I had spent a decade in the fashion industry and most of it was spent in the corporate design world. In the beginning that was great! Coming from a small private label company where I was picking buttons, linings and thread colors all day to being a part of a small but mighty division in a huge company where I worked with almost every function to get the product from inspiration to inception. Towards the end (seven years in) I just didn’t want this life anymore. It was draining.
I’ll never forget the night I decided enough was enough. Yes, night it was almost 11pm. I looked out the window at the glow of Times Square while sitting in a dark cubicle with only the light coming from the elevator bank and thought, “I am not dying here. I’m not going out this way.”
I wasn’t about to die in Times Square!
Not for that job.
A feeling of absolute certainty came over me at that moment. I stopped what I was doing, packed up my bag (and desk) and headed home.
There’s always more to a story then just looking out a window and deciding enough is enough, but for the sake of this article I’ll leave that information to a minimum and share in depth what I think is actually important to speak to, with you below.
So now that I had left my corporate job, which paid very well for a fashion design job I might add, I found myself for the 2nd time in my life as an adult in NYC without income. The first time was when I was 25, my rent was $850 and unemployment was $400 a week! I spent that summer laying in Central Park between sending out 5-7 resumes a day. My corporate fashion design job came right as I was planning my move back to Chicago so timing was perfection. I was convinced that New York did not like me and that I was better off in my home town of Chicago.
Ok fast back forward 8 years..
Now at the age of 31 I had a tiny savings account that was my emergency Bendels-fund (that’s my dog not to spend at the store Henri Bendels). Exorbitant rent (still under market value for NYC and the space I had) that was going to eat through that quiet quickly. I had this vision of how I wanted my new life to be and what it would look like - me helping people shop and organize they’re closets. Working on my own terms not for a huge corporation.
I had gotten a tiny taste of what styling was like towards the end of my corporate life working on our seasonal in-store marketing campaigns along with staying up late with one of my friends helping her clean her closet filled with pieces that she had tucked away in every crevice of her studio from the past 20 years. We did what I now call a wardrobe audit, clothing purge and gap assessment. We then shopped with intention (before I even know what a wardrobe consultant was or did).
I did a few sessions with different friends and I loved it. I had one friend that was moving to Africa for a few months and needed my help because she was going to store what she kept and also wasn’t working so her money was tight. She needed a 3rd party to help her figure out what to store and I happily agreed.
This was a dream come true. Now how to make this dream come true.
I had a ton of time on my hands but a sense of urgency that I’d never felt in my entire life. Knowing now that feeling was ambition and drive (and sheer panic because I didn’t have any money coming in).
I sat down and thought, I know how to describe what I would do, but really didn’t know what it was. I just wanted to help people feel better about themselves and my specialty was doing that through clothing.
I was fantastic at problem-solving and knew that was one of my strengths. Knowing that, I’d need to put that to use.
I definitely was never the most fashionable of my friends and wasn’t really interested in that crowd. Having dinner at the coolest spots or going to fashion parties like I should have. I would just wear what I felt comfortable in and style the pieces in different ways that made me happy. I never could afford a ton of full price designer pieces so I had to get creative.
I liked the challenge of mixing a great shoe with affordable brands and throwing in something cool I got once at a sample sale or vintage shop.
I had a lot of friends that each had their niche and luckily could utilize them for advice on a lot of things but none had built their own company. I took what I thought made sense, worked on those ideas and suggestions and let the rest go. Most were in marketing, visual and branding. Even some in real estate and finance. I found inspiration and really good information from many different places and knew that even if it wasn’t someone that was doing exactly what I did it was doing, it was business and I could apply it thoughtfully to my process.
Back in 2014- Blogging was the thing to do at the time but I really didn’t want to be a writer. I also really didn’t know how to blog. Just write my thoughts down on a website and tweet? Sure. I’ll try that. I thought that would be how I’d get clients for this new venture. That was very short lived as all my interesting stories surrounded dating in NYC and I wasn’t trying to be a dating coach. I couldn’t figure out how to blend dating and style advice very well. As you could see in some of my early blogs- that really never panned out.
Late one night I drafted my own version of the business model. It was basically what I wanted to do, what I saw in the future, and who my client was. I had no idea what a business plan was and didn’t really think I need one because I certainly didn’t need any capital. I wasn’t hiring anyone or looking for a space to do the work - I just needed to write down what I wanted my future to look like so I can work backwards and get there.
I remember sitting in my apt thinking, OK I need to figure out how to get this company going without knowing exactly what or how.
Google became my best friend. Talking to my mom I remember her saying “you want to be a wardrobe consultant “ I was like “OK, that’s what I’ll call it”. And quickly wrote that down in my notes.
