My Relationship with the Fashion Industry – Changed by the Way I Live

To the outsider, fashion styling is thought to be a very glamorous job. It looks like we get to hang out with models and celebrities, dress them up and be surrounded by beautiful clothes. We work in hotel rooms and have room service delivered to us, we are surrounded by the most expensive brand names and know all the inside news, and we get to shop at privileged prices. We work in exciting environments with celebrity photographers who have captured the most famous faces and the work we produce can make fashion history. But just like everything in the fashion industry, what we see on the outside is far from the truth.

I have been in this industry for over 20 years. I can still remember the first day walking into a high fashion boutique as a salesperson… and for the next few years I was completely owned by a force from which I could not extricate myself, but felt immense tension succumbing to. To put it simply, when I said yes to this industry, I was saying yes to a rhythm that fed on the disregard of myself, so every day at work I compromised my body by feeling a tension, which I did not know how to unravel.

For 3 years I stood for 10 hours a day in 3 inch heels, part of a uniform I chose to say yes to, and part of my job. When the shop was very busy, the time I ate was haphazard: I stood (still in my 3 inch heels) and chowed down something quick (usually high in fat, sugar and flavour) and because I starved myself so much, cigarettes, alcohol and coffee were also part of my daily diet.

I took a lot of abuse from customers because I worked with a high fashion brand and we were told the customers are always right, although many of them outright abused us by staying in the shop hours after closing just because they felt they could, and many stole from us as well, but we were not allowed to say no to them.

I was in constant anxiety and reaction towards the abuse that I accepted in this industry. In attempts to numb myself from feeling the abuse I chose for myself, my body was in such a raw and exhausted state every day that every night was a letting loose. When the whole company would meet I would drink and eat heavily, so much so that there were many occasions that within the hour I would already be completely gone, sometimes waking up the next day with yellow bruises from falling down and hitting things and losing consciousness.

The stress I was in from having to make monthly sales, dealing with difficult customers and flying constantly to Milan (as I had become a buyer and an assistant manager to the shop then) to buy for the next season, took an intense toll on my body. Flying to Milan was a complete nightmare because of the already high stress life that I was living.

Exhaustion was already a normal part of my life, and the added stress of a long haul flight and living in constant anxiety about the jobs that I would have to handle in a foreign country made sleeping on the plane impossible. Without sleep and having to start working in a showroom early the next morning for the next 12 hours, followed by a 3 hour dinner with clients, returning to the hotel room at midnight to continue working on the computer, was all part of the abuse that I chose for myself.

My body suffered. Physically I was plagued with insomnia and on days off I would often end up visiting the emergency room with sudden outbreaks of fever and pain. Emotionally I was depressed all the time and was constantly seeking stimulation to lift myself up.

All the money I made I voluntarily donated it back to the industry by shopping to keep up an image – for me that image was “help!” I wore long loose flowy clothes in black or white which I could disappear in, I did not want to be here. It was not funny and nothing fashionable at all, I had dark panda eyes just like the fashion models in the magazines, which are not trendy, but the way I and we as a society have sold out to this industry. My body felt desperately exhausted and therefore my whole demeanour was shouting exhaustion – my face looked tired, my posture was limp and had no vitality – and that is what the fashion industry has made as a trademark for ‘cool’.

The abuse continued when I became a freelance fashion stylist. I would be asked to find a large quantity of clothes in a very tight schedule, and often what I found would be unacceptable, not because it did not fit into the requirements of the job, but because the clients often changed their minds. So for one price that we charge, we were doing the work for 2 or 3 jobs and we would not say anything and bear it at our own expense, both physically and monetarily. There were many levels to get through in approval working as fashion stylist; usually there was the agency before the client and in each of these levels the abuse and control are an accepted part of the game, and something I chose to accept too.

