Representing the creative future

Postponed Indefinitely

Self-employed stylists share how they are navigating COVID-19

From afar, the job of a fashion stylist conjures up glamorous connotations. Although for some this may be true, the reality of this labour is rarely understood. When support for the self-employed was yet to be released, we found ourselves debating with those that had fallen for the smoke and mirrors. ‘Freelancers should have a 6-month emergency fund,’ the illusion of stability and wealth that in some ways we all help create. An ambiguous yet seemingly generous support plan has now been announced by the government. Self-employed individuals should receive 80% of their average monthly income, calculated over a three year period, for three months. But for those “living invoice to invoice”, such as independent stylists and assistants, the effects are already being felt.

As of March 2020, London-based shoots – with the exception of e-commerce loungewear content, which is rumoured to still be taking place – have been postponed indefinitely due to social distancing and lockdown orders. As a result, stylists and their assistants miss out on their expected income and outstanding invoices are not being paid, putting their livelihood at stake. 

Commercial projects are used to fund editorials, which build experience and a portfolio.This system means that interns and assistants frequently rely on external sources of income, such as side jobs, student loans, savings and family money. “I felt financial stability maybe three years into my career,” said Jamie-Maree Shipton. A survey conducted through 1 Granary’s Instagram revealed that 79% of 212 self-employed individuals didn’t find the government grant applicable to them. Instead, they will rely on Universal Credit. Despite the limited support, the situation was already so precarious for some that it isn’t a drastic practical change. 

Speaking with stylists and assistants highlighted that the emotional responses to this setback are varied, with some creatively stimulated, whilst others are enjoying the down time. What prevails is solace being found in solidarity. As the anonymous creator of @fashionassistants says, “Think of it as an only temporarily hopeless community.”

 

 

Georgia Pendlebury, Fashion Director of Novembre Magazine 

I work on many projects at the same time: editorials, and prepping commercial jobs, for which I travel for a few days. Alongside this, I direct the fashion of Novembre magazine. I also work on shows and consult for brands. I have a team of two assistants, Nelly and Anna, with me at the office every day.

I lost all my income due to COVID-19. All the jobs are cancelled indefinitely and I’m dependent on clients and annual budgets from brands. On top of that, I still have expenses to cover: my office and my assistants. We are able to work and make money because we juxtapose projects, earning here, and losing here. I am not calculating my income over two weeks, but over a year, which makes a huge difference on the final amounts. I am personally not counting on government support! 

“It emphasises the feeling that as a freelancer everything we do can “stop” tomorrow.”

I think the situation definitely shows how fragile the industry is. We rarely explore what exists outside of the box,  but hopefully it will push us to work on projects in different formats, different ways to communicate, with local teams, not having to travel all the time for big jobs. 

I feel responsible for my team and I have decided to “lose” money in order to have them continue working on some research and prep. I will be very happy to get back to work. What this has taught me, really, is my need to have some alone time, which I was lacking! Projects run fast, one after the other. There is a strange feeling in the fact that this very difficult period might be killing small brands and magazines. I hope I won’t contradict too many people, but it feels interesting to see who will embrace it and produce clever content; who will find ways to survive.

It emphasises the feeling that as a freelancer everything we do can “stop” tomorrow. We feel very fragile. It took me a lot of energy and strength to feel assured in my position in the industry. That moment passed and my passion took over. 

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@fashionassistants, anonymous creator 

I am self-employed and have been for a few years now. Before this pandemic, I was working across commercial work for stills and video. I only make money on commercial jobs. There is usually a small budget for an editorial, or perhaps expenses only. While this may seem ridiculous to many, this is where most lessons can be learnt about the going-ons of the shoot. You can work with wonderful clothes and meet incredible or useful people.

From the start of March, I had shoots postponed for a week, which then led to them being cancelled. I think that some people are pencilling in dates so that they don’t feel completely in despair about having an empty diary. I haven’t earned a penny for a few weeks now. While I’m fortunate enough to be able to pay my rent and bills, I’m very much hoping that Universal Credit and the government’s COVID-19 grant in June will be able to help tie me over.

“I’ve handed out my CV to surrounding supermarkets and stores to try to make an honest salary while the more physical aspects of my usual day job are on hold.”

I have no idea how much money they’ll be able to provide me with. I’m glad that Instagram has helped answer a lot of questions. You’re able to seek solace in the reality that you’re not the only one. I hope it’s not sadistic to seek refuge in other peoples’ similar struggles? Think of it as an only temporarily hopeless community.

