Fashion Stylist & Visual Merchandiser / Westfield
At only 24 years of age Sydney-based stylist Emma Hale, has a job that many of us dream of. With access to some of the country’s most celebrated designers, and an effortless knack of throwing looks together, it’s no wonder that Emma has styled for some of the finest brands in the business – as a Fashion Stylist and Visual Merchandiser for Westfield, Sydney.
Growing up on the Central Coast of NSW, Emma was fortunate enough to have extremely encouraging parents that didn’t care what she did, as long as she was happy. This turned out to be perfect advice, for this creative soul, who only had visions of travel following Year 12. How this beauty transcended from High School to the upper echelon of the Sydney style sect is a tale well worth your time. With Alexa Chung as her ultimate idol, her “yes girl” mentality, and her mandatory morning coffee in hand , Emma knew that she could take on the world, despite her age, or university degree.
This is her career story…
Hi there, can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I grew up on the Central Coast of New South Wales (about an hour north of Sydney). The oldest of three girls, I had a very normal, happy upbringing. I’ve always been lucky to have great parents that never pushed me in directions I didn’t want to go. They always encouraged my choices, and allowed me to select what I wanted to do in life. I always wanted to travel, and thought a little outside of the box when it came to career and life decisions. I was never attracted to standard careers, and my family didn’t mind what I did, so long as I was happy.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to St Peters Catholic College on the Central Coast. I loved high school (even though I probably didn’t think it at the time) and I can’t believe how long ago it has been since I finished, time flies. For me High School had its ups and downs, like it does for a lot of people, but overall I had a really good experience. I didn’t put my heart and soul into studying, however. My electives were always the more creative, hands on subjects like Textiles and Drama. These subjects I applied myself too, because I enjoyed them, but things like Maths and Science were not my forte. University wasn’t high on my agenda, because I couldn’t find courses that appealed to me. I considered teaching (as most of my friends did this) but I knew my grades wouldn’t be high enough to get into the course. All I had was travel on my mind.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
I admit I struggled to find any help with the career advice I needed. My career adviser wasn’t very good, but I found a lot of other people willing to help, which was great. I looked into fashion because I knew that would be something I would enjoy. I didn’t want to be a designer though; I knew I wanted to be backstage, and behind the scenes. The problem was, no one knew how or where to begin, and growing up on the coast, this was a bit of an odd career choice (fast forward to 2016 and everyone wants to be a Stylist).
I remember going to an open day at a Tafe in Newcastle, many years ago. I went with intentions to gather information, as I was trying to collate as much info as possible to try and help me sort out what I wanted to do. It was there I spoke with a lady, told her what I was interested in and she told me to “go and look at a jewellery course”.
I think that was when I really stopped trying to find a career path. Looking back this sounds silly now. In 2016, it’s so easy to track down the course you need, but when I was in school Instagram and Facebook didn’t exist. I believe that these are the main tools for the fashion industry now. The college I went to is practically Insta famous.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
No, I didn’t, and that is the one thing I wish I did. The advice I’d give to anyone studying Year 12 now is to intern while you study, especially if you are interested in a career in fashion. Work experience is the best way to get your foot in the door, so start early.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I went to University, briefly, and the course I selected had nothing to do with my career now. I decided whilst I was there that Uni just wasn’t for me.
I finally decided to go to The Fashion Institute (TFI) in Surry Hills and complete a Certificate of Fashion Fundamentals over a year. It was the best decision I could have made. I gained so experience, and that experience lead me to where I am today. The Fashion Institute focuses on fashion business, and gives students an insight into all of the roles within the industry, including PR, Styling and Event Management. As a student, I was given an opportunity to dabble in all of these areas and try and find the perfect fit for me.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
I have been a Stylist and Visual Merchandiser (VM) for just over two years now. I work for a small creative concept company whose major client is Westfield Australia. I began working as an intern, which lead to me becoming a Freelance Assistant Stylist almost immediately. I am now the permanent Head Stylist and Visual Merchandiser, and in my role I implement all VM and styling initiatives for four major Westfield’s. Leading up to this I had a lot of experience styling for magazines, television commercials, photo shoots and fashion events (Hello Fashion Week!)
