Tuesday 14 May 2024

Alice Timms - Founder The Styling Bank

Start where you are. If we all did this we could create a positive wave of change. Every single one of us has our own unique understanding of something we could do differently that would intimately make the world a better place for us now and for future generations. This is precisely what Alice is creating with The Styling Bank. I first heard what Alice was doing when she was part of a panel speaking to photographers as part of an Ad Green event and felt that what she was building was very powerful and new way of addressing the very real issue of wastefulness within advertising and photography production.

A stylists job is to bring all the clothing and props to a shoot. Shopping for everything beforehand and returning after. Setting up The Styling Bank was Alice’s response to the wastefulness she was seeing as part of that process and to reduce and reuse what most likely would have otherwise ended up in landfill. 



D: Alice, I'm really interested in people's journey through life and career and how we get to where we are today, the influences that have shaped us as we as we grow. To start with I'd like to ask where did you grow up, Alice? 


A: In Penzance in Cornwall. 


D: A beautiful part of the world. Were there any fashion influences in your formative years?


A: Definitely, I have four older sisters, and most of them are into clothes. I was always following them around trying to try on what they had. Mum was also very much into fashion; she makes clothes and is a designer. She wrote design books when I was a child. She designed knitwear, then moved on to designing cross stitch and tapestry kits for magazines, and then created several books about it in the 1990s. The sister, next in age above me, was a model and when she came home to Cornwall from London was very glamorous. I was in awe of her and wanted to wear her shiny PVC trousers and silver shirts, just wow, all her sparkly things. In Cornwall availability to the latest fashion was limited. The Clothes Show, was my favourite programme and that’s where I first saw the possibility of a career as an image consultant, but I had no idea how that was going to happen or how to get there. Career’s advice in school, in the 90s, meant sitting at a computer and it telling you, well, you could be a librarian or you could be a teacher. Teacher always came up for me. But I'm from a family of teachers and that didn't appeal to me. I love being creative and I really loved making and creating things. At uni I studied fashion design, then bit by bit worked towards styling. Now you can study styling but back then the only options were the arts or fashion design, they were the closest courses I could find. 



D: So, your ultimate goal even through your fashion degree was to be a stylist? 


A: My fashion model sister discouraged me saying ‘I don't know how you're going to manage to do it. It's so difficult to make money from styling because fashion magazines don't pay you very much and you have to beg, borrow and steal to pull styling for a shoot together.’ 

I did my foundation art course at Falmouth. At that point I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do or what direction to take. All I knew was that I loved working with art, design and photography they were all big passions of mine. At the end of my foundation year I had to choose a degree course and found that very difficult. I wanted to make sculpture, I loved fine art and photography so decided I could combine all of these in fashion, because clothing is like sculpting on the body. It's something you can wear and I thought that I might be able to earn a living doing it. Cornwall is a massive artists community and I know it shouldn’t be a driver, but I was very aware of how hard it is to make a living as an artist. Even now if I could have another parallel career it would be as an artist. 

Within fashion I love textiles, the making and the design elements, not only the clothes themselves. Creating a fabric that is like an art piece it’s that that led me to study fashion and textiles at Winchester for my degree. 


D: Do you find it has stood you in good stead for what you are doing now? 


A: Yes I do. During the course a stylist came in and gave us a lecture and it confirmed what my sister had told me by saying ‘it's so hard you have to beg borrow and steal. You have to be really determined, really dedicated.’ I thought, ‘wow how am I ever going to do this?’ At the time the course really steered you towards working for designers and being a designer. They didn’t encourage us in other directions or let us know that there were a lot of other careers out there based on our fashion degree, which meant that after graduation I started working for fashion designers. I interned for Alexander McQueen and then for John Rocha in Dublin. Really amazing places to get experience, but actually I hated it. I hated the atmosphere. I hated the environment. And it wasn't paid, we were making couture garments and were working for free. I had to fund my own accommodation, food, transport. Eventually Alexander McQueen, when he merged with the Gucci group paid me a tiny bit money for a travel card every week and a bit of food money, a couple of quid each day for lunch, so I had to work in the evenings to support that. To fund the unpaid work I was doing during the day in the design studios, I would work at The Groucho Club until 3:00am. The studio let me come in late, so I'd come in at 10am finish at 5pm and go straight to work at The Groucho 4 nights a week. I did that for about six months and completely burnt out, I couldn’t do it anymore, so I packed up and went travelling. 


