So you want to be a freelance stylist but there are a few unanswered questions holding you back.
With 70% of 25-34 year olds expressing a desire to become their own boss, it’s important for us to share insights into the options available in the fashion industry. What does it take to book amazing jobs, earn good money and maintain self-motivation? We spoke to veteran fashion stylist Basma Khalifa, 28, who’s basically worked everywhere and knows everything about being a freelance stylist.
Read on to deep dive into Basma’s journey and just why she’ll probably never (strong word) go back to full-time work.
What was your first styling job?
Gosh seems so long ago but I assisted on the styling of the Jeremy Scott Show in NYC which was incredible.
It all started when I was studying Fashion Business in Glasgow and we were asked to complete an internship as part of my university degree. Most of my classmates chose to work two days a week over a 3 month period but I made the decision to do 2 months full-time over the summer. I was already working 2-3 jobs to support myself during term-time. I had always dreamed of moving to NYC so I took it upon myself to apply to anything I thought I might be interested in. My first internship was actually in PR but I asked if I could assist in styling and ended up working closely with Jeremy Scott for his A/W 2008 Show.
That styling opportunity changed the course of your career. How did it impact what you did next?
After Uni I moved to London to try styling. I interned at Harper’s Bazaar and ended up being their Fashion Features Assistant for 6 months. It sounds really silly but I was literally a suck up! Always the first to offer to photocopy a piece of paper, make tea or do random errands. I made myself indispensable. Whilst working in the features department I had booked a holiday to Sudan for Christmas yet they still asked me to work over Skype because they felt I could and I did. I used dodgy dial-up internet at the time, it wasn’t easy but I never made excuses.
From there I became Fashion Assistant at Vogue and Net-a-Porter for a month each. Most internships last a month at magazines unless you become a freelance assistant and those are usually 11 months. Then I became Fashion Assistant for a year each at ES Magazine and InStyle Magazine. From there I went freelance and I have been ever since.
“I can go from styling jewellery in Morocco, to umbrellas in an
East London Studio, to helping an older lady detox her wardrobe.”
After covering ground at all the major titles, what made you give it all up and start from scratch?
The money primarily and opportunities. Most magazines do 11-month contracts which mean you have no legal rights, holiday pay or proper pay which can be a struggle. If I’m honest it wasn’t a decision I really thought about in depth. I just knew I wasn’t happy in my environment and something had to change. I was confident that I had built a network that I could lean on.
Sometimes it’s best not to overthink career moves and just try things out. If it doesn’t work out you can always go back to full-time work.
How do you find consistent styling work?
Networking and having a circuit of friends who pass jobs to each other. There are always opportunities you just have to keep your ear to the ground. Facebook groups, Linkedln, Twitter – Jobs are literally advertised everywhere.
“My top tip for any budding freelance stylist is get the ball
rolling by setting yourself up with a couple of jobs before you leave.”
Does freelance work give you a chance to diversify your portfolio? How varied are the styling jobs you work on?
Very varied! I can go from styling jewellery in Morocco, to umbrellas in an East London Studio, to helping an older lady detox her wardrobe. That’s the joy of being freelance. Every job is something new. Now I do a lot more money jobs. I love doing adverts and commercial campaigns and even kids styling. I adore kids styling, it’s always so funny and kids aren’t allowed to work without breaks or for longer than 4 hours which is always amazing. Of course, it’s great to do fun interesting jobs that you can create an insta story about but those are the special moments. Long days of shooting 30 – 40 e-commerce looks isn’t as favourable and can be very repetitive but it pays the bills.
What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learnt since going freelance?
Emotional management! There are so many ups and downs to being freelance from loneliness to money fears. However being your own boss makes the world your oyster, you can decide exactly what you want from your career and really go for it.
Would you ever go back to full-time styling work?
Probably not. Being able to work on a rooftop on a hot summers day or have an extra day off to get personal things done has become a way of life.
I don’t actually miss having colleagues (is that bad?). In the most ‘Devil Wears Prada’ way, offices have a lot of drama and I absolutely love my drama-free life. Magazines can be a competitive environment. I do however miss getting dressed up every day and wearing heels to the offices. I’m in leggings every day now and I don’t wear half the clothes I own anymore.
Tell us one thing only a freelance stylist would know?
Owning a credit card for buy and returns is our best-kept secret. Well not so secret anymore. There is nothing worse than a client not giving you a cash advance which results in not being able to do the job due to budget restraints. Also, always expect to go above the call of duty as each client is a potential recurring one.
Do you have any tips to share with anyone thinking of going freelance?
My top tip for any budding freelance stylist is get the ball rolling by setting yourself up with a couple of jobs before you leave. No job is too small! I still now do some assisting jobs even though I know I am past it now. Just swallow that humble pie and eventually, you won’t have to do things you don’t feel you should.
Be prepared financially and always have enough in your account to keep you going for a minimum of 2 months. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and ask for help. Most importantly if you feel lonely, reach out and work with someone. Grab your laptop, leave your flat/house and get social, even if it means just popping out to a coffee shop. Sometimes just being around the busyness of people can make a difference to your state of mind.
Stay up-to-date with Basma @basmakhalifa