Looking into the stylist profession

stylist behind the scenes kendi sapepa

Style can be defined as; a distinctive way or method that a particular item is worn. As life would have it, not all of us are great at style, which is when stylists come to the rescue.

Being a stylist is fast-becoming one of the quickest emerging careers of the fashion professions. Stylists generally source, borrow and return clothing (if not bought) for various jobs. Most importantly, stylists are there to show how the clothes should be worn. Meaning, whether a shirt should be tucked in or not, sock folded or scrunched, top off the should or not, which turquoise clutch suits a look better etc.

stylist kendi sapepa
Photo credit: Kendi Sapepa

Their jobs vary, from styling photo-shoots, events, TV-shows, music videos and celebrity appearance, just to mention a few. On these projects/jobs, they often work hand-in-hand with hair-stylists, make-up artists and designers to put together complete looks.

How it works

How it works is that a stylist will decide on a style or theme for the specific job then start sourcing items for it. While sourcing, there may be some boutiques or clothing stores that require a deposit to hold.

This is as a form of security should the clothes not be returned or come back damaged or dirty. Others require a payment and refund when clothes are returned, while other boutiques and stores may loan clothes free of charge.

Once everything has been collected for the job, the stylist will ensure that they get to the client on time, in good shape (ironed, clean, no missing buttons etc) and are ready to be used. The stylist will also source shoes and other accessories to complement the looks.

  • Stylists can work in various publications such as magazines, on a permanent or freelance basis, where they source items for editorial photo-shoots or write articles on latest trends, personal style, do designer features and so forth.
  • Some stylists work with models and actors on set when recording films, soapies, adverts and so forth. They co-ordinate the clothes worn and may help with props as well.
  • Another option is wardrobe styling where stylists work one-on-one with the client in order to get rid of clothes that are no longer worn, source new ones and arrange them in such a way that everyday dressing becomes easier for the client.
  • Show styling is another option, where the stylist will dress all the people going on stage. For example, hosts and award announcers will be styled by the stylist.
  • One very popular profession would be celebrity styling, which is done by stylist who dress celebrities for all their appearances.
  • Another interesting career option is Brand Consulting, where a stylist can be hired to style a collection by showing the client how it can be put together to achieve various looks for the advertising campaigns, websites and all other media.
stylist kendi sapepa
Photo credit: Kendi Sapepa

How to become a stylist

So, how does one become a stylist? Having a fashion-related degree would be a great start. If you’ve studied something else and wish to start a career in styling, you could easily;

  • Start off with trial shoots, where you work with a team that is shooting, by helping around. This will be the start of you building your portfolio. Although some companies may not want to pay, due to little or no experience, you could work for free or reach a compromise with them and request that the company at least cover your petrol/transport expenses.
  • Build a contact book by building relationships; this will go a long way especially with referrals and word-of-mouth being such an effective marketing tool.
  • Lastly, advertise yourself and services that you offer. Have what you do in you your social media bio’s along with an email address or phone number that you check regularly.

The skills you need to become a stylist

These few points could go a long way, but there are some skills that you would definitely need as well. They include;

  • Having an eye for detail really goes a long way.
  • Being organised will help with deadlines or when you’re working on more than one project.
  • Doing your research when meeting with clients. Be it for a certain era, colour or mood, you will need to be well-prepared.
  • Being aware of latest trends and styles. Also knowing when and how to use them and also, when not to.
  • Knowing how to conceal body flaws (should the client wish to do so), or how to accentuate them, should the client want to.
  • Having patience for when business is quiet and when clients keep sending thing back and are not happy.
  • Being well presented, in dress, speech and how you are in general as you are a walking portfolio.



Noluvuyo Cakwebe: There’s much more to fashion designing than fabric cutting

Noluvuyo Cakwebe

When thinking about a fashion degree, the popular career choice would be being a fashion designer or seamstress. But there are many more than that. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be unpicking this industry along with its various career options. I’ll be shedding a little light on each career option in this industry.

