A Stylist and Creative Entrepreneur’s Journey

As a creative sometimes you follow the path that appears in front of you… some creatives though carve their own path through sheer determination and clear intentions; creating a journey filled with experimentation, adventure, hope, inclusion, joy, determination and everything in between.

In this episode we talk to Rhona Ezuma who gives us an insight into carving such a path, talking to us not only about her journey as a stylist, but also founding an independent magazine that highlights communities commonly overlooked and ignored.

You can listen to the whole interview podcast over on our podcast page or by clicking here at A Stylist and Creative Entrepreneur’s Journey.

Muaz

On this episode of Blazon, I’m talking to Rhona, a stylist, writer and founder of THIIIRD, an independent magazine and inclusive platform amplifying underrepresented voices in print and online. Based in London with a versatile book of clients, she regularly works between the realms of commercial campaigns, music, magazine and celebrity styling.

Rhona

It’s lovely to be here. So I’m Rhona, I’m a fashion stylist and I’m also the editor-in-chief of an independent publication called THIIIRD Magazine. THIIIRD’S a fashion, arts and culture publication, but we really care about centralizing voices which are usually marginalize and celebrating culture from an intersectional lense.

Muaz

So what were the stages that led you to become a stylist and, and eventually also create this magazine, which sounds like an incredible venture to put a spotlight on people who might not get that opportunity.

Rhona

I think there are many stages, but the first was just passion. I’d always loved fashion in terms of dressing up from as little as when I was younger and used to play with my Barbies.

Rhona Ezuma

I know that sounds ridiculous. But I remember sometimes being quite frustrated by the clothes I would get for the Barbies. So sometimes wanting to like, you know, try to create my own clothes for my Barbies and mad things like that. So I think, from where I’m standing out now, I would always say it was passion because I studied English literature and I very much thought I’d go down a more writing journalism, you know, talking about big topics, politics, communities, people.

And in many ways, fashion didn’t really align with that. But when I came back down to London, I’d always been someone who was known for having, you know, a bit of a cool style or like a different sort of style. And, when I came back down to London, I realized I really wanted to do something in fashion magazines because when I was at uni, you know, I started to cover lots of like ID magazines, and was really in love with the world of like music and how fashion could really make a statement or tell a story about someone.

So I came back down to London and obviously had no fashion real experience at all. And so I started applying for lots of experiences and the first sort of opportunity I got was at a press office for a vintage store. And my style at that time was quite retro. So it suited me and also attached to this placement was the fact that I’d be able to work alongside a stylist.

So I hadn’t quite got a stylist role, but I was like, you know what, I’ll get to see what they’re doing. And also it said, I’d be able to help out in shoots. So I was like amazing. That’s good for me. So I did this position for a while and got my first sort of experiences on set with people. And then obviously at the same time, I was applying for more roles, which were more directly styling based.

And I actually got a job at a e-commerce studio, which was probably the best and the worst thing to happen to me. Because e-comm was definitely not where I wanted to be at that time, but it put me in contact with so many different stylists, so many different photographers, so many different people working in the industry doing this whole thing of freelancing.

And it also gave me those really intricate skills of paying attention to detail, which really carried me through as a stylist, as an assistant for the first half of my career. So, you know, e-comm has a bit of a bad reputation. And I’ve been in loads of e-comm studios, where I really enjoyed being part of the team, but this particular one was a bit like it wasn’t the one, basically, like I remember my first day I was shadowing a girl who seemed like really cute, really nice, young as well.

So I was like, oh, this will be like a great friendship. But they chose the complete wrong person for me to have shadowed because she was miserable and she told me I’d hate it here. And basically he basically slated the job before it happened. So obviously I was horrified that first day. I was like, oh my gosh, what have I signed up to?

I eventually decided to leave there and to start at the complete bottom interning at magazines and freelance assisting for different stylists. And through doing that, you know, I’ve worked with big international stylists, like Ludivine Poiblanc, huge names, you know, I’ve been on set with like Brad Pitt et cetera. Before I finally met two stylists, kind of a similar sort of time who I ended up being a first assistant for. And the first assistant is basically like, a stylist may have a few assistants who are helping her pull in the clothes, um, source the clothes, return, the clothes, all of that liaising with PRs et cetera, and really managing like a lot of the technical sides of the project, as well as being like on set.