D: Where did you go? 


A: Mostly Asia. I had a small inheritance that allowed me to travel for six months around Southeast Asia. That gave me such a different view on the world, it was really amazing. You see people with virtually nothing and they seem happier than people who work in the rat race in big cities. Plus experiencing all the textiles and all the textures, it's so beautiful being there. I learned a lot about myself and how to be more self-reliant which was really important to do that at that point. On my return and because of the connections I made working at the Groucho Club, because that's how I met the designers, you could write to them and you would never hear back, but chat to them when they were relaxed and drinking and asking that way, opens doors. I met some really lovely people and lots of stylists doing that. It’s how I met the first people I assisted with styling.



D: How long did you assist before freelancing on your own?


A: I worked with lots of different stylists for a few years, costume stylists, interior stylists, fashion, celebrity stylists, on big editorials, preparing celebrities for events, an interior stylist gave me a really good insight into props and set dressing, a really good costume stylist called Mr Gammon trained me really well on preparation. He had a big store of clothes and we would go through his rails first and fill in any gaps from elsewhere. Everything he did was commercial but we would also create and make costumes for him. I also worked with Anna Foster, who started ELV Denim, for a few years when she was styling, she was lovely. At the time she was a celebrity stylist and worked for i-D Magazine. She gave me a great insight into; (this was right at the beginning of the sustainable fashion movement) that what we'd stereotypically known as fashion, had a new way of thinking, and direction and how we should be more mindful of brands and the usage of fast fashion. At the time I still didn't really understand quite the impact fast fashion was having on people and the planet. Also, right then I was trying to make money, I was living on people's sofas at one point, I was trying to survive while doing this job.  But I was influenced by the way these stylists worked and had really good training. 


D: Sounds like Mr Gammon had a really good ethic for the clothes. 


A: Which was really great at that time. I feel lucky that I assisted people that really influenced that and that I was exposed to different ways of working other than wastefulness. It is difficult because with a lot of editorial styling, you borrow the clothes and then take them back. Which doesn't seem harmful. 

When I started working with my own clients, it was right at the beginning of online fashion and I realised that now I could, with a click of a button buy in all these clothes and have them delivered. As an assistant I had spent years schlepping around shops, buying suitcases and suitcases of clothing and trailing them back with me. It was amazing to have everything delivered to your doorstep, it made it all so easy. Then after the shoot I could return it all the same way and still be within budget. It made me look great to clients as I would turn up with bags and bags full of clothes and they could choose whatever they wanted on set. 

I am a bit of an over prepper because when I was assisting, I was told, ‘it's never going to be enough. They're going to want something you don't have.’ Even though you’ve been given a really strict, very specific brief, on set out of the blue you'll be asked for say a lace hat or a silver swimsuit when the brief was a 100% a red swimsuit. Or they’ll say ‘I want a kaftan’ why would I have ever thought to bring that? You never mentioned it before. So you have to think outside the box and as a result you end up bringing much more than you need, but from experience you know could potentially work if something else isn't working, or maybe the model isn’t the size they said they were. There are all sorts of factors that you have to try and second guess and prepare for. Which means you bring so much stuff you don't need, but kind of do, just in case. Online shopping helped with that because you could easily buy and return everything. 

However, with time I became much more aware of the practises involved when working that way and was increasingly seeing what you were expected to bring to shoots, then all the waste it created. That’s when it started feeling wrong and didn't sit well with me. It really felt awful.


D: Its interesting how things filter in isn't it? The learning that when you send things back, the reality is that the retailers don't even try to sell them again. 


A: Exactly that, because I believed it was the same as when you go into a shop and the merchandise goes back on the shop floor and is bought by somebody else, that that was what was happening online too but it’s not the case. It took me years to understand that. I had no idea what online shops were doing, and I believe that’s what most people think when they return their clothes, but it’s not, the returns go straight to landfill here or overseas. Once I realised the scale of the problem it triggered all those feelings of this is ridiculous, why are we buying so much stuff? That’s when I started looking into it further and looking for change. 


