Industry Insider: Freelance Stylist

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by Clarke Smith, Fashion Editorial Assistant 

Regardless of the array of majors within the Moda family, specifically within the fashion section, I think almost all of us aspire to land a job within the fashion industry. So, of course it’s beyond inspiring when we get to witness those who used to sit next to us planning content, out in the world utilizing their creativity on a larger scale. We decided to catch up with a former Moda Fashion Editor to see how the industry is treating her. Maya Campbell, born and raised in New York City, moved back home after graduation to start her career. Once upon a time, she was the tall, lean woman with twists down her back, who waltzed into Moda meetings with such confidence, that it only made you want to be better.  She was the woman who swiftly snagged a seat in the back row, opened her laptop, and was ready to deliver. She was the woman whose hand shot up with every idea imaginable, and as I remember looking in awe – of her aura as well as her outfit – I can confidently say that she was an inspiration since day one.

Maya is now making her mark in the industry as she assists a stylist/influencer. In the midst of her sporadic schedule, she found some time to sit down and discuss life in the industry with me.

C: For the record, what is your official current position?

M: I am, as of very recently, a fashion assistant to a stylist – or shall I say freelance stylist and creative director.

C: What inspired you to obtain this job and how is it treating you so far?

M: Post-graduation, before becoming the fashion assistant, I interned for the same stylist. I was an intern, then unofficial assistant, and now fashion assistant. There’s a team, one assistant, you basically work with a team of interns. I started off as an intern for about six months. And when you work for someone who works for herself, there’s a lot of room to get your ideas out there. Within our small team, there’s a lot of building off of each other. It’s really different than working for a huge corporation, a lot of instant gratification. The projects are short and your work is put out into the world very quickly. We do so much more than you’d imagine. From the outside, you don’t fully understand what a stylist does. You get to be creative on your own end, and have a chance to get your own ideas out there, it’s nice to see things you’ve casually conceptualized actually come to fruition.

C: How did you get in contact with her?

M: I actually applied on a basic internship or job search website, which is uncommon because if you want to work for someone who freelances, everything usually goes through them, so making direct contact is the best way. I’m the only one on my team that gained a position that way. Always reach out directly. Even larger companies don’t really do online hires anymore; you need to connect with someone.

C:  Does your job consist of anything you didn’t expect when considering your job description?

M: Oh yes. Oh yes. Coming in, I wasn’t naïve about the nature of the work— I knew it wasn’t all glitz and glamour, but I truly didn’t understand nor appreciate the amount of grunt work it takes to get something done. Everything from calling in looks, sitting at a computer for hours, gathering samples from PR departments/companies, packing clothes away, putting everything in trunks, dragging them around, all while meticulously documenting everything. The other day, I literally had to pry a girl’s toes apart for a shot, and I was like, “Yup, this is it. This is my job.” And this would never be in a job description. You do what you have to do to get it done. Especially for your first 10-15 years…so I’ve heard. I’m a newbie.

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C: In 3 words, how would you describe your current position/job?

Stimulating, collaborative and utterly exhausting….in the best way possible.

C: What is your day-to-day routine like?

M: I don’t really have a day-to-day routine. If we’re consulting with a brand, I’ll be in an office, in meetings, etc. If we’re styling, maybe I’m on email all day, getting samples, doing store pulls, etc. My boss also has a pretty large Instagram presence, so my tasks can be as simple as taking Instagram pictures, getting coffee, making personal appointments, it varies. My boss is very much a person too. Unlike working in an office where HR, contracts and workplace decorum monitor behavior, when she feels like working, we work. When she doesn’t want to, we do something else. Whenever she has an idea is when we’re working, making yourself appropriately available, even if sometimes it is 24/7.

Everyday is very different. Today we got manicures because we could, but in the middle of the workday while still answering emails, of course.

C: Any advice for those trying to get their foot in the door at companies within the fashion industry?