Fashion is a mixed bag of experience. That’s why I was so attracted to it. Every day can be different and constantly changing. With multiple projects often on at the same time, you need to be able to juggle tasks. Early in my career I started a small hand bag company. A highlight was definitely having one of my bags photographed next to Alexa Chung at New York Fashion Week. To have her in the same room as something I created was amazing. Alexa is my idol.
How did you get into the job that you are in now?
My Creative Director, Kristen, was a teacher at TFI and I met her one day during a styling class. At that point in time, she did Styling and VM at my local Westfield so I offered to intern for her. It was early days for me at TFI and I didn’t know exactly what Styling or Visual Merchandising entailed as a job. On my first day as in intern, I fell in love with it. I knew on that day that I had found my passion. From interning, I became a styling assistant even though I was still studying at TFI. I then began working regularly as a Freelance Stylist for Westfield. Over time this leads to me becoming the Head Stylist and Visual Merchandiser.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
Staying motivated and focused can be hard sometimes. We work very long hours and it can be hard to keep the creative juices flowing after working 12 days consecutively at work. Working in a creative industry can also prove to be difficult when your ideas and style clash with others. It’s important to find happy mediums sometimes and understand other people’s personalities in order to achieve the ideal outcome.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?
All my days are different, but I will explain a general day of VM. Coffee! Every day starts with coffee. Depending on which Westfield I am working at, my drive to work will vary.
I arrive on site and touch base with the Westfield marketing team and discuss the VM concepts for that day. During ‘fashion season’ we focus on the major trends and retailers in which we want to promote to our clientele. I then spend my day going to several retailers and pulling their product from the shelves that fit my vision. Once the shops close, I stay in Westfield and change all of the displays. We call ourselves ‘the fairies’, no one sees us do it. If they do, we often get strange looks.
That’s a typical Visual Merchandising day. If I am prepping for a fashion show, I visit all of the retailers and chose product I want featured in the event. I then collaborate with my co-workers and we put together a fashion show, usual 3-8 models and 10 different looks. We decide on the looks from head to toe, and put different brands together to showcase the best trends for that season.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
I’ve never really been one to have a hero growing up. Like I mentioned previously, it took me a while to figure out that I wanted to work in the fashion industry. I have muses, and I believe in mentors, but I also think mentors come and go in your life. On the other hand, my parents are amazing. They have always been so supportive in whatever I want to do.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
Work hard and know what you need to do to achieve your goals. In the industry of fashion, it’s noticeable who works hard and who is just faking it. I think it’s important to just remain true to yourself, and know that if you work hard it will pay off in the long run.
Intern, intern, intern! Take as many opportunities as you can to meet people and gain experience. It’s also important to recognise when it’s working for you, and when it’s time to move on. I’ve heard so many horror stories of interns that have stayed with companies for years and never actually got a job. That’s not good. Don’t be afraid to recognise its time to move on, and don’t be afraid to say YES.
When I began working in the industry I became a ‘Yes Person’. I started saying yes to any opportunities that came my way and it allowed me to meet new people and gain so much experience. Once people recognise you are a yes person you will be offered so many exciting opportunities.
And remember, Instagram followers don’t pay your rent! Working hard does.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Blogs or Websites: whowhatwear.com.au , Vogue UK and Elle Australia.
- Name an Instagram Account or Snapchat that you can’t go a day without checking: @kaity_modern, @margaret_zhang
- Books: Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso. Grace, A Memoir by Grace Coddington. It, by Alexa Chung
- People: There are too many people I look to for inspiration. Instagram & Pinterest are the vital tool in my career and I find inspirations through other people and on these platforms every day. Margaret Zhang is a fantastic person to look up to. I was lucky enough to meet her and discuss her story. She’s killing it at life, that’s all I can say. My biggest inspiration though is Alexa Chung. If I could be another person, I would be her.
- Others: Alexa Chung did collaboration with British Vogue recently, Future of Fashion. It’s a miniseries where Alexa talks to the who’s who of fashion business, giving insights into the industry and touching base on all aspects of fashion from behind the scenes. I recommend watching that to anyone that is interested in a career in fashion business, click this link to watch now. Iris – A documentary featuring Iris Apfel. She is an idol of mine and I think her story is amazing.