D: Was the need for change something you were always interested in? You could have carried on regardless in this direction, buying and returning, what created that drive for change? 


A: I realise now, looking back; dad’s an engineer and builder and when I was growing up he was insulating houses but he also designed and made amazing computer programmes too. His programmes were all about, how to save energy bills and insulate your home, how to fix and keep. Which meant we were very mindful at home, no waste. Fixing things was instilled as a child. New things were rare, we would be told ‘you’ve got something you can use already’ or ‘use your sisters things.’ I grew up wearing second hand clothing or mum made them and we repaired clothing and objects, we made do with what we had. It wasn't until later when mum started earning her own money that she started buying me things. All of which meant I was very aware that you shouldn't waste things and that you should try to make them last. 


Later on I realised the frivolousness of buying what you want and throwing it away in this disposable culture. I guess all this waste took me back to that childhood understanding and that throw away culture is really not OK. Then you start asking, that happens when you put things in the rubbish bin where does it go? We don't really think about it. It's so easy, so convenient for us to do it that, we don't think, or give it too much attention. I think I started becoming more aware through, social media plus all the amazing work Fashion Revolution have been doing. It wasn’t only one thing that triggered the understanding but when I did start realising the scale of what was happening in fast fashion and the damage it was causing, that changed my outlook. 


During lockdown I did of course with Future Learn which was really really fascinating. It gave me so much more knowledge, it sparked and resonated with me so strongly that it made me hungry for more information. 


There had been a group of us stylists asking ‘how do we make what we do less wasteful?’ To be fair, I have always kept a store of my own things. After a shoot you have lots leftover. Quite often the client wants it and that's fine, I send them a bag of stinky clothes and then they do what they want with it. But more often than not they don't care what happens next. So I wash it and keep it. Then time next time I go on a shoot, I bring it with me and have built up a store of clothing that I knew would be needed. It also helped cut down on what I was buying and meant that I could buy nicer things for the next shoot. At that point it didn't occur to me to monetise this, I just brought everything along to help with the budget, because budgets are always tight. 

Later I realised, I've got all these things sitting around. Why don't I share them with other stylists? 



D: That brings us nicely to you setting up The Styling Bank? Can you tell us about it? When did you set it up, what you do and what your aims are?


A: As a stylist we do our job on set, we deal with the producer or the director, but we don't really deal with other stylists. Which means you don't know what another stylist practises are or how they get the job done. However, I am in a unique position because I do both props and wardrobe styling and I am lucky enough to regularly work side by side with other stylists. If I am styling props there will be a different stylist for wardrobe. Because of this I started building a network of stylists and an understanding of how different people work. Some people have, like me, a collection of things that they’ve gathered over the years and bring to shoots. Others have no storage space at all and get rid of everything at the end of every shoot, and I found that really interesting and created the thought ‘what if we could create a network of stylists where we could all share with each other.’ A few of us got together and decided it would be amazing if we had some sort of coworking space where we could have everything together in one place and we could go there to work, a hub where we could all access this type of clothing store. We started looking at spaces but it was too costly to set up and develop. Then COVID hit and suddenly we all had so much spare time. My husband is a photographer and I thought, you know what, instead of all my clothing sitting around in boxes and every time I do a shoot, pulling it out of bag, photographing it and sticking it on a mood board, let's photograph all the stock and build it onto a website. Then it’s much easier for me to put onto mood boards, and also means I can share it with other people online and it won't cost me very much to set up, that's how it started. Starting small meant I could see how I could build and how it was going to work, as a test. I also wanted to show other people how this could be a different way of working. Although it started back in 2020 it's really only been running properly for about 2 years.


D: How's it going? 


A: I keep thinking it's quite slow, but then I look at where I was a year ago and can see that it's come so far. It's not been as popular with other stylists as I would like it to be. I think it's quite difficult to change people's habits and it is still so easy to buy stuff online and send it back. 


Maybe the thought of travelling somewhere, that might not have the right thing is a barrier. That's why I try and keep everything online. Because I get a lot of donations, I have to photograph everything then upload it, so it can be a struggle keeping on top of that. Which means the available stock isn't always completely up to date. But it is going well and it's improving all the time, it's still a work in progress. 



