“Doing work that is important to you is important. When I didn’t work or couldn’t work, I lost my sense of purpose and identity.
My life has been rich with successes, failures, mistakes, new starts, depression, creativity, diminished and soaring confidence.
I’m so grateful that I have freedom and choice around what work I do, when I do it, where I do it and with whom.”
Overview of earlier career.
After graduating from the only UK footwear design degree course, I joined an amazing company called Lambert Howarth Global (a major supplier to M&S) where I designed my first range of slippers. I loved designing that range because I was a vegetarian and could work in fabrics not leather.
I got to travel to Sri Lanka and Korea to the factories, then across Europe and in later years to China. I created effective relationships with M&S buyers and got insights into retail that were priceless. It wasn’t quite what I’d expected after university and designing commercially was so different to what I did on my course, but I loved my job and the people I worked with. When the company was taken over, everything changed…including my job.
I became a freelance designer and later switched to the retail side to as the womens footwear designer for Dorothy Perkins.
Around the same time a friend invited me to lecture at Reading University in footwear design. I jumped at the opportunity and I loved it so much that I decided to do the PGCE teaching qualification.
So one day a week I’d teach shoe design, another I’d learn to teach and 3 days a week I’d design shoes for Dorothy Perkins. It was a perfect time in my career and I was very happy with life.
The trigger for change?
Then life got in the way of career.
I fell in love with my husband and resigned from two jobs I loved to enthusiastically relocate to a remote part of Lancashire. We began planning a family. The fashion industry isn’t exactly flexible with all the overseas travel and long hours. I knew I’d be miserable juggling a career and babies, so I decided to think outside the box and career pivot using the skills I honed over the 15 years as a shoe designer.
I’d always helped friends with styling outfits but when a friend asked me for help with her entire wardrobe I jumped at the chance. I took photos of her in all of her outfits with her head cropped out (to reduce her inner critic) and she transformed before my eyes.
It was my light bulb moment but I wasn’t sure that I could make a living from styling.
So I started a research project to figure out what services were out there for personal stylists and realised that stylist at the time were far and few that I could name my competitors on one hand.
That’s when I knew.
I knew I wasn’t ready to charge for my services at that point, so I found some eager personal styling guinea pigs to work with for free and let me test out, practise and hone my techniques. Using client feedback and my intuition I developed my “Wardrobe Makeover Experience” and began earning an income from my passion.
Soon after I had my first child, but felt very isolated living on a remote sheep farm, hours from family and close friends with my husband away a lot for his work. I found being a new mother very challenging.
I felt creatively stifled and honestly was pretty bloody lonely! Looking back. I realise I’d probably been suffering from undiagnosed post-natal depression.
Then my husband got a job offer to move to Kenya, where we had our second child, when I again suffered PND but this time I suffered too severely to go undiagnosed.
I think the years of major life and career changes plus the feeling of lost identity that came with being a mother all contributed, as well as being labelled a “trailing spouse” by my husband’s employer - which didn’t help with my sense of purpose!
I reached out to my GP who referred me for psychotherapy and although it took time, with the right medication and talking therapy I was able to recover my mental health. Slowly, my confidence returned.
I felt I needed to make up for lost time and indulged in a whole range of creative ventures including setting up Nairobi’s first mother and baby fair, creating my own label ‘Mama Flamingo’ – a capsule range of mother and baby clothing and also designing luxury nappy bags and accessories.
Styling was always my main passion and I began to build my client list to include the Kenyan High Commissioner's wife, diplomats and expats, high profile Kenyan public figures and even a famous pop star. I also linked up with Nairobi’s fashion designers and independent boutiques to create fashion events and style for catwalk shows.
I loved this time where I thrived creatively and my self confidence grew enormously - it helped incredibly that I had a nanny to help with full time childcare!
Since we returned to the UK in September 2015, I’ve been building my personal styling brand “Emma Shoe Styling You.”
What Emma learned
Doing work that is important to you is important.
When I didn’t work or couldn’t work I lost my sense of purpose and identity.
Strategic marketing is crucial.
That’s my biggest learning.
I made the mistake of thinking that word of mouth referrals would be enough. They’re not!
In a competitive market, knowing your specific target customer and how to craft a message that connects with them has been a difficult area for me. But I’m getting much closer to mastering it than I was in the beginning.
If I were to do it all again, I’d work on the strategic side of marketing first.
You can’t be great at everything but...
In the beginning, you kind of need to be good enough at everything until you have the funds to outsource the areas you are not so good at. That’s a really tricky place to be - but every entrepreneur I’ve ever known has been there and accepts that mistakes are just part of the learning process.
Experiments allow you to make mistakes but to learn, to develop your skills and network along the way
I’ve conducted a long list of experiments where I got to use my styling talents. Some have been a joy to work on, some have not. Some have been commercially successful, some not. Some have energised me, some have not. I’ve learned a lot from all of them.
Self-care is paramount - we can’t afford to be ill.
As an entrepreneur, it’s tempting to work all the time. I think about work nearly all the time but in order to be successful we also need to prioritise down-time. Otherwise, we don’t have enough energy and head-space to do our work as well as we need to.
The reality is that if we get sick, we have no corporate sick pay policy to allow us to recover so we need to build in self-care to make sure we stay healthy.
Finding a tribe that gets me was transformational
Finding a community of similarly-minded, creative entrepreneurs has been a game changer. When I found my tribe at The Inspiration Space in Guildford, it was like coming home. I’m surrounded by creative individuals running their own business and we all support and champion each other. They feel like the greatest work colleagues you could ever choose! Before that, I spent a year growing the business from my kitchen table and it was a lonely place!
The 9-5 work schedule is antiquated and doesn’t suit me
I was a more creative designer and I am a better stylist when I have the freedom to work to my own rhythms. I start my day in a calmer place without a stressful rush hour commute and if I’ve done some exercise at the beginning of the day I feel happier and energised.
I also often work after the kids are in bed or attend evening events which take a lot of my energy. On those days, I don’t work all day and all evening - otherwise I’d burn out. It’s an on-going juggle trying to get the work, family and down-time balance right.
Social media and comparison can be the killers of all joy.
In the world of social media, there has been a lot of pressure to portray a cool image and a perfect care-free life. However, I think there’s a shift happening now as people are fatigued by the fake, filtered veneer often portrayed. We all know it’s not like that behind the scenes once the filter is turned off.
My life has been rich with successes, failures, mistakes, new starts, depression, creativity, diminished and soaring confidence. I believe it’s important to be honest about the ever-changing stages life throws at us and not try fake happiness.
How it feels on the days when Emma knows she has made the right decision?
I’m so grateful that I have freedom and choice around what work I do, when I do it, where I do it and with whom.
I love my work so much is doesn’t feel like work.
I can’t deny that some days I miss the regularity of the monthly salary but I’d never go back to being an employee - the rewards from working for myself are too abundant.
More about Emma
Emma’s ideal clients are ambitious career women who want to feel style confident and have professional impact. They are mid 40’s – 50’s going through a midlife transformation: divorce, menopause, depression, illness, weight change, transition or life change like moving back or going to live overseas.
Her own career and life experiences are so relevant to the women she styles. She can relate to the many challenges creative ambitious women experience and she understands the emotional connection we have with our clothes. The right outfit creates the self confidence to positively impact your day.
he is compassionate, empathetic and intuitive in establishing her client’s style and the wardrobe that works for them. The results for her clients are style confidence, de-cluttered wardrobe, headspace, shopping savvy and decisiveness.
The ultimate outcome is that Emma’s client wears more, shops less and finds joy in creating her own style.
Connect with Emma :
Linked in: Emma Reed