I certainly haven’t been on any shoots and neither have any of my close friends, but I did find out that some big online retailers were forcing their staff to come in and do photoshoots with a full or reduced team. I was still unsure about this, as it proved unsafe, just  for the sake of uploading images of more loungewear. 

Sadly, a lot of businesses may have to close. But those who were able to persevere may work with a different business model after learning so much from these strange times. The main motivation has been talking with friends, both in and out of the industry, and trying to prop each other up in one way or another. I’ve handed out my CV to surrounding supermarkets and stores to try to make an honest salary while the more physical aspects of my usual day job are on hold.

The whole suggestion of keeping enough to live off for six months in case of an emergency is only a pipeline dream. Most people like us live from invoice to invoice and are constantly in their overdraft. It must be so hard to be an intern who just started out in the industry. To have this bring everything to a halt must be upsetting for financial, educational and ‘love-of-fashion’ reasons.

I’ve learnt that you can feel very disposable and much of the industry can be very careless and haphazard, but that isn’t always the case. It’s important to meet everyone you work with, be kind and helpful and always make sure you prioritise yourself and your mental health.

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Eliza Conlon, Fashion Editor at The Gentlewoman

I’m a self-employed freelance stylist, working on editorials predominantly for The Gentlewoman as Fashion Editor. I also work with brands which can range from editing a collection into a series of looks or one-off commercial jobs.

I only make money through commercial jobs with brands. You need that money to live but also to sustain and fund the editorials you do, which is essentially a display of what you could do for the commercial brands. So it’s cyclical and they feed each other. The last job I did was at the beginning of March in South Africa. I had four jobs on hold that month. COVID-19 has impacted my financial situation severely. As a stylist, you need to be working with clothes on people, it’s a tactile job and it’s about a process. All commercial jobs have come to a halt for now. 

 “I have found this time nice to research but also just to switch off and not feel the anxiety that many of us in this industry feel to constantly keep up.”

I’m currently archiving my clothes, which is great. I have found this time nice to research but also just to switch off and not feel the anxiety that many of us in this industry feel to constantly keep up. I’ve found people’s desperation to continue to make content a bit much when the world is essentially re-setting from the damage done, and no doubt the fashion industry is a huge contributor. Of course, we all like to look at nice things, but if you can’t switch off in a time like this then when can you?

I have genuinely looked up nursing degrees. I’ve always thought I’d move into something else in my 40s that related to mental health. When your job becomes redundant, despite it being temporary, it really makes you question what you’re actually doing for other people. 

“When your job becomes redundant, despite it being temporary, it really makes you question what you’re actually doing for other people.”

I question a lot in this industry anyway, so it has only magnified this. I really hope that people use this time to reflect and move forward in a more sensitive way. It would be quite soul-destroying if it just goes back to mindless overproduction of everything. 

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Giulia Parenti, Fashion Assistant and Stylist 

I started as a stylist assistant during my studies in Milan, and I moved to London after my graduation last summer, re-starting with unpaid internships and assistant jobs while supporting myself financially with a side job. This profession is highly competitive and hard to afford.

As many creatives who work in fashion don’t know what a normal full-time job or a real contract is, we are mostly freelancers, which means no paid holiday or sick leave. Sometimes, even if you work in an office, you are still self-employed.

I’m entry-level, so I don’t take a lot of money from assistant jobs or personal projects. I hope soon to find the perfect balance between commercial shoots and expressing my own aesthetic on personal projects or for independent magazines.

“The real point, as usual, are all the problems related to freelance jobs and the lack of security that already existed before the virus.”

Until three weeks ago, I was working for an Italian brand in London, so we had a lot of connections with the main office in Italy. Just a few days before the fashion week in Milan, the company started worrying about the wholesale campaign, initially related to the Asian market, which had already collapsed due to the virus. When my colleagues came back from Fashion Week in Milan, the atmosphere in the office started to be strange. No one did the quarantine, and the situation remained like this until the 12th of March, when the brand fired all the interns without any notice.

Being faced with cancelled shoots, and judging how the situation was going in my home country, I decided to leave London and come back to my parents’ home in Italy a few days ago, as my landlord did not suspend the rent. I cannot access the government’s help because I don’t have enough history to prove my career in this country. I think the economic measures taken in the UK should be helpful on a large scale. The real point, as usual, are all the problems related to freelance jobs and the lack of security that already existed before the virus.

