February 20, 2014
Cool Jobs: Young, Leading Stylist Talks Breaking Into Fashion and the Power of Mentor Mojo
We have good news for you. You can have a cool career and make a good living. No need to choose between loving your job and paying your mortgage. The following profile, part of the BlackEnterprise.com Cool Jobs series, offers a peek into the nuts and bolts, perks and salaries behind enjoyable careers.
Joy Adaeze (@JoyAdaeze) has been able to accomplish her dreams simply by saying no to the status quo and pursuing her passion. The Nigerian-American blogger, stylist and fashion host has worked with brands including CoverGirl and curlBOX, and counts fashion royalty Constance White (former Essence magazine editor-in-chief and eBay style director) as a mentor and client.
A style expert in her own right, her insights have appeared on sites including Hello Beautiful and The Huffington Post. She’s also been featured as a fashion influencer by publications including Essence, The New York Times and Italian Vogue—all before the age of 35 in an industry where the market can to be tough, careers can be fleeting and opinions can be unforgiving.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Adaeze to talk about her career journey, how she landed in the business and how young promising stylists can truly make a mark on the industry.
Black Enterprise: What inspires you about fashion, and why did you choose styling as a career?
Joy Adaeze: As a child growing up in Houston, I just loved clothes, especially admiring my mom’s style. Growing up in a Nigerian household, fashion was so bold and colorful. Also, in a Nigerian household, fashion wasn’t a viable career option. [Laughs]
My dad is a doctor, so I took that route initially. I went to Rutgers University, and I was pre-med, but an interest in fashion always stayed with me.
I’d get questions from family and college friends about what to wear, and I’d do mini sessions helping style them. While I was in school, I started modeling, and through that I started to get back into the fashion world.
After graduating from college, I said, ‘I don’t want to go to med school.’ So I started looking for fashion internships and landed several with a few designers. They wanted me there twice a week, for maybe four hours a day, but I’d stay five days a week for hours. I ended up being hired as a freelance designer, but I knew I wanted to do something a bit more hands on. I was still styling my friends and family, and I ended up getting a styling opportunity at Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) that changed my life.
How have you been able to transition skills learned from undergrad, studying pre-med, to the fashion world?
For science courses that I wasn’t naturally inclined to do well in, I had to work very hard, study and tap into the resources available to me. It was very hectic. That time showed me that I can do whatever I put my mind to. The courses were very strenuous, and I am, by nature, a more creative person. Having to learn and apply analytical thought for science and math showed me that I can meet any challenge. In the same way, working in fashion can be hectic, and you have to be hungry and able to adapt.
At what moment did you know you could monetize your passion for styling?
When I was an intern at WWD, I saw budgets and how much freelancers were being paid. People are paying people like me to create amazing visuals. So I knew I could make a living doing this, especially since I love what I do.
You count Constance White as a mentor.Â How did she play a role in your career development, and why mentors are important?
I began working with Constance White after interning at WWD. I’d assist her for TV fashion segments and other appearances. She was one of my first clients and mentors—actually a mentor first. I owe a lot of what I’ve done in the industry to her. She really took me under her wing and taught me what it meant to be someone who could have longevity in this industry.
She’s a very kind, warm person. She will go out of her way to make sure you succeed. She’d allow me to come on board with her at her various posts [throughout her career] and I’d learn quite a bit about the business. I eventually went from assisting her to being her go-to stylist. It’s just amazing.
What tips would you have for young careerists who are looking for their big break in fashion or want to become professional stylists?
First, when you can, intern for someone you admire. To get those opportunities, find someone who might know them to get that introduction or foot in the door. This will allow you to learn essentials of the business, such as budgets, rates and what to do on a shoot. Also, attend as many fashion-related events as you can, especially Fashion Week. Everyone you’d want to meet is likely to be in the room. You’ll need to build up your network so you can really get your foot in the door.