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

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

  1. I relate to this blog on some many levels Adele and how awesome it is that you share the truth of the industry and your choice to be in it with love. It is a game changer for the industry to have the reflection of someone who loves who they are just as
    Much as what they do.

  2. You show here Adele, how making changes in the way we live brings about changes to the relationships we have with everything… Introduce self love and our relationships with work, with other people, with life in general, all become abundant. So its not about changing the things around us, because it is our state of being affects the environment and interaction we have with it.

  3. It’s amazing after spending a length of time in an industry and having so many experiences we can then experience what it is like when evolution is added to the mix, and that’s where it takes off a million times.

  4. There are times when people are uncomfortable with my choice to change how I live….I understand, I used to drink, smoke, etc….and there was a time when I couldn’t understand stopping these habits….however I have changed and every now and then someone will try in a relationship to say I might still invite you away for the weekend, or to this night out, etc if you still drank etc…”…no amount of recognition will ever compare to the lovely feeling I now have with my own body.” I do not get invited out as much, I do not seek friends who only want me on these terms, as you say the recognition can never ‘compare to the lovely feeling’ reconnected with our bodies is priceless, delicious and like coming home.

    1. And isn’t it cool we get to invite others out more? The reflection being: we may have very different lifestyle choices, but hey connection is much more than what we choose to do. 🙂

  5. Amazing how we think we are just saying ‘yes’ to one thing (the thing we want) but we are actually saying ‘yes’ to a whole lot more, which sooner or later we then have to re-correct within ourselves.

  6. how extraordinarily un-cool is the lifestyle that you describe and yet for so many people in so many ways similar they are aspiring to be something that they are not, when all that is needed to be done is to connect with what we truly are

  7. ‘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’.’ When we sell an image, we are selling so much more than ‘a look’, but instead, everything that comes with it – the way we live, and every ounce of the abuse or the love in our choices.

  8. ‘I simply began taking deep care of my body’ – and the more I do this, the more my body supports me back in both its strength and ability to do what I do in a day, but also in the way it communicates more and more clearly with me about what is going on around me and the impact of my choices.

    1. When one person begins to take care of themselves—truly so, and not just by abiding with rules etc. ,this would naturally pull another person to reflect upon this within themselves and so on and so forth. Nothing needs to be done special, no words need to be spoken in what should be done or not done even, when another is ready for this reflection, everything flows and there are now wo points of reflection in the world. And as such, light is reflected in the world, the natural state of who we are.

  9. I work in the world of beauty retail. The world of beauty goes side by side with the fashion industry. There is a similar pressure on women to look perfect. However the difference with beauty is that we focus on skin care, which is the basis for a good face of makeup. The skin is a reflection of how we live, and our faces are a reflection of how we feel. When working with skincare it is almost impossible to not look at lifestyle. There is an opportunity to look deeper at how we are living. This is what I love about the world of beauty. It can be superficial, but there is the potential to see and work with so much more.

  10. If I’m honest I have never had a grasp on this industry, it always seemed so false and superficial and for a privileged few. It has a lot to answer for with people with eating disorders and image problems. An industry that could promote somehow that we are all beautiful no matter how we looked on the outside would be far more beneficial to humanity. Oh there is one Universal Medicine.

    1. What you feel is the elistism fashion is run in, an energy of separation and non-inclusiveness, like many other industries, this industry is not rooted in love. But there is another way to choose to work and live.

  11. There is no perfection in self-care, no rules either, but a constant feeling of what my body needs and the willingness to honor it. When life happens and I have to make exceptions, I will be in the deepest understanding, acceptance and tenderness to myself and my choices.

  12. Thank you for showing the reality of working in the fashion industry.It is obviously a world of glamour and recognition is a huge part of it . For you to say ‘no amount of recognition will ever compare to the lovely feeling I now have with my own body’ is pure gold. I feel inspired by your commitment.

