Lauren Messiah is a highly sought-after Personal Stylist who's been featured in numerous publications. She also serves as COO for School of Style, a boutique fashion school for aspiring stylists.
What is your fashion background and how did your styling and School of Style career begin?
I studied Fashion Design at Virginia Commonwealth University. At that time I swore I wanted to be a designer. After I graduated I got a nice little reality check. It’s called "just because you went to college, doesn’t mean you get your dream job." I ended up working retail for about year (which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to work in fashion) and let go of my dream of being the next Betsy Johnson or Marc Jacobs. As the saying goes, when one door closes another one opens. One of my clients at Betsy Johnson helped me get an interview at AOL, where I worked as an administrative assistant. Not exactly living the dream but my job at AOL introduced me to this new thing called blogging.
In 2005, I started a fashion blog where I styled people online and answered fashion questions. I knew then that styling was my calling. Four years into my blog, I decided to take my styling game offline. That is when I discovered School of Style, where I would later become Co-Founder and COO.
What did your transition plan look like from AOL to fashion?
I treated my job at AOL as a stepping stone and a learning opportunity. I wasn’t about to roll over and give up on my dreams completely, but I knew I had to move out of my parent’s house and learn a little something about the business world.
With every non-fashion job that I’ve worked (there have been many), I have been very vocal about what I really want to do. It’s a fine line but with tact you can get some amazing cheerleaders and mentors on your side. I put in two good years of fetching coffee, scheduling meetings, and all the other soul-sucking work that comes with being an assistant. To my surprise and delight, my, at times, difficult boss connected me to another AOL executive who moved me out to LA for a job more closely aligned with what I really wanted to do.
Today, that exec serves as one of my most supportive mentors. I continued this method of putting in work at different companies, connecting with amazing mentors, and moving along to the next adventure when the time was right.
Juggling two successful businesses has got to be overwhelming at times. How do you stay focused and in control?
Admittedly, I’m a bit of a workaholic so I thrive off of the intense workload. I have a hideous habit of going, going, going...until I crash. So I’ve been practicing daily meditation and attempting to add “downtime” into my schedule. There is also a lot of green tea involved.
What do you like best about owning your own business?
The ability to take something from idea to reality in a very short period of time. When I worked at AOL it would take forever for a new product to launch, if it even launched at all. In both of my business, we can launch something fairly quickly and if it fails then it’s on to the next one.
How do you stay motivated?
Money! I’m kidding, kind of, but seriously, the bank account does motivate me to work harder. Not because I want to go swimming in a pool of money but because the success of the business doesn’t only take care of me, and my business partners, but it also takes care of all of my employees.
It also doesn’t hurt that the work I do actually helps people. When I see our School of Style graduates out there working or I see the confidence of my styling clients boosted because of my work – that motivates me to keep this ship sailing.
You have a really active social media presence, how important has that been to your success? Has there been one platform that's been the most beneficial?
I owe a lot of my success to social media. School of Style and my styling business are both self-funded, so the monthly marketing budget is basically non-existent. Social media has been a great tool to get the word out and to build credibility as a business.
For my personal styling business, Facebook has been the most beneficial to me because I get to find out from real women what they want when it comes to fashion. What frustrates them, what advice they need, and where the industry is falling short when it comes to getting dressed in the morning. I’m also addicted to Pinterest. I collect inspiration for clients and create secret styling boards for them as well.
I love your positive attitude and work ethic. What are some key traits that have served you well in the business world?
I’ve been training my mind for the past 5 years or so to avoid negativity like the plague. Negativity can take you and your business out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not Positive-Pollyanna 24/7 or anything, but I do think a great attitude can take you quite far. With that being said, I also don’t apologize for who I am in the workplace. I’m blunt, I work hard, I give praise when it’s earned, and I expect the very best from the people I work with. As women, I think it’s important that we don’t shrink down in the workplace for fear of looking like a “bitch”. I’m not saying you should be a bitch, don’t do that! I’ve tried that trait out for size early in my career and it doesn’t work. Be kind but be firm.
What is one lesson that you've learned the hard way?
Not using reimbursement checks to pay off my credit cards right away! That was a painful lesson.
What is your dream project?
Oh wow, that’s a tough one because there are many things I want to accomplish. I’d say having my own televised makeover show for real women would be incredible. Kind of like a more modern and honest version of What Not to Wear.
What is your advice for someone just starting out?
Slow down! I find that after working with dozens of assistants and interns that 99.9% of them want it now. Everyone wants to go from zero to Rachel Zoe in 60 seconds. It doesn’t work that way. Pay your dues and learn all you can along the way. Shut the heck up, put your head down, work hard, and the pay off will be pretty amazing when it comes.