I have discovered that there is nothing glamorous working this way, no fine wine or fluffy soufflé could ever soothe the raw and bleeding wounds I felt inside of me, and no double espresso tasted delicious, I just learned to “love” it because honestly, if I didn’t have it first thing in the morning and numerous shots after, my body probably would have just collapsed, so drinking coffee was a need and I convinced myself that it was a “fashionable” thing to do. No amount of shopping and adorning myself in brand names would ever fulfill the gaping hole I felt growing bigger within me, with each disregarding choice I made.

Until one day, when I said no to the abuse, and so for many years I had very few commercial styling jobs, but I began to work under my own terms.

Fast forward to now; I am still working deep amongst the intensity of this industry but I no longer choose to work as I did before. Neither do I want to escape from this industry, which I did for many years. Why? I simply began taking deep care of my body. The first thing that I did was to change my sleeping patterns by starting to go to sleep around 9pm, simply because I could not stay awake at night.

I had changed my lifestyle for that to naturally happen; I still worked in fashion but I also had a life outside of fashion. I cut gluten out of my diet because it made me feel heavy, and dairy because I found myself depending on cheese for comfort and the feeling of dependence has always been a disturbing feeling for me. Eventually I also cut out rice because it made me so drowsy that I could not work.

I further deepened this care by nourishing myself with fresh and healthy foods and drinking more water, and taking the care to make lunch for myself and to bring it to work. I don’t overtire myself, and I commit to having amazing relationships with everyone I work with by expressing to the best of my ability what my feelings are. Work has never been better.

On the odd occasion when big styling jobs drop me because of the way I choose to live and respect myself, I come back to the focus that no amount of recognition will ever compare to the lovely feeling I now have with my own body. I feel vital and joyful, even in the most intense jobs, from start to finish. There is connection with everyone and we all have an amazing time, and as a result the photographs reflect all of this. Clients and crew do not just remember how stunning the final product is, they remember how deeply met they have been and this feeling will always remain – longer than the fashion images will.

This is a way in which I am experimenting living every day with more understanding and deeper refinement. I choose to live and share this way because this industry is not just a name for me, this industry is all the friendships I have made over the last 20 years, it is everyone I have ever met and deeply care about. To me, this industry is a relationship.

By Adele Leung, Fashion Stylist, Photographer, Model and then some

Further Reading:
Self-Care at Work Makes Sense, Why Is It Not Common Practice?
My Relationship With Work: Choosing To Be All of Me
No Longer Living with the Expectations, Stress & ‘Doing’ of Working as a Hairdresser

678 thoughts on “My Relationship with the Fashion Industry – Changed by the Way I Live

  1. No matter how alluring something looks, we always have to ask what is really going on? So often people put themselves through all sorts of hoops to get the position and like the swan, it all looks good above the water, but underneath we are working like crazy to maintain our composure.
    What if we flip that, and start with the natural stillness, and then let that roll out across our lives, our work, our family… never give up on that quality and always offer it to others? That would be totally different, bold, beautiful and inspiring.

  2. This part about the abuse from customers in the shop is appalling, and really breaks down the illusion that everything is better once you have lots of money or work in a glamorous place.

  3. “But just like everything in the fashion industry, what we see on the outside is far from the truth.” This could be said for many industries, but what you have shown us here Adele is that by coming to deeply honour yourself first, it is entriley possible to change the relationship you have with your work and who you work with. Something that we can all take inspiration from.

  4. “I choose to live and share this way because this industry is not just a name for me, this industry is all the friendships I have made over the last 20 years, it is everyone I have ever met and deeply care about. To me, this industry is a relationship.” Most beautifully said and brought to the true importance in life, it is the people, us people, in life that count more than anything else, and if we understand this and start living that way harmony and love will become our focus instead of security and personal profit.

    1. Judgement is easy when we don’t know the person. Sure it still happens with those we know but with the initial realization that we are all people, with flesh and blood and feelings. We are all made of the same stuff, love, as we all feel hurt with loveless comments and judgments. So if an industry is a relationship, we understand and grow together. And yet, this starts with the relationship with ourselves. As an industry may not wish to have any relationship other than that involving money or self-gain, that again, has to be understood. But what we can offer our industry, can always be from love, no matter what.

