Articles - 29th March 2019

Gird Your Loins! Fashion Direction is not what you imagine

Words by Basma Khalifa
Illustration by Jon McCormack

The most popular question I am asked about working in fashion – “is it like The Devil Wears Prada?”

The answer is no.

Well maybe a little. Working in fashion can be a mirage of free food and beauty products, going to events and trying to find the newest coolest item before anyone else. But this is marred by mountains of suitcase pulling, endlessly rushing to meetings and always having your finger on the pulse. Trends, shows, travelling and continuous learning.

And I honestly love it. Using my creative brain while thinking of how the world of marketing works for brands is always so interesting. And with the ever-evolving world of social media, it’s now about learning how to generate social change and make meaningful content.

My journey in fashion has taken me from University in Glasgow to the concrete Jungle of NYC. I have been lucky to be part of huge moments like The Brit Awards and huge campaigns with A-list celebrities. I started my journey as anyone, interning as if my life depended on it. But I always made sure I never gave up. Now ten years on I just wanted to share some of my tips for a successful career as a freelancer in fashion.

Ideas Ideas Ideas

It sounds so obvious but you are only as good as the execution of your ideas. I make sure I am continuously jotting down thoughts on my notes on my phone, on my laptop, scraps of paper, voice notes to myself. You should always be armed with ideas that reflect your voice. It’s important that as a creative you are always evolving so make sure that you are always thinking. I find buying random art magazines, using pinterest, searching on Instagram and going to galleries continuously feeds my need to keep thinking of stories and narratives. This means that when you meet a new photographer or you are asked if you have any ideas that you have a bank to pull from.  

Change your Instagram to be a positive and inspiring feed

Around three years ago I decided that Instagram was becoming an increasingly stressful platform. I found myself spending hours consuming other people’s lives and lusting on experiences that others were having that weren’t real nor achievable. I decided over the course of a few days to make a concentrated effort to change this. I slowly wiped my follow list. I changed from following the rich girl from LA to following the underground fashion scene. I began following photographers, Art Directors, Stylists and Make-up Artists. People who were in my field and I could relate to. People who inspired me. I found happiness in seeing women who were achieving the same things that I aspired to achieve too. It was important that the information I was consuming reflected where I was in life. And over time social media became not only enjoyable but an important source to connect to like-minded people. I recommend this to anyone who finds social media to be a vacuum of self-loathing. Don’t do it to yourself. Because it’s really not real life.


Being a creative is not about being a one-man band and the best ideas can often come from putting together a few creative minds. My favourite part of my job is collaborating. Spending time finding photographers that I love. Everyone has a different style and perception of what they think is beautiful. That’s the amazing thing about being a creative. No two people are the same. You should aim to find people who have a similar vision to yours. Reach out to them and ask if they would like to put a shoot together. Some of the most exciting times I have had have been through sharing and researching concepts. Let your imagination run wild and find a tribe to help you bring it to life.

Never think you are “too good” for the most basic jobs

Until this day I still do my own returns. I also do all the buying for jobs. It’s not because I can’t afford to outsource these jobs but it’s because I believe that I am not above them. Never assume that doing a minor task is too small for you. Some of the best contacts I have made have been when I have done something for a lower rate. The passion for the job should outweigh your ego. Use your gut instinct to know that sometimes being in the same studio as a great team or assisting an incredible stylist can often land you paid gigs. I have had times where I have walked my bosses dogs, ran around getting coffees and dry cleaning. It’s all about being indispensable and trustworthy. See the future goal and know that sometimes it can be achieved by just saying yes even if you really don’t want to.

Be clever with your money

Rule number one of freelancing. Be smart with your money. From my first day of freelancing, I made sure I had two bank accounts. One to save for taxes and a current account that I would be paid into. I also had a credit card for buy and return jobs. Money can be the real deal breaker when it comes to being a freelancer. The instability means you should always think ahead. My advice would be to set yourself a minimum amount that you can have in your account at one time. This should be considered your emergency fund. If for any reason work dries up a bit or you take ill, it’s important to have a cushion. Money can consistently be something to manage throughout your career so try and stay ahead of the curve before you embark on your freelance journey. Be smart and ask questions. HMRC should be your best friend when you begin your tax returns and lean on friends who have done it before for guidance.

Never stop being inspired

Being able to do your hobby as a job is a huge privilege and you should always remember to count your lucky stars. Embrace your creative mind and let it run to its wildest imagination. Never stop learning and testing yourself. You are lucky to have the freedom of free thinking, use this. Hone your skills, indulge the wanderlust and never stop dreaming.

We champion the freelancers and every entrepreneur who took a leap of faith with their idea.

If this sounds like you, head over to our Virtual Office and send us your best work via an UnderPinned Portfolio. We want to hear from you!

Make your UP portfolio

Related Articles

Seven questions to ask yourself before sending a portfolio

There are many things that make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful portfolio, and there are some factors that are out of your ...

Read more
How freelancers can detach from billable time

It’s Saturday morning. After kicking back on Friday night, I thought I had signalled ‘weekend mode’ to my mind. Sadly, and I’m not proud to admit i...

Read more
A checklist for the January 31st tax deadline

It’s boring, but if you’ve saved money specifically for this purpose, it shouldn’t be painful. Here’s what you must do to get through your self-ass...

Read more