  13. On the surface it seems there are so many jobs that glitter in our world yet if you could but walk in the shoes of each worker we would get to see we all suffer from stress, nervousness and anxiety underneath. When this sinks in you can see that there is no ‘dream job’ or place that will save you, but as you say Adele there is a way we can be with ourselves that brings joy and tenderness to us and everyone else. In this way it’s clear as day that every job is equally beautiful.

  14. It is from knowing how this industry operates is so far from truth and devoid of love that most of my working days were spent in reaction. Knowing that money cannot buy us true success, confidence or beauty, I have resisted committing to making a decent living for myself. And yet being in reaction to what is not true, will never bring anyone back to truth. Therefore, the commitment to being in this industry and the transformation of how I feel about myself eventually changed how I feel about being here. Today I feel a commitment of being in this industry that I have never felt before, but also a joy as well as a forever deepening responsibility of simply being love, there is no reward really in any of this, but a continuous awareness of more to learn every day.

  15. A very beautiful and powerful blog Adele thank you for sharing, amazing the changes you have made in your life, saying no to abuse and transforming your life by love and deep self care you have been able to stay in an industry you once wanted to leave what beautiful reflection you bring in all your relationships at work and play.

  16. In having a bit of experience in the fashion industry, I can say that it can be so hard for people to separate their work with their personal lives – ie have space outside of the industry. It is as if because clothes are worn outside of work, there is a need to keep up a certain image all of the time. So how gorgeously refreshing it is to read your blog and how you have been able to not let your work consume all of you – that you can still be yourself in this industry – wow what a bright light you are shining Adele.

  17. We know that often there is brutality that comes in certain jobs, like peps the armed forces or certain big corporations buttony are surprised that there is such brutality on the fashion industry. This is because we have used our eyes to see but ignored our clairsentience which can clock energy. One only has to register the emotionally bruised, abused and sad models who walk the catwalk to realise what goes on in there. Beautiful girls are exploited, badly treated, dictated to about what shape and weight they should be, and how fashionable it is to be miserable and beaten-around looking. Are we going mad as a society? Where is the joy and sacredness of a woman. So it is no surprise to hear of your experiences in the fashion industry Adele – great blog.

  18. On the surface the fashion industry looks glamorous but underneath all that fake sparkle it sounds like many an abusive power game forms its foundation and the image we see. Yuck.

  19. We can say no to abuse in our working environment and change the goal posts to ones of love .. it is possible … you have shown us this, thank you 💕

  20. This is so interesting – the connection you have made between ‘fashion history’ and the truth of what is really going on behind the scenes. Which makes me wonder, what exactly is the history that is being recorded, is it a history of fashion – or of how far we are all willing to go in to self-disregard, self-loathing, etc.?

  21. All of us are customers at one point or another, and as the customer we don’t need to be right all the time, but we do need to be respected and considered. The customer is always right is a misnomer.

  22. How many of us have been sucked into changing our natural selves to align with something that simply isn’t us… one of the best things about knowing ourselves is the freedom of being able to BE ourselves.

  23. It is interesting how we can make things more glamorous than they actually are, but our bodies always reflects the truth of every choice we have made and how we have lived.

  24. Gorgeous clothes and beautiful fashion can be so much fun. But there is nothing to come near the beauty that shines from a woman who has connected to her innermost. I’ve just been in a course today where I saw many beautiful women all day! The fashion industry by and large has lost the plot here, except for one or two shining lights in there such as yourself Adele. Keep shining!

  25. This blog made me go back to the time before I went into University to study and it looked all so cool and well organised yet now I am in it is not as cool as it seems and not very organised at all. I found this with working in several jobs as well, organisation and care are often deeply lacking. This is not a judgement but how we all have accepted these institutions to be and this can be changed simply by living it ourselves as you did.

  26. I love what you now offer the industry in way of both reflection of another way of being but also in connection through relationship. This is something that people are missing and desperately craving. I can imagine that it is indeed this feeling of being met that will stay with them far longer than any fashion images will… constantly reminding them of what is truly important.

