How Natali D built a successful styling business in Shanghai

An image of Natali D's stylist work in Bambi Magazine

Throughout its history with the west, China has long been known as an insular world, a difficult place for foreigners to crack with a language and cultural barrier that is hard to get past. But for those who have the tenacity to pick up and move to the country, it does offer a way to get your foot in the fashion industry door while gaining invaluable experience in the world’s soon to be number one consumer market.

In 2010 after studying styling for one year in London, South African native Natali D decided it was time to quit the security of her full-time finance job, pack up and head to China to begin a new career as a stylist.

“If you are thinking about changing careers but don’t know what to do, do a SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats] analysis to figure out what you like to do and would be good at,” she advises.

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Image courtesy of Natali D, photographed by Anna Uvarova

Although it was initially hard to work in China due to the lack of a standard set of familiar style references, the self-taught Natali quickly learned how to think on her feet while working on set. Back then people didn’t necessarily know what a stylist was and since the country’s fashion industry is still so young, the opportunity proved to be a challenging learning curve. It provided her with more in-depth experience than she would have received in established markets, she quickly saw her role expand into creative direction and brand consultation. She has recently even expanded into styling for videos, below you can watch a short produced independently with German director Nico Meyer-Brenkhof.

Penumbra from ZIAAM on Vimeo.

Having since established a name for herself in Shanghai for her fashion forward styling and having branched out internationally with editorials in L’Officiel Australia, Elle Bulgaria and Men’s Health Serbia, Natali D shared a few takeaways on how to build a successful styling business in China.

1. Build Contacts
In Shanghai’s pre fashion showroom days Natali began by visiting stores in luxury shopping mall Plaza 66 to ask brand’s for their office number so she could cold call them about borrowing clothes. These days it is much easier with WeChat, which is essential for developing industry contacts and maintaining communications with clients. It has also made it easier to get in touch with new brands and for her to find new work. Socialising is a must for working in China.

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2. Trust yourself
Although China is known as a follower market, it’s more important to trust yourself despite what other people are doing. You need to be known for your signature style as a stylist so brands will seek you out.

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Examples of Natali D’s fashion styling work in high fashion magazines

3. Plan ahead
Fittings, visual research and outfit preparation are essential for styling so the style captures your interpretation of the current international zeitgeist that will look good for China. Be prepared for slow internet speeds, you also need to be super resourceful about where you find styling accents here. It’s not that easy to immediately find what you want when you want it.

4. Be flexible
What can go wrong probably will go wrong, especially in China where the industry is still developing and standardising so you need to be more flexible. Having a western approach to set work flows and how things ‘should be’ just doesn’t fly here. You need to think on your feet.

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5. Be international
China is always looking outward; you should be too. This summer, Natali will head to Paris for a project and Austria for a German client, it’s a great talking point and way to stand out. This is an opportunity to deepen her relationship with her existing Chinese clients who might want to shoot their look books overseas.

You can check out Natali D’s full portfolio here, follow her on Instagram or add her on WeChat: Natali_D

Curious about Chinese designers? These are some of Natali’s favourite local up-and-coming names: Staff OnlyFeng Chen WangWMWMVega Zaishi WangFFIXXEDAreteSankuanzSimon GaoAngel Chen and Chair Eyes

Like this? Follow Sandy on Instagram here or add her on WeChat Sandychuchu

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