Building a Profitable Career in Fashion Styling – Tiwalola Aina, Lab Scientist & Fashion Stylist

Africa is emerging as the new hub for creativity, trend, and everything style-related in the fashion industry, with front runners in the global styling industry like Ugomozie, Olori Swank, Laetita Kandolo, and many others culturally representing the continent in their style choices. Today, we catch up with Fashion Stylist Tiwa, whose style emerges from a mix of the African culture and her structured background in the sciences. Tiwalola Aina is successfully pursuing her passion and carving a niche for herself in the Nigerian Fashion Industry, while pursuing a parallel career in lab science.  In this interview, Tiwa shares her journey so far as the CEO of styledbyTJA and an ambitious Lab scientist. She also shares her candid experience in building a profitable career as a fashion stylist in Africa and the challenges that comes with the terrain. Let’s meet her!

Sample Picture from Stylist Tiwalola

Sample Picture from Stylist Tiwalola

Hello Tiwa, nice to meet you! Tell us a bit about your background and how it influenced your love for fashion

Sure. So I am from Ekiti state, was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. I am also a graduate of Medical Laboratory Science from the University of Ibadan. I’ve always loved fashion for as long as I can remember. While in secondary school, I remember sketching some designs and showing them to my friends. First, people always complimented me on many of my outfits or the way I combined pieces. Then it got to the point where friends would ask me for advice on what to wear to certain events or what I think about their outfits. Eventually I always found myself dressing people up all the time, which I started to love. After a while I realised that I was really passionate about it and decided to take it up as a career.

Have you ever imagined yourself doing something completely different from Fashion styling? 

Yes, I am currently doing something completely different from Fashion styling, and that’s Medical Laboratory Science. My background in both Science and Fashion enables me to shift smoothly between very different worlds. This probably explains my fascination with unusual combinations.

Sample Picture from Stylist Tiwalola

Sample Picture from Stylist Tiwalola

Fashion is quite multifaceted, what influenced your choice of styling as a niche? 

Before choosing Styling as a niche, I started out illustrating designs and selling them to clients, then I also tried learning how to sew but couldn’t complete the training because of school. So while I was still trying to figure out what aspect of fashion I wanted to focus on, I enrolled in fashion masterclasses by Claire Idera, Toju Foyeh and Ini Abiodun. My first formal introduction to fashion styling was in 2017 when I participated in a fashion styling workshop by Toronto Fashion Academy. During the workshop, I got to work with models, fashion designers, hair stylists, photographers, filmmakers, and makeup artists. It was after this I began researching what being a fashion stylist entailed and decided to stick with it.

Sketch of a dress by Tiwalola, The Fashion Stylist

Sample Sketch from Stylist Tiwalola

Your style seems to have a very strong African root, was that intentional or as a result of clients you’ve had so far?

I won’t say it’s intentional but innate. I think being African influences most of my style choices. And yes, there are instances where I’ve infused elements of African culture into my styling projects depending on the mood, theme, and client’s taste.

What would you call your biggest achievement as a fashion stylist?

So far, my biggest achievement as a fashion stylist is starting my styling brand, StyledbyTJA, which is going to be 3 years in 2023. 

Any mentors or inspiration? How have they influenced you and your choice of style?

My style choice is mostly based on my mood and the comfort of the outfit. When I made the decision to venture into styling, the plan was to start my brand but I also realized that I still had so much to learn. One way I thought of doing this was to work as an intern for some time. In 2020, I volunteered to work backstage at the Ibadan Bridal Fashion Week, it was at this event I met Glory of StyledbyGlory, a fashion stylist in Ibadan and she took me underneath her wing, we totally hit it off. Assisting her on a number of projects gave me most of the experience and exposure I needed.  From this, I found the drive and a purpose to create. I’m still learning, drawing my inspiration from nature, movies, conversations with people, art, and architecture. In the industry, I’m greatly inspired by Yolanda Okereke and J.bolin. It’s incredible seeing them create as Christians in this business of fashion and styling and they seem to do it effortlessly.

If you had the opportunity to use your creativity to influence social issues what would it be and how would you address it?

Youth Unemployment. By using my brand and platform to engage and promote businesses of young creative entrepreneurs. On this journey, I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with amazing fashion designers, thrift store owners, jewellery merchants, artists, hair stylists, models, videographers, photographers, makeup artists, etc. on various styling projects and while these collaborations have helped us tap into our intrinsic creativity, they’ve also provided avenues for us to become socially conscious and engaged entrepreneurs. This is what I hope to continue using my platform to do. So help me God.

Finally, what’s your view on fashion styling as a profitable career in Africa, and what challenges come with this terrain?

The styling industry is growing rapidly in Africa so it’s a very lucrative path for one who is prepared to take it on. If you’re considering a fashion styling career, the first question you need to ask yourself, is whether you are passionate about style, fashion and art. This is very important because you might need to start off charging less or even offering your services for free to build experience, portfolio, and social network. However, as you build your clientèle and reputation you are able to gradually increase your fees based on your own hard work and merit.
The fastest way to increase your chances of breaking into the industry is to make people know you, reach out to people to collaborate with, attend fashion events, get a mentor to train you, learn as much as you can offline and online and practice! If as a stylist you have transformed or styled someone whom everyone loved their outfit, then your work will evidently speak for itself hence the more exposure you get the more jobs for you. 
Despite how glamorous it sounds, it’s a lot of hard work that requires a good eye for detail and an understanding of your client’s needs. You’ll be working with designers, film producers, magazines etc. The life of a fashion stylist is not easy, you would have crazy schedules, tight budgets and deadlines in a cut-throat industry.
The only way to be successful is by putting in the effort consistently. You need to create your own unique style and focus only on making your clients look and feel their best. Deliver your most exceptional work with every client and let them spread positive word-of-mouth. Your satisfied customers will not only become permanent clients, but they will also attract many new ones.
Thank you for sharing your story with us Tiwa!




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