them quite directly “how did you get from that jump to that jump, and why?”

How do you navigate the always-on mentality in social media?

LC: I think boundaries and setting yourself up from the beginning of your job is the most important thing you can do. My biggest mistake is always going into jobs, wanting to impress so much that I just forget that.

Everyone has a 100 things to do. If you can say, I’m going to do these top three things that actually matter, I think it is way more impressive to leadership than the person that does the next 97.

Remember that the job is a finite amount of time. You need to pace yourself going into it. Taking the time to disconnect from your work and remembering it is work is super important. Be open about where you are with it.

Why did you transition into the beauty space from fashion?

LC: I need to respect the brand I work for and Aesop is a brand I’ve respected for so long, so I think I found it quite easy to transition into it. But the choice to fully move into beauty wasn’t about the industry, but the people I was going to work with and the job that I was hired to do.

At the time, I found the CMO super interesting. My interview with him basically lasted 10 minutes talking about the interview and 30 minutes of us talking about me and my career, what I am looking for. It goes to that nurture piece — I found him super likeable and he is also a Black CMO, which I had never seen. So it was something I could relate to personally.

The job was to hire a whole team and I don’t think I’ve done that much hiring in my life, so it was another skill set to learn. That CMO gave me the analogy that, in your career, you’re going to be picking up keys and you never know what key you need to open what door. There are keys I picked up at Atom42 and Burberry that I didn’t know were going to be useful now. What you’re going to learn along the way could be multifaceted.

What quality or skill is critical to working in fashion today?

LC: Kindness is so underrated. When people can be kind to each other and people can help each other out, it’s remarkable to see. When you have team members that will happily work with another team collaboratively — I rate that highly. What impresses me more is the person that takes the time to actually care for another person.

Someone that knows what’s important to the business is probably who will excel the most. Everyone has a hundred things to do and if you can say, I’m going to do these top three things that actually matter, I think it is way more impressive to leadership than the person that does the next 97. So, I think time management and prioritisation — and that applies to senior leadership teams too — are probably the best skill sets you can harness.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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