How to Succeed in the Fashion Industry with No Connections by Silvia Njoki

Having studied fashion styling in the University Of Arts London, Central Saint Martin, UK and Nouva Academia di Belle Arti Milano, Italy and has travelled widely abroad and inter alia attended, Silva Njoki has styled for fashion shows in London, Mauritius, Rwanda and Tanzanian and most importantly her home country Kenya. Silva is also a fashion writer and has contributed to the ARISE Magazine London and for the past four years , the Standard Media Group, Kenya has employed her as a fashion journalist and entertainment writer. With her vast knowledge in fashion styling, Silva Njoki created a blog www.silvanjoki.com where she shares DIY projects in pursuit of dressing her infant daughter and her own personal style which she describes as ‘Unpredictable’. Silvia shares her personal experience on how to break into the fashion industry as a fashion stylist with no connections.

Let’s start from the beginning. Tell us about yourself.

My name is Silvia Njoki, a 28 years old fashion journalist, blogger, and stylist, born and raised in Kenya as the oldest of three children. I graduated from Naro-Moru Girls High school, a boarding school in Nanyuki in 2006 and went on to study Nutrition and Food technology at Nairobi University.  I, however, followed my passion and opted to go into fashion styling rather than following a career in the food industry and took a course in fashion styling at Central st Martins in London and Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti in Milan. I am also the mother of a wonderful 3 ½-year-old daughter Nielsine, who is my pride and joy.

Why fashion styling?

Fashion is my life and the air I breathe!  Although growing up in a fairly conservative family, fashion has been my passion since I was a young teenager and I spent most of my free time reading fashion magazines and watching fashion programmes on TV.  Joining the fashion industry was a gradual process when I was in university as I started off by attending fashion industry events and taking fashion courses online. A few people believed in me and within no time I was working as an assistant in fashion magazine photoshoots, on tv productions etc

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You’ve been able to grow a thriving fashion blog over the years, how did you actually grow your blog to a level where you earn consistent income? At what point did you incorporate your fashion styling services?

I actually started off as a stylist and was one for 4 years before launching my blog. The launch of my blog STYLE BY SILVIA (www.silvianjoki.com) was inspired by my then new born daughter as a platform for sharing my modest DIY efforts to create an affordable but fashionable wardrobe for her. It didn’t take long, however, before I started to put up posts showing some of my personal fashion moments, and eventually, the blog transformed itself into the fashion blog it still is today, spiced by occasional posts about my private life, my travels and my relationship with Nielsine. I only rarely post about my actual styling work and try to keep my styling services separate from the blog.I believe being consistent in putting up quality content drew brands to me and about a year and a half into my blogging, I started getting paid gigs.

Growing the blog to the present level where it can earn me a consistent income took well over a year of dedication and hard work.  But I should not underestimate the effects of the various tokens of recognition including the 2014 SOMA award for Most Promising Blogger and the 2015 awards by The Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) for Best Fashion/Beauty/Hair/Style Blog and the Kenyan Blog of the Year, leading to increasing international recognition. This year I was among four African bloggers nominated for the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards for Favourite African Blogger.

My newest creation in this field is the brand-new blog STYLE YETU (www.styleyetu.com) which I launched only some 2 ½ months ago, but which is already a hit as the Kenyan go-to destination for news and reviews about what is rocking in the world of fashion, beauty, lifestyle, music, events, celebrity life and entertainment.  I launched this blog because I felt that there was a demand for this kind of daily feed, which did not fit into the more personal concept of my original blog, which therefore is continuing unabated in its original concept.

Could you describe your job as a fashion stylist and what is it like on a daily basis?

Over the recent months, my blogging activities have taken center stage in my working life and have put my fashion styling activities on the back burner.  However, at the time when my styling work was really at its peak, I would spend long hours every day sometimes including evenings until after midnight styling for my fashion spreads in the print media, as well as real life styling of celebrities and especially TV shows.  However, no matter which person is being styled and regardless of the purpose the job always starts with meeting the client for a consultation, developing the concept of the shoot, jointly with the client if there is a specific individual involved, followed running around in the malls in search of the specific clothing and accessory items I need to bring together.

This is by far the most time-consuming part of the job which however over time became increasingly easier as I built up a solid knowledge of where to go to pick up what. The detailed know-how of the Nairobi supplier options, which I then acquired, continues to serve me very well even today as a full-time blogger.  Once all items have been brought together the time is ripe to get together with the client or the model for the first fitting, which may need to be followed by adjustments and further fittings until we have gotten it right just before the actual shoot.

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How can bloggers interested in offering fashion styling services incorporate that into their blogs?

My journey started out in the fashion styling profession and moved from there to my blog, but others have developed their personal sense for styling as bloggers leading them to offer their services to others, and both options are equally valid.  The bottom line, however, is that there must be substance in whatever you choose to incorporate into your blog.  Looking pretty in stylish outfits does not necessarily make you a successful stylist for paying clients nor does it guarantee the success of your fashion blog.  But once your qualifications are up to par, your best way of offering your services via the platform of your blog is by posting  photos of your work including your personal styling a portfolio of sorts.  Many styling requests reach you through the inspiration you offer on your blog as well as by word of mouth stemming from the same source.

What has been the highlight of your work as a stylist so far?