And like, you know, sometimes as a first assistant, I would be on set for the woman I was assisting without her, just because you’re, you’re trusted that much. So it was really through being a first assistant that I was like, I sort of garnered the experience and almost like the faith in myself and also the credibility and contacts to be like, you know what, I think I should start exploring this for myself because this is what I want to do. Right?

So the first thing I kind of did was started to test with people. And I remember a lot of the people I was testing with at the time were people in similar positions to me. So like photography assistants who I’d meet on shoots with my other stylists I was working for. So we would test and like submit to magazines and stuff like that.

And there was just like a great energy in this being able to create your own work, if you know what I mean. Put your own flavor, your own style at that, out there, which sometimes is very, very different to like the stylists who you are assisting. So yeah, I guess that’s how I kind of made my mark in styling. If you know, that’s where my journey really began.

And then as a stylist, I think, but, you know, I was quite because I basically had contacts and people knew of me and like people trusted me within the industry. Like sometimes, I would get forwarded opportunities or I be suggested for certain things. So I’d find, you know, like I was being published in a lot of good magazines and being allowed to work with up and coming photographers and that sort of thing, which was great.

But, I sometimes found a difficulty with the pitching process or the final outcome, just because it seems like my work was centered, a very specific sort of thing, which was, you know, very luxury, which I’m happy with, but also like not so diverse, which I was not really that happy with was becoming a prominent thing of what I was doing as a stylist.

And I think that for me, I would have these days I’d be like… Am I doing the right sort of thing, because you know, the girl who studied English Literature and was really passionate about change and like communication and that sort of thing. Like, you know, you don’t really, this doesn’t fit you. Do you know what I mean?

This isn’t all you’ve planned to do. And I was like, I know obviously I’m working in the fashion industry, which is about to some extent, sales and fantasy and all of that, but, I was like, there should be a way to do what is I’m trying to do, and it should be easier. And so, as you can probably tell I’m the sort of person who, like, I found it at that time anyway, hard to like, 

Muaz

Reconcile, reconcile your ethics with what was going on. And some of the output.

Rhona

Exactly. I just knew that there was a massive gap and I was like, I want to create a platform that would in some way, help me to bridge that gap. And the more I spoke to people about this feeling I was having. Well, sometimes people would just come to me and share comments with me. I realized it wasn’t just me who wanted like things to be different.

They wanted to do what they were doing creatively. I wanted to do what I was doing creatively, but just the habit coming from a different direction and for things to feel a bit more inclusive to feel a bit more in depth and definitely a bit more diverse. And I’ve always seen myself as a bit of an outsider.

And so the sort of beauty I’ve been attracted to has never been conventional really either. And so I think because of that, I was really like, well, who are we celebrating in these magazines? Why aren’t we allowed to see bigger girls? Why aren’t we allowed to see darker girls? You know what I mean? And these were the people who I really wanted to spotlight the most.

And I guess it’s that energy, which drove me to found THIIIRD. And when I did that, well, the idea came to me in a conversation where two friends had been on a shoot, a makeup artist and a hairstylist, and they just had a bit of a shit time. And they didn’t like how you know, how the black model was treated on that set.

And they were like, “you know what, we’re going to create something different and Rhona, because you’re always talking about this, you’re going to be the leader”. And I was like, Hey guys. Yeah, actually I’ve been at a magazine because I’d been a fashion assistant, at a luxury magazine called Rise at that time. And I was like, it’s not that easy guys.

Like, it’s really not that easy. And actually like, you know, I sit a few desks away from our editor-in-chief and she’s frightening. I’m not her. Do you know what I mean? So I remember just being like, yeah, yeah, yeah, sure guys. But like the idea petrified me because, you know, I was like complete novice in a few ways.

