As a young girl, I dreamt of becoming a fashion designer but dropped the idea once I discovered styling years later. Styling was a new profession growing up. I didn’t even know who or what a fashion stylist was, but already during my high school years at boarding school, I secretly arranged fashion shows with my classmates, styling them in outfits combining regular clothes with bed sheets and other available items, with quite good results I should add. In all fairness, I must admit that for years already I had been a fervent reader of fashion magazines and had a good idea of what stylish clothes could look like.
When I was admitted to the Nairobi University for a BSc in Food Science and Technology on the basis of my grades, as it is traditional in Kenya, I was okay with it since I loved my sciences; but still my heart was beating for fashion. And I made it a point to engage myself in any fashion related activities that I could whenever school allowed. I spend my free time sending emails to magazines and newspapers, but without a portfolio, nothing much happened. So I approached some of my photographer friends, styled myself and my friends and we modelled. That is how I began to built up my styling portfolio.
I had ‘befriended’ fashion industry people on Facebook, I shared my pictures with them, but instead of getting invited to style, I got invited to model for newspapers and magazines, TV ads etc. This shoot below is one of my fave from my years as a model, I was styled by Grace Makosewe for a 6 page feature in TRUE love Magazine.
To be honest, My heart was never really into modelling, but through these channels I met some of the top photographers and stylists in the country and it began to snowball from there. Before I knew it, I was interning at magazines and top TV productions while still in uni. I went from being in front of the camera to being behind the camera, where my heart really wanted me to be. And this is how I spent my last 3 years in uni.
My very first editorial shoot. I was very happy and nervous
By the time I finished Uni, I was already a fashion magazine editor and a newspaper columnist. Something I could only have dreamt of. This is when I decided to go to fashion school in London and Milan for a summer course, to sharpen my skills.
Today, I am more focused on working full time as a blogger and as a newspaper columnist. I only style particular projects, but to help you on your way to a sparkling career, let me conclude by sharing few tips based on my own personal experience:
- If you are not really passionate about fashion and about spending years of your life in the industry doing nothing but fashion, don’t even think about going there in the first place.
- Start with the resources you have and not be impatient if getting the recognition you need to gain access to more resources takes longer than you would like. Plan a photoshoot within your resources and work on building a portfolio.
- Ideally, you should start attending fashion schools as soon as possible to gain a solid theoretical knowledge of the profession. It’s not cheap but definitely worth the investment of time and money. I attended a couple of summer courses in fashion styling at Central St Martins in London and Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti in Milan. However, many fashion stylists have made it big with no formal education. To be honest, with talent, the willingness to learn, passion and creativity you will go very far with or without any formal training.
- Approach a number of experienced stylists and offer yourself as an intern in order to get a firsthand experience of how the job is done. I did it myself and now know that my internship was a key opening to my first major styling assignments and got me to meet players in the industry.
- The fashion industry has many facets all of which you need to be familiar with, and it’s a misconception that you can only intern for a stylist or a magazine. If you cannot get through to a stylist, contact designers, photographers, TV producers, Music video directors, make-up artists, hair stylists and even fashion boutiques and ask for a chance to learn about their roles in overall styling as an intern. They all work hand in hand with fashion stylist, and the wider your experience is the stronger you will stand in the competition.
- Internship is one route to learn the ropes of the trade, but offering yourself as a stylist to celebrities or models could give you the exposure that you need and help you build your portfolio. In the beginning you may invest a lot of time and money building your portfolio. But this is a necessary investment, as a stylist your portfolio is you CV.
- Research, you should be conversant with the fashion industry from the open air markets in Gikomba, the thrift stores in your neighborhood to the luxury boutiques in malls.
- Once you have some successful styling jobs behind you (even just as an intern), I encourage you to gather some photos and build up a portfolio of your achievements. It might be a good idea to get some help from your friends, who could pose as models or provide other inputs. When applying for a job, this portfolio is the first evidence of your qualifications which the recruiter will want to see.
- Always keep in mind that you and all you represent together contribute to making you the dynamic brand you want to promote. A potential employer or client will definitely look at your social media presence for a first impression, so keep it professional. This of course also applies to your appearances in real life. you are a walking brand!
- Attend as many fashion related events like run way shows and parties as you can get. This is where you will meet most of the people who really matter in the fashion world, and if you want to connect with them, which you should, a personal contact there always makes a stronger impression than a phone call or an email.
- Last but not least: Believe in yourself and don’t be discouraged by negative or just lack of responses to your attempts to get into new activities. Learn to live with rejections; get up, dust yourself off and move on. Your major breakthrough might be just around the next corner.
I get these questions a lot and I hope this post helps you. All the best as you take over the fashion world !