From googling “what is a wardrobe consultant?“ to “how to make a website” I sat in my apartment or in the lobby of my gym (so I could get myself around other people in the cafe) doing hours of research. I knew that there was absolutely no possibility of going back into the corporate world because each job description I read gave me hives. Not having 1 single client or any real idea of how I was going to grow this empire I had crafter in my mind - I just did. I read the sell (which to this day is my favorite book that really gave me great ideas) and every article about starting your own company.
I soaked up a ton of information - none of which was actually about styling. I would follow my gut for that, I wanted to know how to build and run a company.
My sister in law, at the time a new mom, mentioned seeing a 2 week trial for this thing called Squarespace. “I think maybe try to build it on that?” I remember her texting me. “Ok” I text her back.
I sat for hours and hours on my laptop with my free 2 week trial of Squarespace seeing if I could make my own website. I could. I sent a beautiful mock up to a friend of mine and she said, “it’s great but you need to use original images”. I had used pictures that I’d pulled from Pinterest thinking that’s what one does. Quickly googled and found that using non-original content on my site could be a huge law suit, soooo I hid my site and re-worked it. Using things I had in my apartment for the pictures using my silver small Sony something to take pictures quickly seeing that my I phone 5 took better pictures and was easier to edit.
I don’t think I slept for days, but I set up what I found appropriate as a ‘wardrobe consultant’ site. I also put myself on a website that came up when I was doing my google searches for ‘wardrobe consultant NYC’. It was a version of Angie’s list (till this day that is how I describe it). I had my friends who I’d worked with put their reviews on the site so I actually had a few reviews to start. I had drafted my list of services and landed on an appropriate rate (based on my over a decade experience in the industry).
I had become really great at writing bios for myself! Quickly saw that running a company took up way more time than the actual work I would do. But I loved every second of what I was doing.
Between building my own website and setting up my profile on third-party sites I felt like a star. I was certainly impressed with myself not even knowing anything about technology. I was a quick learner and what I didn’t understand I asked one of the many people I knew for help. If I didn’t have anyone in my circle - I kid you not - I’d find some random person on the street. That’s a whole different story for another time “The things I’ve learned about business (what to do and what NOT to do) from randoms on the streets of NYC’’.
This 3rd party website was an integral part of building the business. When people Google ‘wardrobe consultant’ this website would come up. I would get the ability to correspond with these potential clients. I was attached to my phone and was able to craft thoughtful original responses less than one minute.
I decided in order to get real, non-friend clients I would have to offer my services for free for the first few clients. It wasn’t so much having the actual clients it was more getting to test out the process on real people. I also wanted to make sure that the rate I was charging was reflected in my process.
It wasn’t long before I started getting clients here and there. I was hopeful. Still, no solid steady income coming in I had long said goodbye to luxuries I was accustomed to like subway passes, food that cost more then $20 a day, my frozen gym membership (down to $34 from the actual $200), coffee from anywhere that wasn’t home brewed. I had become a bit of a shut in because, as we all know, just leaving your apartment in Manhattan you’re required to hand the city $20.
I was poor and struggling. The most well dress poor person I thought! It was hard on me mentally. I spent many days and nights stressed out and in tears. I felt like I wasn’t allowing myself to take a breathe and relax until this company was successful. The one thing that kept me going was my vision.
I was quite adept at setting my business up on different websites to be more visible and maybe get more clients - I also had to set Bendels and our apartment up so we could try make ends meet. We hosted dogs on dogvacay and would Airbnb every few months when we went back to Chicago. I no longer needed any of the clothing from my prior life so I saw an opportunity to make a few dollars and I started selling it. I sold a lot. I also had to donate a ton.
This is when I realized that I had wasted thousands of dollars on fast fashion over the years. Yes, it was cute but had almost no re-sale value if it lasted a year. I also realized that taking care of clothing in a city like NYC was difficult. Colors faded quickly and fabrics wore based in the everyday life of a hard city like New York.
Going through this huge purge changed how I’d shop forever. I would only invest in quality pieces and keep the fast fashion to a minimum but take care of them. This became my new mantra for when I could finally afford to buy anything other then food for my dog and myself.
Those few things were helping but not that much. I did EVERYTHING under the sun on the side to stay afloat.
Besides watching other people’s dogs and having strangers stay in our home I babysat, tried a short lived YouTube series with a friend, I had virtually styled for a company while I was still working so I knew that non of these subscription services were something I wanted to be a part of/worth any time or really even make me any money.