I still don’t think I will change industry or job, because this is the only thing I think I’m able to do. I don’t have a plan B.

In my opinion, the real problem is the sick way this industry works, and the mindset of all the people who work in it, including me. Everyone, especially at the beginning of their career, spends a lot of time completely unpaid with the intent to be noticed. It is the fault of every one of us who still accepts this.

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Katie Burnett, Fashion Director of Centrefold Magazine

I am the Fashion Director and Co-Creative Director of Centrefold Magazine. I also work with multiple brands and publications on a freelance basis. I am self-employed and always on the go, so this lockdown is definitely a big change from a normal month. 

My main source of income is advertising work. For Commercial shoots, the job will usually consist of a style out with the client, afterward, we shoot the looks that have been confirmed. Sometimes the projects can be more experimental: one time I worked on a series of Clothing Sculptures for Selfridges for their art week.

I was caught travelling when lockdown started to get serious. Financially it’s like I’m taking a few months off, work has really come to a halt. I am noticing now more inquiries, things starting to come in, this is promising. Brands are looking for creatives to do projects at home. This has opened up a  great door to start shooting and doing projects alone.

“For me, this has really spiked my creativity and pushed me to make the most of my limitations.”

I have turned my kitchen into a daylight studio and I am making an effort to create every day. From hand-painted bodysuits, tie-dyeing, to shooting my own projects. I am working on a series for Centrefold that I shoot each day, and doing a series for Agnes, a jewellery brand, that has been really fun to explore. I’m also working on a series for Luncheon Magazine.

For me, this has really spiked my creativity and pushed me to make the most of my limitations. This is the most creative I have been in a while. There are no restrictions, you can really play and explore with things you would usually never do.

Going forward, I would love the nature of freelance work change. However, I’m not sure this is something I see happening. It would be amazing if everyone could come together and form a type of union.

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Jamie-Maree Shipton, Stylist and Creative Consultant

I am self-employed – that means I don’t work in one way. I think that this is a big advantage, given the current circumstances. I’m used to adapting on the regular: each client, magazine, brief, requires something different. And now, I have another different scenario to approach. It’s not always people coming to me, I’m also approaching people and chasing things I want.

Commercial work is the main source of income, for most creatives that’s the hard truth. It’s not always the creatively satisfying jobs that bring in the paychecks; there is often a taboo even talking about them. I get a lot of creative consulting work, which is convenient as my name rarely has to be visible on these, so I can retain my anonymity when I feel so inclined, and my own aesthetic and signature isn’t compromised. 

I’m grateful that COVID-19 has not had an impact on my ability to be financially secure. From a young age, my parents instilled in me the utmost importance for having savings in order to have financial (and mental) security. But, I’m also well into my career to be able to have this. If you’re just starting out, it’s a very hard thing to build, and I feel for those fellow creatives. This also isn’t something I want to be spending my savings on, but I definitely will not be complaining!

The government’s agenda doesn’t seem too inclined to support freelancers. Overall, the support is minimal. The best network we seem to have is each other.

I’m always going going going (a side effect of this industry), so actually it’s nice to see my creative juices getting the time they need to reset and reignite. Sometimes doing this job can become a little second nature, and this has broken that cycle. It’s not being forced but, perhaps, pushed into a new direction. Maybe even a little 360 degrees back to what it was like when you first began, where you don’t have all the access and tools you need, and you have to rely on yourself to bring a project to life – even if it’s just at home! 

We can all have our days when things get hard, and we can second guess, but if you’re seriously considering changing industries then perhaps this is not where you’re supposed to be. Life can be funny like that, sometimes things have to break for you to realise you don’t want to fix them, but start something new. 

The human condition is predisposed to greed, people cant help but want more for less, and industries can be built upon this mentality. The fashion industry’s treatment of interns is a prime example of this. We expect the absolute most, and yet provide the bare minimum in return. No wage, no security, no expenses, just experience. Thus it’s important that the government impose restrictions and support this workforce like any other.

What we are seeing now is clients using COVID-19 as an excuse not to pay invoices that were already overdue. I have seen one large business returning unpaid invoice emails with: “please be patient and understanding with us,” the insensitivity in this response alone is infuriating. If you’re a business and you’re worried about your survival, think how the individual self-employed people feel, knowing that you hold their survival in their hands.

If you’re working, it should be giving you a livelihood, not costing you one. So I would love to see the infrastructure and law change to support this within the fashion industry, especially for the large freelance workforce that bolsters it.

1 Granary

Magazine Issue 6

With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

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