  5. Everything is a relationship including our industries, for they’re made up of people, and how we are with them starts with how we treat ourselves – they take their cue from us, so when we stop abusing ourselves we give ourselves a greater opportunity to see and feel abuse and to say no to it.

    1. I so agree, everything is always about people and thus the importance to always make it about people first and foremost.

  6. The workplace for so many is a place where one shuts off from how one truly feels and simply plugs oneself in like a computer almost… And just get the job done at the expense of everything.

    1. True, for many this is the case but this choice can never be free of its consequences. The distraction we use work as a relief is never permanent and that which we want to not deal with can feel quite overwhelming when we are forced to look at them by our most loving and honest body.

  7. This is what we all need to come to that no job, no task at hand, no money is more important than our own well-being. The world is blessed when we are in it with our fullness, as soon as we compromise ourself in our truth we compromise what we do and thus bring.

  8. I had a similar response to my industry – having got to a point where I just wanted to leave because I was not enjoying it, it felt flat and just did not seem to be serving a purpose. When I started making some changes to my relationship with it (taking better care of me, so I had a chance of being in good shape) and remembered that deep down its a service for people… then I could connect to something totally different, and something that I now enjoy enormously.

  9. “My Relationship with the Fashion Industry – Changed by the Way I Live” – love the way your post describes Adele that how we live moves on to eventually inspire and one day change the industry we are in through the reflection of our livingness quality.

  10. “On the odd occasion when big styling jobs drop me because of the way I choose to live and respect myself, I come back to the focus that no amount of recognition will ever compare to the lovely feeling I now have with my own body.” I love this how you have recognised your own worth and are not prepared to compromise your own standards.

  11. Adele I could really feel the exhaustion in your body when you had clients to see late into the night, it is amazing how the fashion world is all about the look and nothing at all about the inner beauty we hold within, and how important it is to support ourselves first.

  12. The fashion industry is all based on outer appearance but how you feel on the inside is always reflected through your eyes.

  13. There is a definite glamourised view to the idea of staying in fancy hotels, and perhaps this is fed by media images, or perhaps it talks to a part of ourselves that deeply wants to escape in to a another lifestyle which hotels give the promise of. But, like in this article, I too have spent many long hours in the hotel life, and after a while it does loose its appeal, it looses in fact all of its glamour which in the end is just on the surface as underneath is the real life of the people who run it, people like you and me who are no different in their struggles and challenges. So the glamourised image of the hotel life is just that – an image.

    1. There is a lot which is not true in the external facade. But most of us want to seek for that and be in the comfort that all is okay. But what truly settles is to face and work on what does not feel okay to begin with. But do we know what is not okay?

  14. It is good to have this written down and nominate. We need to understand that no outcome as beautiful and brilliant it might look is worth the abuse and harshness we have allowed to rule in this world.

  15. It’s very true that even if we might be doing exactly the same job, how we experience it totally depends on how we are with ourselves. When we appreciate ourselves for who we are and what we bring through what we do, our joy deepens as we then begin to realise that there’s nothing personal about what the ‘I’ do.

  16. “… what we see on the outside is far from the truth.” Is there anything in society for which this is not true?

    1. A great question to ask. We have made everything about the outer appearance that we have neglected the true qualities we do things in, to the point that we do not understanding anymore that it is never the outcome that determines what we have produced but the quality we have been in all the way during the process.

  17. “… no amount of recognition will ever compare to the lovely feeling I now have with my own body.” Once one experiences the connection to one’s essence there is nothing one would choose instead.

    1. The choice is clear. Although lots of things would come in to disturb this amazing relationship we have touched upon with ourselves and it requires a solidity and consistency to keep coming back from that choice and marker of connection.

  18. In my experience the customer is not always right, and although they are to be respected, so is everyone, and if there is any sort of abuse from a customer, it is to be called out, regardless of potential loss of business.

  19. This is spot on Adele . . .”no amount of recognition will ever compare to the lovely feeling I now have with my own body.” …. and no amount of ‘cool’ is going to make you feel fiery.

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