But it just stuck with me. And I think it stayed with me for a good few months. And I went away actually on this trip to New York, with a friend. And when I was in New York, I remember just feeling super, like, I guess it’s just like holiday feels, but I just felt super at peace and liberated and excited about stuff.

And then the idea just like came to my door and knocked on it again and was like, you need to do the thing. This is the thing that makes sense for you to keep this energy in your life. You need to create a magazine. So that’s basically how, what gave me the pull to found THIIIRD. 

Muaz

That’s amazing. You know what I think rather, I wish more people had your experience arc because a lot of people sleepwalk into a job that they feel that they’ve got no control over, but you need to keep on challenging yourself.

And I think that that’s amazing that you’ve constantly done this because a lot of people don’t do it and they blame the universe, they blame society. But the fact that you took it into your own hands is amazing. And it’s unfortunate that that doesn’t happen often enough because for change to happen, unfortunately it needs people to constantly question themselves, question their values, question what they’re putting out into the world.

So it driving you to create Thiiird just shows constantly, even if that’s a form of motivation, you know, just put whatever gives you energy. And just harnessing that to create the change that you want to see is just super valuable. And I think that that’s amazing. And also, I think a lot of people would get a lot of value listening to your story ark, because if you think about it, you experimented to find your look to find your style.

A lot of people end up getting pigeonholed and creating a style based on what they were taught. And sometimes breaking that mold becomes so difficult because there’s almost fear of experimentation that it might look so horrible that they were like, no one would want to hire them. But the fact that you almost went round at, you know, found your peers who are willing to experiment with you and were able to find your style and you didn’t stop because I’m pretty sure, at least speaking personally, that what you first put out is definitely not great.

And maybe the second or third is not great, but that’s how you experiment. And that’s how you start incrementally improving. It’s probably the 10th thing or the 20th or 30th thing that put out there that people will start noticing and say, you know, wow, this is pretty cool. 

Rhona

Yeah. 100%. I think I can always see glimmers of myself in even my initial work, if you know what I mean, but you develop over time and you become better. But I think, what you was just speaking that it reminded me that something that I’m very attracted to and something that’s definitely had an impact on me. And my story has definitely been an ability to be unconventional. Like in some respects, I definitely was someone who was almost set to have quite a conventional job or conventional life, you know, like I’ve never really struggled in school. I was always like top of the class. 

I also come from, you know, not a strict but, I come from an African household. And so when you are that sort of person, like my mom was like, this girl is going to give me no problem with becoming a lawyer or a doctor or whatever it is, you know what I mean, but I always have to decide in myself to choose what it was that I wanted to do.

And at every stage, I think that also because that creativity, that willingness to follow yourself rather than to follow what is presented to you as the mold. That causes tension. You know? So even through the years, I was talking to you about like, when I was interning, assisting, sometimes I was doing two things at the same time, I worked really, really hard. Like I had secondary jobs and also like for someone who I could have come out at uni and you know, one of the routes I could have taken would definitely have been to got a full-time job or something like that. I chose to put myself in a position where I was working freelance in so many different ways. And like, um, I was definitely so much more responsible for like what it was I was doing.

And I think that was not that enjoyable all the time, because obviously it came with a lot of insecurity, but then it came with a lot of freedom, which in some ways allows me to believe almost in a way, I guess, in a weird way, you know what I mean? It’s built up my muscle for believing, well, if you don’t like something, how can you change it? What can you do that will make it better for you? Yeah, it’s quite interesting to see how, like also just acknowledge within myself how I’ve developed like that. 

Muaz

Absolutely. And what a lot of people don’t realize that it’s almost like a two-way street because a lot of people feel that they need to find their community, but sometimes… you need to find yourself so your community can find you. Because even though you might think you’re doing something unconventional, but there’s a whole community waiting for you to start doing that so they can say, okay, you know, there are other people like that who do see them, and that’s why it’s important to like, do things that you might not feel are conventional, but it helps other people see that there are other people who also think like them, look like them, feel like them. And, and that’s why it’s important to almost be true to yourself. So you’re not only giving yourself power, but you’re giving energy to a much bigger cause and a much bigger community.