I launched my career at a very modest level doing small columns for magazines and newspapers and from there it slowly developed step by step from one highlight to another. I was very proud to land the jobs as head stylist for the musical talent shows Tusker Project Fame season 4 and 5, and found that to be an amazing experience. But for my own personal satisfaction, the highlight was to be approached by stars like Elani, Victoria Kimani, Vanessa Mdee to name a few with requests to style them for their Nairobi shows – and savoring their satisfaction with my choices of outfits.

How can someone with big dreams of making it as a fashion stylist, especially those without connections, break into the fashion industry? 

I would like to offer my own story as a hopefully inspiring example of how to step out of the ranks of the ordinary pedestrian stylists.  As soon as I had decided to follow this path rather than spending the rest of my life in a food lab, I enrolled myself in a summer course in fashion styling at Central Saint Martins, London and Accademia di Belle Arti, Milan to hone my skills, realizing that without a sound professional background would be essential to succeed in such a competitive profession.  When I returned to asked the head stylist of the TV show Tusker Project Fame to accept me as an intern and that gave me a head start in the industry plus allowed me to meet with some of its major players, and that would be my advice number two to any aspiring fashion stylist, because whether you like it or not, success in this industry comes far easier if you are giving it all it takes to nurture networking. My third advice is never to give up.  Beating the competition is not easy so give it time and don’t be too impatient. Always ensure the client is happy and don’t be distracted by outside noise.

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Describe your personal style? How has your outward presentation and unique style helped you to succeed in your career?

I like to describe my personal style as unpredictable – depending on my mood and how I expect my day (or night) to be.  I consider myself fashion forward and am constantly observing the international fashion scene and know what is trending – but I don’t always follow those trends unless they really speak to me. I like to go for edgy, daring and sometimes classic outfits, but I also have days when I just feel like chilling.
I realize that by now I am virtually a walking brand thanks to the way I style myself both in real life and on my blog and accept that as a key factor in my success as a stylist; so I make a daily effort to represent that brand in the best possible way.

What challenges did you face while climbing up the ladder of success and how were you able to overcome them? 

Any entrepreneur regardless of her or his chosen field of focus will face numerous challenges in putting their business on a firm footing and managing it to reach higher and higher levels of achievement and success.  I have already mentioned how I managed to pass the first hurdles of acquiring professional know-how and experience in fashion styling.  From that point onwards the main challenge was to stay focused on my goal and to give the process my very best efforts, to keep learning and keep expanding my network of essential professional connections and to interact with other sectors of the industry including the designers and the garment industry as well as the distribution network. A challenge which it took me some time to overcome was to remember my worth and to stand my ground in contract negotiations, but I have come a long way through trial and error.

Describe the process involved in scoring a spot on reputable partnerships, clients, getting on top fashion shows and other collaborations.

Although the profession of fashion stylist is still fairly new in a country like Kenya – as a young girl I hadn’t even heard about it – there is already a stiff competition in the local fashion industry. And if you are aiming for reputable clients and partnerships you must prove yourself and never be complacent even when you feel you have reached the top. There are always higher challenges ahead and by accepting these challenges you force yourself to grow.  I have become that kind of a person.  Honestly, it sometimes happens that a suggestion for a new challenging collaboration outside my comfort zone scares me a bit, but life has taught me to take the plunge anyway – and experience has demonstrated that this is when real growth is achieved.  I try to take up new roles in all aspects of my work and life with confidence.

What essential tools should a fashion stylist have to succeed on the job? What other ways do you stay motivated and inspired to keep pushing towards your goals? 

These days, I only style specific clients and projects and consider myself as a full-time blogger.  But in my most active days I never left home without my styling kit which included the essential items for last minute styling –  like pins, safety pins, black and white fabric sheets for DIY changing rooms,  double sided adhesive tape, scissors, needles, extra clothes, and thread and an assortment of shoes and accessories.  I also tried to keep my fabric steamer ready in the boot of the car at all times, since it works so much better than a conventional iron for last minute wrinkle softening.

I have already touched upon my sources of know how and inspiration for delivering a top performance but cannot over-emphasize the importance of staying fully abreast with international fashion trends 24/7 through I still love to grab hard copies of my favorite magazines every month. But even more significantly these days social media: Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter and above all the blogs of my most admired fashion bloggers.  This is where the new trends show up first. On the Kenyan scene I attend as many fashion shows and red carpet events as I can manage – which is always a lot of fun anyway and a great way to make new powerful connections – and even when I am not out there shopping, I encourage my favourite boutiques to keep me updated on what’s new in Nairobi.

Advice for current stylists struggling to make it in the industry

Professional competence and experience is obviously key to landing any job.  It does take time and effort to acquire both, so my first advice would be to be modest in your initial expectations and goals and to be prepared to accept whatever job opportunities you are offered initially.  Offering to work as an intern for a reputed stylist is the ideal strategy for getting your foot in the door and learning the tricks of the trade. Secondly, you must never stop updating you on what is new in the ever evolving fashion world, and if you truly love fashion, which is a must, spend your time learning more about what is happening in the fashion and beauty scene.

Finally never give up; getting to the top is an uphill battle but the demand for your services is growing and if you savor your successes and look at your failures as learning opportunities you will eventually make it. Also dealing with rejection positively and learning to dust yourself off and keep going will keep you ahead of the game. Also be nice to people and network, network and network on and offline.

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Author: Laiza

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