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How Sally moved from day job to dream job with style

"Something hit me at that ten year mark, and I knew I needed a change.” Sally McKinnon

Personal style consultancy is no longer the domain of the super-rich. Over the past decade, the market for ordinary people—with ordinary budgets—looking for services that will enhance their professional and personal style has grown exponentially. 

Styled by Sally, the brainchild of Melbourne-based stylist Sally McKinnon, has been an integral part of Melbourne’s fashion landscape for the past ten years. Sally provides personalised, sensitive services for clients that include personal shopping and personal style  consultations that help create a style profile for her clients. Sally provides services to both women and men, and has succeeded in capturing a growing market in men’s fashion. 

We spoke with Sally about how she came to be a personal stylist and the challenges—and rewards—of working in the fashion industry.  

How did you become a personal stylist and wardrobe consultant?   

I started Styled by Sally in 2007 after working for over ten years as a very fashion-conscious primary school teacher. Something hit me at that ten year mark, and I knew I needed a career change. I’d been watching shows like What Not to Wear with Trinny and Susannah, and realised the advice they were giving made complete sense to me. I saw the personal styling industry as an emerging one so figured I’d go for it. 

What advice would you give to people who are passionate about fashion and fashion retail and wish to become personal stylists/wardrobe consultants? 

To succeed in this industry you have to possess a lot more qualities than enjoying shopping! Personal styling is exactly that—personal. We work one-on-one with real men and women, who have real needs, real emotions, regular budgets and lifestyles. To be a good personal stylist you need to be a good people person. You need to be a good listener, be able to empathise with clients and respond to their unique needs. You need to be highly organised, be able to think on your feet and communicate clearly with clients and retailers. 

Are there any challenges—or rewards—unique to working across both men's and women's styling? How has the demand for personal styling evolved over the past few years? 

There are definitely challenges working as a personal stylist but these are met equally with reward. Men and women can lack confidence with their bodies and be very self-critical, and this can be challenging. But on the flip side, when you can help life a client’s self-esteem, make them look and feel fabulous, that’s a massive reward. The demand for personal styling has increased dramatically over the past ten years with more people realising the service exists and that it’s not only for celebrities or the wealthy. 

What kinds of opportunities has the exponential growth of eCommerce and online shopping done for your business? Do you deal mostly with face-to-face or online clients? 

Online shopping hasn’t really affected the personal styling world as our business involves shopping with clients one on one. It has, however, influenced the creation of my new men’s online service; the only one in Australia. Men can order a brand new wardrobe with a few clicks. I personally curate and select their new wardrobe and send it straight to their home! 

What kinds of opportunities are there for small and micro businesses such as yours to build their client base by working with other small and micro-businesses, e.g. cross-promotion, co-hosting events etc.? 

I’m heavily involved in small business in Melbourne as the Vice President of the City Precinct Association, so that has provided me with a lot of opportunities to build relationships with fellow small-business owners.

Because I don’t have a physical premises, this has provided me with opportunities to co-host events in established businesses, create my own events with fellow small businesses and use tools such as social media to cross promote.

When I first started my business, I would attend many networking events related to small business and fashion, using the opportunity to network and get my name out there. I even started my own networking group (via Twitter) that focused on women working in the fashion industry. 

How did you go about getting your name out there in a new industry?

Things have changed a lot in the ten plus years since I started Styled by Sally. In 2007 there was no Facebook Business Pages, no Instagram, Twitter; I didn’t even have a website. So instead it really was about attending various networking events, fashion shows and seminars and word of mouth was vital. I think if I was starting my business now, getting one’s name out there would be much easier!

What did you do to help position yourself as an expert in your field? 

To be honest, for me it’s always been about reputation. To this day, I know that Styled by Sally is highly regarded by clients and retail staff for being professional, respectful, cooperative, friendly and down to earth. Showing clients that you care about them, that you listen to and meet their needs, means they speak highly of you with their friends, family and colleagues. Showing retail staff that you respect them, that you respect the clothes you work with, that you cooperate with them rather than thinking you know more than them, is vital in building mutual relationships that benefit both parties. It's because of these relationships that I enjoy discounts and service unique to Styled by Sally.  

Where would you like to see Styled By Sally in five years' time? 

With a team of four stylists, I hope to continue building the business so that my team are working as much as me! I would like to continue to focus on men’s styling and building the online service. Men’s styling is a real niche market and hence why I decided to build my reputation as a men’s specialist.  

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