I ‘e-met’ (met over email) Noluvuyo Cakwebe earlier this year when I was sourcing clothes and shoes for a photo-shoot. Her willingness to help, without knowing me from a bar of soap was amazing, I couldn’t simply forget her! Of course, when I started this journey of finding out more about this industry, I immediately thought of her!

When Noluvuyo isn’t in the kitchen, (which she loves), cooking up something delicious to share with her friends and family, she tries to keep up with her love of running. She enters as many running events as she can. And in the few minutes she has for herself, she is always sewing up something for herself or her friends.

My series of articles on fashion-related careers is aimed at educating people about the various career options they have with a fashion qualification. Would you say that someone who also has a National Diploma in Fashion has other options, besides being a Fashion Designer?

Most definitely, most people think that fashion ends with being a fashion designer, pattern maker or fabric cutter, but it is broader than that. One can go into procurement —buying, sourcing, retail planning, retail–visual merchandising, sales, store management, personal shopper/stylist, editorial assistant, quality assurance and warehouse assistant/ manager.

Yes! Being a fashion designer is not the only option! I understand that you’re a merchandise coordinator. Please tell the readers a little more about your position.

I am the merchandise coordinator for the men’s fashion department, at Spitz.

My role entails assisting the buyer with raising orders, liaising with suppliers and the marketing department. Also, I manage and receive department samples, compile trends and competitor reports, compile and analyze sales and month-end reports.

And how did you get into this career?

I studied a National Diploma in Fashion and further completed a certificate in Wholesale & Retail Buying & Planning. I studied at the University of Johannesburg and got my certificate in Wholesale & Retail Buying & Planning at EDCON under SETA.

What does your typical day look like?

It is nothing like a picture from the Devil Wears Prada! I come in every morning to catch up on emails relating to stock deliveries and due costing for the stock to arrive at the warehouse.

Then, I ensure that we are receiving stock at a good margin and good price. I analyze daily sales by identifying good and best sellers (stock that’s selling well or badly) for my brands.

Alright and how would you combat the poorly performing stock? How do help them perform better?

As much as we try to buy styles based on fashion trends and sales history, it is sometimes hard to nail the sales we project. So we analyze what the possible reasons could be. For instance, it could be a certain style detail that could have been in fashion but doesn’t seem appealing to our target market.

Other instances could be price-points. We may just be highly-priced compared to our competitors and need to reduce the price. Sometimes, we may have missed opportunities in allocating stock to the correct stores. So we move the styles to stores that are performing better.

With our South African economy and unemployment looking very bleak, would you say that a career in fashion offers the possibility of entrepreneurship for graduates?

Yes, I believe anyone can start any business with the use of their hands and minds. One could venture into making simple things such as handbags, accessories, clothing or curtains, to having a business that sources t-shirts, work wear, and small corporate gifts. Nowadays, most people are even making money from blogging in their spare time. Some sell a variety of products over social platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook.

However, one should never underestimate the advantage of working for someone. That’s if you have a dream of starting your own business one day. You get to absorb a lot of skills and knowledge. Especially if you are intending on starting a business in the same industry. Experience can go a long way.

What would your advice be to scholars who want to follow a fashion-related career?

This might sound cliché, but I have always known I would end up in the fashion industry since I was a little girl. You need passion for the ever-changing trends, be creative and highly driven. Being able to work efficiently on your own, work smart and plan your week in order to make necessary deadlines are all important.

A sharp eye for detail is required in ensuring that you don’t miss anything crucial.  Breaking into the industry is tough and competitive. But if you have a vision of the future, your career journey will be enjoyable and fruitful. Have fun exploring other career paths that you could possibly have an interest in the near future. Never limit your abilities!

Do you have any advice for the parents of the scholars wanting to follow a career in fashion?

I have always appreciated how my mother supported me, from the day I told her what I wanted to study in varsity (fashion). There is a lot of pressure in delivering what is needed, especially when your child has more than 6 subjects in one semester.

They will need support in advising them on how to manage their time, with school and their social life. Parents should prepare themselves for unforeseen expenses for projects and fabrics. With so many activities and promotions that are held on campus, they give your child an opportunity to make extra money.

You can find Noluvuyo on LinkedIn as; Noluvuyo Cakwebe.

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