M: I would say… make personal connections. That’s extremely important. Don’t come to someone asking for something, you should come to someone with something to offer. Just as you work for a company and have to swear by your list of skills, you have to come to people with something to offer, not just a strong desire to flip through their rolodex. Sometimes that’s six months of free labor. Even if you have to single someone out in a company. Approach them with a, “hey I loved the article you did last week. Would love to have a conversation with you about xyz.. I would love to grab coffee.”  Don’t assume you know everything, it’s better to approach them with curiosity. A question that shows that you know a little bit about what they do, but that you still have room to learn. Once your foot is in the door, still make an effort to make connections with people you work with. They’ll remember you. Take the people you want to learn from to coffee. You can seduce anyone in the fashion industry with coffee.

C: As you reflect on your time in the fashion industry, what are the most relatable moments in the infamous The Devil Wears Prada?

M: I love this question. My boss’ previous assistant’s name is Emily. But to answer your question… running around the city with 15 garment bags, having a million things to do at once. What’s that quote from the scene where Nigel is responding to Andrea complaining about life? “That’s what happens when you’re doing well at work. When your life starts to go up in smoke, that’s when it’s time for a promotion.”

My life hasn’t gone up in smoke yet, but I’m definitely working a lot more than people around me. Grunt work, long hours, extremely tiring, a very limited amount of time to do the fun stuff. But, there are a lot of perks, I haven’t gotten the unreleased Marc Jacobs purse, or been showered in Clinique products/a Bang and Olufsen phone, but there a lot of things I can participate in because as one person, there are only so many places boss lady can be.

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C: What was your major here at UW-Madison? How do you think your college education help you get to where you are?

M: I majored in communication arts and African American studies. What’s really cool is that a lot of the people I work with are very much passionate about executing inclusion in the right way within in the fashion industry, as I am. A lot of my schooling on how to approach diversity and how to push for inclusion in an industry which shut it out for such a long time and is finally becoming more open to it, has helped a lot—the ideas I tend bring to the able are mostly founded in Black political thought and literature. If we’re working with a brand that doesn’t have such a great track record with being inclusive, it’s something my boss really pushes for. I can follow her lead. I know how to do the research; both majors have been very instrumental in my training. I didn’t have training in fashion as some people do. That’s fine. A little common sense and my Communications and African American Studies majors are adequate.

C: What were some of the most valuable lessons that you took away from your leadership role within MODA?

M: That I can’t do everything myself. I’ve realized that even more now that I’m responsible for building a team. You have to hire people you trust and train them well, and then trust that they will execute the vision.

Second, I tried to distinguish the fashion section from following a very generic “We love Gigi, we love Kendall,” thread. It was important to me to steer away from the fashion happenings in the Midwest (though that was valuable to the Moda reader as well), to focus more on new waves—underground brands, how various gender identities were making a space for themselves, topics like that. I learned I had to say no to certain things that would be easy, in order to make room for things that had more value. You have to stick with your vision.

C: What did you wish you knew before entering the industry?

M: That it’s super important to make personal connections. Not that I didn’t, but I got started late. I didn’t put a lot of emphasis on keeping in touch with people, and following up on simply how someone was doing. You have to make a small community out of what can be a very big industry.

C: Is there a must-have staple item everyone has at your job? Whether that be some type of supplies, a bag, a pair of shoes, etc.

M: In the freelance world, everyone has a pouch to keep his or her receipts. A lot of times, you’re doing shopping/supply replacement on your own and need to get reimbursed. Number one is keeping track of your receipts.

On a more serious note though, or less serious…Everyone I work with mostly dresses for comfort. There’s nothing to be too glamourous about right now. You still maintain your personal style, though. No one is required or even wants to have the same things.

You definitely master the art of being presentable but comfortable because at the end of the day, if you’re going to do your job poorly because of what you’re wearing, then you might as well not show up.

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C: Is there something you’re looking forward to seeing in MODA this year? You know we’re always here for Veteran opinions!

M: I want to see some diversity on the editorial board! It’s so instrumental to how the magazine comes together. I’ve heard that some people have felt uncomfortable walking into a space where they didn’t see many diverse faces, body types, opinions, etc. Or couldn’t picture him or herself in the magazine. Even the face of Moda presented at the org fair informs who joins. Content-wise, a diverse staff adds nuance and next-level creativity.

She went from a student writer and contributor to Moda, to Fashion Editor, to currently living the best rendition of The Devil Wears Prada we can only dream of at the moment.

One can live vicariously through Maya by following her on Instagram @maya__campbell !


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