And sometimes people ignore that by focusing too narrowly on trying to almost like, see what is the most appropriate community for them, but by being true to themselves, as you are, the community almost like finds you as well. 

Rhona

Yeah, 110%. I mean, it’s funny that you speak of this word community, because that was actually the title of our very first issue with THIIIRD.

And THIIIRD is a magazine that because it hones itself so much on this idea of being like about intersectionality and really uplifting what is marginalize inclusively, like doing inclusivity well. It doesn’t really speak to one singular community. You know, it kind of just speaks to a certain type of person or a certain type of energy and affinity.

And, um, that’s much harder to sell. Like it’s much harder to sell to you. Like I’m gonna sell to you similarity or commonness, but I don’t know about, I think there’s something really beautiful and authentic and organic in that. And that’s what we should be trying to find, because to do anything else in some way, I just find is to pertain towards pigeonholing or stereotyping.

And I think particularly as a black woman who always felt a tiny bit like outside of the box, I don’t like that. You know? I mean, I, I’m super, I’m not really that into that. So I always want to broaden the spectrum and invite us all to think about ourselves, but also to question ourselves and our biases, even when it comes to this idea of community, because that’s how we will move forward as a society as well.

Muaz

When you approach a new commission, what is your process and what are the stages involved? 

Rhona

So I think, you know, obviously there are many different stages. There’s research, there’s sourcing, there’s a fitting there’s sometimes, you know, uh, go, uh, go through on rail. But for me, it’s always understanding the objective, especially when you’re talking about the difference between editorial and commercial work.

Because with editorial, I like editorials are one of my most favorite spheres to work in because a lot of it is about story creation, storytelling. You know, you get to work with all the looks, looks from the runway, The Guccis, The Valentinos, as well as new young designers and working with their, collaborating with their ideas for the season or just from their brand in itself is super exciting. 

And I think also when it comes to editorial, a lot of the time you’re working with models and there’s a clear understanding that you’re, you’re playing with, with fantasy. So you can be more creative there. For me, a lot of my editorial ideas are informed by, you know, my own taste, subculture, fascinations I’ve had.

So it’s quite a selfish realm to work in because, you know, I like, I also work as a creative director. So, I feel like a lot of me, and my taste and my craft goes into the editorial realm. And it’s definitely about to make an editorial project successful, it’s also about collaboration because you need to make sure that you’re working with the right hairstylist, the right makeup artists, the right photographer.

And each of you has a role towards the success of the story, ultimately. And this can be achieved like in just such subtle ways from like, you know, making sure you’re having a conversation with a photographer to make sure, like, if he wants a crop look, you’re putting the model in a look that will suit the crop work.

Or if he wants a full length, then wow. You’re going to bring out those heels you’ve wanted to shoot for God knows how long and like simple things from like, okay, if you know, if the makeup artist is working on makeup looks that go from quite subtle to like larger. Making sure you’re having those conversations, basically that just ensure the smooth sailing of the project.

But I think when you’re working commercially, you always have to think of like the client’s objectives. What is it that the client is trying to do? Whether that be through this advert that they’re trying to do. This campaign they’ve got running and you’re also part of a much larger team as well. And so for me, when I worked commercially, I’m always trying to make sure that my input achieves the greatest outcome for the client

On the flip side, I tend to work sometimes a lot with like multiple clients. So whenever I’m doing like a brand campaign that also includes, say like a celebrity talent or someone like that. To do that successfully, you also have to come with like an awareness of that person.

And also has to be, you know, you can’t say for example, put… like most footballers in latex, let’s just say, you know, you have to like, no matter how crazy the creative idea is I think to be a stylist in that realm, you have to be the person who like, make sure that both parties are happy to order to make things run smoothly for your client and on the day, because these days can be super hectic and very, very busy.

And there isn’t the time sometimes to have larger, longer conversations. You just want to make people happy. And I think definitely whenever I’m working with talent or celebrities, I’m so conscious of like, ensuring that the person I’m working with is comfortable because they can’t do their job otherwise. Do you know what I mean? 