  27. .’…for me that image was “help!” ‘ A glamorous world but how desperate are the ones in it. And how absolutely amazing it is that you have made such a turn around and are proving to everyone in and outside this industry that it is possible to say no to the abuse and stand tall by caring for yourself and emanating this out. How being yourself can be a celebration where ever we work. A complete opposite of the image before.

  28. Trying to substitute true love for glamour and recognition is futile and will eventually take its toll on our bodies, it is only until we develop a relationship with ourselves and accept how beautiful we are within our own bodies that we know that true beauty our natural right for us all.

  29. Wow this is gorgeous and hugely important at the same time. Thank you for giving us an insight in the fashion industry and what appears to look good but is not actually from the inside. This is so hugely important as otherwise we keep that which is not healthy, not truly content and integre as something that is good/great and desireable. Thank you.

  30. So much to comment on this blog but today this line stood out – “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 true business. Where the focus is not only on the end product, but also on the quality of energy it was created in.

  31. The fashion industry is the perfect epitomy of this way of living completely from the way life looks. But it is by no means reserved for this part of life alone. Your words today remind me Adele that it truly does not matter at all, where we work, what relationship we are in, if we miss true Love in ourselves, nothing will ever be enough in this world.

    1. No matter which industry we are in if we do not hold back it is Love that we will reflect. This is important because Love is the missing link in every industry and in the world and we are all missing ourselves and each other when living in the world.

  32. Why do we want to concentrate beauty in one industry when in truth there is beauty everywhere? This fact reveals that we are trained to see beauty through the images we buy into which leads to seeing something and ignoring something else that does not match the image.

  33. “This is a way in which I am experimenting living every day with more understanding and deeper refinement.” I am finding the daily exploration and refinement for how we move, sleep, eat and drink greatly benefits our connection to our bodies and that inevitably holds a great commitment to the all. I also find it fun to explore and discover what works and what doesn’t in the forever deepening process of connection to me.

  34. “no amount of recognition will ever compare to the lovely feeling I now have with my own body” this is so true, when we find a way to really surrender to how we truly are, there is no comparison.

  35. Sometimes, a lot of times, I have had this belief that to be me in my job is to result in being alone and cut off from everyone so why bother trying. But I am learning that yes the industry and practices do not support self-care (at the moment) but that doesn’t mean I cannot and when I do I find myself more open and connected to people and less lonely.

  36. When we stop and look at how life is lived and the abuse that we allow override our natural way to be, we begin to see life unravel before our eyes. Making simple choices to rest when needed, nourish ourselves for true vitality and to move from our deep connection to our bodies shows such a level of respect and love for who we are that no amount of abuse could withstand such responsibility held. It’s a forever deepening process, but one that not only aids our working life but life in all facets of living.

  37. I have often thought how if I was marooned suddenly on an island or stuck on a mountain in the desert, just how irrelevant and useless a lot of high end fashion would be. Whether my shoes are Gucci or Prada is of little material importance when neither shield my feet from the sea, sand or rain. It’s not to say that fashion is ‘bad’ but just that so much of life today has become removed and abstracted from its true purpose. These sorts of things have taken on gigantic importance when all they are, are simple side notes to the main play of life, the relationships we have with each other, the stars and God. Thank you Adele for tailoring this piece for us to read.

  38. The fashion world provides such a stark contrast between the way things feel and the way they look on the surface. This difference actually exists in every part of our life, but nowhere is it shown so clear that our attempt to create a utopian ‘look’ to life is empty, futile and pointless when it’s devoid of Love. Beautiful to know there are those like you Adele who are out there bringing this awareness to fashion and the wider world.

  39. Thank you Adele for really shining a light on the reality of what goes on in, I’m sure, most of the fashion industry behind the facade of glamour. And really great to read of the deep care that you have taken and are developing in how you look after yourself, no doubt having a powerful impact on the quality that you bring to your work now.

  40. It is so great that you have exposed the rot in this industry Adele. Imagine how many beautiful women are out there experiencing the same thing and not knowing who they can express it to: ‘ 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.’

  41. To say yes to a rhythm that is not our own in the industry that we work in is to override the natural harmony and order of our bodies and the natural world have.

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