Stylist, Elizabeth Johnson: “We’re in a position not to have jobs that make us miserable”

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There comes a time in many women’s lives when they want to move on from something tying them down, pick up a hobby or even switch up their work. And for Elizabeth Johnson, 42, this was the move eight years ago that kick-started her career in fashion and she’s never looked back since.

Originally from and residing in South Shields with her husband Andy, 43, and three sons, Elizabeth works as a personal stylist and is completely infatuated with the fashion industry, saying her previous job was “proper grown-up. I wore suits and worked in an office, I just got sick.”

Her career path has never been solid either: “I didn’t have a plan like a lot of people in my generation. Life gets in the way, but if you’re lucky enough you can get to a point and say I’m not doing this anymore.” So, with a “very supportive husband” and her own ambition, things just fell into place.

Fast-forward to the present and we’re both chatting away at the University of Sunderland, where Elizabeth has been holding a masterclass in styling for budding students. She’s extremely talkative, a very bubbly person and although her outfit is a casual combination of dark trousers and a black top, her confidence and love for fashion shines through with a dyed silvery-blonde bob.

We discuss the early days of her career, having launched her own business in 2009 called Bowler Hat Vintage, which was the ultimate turning point and gateway into fashion: “It was kind of by accident; I realised I had too many clothes and most of them didn’t fit, they were just very pretty so I thought I best sell it all!”

She chose the name ‘Bowler Hat’ because it’s “iconic”, vintage and most of her clothes were genuine, pre-loved items. It was also her love of vintage that sprung her further into the fashion industry, landing her a fashion editor’s role in 2009 at Daisy Green Magazine online, an ethically sound lifestyle, beauty and fashion website.

Elizabeth explains that it focuses on “natural products, absolutely no animal testing. And as far as I can judge, I don’t wear anything that’s tested on animals.” So is ecological fashion something that she tries to encourage? “I’m a tedious eco type… I wouldn’t wear something that’s hideous just because it’s ethical, the designs have to come first. It has to look good, but I wear a lot of vintage because it has a low-carbon footprint.”

Intrigued as to where her inspiration for becoming a stylist has come from and this passion for decades gone by, we chat about her childhood. Elizabeth reminisces and smiles, remembering a piece of clothing from those early days: “I got this dress made for me, a rainbow dress and it was phenomenal. I’ve always been obsessed with fashion, when I was growing up I was influenced by old films… That’s kind of how [the whole thing] started.

“I have this suit my mam wore to my christening. I know how old it is and I’ve worn it myself and that makes me happy. So in the vintage sense, I like to pick up things from charity shops, there’s a chase about them. It’s an addiction and a hunt which you don’t get on the high-street.”

You could say this love for vintage clothing has acted as Elizabeth’s niche to stand out in the North East. She completely understands the pressure of the industry here: “It’s really hard. There’s always going to be an expectation of fashion only being in London. Most people think Northerners are thick, they’ll treat you differently… But be prepared and travel to other places.”

She worked on a film over the summer for three weeks as a costume assistant and although she couldn’t remember the film’s title, it was something different and new: “We’re in a position not to have jobs that make us miserable – get experience and have fun!”

It might not necessarily be something you want to do right now, but she strongly advises hopping on a train, bus, whatever and getting experience wherever possible: “Assist a hairdresser or makeup artist… You’re going to be learning on the job. See if there are any stylists who need assistance… Say yes! Say yes even if you don’t know what to do… If someone says operate on my leg, say no! But figure it out along the way, say yes to everything.”

We end our chat on a rather positive note about the fashion industry and it is fair to say I went away feeling thoroughly inspired by the stylist’s words: “The fashion industry is like a big school; you come across gangs. There are nice people, bullies… But it’s brilliant, the best rush in the world. Why on earth would you put yourself through it if you didn’t utterly love it?”

Feeling inspired yet? Here are some of Elizabeth’s great tips for gaining invaluable fashion industry experience:

  • Research, read and find out as much as you can about fashion, everything… Film, art, television, books – educate yourself visually.
  • Go somewhere with the right attitude and be tough-skinned; the worst people can say is no!
  • Talk to people with a sense of humour and believe in yourself.
  • Everybody makes mistakes… Make them, it’s all part of the process.
  • Compromise – you can’t do a job in fashion or anything creative for the money. Get a part-time job whilst freelancing and in the long run, you can get there with your effort and experience.
  • Be the best version of yourself. Walk into somewhere like you own it… Be a little cocky but not rude – be assertive!
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