So I think that’s my general approach, it’s definitely to understand the overall objective and making sure that when it comes to styling, you’re the person who’s almost like moderating stuff so that there’s realistic expectations and the people are happy on all fronts.

You know, like there’s nothing better than when you’re working with someone say for the first time, as often happen on commercial projects and they’re super happy with what you’ve got for them, you know, that’s the energy that’s going to like enrich your day and enrich theirs.

Muaz

Perfect. So when it comes to the actual day of the shoot, from a stylist point of view on the actual day, what actually happens, what are the interactions like? For example, how would you work with a photographer, the makeup artist, you know, the client, when it comes to actual crunch time. 

Rhona

So on the actual day of the shoot for me, my priority is always getting myself prepped. So I want to get with the help of my assistant, my lovely assistant. It’s about getting all the clothes I have, up on the rail, organized and in a place. I mean, I probably would have done this maybe the day before anyway, but it’s just up a rail and well in a place where I’m ready to have conversations with people about what’s going on in around. And then, you know, depending on the board, it might be on the job. It might be looking through what the shoot plans are for that day and scheduling in the clothes and fitting people so that it works to what you know, the overall, what we’re trying to do on the day is, but definitely you want to have. Once you’re set up, you want to have conversations with the photographer or with the, with the client where you’re going through and showing them your ideas, you’re presenting multiple options. So they can tell you what they think is going to work, what they’re into, where they’d like to place things, that sort of thing.

And you can get a sense of that energy too, you know? And then after that, it’s really about the fitting. And then the time on set where you’re just making sure everything is looking finesse and it’s popping and it looks neat. And then it’s the end of the day, you’re usually quite tired. But also quite happy because you’ve had a successful shoot, like so much energy, so much prep energy on the day goes into these productions. So it’s always nice when things go well and yeah. 

Muaz

So if you’re in a situation, so you’re progressing through the shoot and you’re looking at the outputs that are coming from the photographer, and you’re having conversations with the makeup artist and best case scenario what’s in your mind is popping up on the photographers screen. What happens if things start to drift away from what you’re imagining and what you’re seeing? What happened with that conversation? Who do you talk to? What sort of conversation do you have with the makeup artist and with the photographer or, or with anyone else there? 

Rhona

I think, you know, if I start to see that sort of thing happening on screen, I’m a very honest and open person, you know, I don’t tell people what to do, but I’ll always draw it to like the team’s attention that maybe something isn’t working and also get from say the photographer or the makeup artist, their own opinion on stuff.

Because I think, if you had enough communication beforehand and everyone is on board to what is that you’re doing. Maybe they should understand that maybe something isn’t working too. That’s what I’d hope. But if they don’t, but if they don’t, I, you know, cause I have a very strong creative director sort of eye or perspective in me then I’m definitely don’t mind being the person to say, how about we approach it like this?

How about we try and take off this or we try and add that?  Because  what really, and truly these are the things that really make the shot or make the final like, product. Right? So it’s definitely about trying to, in the moment, you don’t pretend that you can’t see it, you don’t sort of like go to a corner and go, oh my gosh, this is terrible. You know? I mean, you, you, you say, hey guys, as a team together, what can we do now that could switch this up? You know, I’ve had situations where it’s been like, maybe for like a massive background and you were so excited to shoot on it. And in the images it’s just not working. And so you just decide to completely scrap that and shoot something’s completely plain-er.

Um, but the images that you’ve got because of that are 110% better. So why not? You know, there has to be flexibility. Even with me as the stylist, if I’m doing something and it’s not quite working, I don’t mind people coming to me or I don’t like in myself, I’d also just be like, stop, stop right now. I need to change this because I don’t want to see my work look crap.

You can find Rhona online at:

  • Website: rhonaezuma.com
  • Website: thiiirdmagazine.co.uk
  • Instagram: @roena
  • Instagram: @thiiirdmagazine

You can listen to the whole interview podcast over on our podcast page or by clicking here at A Stylist and Creative Entrepreneur’s Journey.