I started my professional career in the world of design three years ago and have learned sooo much through the process. My confidence and talents have improved so much from working professionally, but it was hard to know how to actually take that first step to break into the industry. From my own experience as well as what I’ve observed from my peers, I now have some advice on how others can take the same risk I did. I should preface by saying – you either have it or you don’t. By no means does that mean you have to be talented off the bat, but having a sense of style and an artistic eye has to come naturally. If it doesn’t, then this probably isn’t the right career path for you. I’ve had an obsession for rearranging my room since I was very young and I’ve always expressed myself through clothing and my spaces – if this sounds like you, then you probably have it! If it doesn’t, I don’t think you’d enjoy this job very much! But even if you aren’t trying to pursue a career in design, I think most of these tips are universally helpful for any career path!
Tip One: Make Connections and Find A Mentor
The cliche saying “it’s who you know” happens to be very true. But don’t fret – If you don’t have connections, make them! For me it was just one Instagram message that changed the trajectory of my entire career and life. On a whim I messaged Claire Thomas, an influencer and designer I had admired for years. I let her know that I was interested in becoming a designer and stylist and asked if she needed help on her current projects. Fortunately for me, in that exact moment she was seeking out hiring a design assistant. Because of the portfolio I ended up building with Claire as well as the connections I made through working with her, I have now branched out into set design work and have worked for brands such as Microsoft, SavagexFenty, Buzzfeed, and Sonos. I should also share that I originally met Claire at a wreath making workshop she taught (my friend bailed at the last minute so I ended up going by myself – something that was very out of my comfort zone). So don’t just network behind your phone, get out there! Go to events and introduce yourself in person, then you can follow up and foster that relationship via Instagram. I have now worked with Claire for three years and she has become my biggest mentor which is a totally invaluable asset to have.
Tip Two: Start Where You Are With What You Have
Before working with Claire, I worked with what I had to start building a portfolio. When I was in my early 20s all I had was my bedroom at my parent’s house. I made that room eye catching and interesting and I took tons of photos and videos of it. When I moved into my first apartment, I started a YouTube channel and documented the progress of my decorating. At this point, this was all just a fun hobby. I had a completely different career and built up my styling work on the side. We all have bills to pay, you don’t need to quit your day job to begin building up your portfolio. I was posting design content for 5 years before I landed my first job in the industry. By the time I took the leap of messaging Claire, I had years of content to share with her so she could get a sense of my personal style.
Tip Three: Learn How To Take Better Photos or Befriend A Photographer
The quality of your photos is very important when building a portfolio. Luckily one of my best friends is an amazing photographer. We collaborated on so many shoots over the years, so I was able to slowly build up a large amount of high quality content. Don’t be afraid to reach out to photographers in your area on Instagram and ask if they’d be willing to collaborate on a shoot. Photographers are always looking to expand their portfolio so taking photos of your house, food styling, etc, might benefit them as well! Regardless, it’s beneficial to learn how to take better photos even if it’s just on your phone!
Tip Four: Practice Your Craft and Study Others
I have an Instagram folder saved with design and styling work I love and admire and I reference it often. If you’ve never taken an art class, familiarize yourself with color theory, design principles, and dive deep into the medium you have an interest in. For example – if you want to work in movies, watch movies! If you want to be an interior designer, buy design books and magazines. Immerse yourself in your craft, learn who the important people are in your industry, and be a student of life. When I only had that room in my parent’s house I was constantly rearranging my shelves and practicing the perfect “shelfie.” Do everything in your power to hone in your skills before you ever step foot on a set. It’s going to be scary no matter what (I second guess myself almost every time I’m on a job) – but if you have some practice and experience you will feel a little more confident.
Tip Five: Offer Your Services For Free To Gain Experience and Build Your Portfolio
Reach out to local businesses and offer your styling services for free. For example – if you know someone with a jewelry start up, ask them if you could style a table top shoot for their company. A lot of people are not naturally skilled at styling, so offering this service to a business owner could potentially be a huge help to them and will provide you with legitimate portfolio assets. No one has to know you did it for free. Do this enough times and you might actually seem “in demand” and get paid job offers organically!
I hope these tips inspire you to branch out, take some risks, and put in the hours! I wish you the best of luck in whatever career path you’re working towards!