I tried my hand at a customs men’s clothing company, which I quickly parlayed into a friend and I doing pop-up shops at a Park Avenue co-working space. I didn’t have any clients for this custom company either so I now had to figure out how to get those too. I had watched my friend throw jewelry parties so why can’t I throw custom shirt parties? I set up my fabrics and she set up her jewelry in the lobby. We then expanded to ALL the co-working spaces they had through NYC and Brooklyn over the span of a year. We had mad hustle to get that opportunity because this particular space only let members do things like this and I didn’t have any money to become a member.
My goal was to be known. I would speak too as many people as possible-not really selling my services just letting them know what I did. I would introduce the brand and then explain what MY business was. I was using the custom shirting to get in but I had hoped to actually sign wardrobe clients. I rarely walked away with any new clients. One or two for a custom shirt but people knew who I was and what I did, and that would one day translate into referrals(hopefully). Although these events were fun and gave us this place to be, nothing was really coming from it so we made the decision to stop at the end of the year. It’s very important in life and business to try something and if it’s not working it’s ok to stop.
Something I knew from the begging referral business ain’t easy. 99% of the clients I’ve worked with have had NOTHING but positive things to say about their experience with me. I’d create offer after offer announcing a referral special for my clients. No one really jumped on a lowered rate to refer friends and co-workers. They’re either going to do it or not. Plain and simple.
As I’ve experienced in the past couple years referrals come organically in discussion versus you offering a referral bonus and someone desperately want to take a vantage of it. It’s not a flash sale type of thing. Sometimes you offer something at the same time you’re in discussion with a new client, and when you’ll speak to them they’ll want to jump on that offer before it ends. However, they’re already in the place mentally to work with you it’s just a nice perk for them. The stars align perfectly.
It takes a long time to work with enough people to sustain a simply referral based business. I knew that I had to keep working with clients, thinking out of the box when it came to growing my business because nothing was really panning out in terms of connections. I had tried networking events-groups-offering deals to current and past clients. It’s really just a matter of time and experience.
Since day one Google had been a friend. It was a great tool that helped journalists and reporters find me to quote me in articles and helped my SEO along with other sites linking to my website. I had finagled someone I was kinda sorta not really dating help me with the back end of my site. I set up a meeting with him and kept it professional. He looked at the codes, keywords, and by the end of a few hours we had submitted my site map. Weeks went by and my site was successfully crawling the web. Brands were starting to see how working with style consultants can help bring clients to their stores and they were all reaching out to me. I wasn’t agreeing to meet or work with all of them just the companies that made sense for my personal brand.
Year after year the business grew. Little by little I positive comped each year. Not exactly sure how my clients that weren’t referred to me found me - in my mind it was written in the stars. Years of hard work and hustle(absolutely no patience) was paying off.
I’ve learned that you can’t convince someone that they need help with style. They need to come to this decision themselves and that is when they reach out to you. No Google ad words, Facebook ad, will convince someone to all the sudden shell out thousands of dollars. It’s a process in their mind and they have to be in a space that they’re ready to hire you. THEN being visible and having quality content, glowing testimonials that inspire will grab them.
I knew it would take time and it did.
Lots of blood sweat and tears went into building this business and it’s certainly was not easy. There were days where I’d think “what in the world did I do?” and then had to check myself because I was doing everything I could and eventually it would all pan out because there wasn’t any other option.
You need drive. I’ll always need to find more clients and each client that signs on with me is a whole new experience. My brand is a partnership and that’s what I believe sets me apart from other consultants. I run my business how I see fit. I don’t plaster before and after photos all over my site. I don’t think it’s even really appropriate to tell someone during your first session “hey, let me get a quick picture of what you look like now, before working with me because this is crazy!” I would feel so uncomfortable. I want to make my clients feel good about themselves and that, to me, is off brand. Also none of them really look that bad. I don’t think that has ever hindered getting clients. When someone asks me for before and after then I point them to my testimonial page and the photos of clients looking great and I open the discussion from there.
There’s no easy solve for the number one struggle in building your business-client acquisition. All consultants deal with this daily. You just have to get out there-however you’re comfortable and sell yourself without actually selling. Be picky with the relationships you decide to cultivate. Everyone will say, “let’s connect and see how we can build a mutually beneficial partnership”. Connect for sure and if you see potential in them, then stay connected because it will pay off in time. Write down every out of the box idea you get. If you work on something that you think is literally the best idea ever and it doesn’t work out. Pause. Work on something else but always be open to re-opening that and try again in another way with new people. I have had great ideas over the years and most hadn’t panned out initially but I never forgot about them. Certain ones come back around and take on a new life the more experienced you get.
This was my personal path to growing a successful style consultancy. How I got to where I am now (certainly not done). I hope my story helps at least one person that sees anything relatable in my experiences, know that it was a struggle with a capital S to get where I am today. If you have talent and drive you’ll succeed. Pinky swear!
Yours in style,