D: I guess the more you market and the more people get to understand what you are doing, it will become more popular. There is ever more talk around the climate emergency and what we need to do now for our future generations, our children our grandchildren who will be the ones dealing with the fallout of all of this mess, that mindset change will improve the business. 


A: Exactly. Right now though I am also a full-time stylist and I’m busy as a stylist, which is great, and I now hire a lot of the stuff to myself to use on shoots. But The Styling Bank is a whole job in itself. Marketing, managing the website and managing the physical store. I manage it all as best I can between jobs, but it's a little bit tricky running both things full time. I'm also a mum and I have a dog too. But it is going well and I have to keep reminding myself that, as it can sometimes feel like I’m climbing a mountain. 


D: At a recent Association of Photographers event we were both at, you had lots of other photographers around you who may not have heard about what you are doing, and the panellists were advocating for you and what you are doing which was brilliant. With time the work you are doing will be more and more on people's radar. 


A: I've had so much industry support which is so good, and I've had a lot of mentoring and encouragement from a lot of people which is great, because people really do want things to change. I’ve had quite a lot of stylists come by, but when they're looking for something very specific that I might not have it can be frustrating as I don’t have enough space to store everything they may need, and my collection is based on donations. So part of what I'm trying to develop is an information hub and information resource to advise on where best to send you to find those other things you need. Not only pre shoot, but post shoot, so that when we do have to buy things we can be more aware and mindful of where we source from in terms of the human and environmental impact of the manufacturing but then also the best way to repurpose them after use too. 


I have been collaborating with AD Green on helping them with carbon calculator for styling and recently created a case study with them which is publicly on their site, as a way to share my processes, and how I am developing what I do, the pros and cons. What I have found to be good in the approach and what I have found difficult. I will publish more of these on my own site to help show what is possible as part of that information sharing. Then people can see what I'm struggling with, which must be common for them too. Then when more people share their information and processes it will make sourcing easier for everyone. I'm at a certain age now where I don't want to do this forever and there are a lot of amazing up and coming talent that can really benefit from all the mistakes I've made and hopefully learn from that. 



D: Of course, as you build The Styling Bank, it will allow you to sidestep over there and maybe with time enable you to employ other people too. 


A: If I could grow it and do that, it would be amazing. I've started hosting events, one recently was a visible mending event, to show people how easy it is to make things last longer by reusing what we already own. I've been trying to drive the visible mending approach within advertising too, to make it more normal, instead of everything in commercials looking new, crisp and shiny. We could have patches and things that have been mended, to normalise it, like we do with keep cups and reusable water bottles. Let's make jumpers that have been mended with beautiful patches and visible mending normal. 


D: Celebrate the length of the life of our clothes. 


A: The more people see that kind of thing, the more normalised it becomes and it would encourage learning and asking how ‘do I customise my own garments?’ 

So, my intention is to do more events like that, that will hopefully target the advertising industry and people I know within the industry, to encourage them, but obviously at the same time still be open to anyone who wants to come along and learn. 


Part of what I love from having set up The Styling Bank is that I am meeting so many inspirational people, it's given me visibility and an access to things that I maybe wouldn't have known about or have had access to before I set it up, which has been incredible, not only for the planet, but for me personally. I have increased my learning and understanding and the network of people that I'm working with and am surrounded by. It's a real privilege to be able to meet such amazing people and to see what other people are doing is very inspiring. 



D: What drives you, do you think? 


A: You know what, I have two children, and I know this probably sounds quite cliched, but it's really brings home, the thinking of what we are leaving behind. I would love to think that I'm leaving something behind for my children that they can be proud of. But not only that, that it's also something I can do to help create change and to make their lives better and for those of their children. I feel that many voices make change happen, even one person can make a difference. I really believe that. Being aware of the next generation and thinking, what state are we leaving the planet in for them that’s what drives me. I see them and their friends and think, wow, when I was growing up, we didn't have these worries. Look at the worries they've got on their shoulders, that is scary, and that really brings it home to me.


 D: I did a bit of research recently and a stat I found fascinating was that the population has grown, since the 1920s from 2 billion to 8 billion. In 100 years that’s a rise of 6 billion people on the planet. There are more of us than ever before dependant on Earths resources. We must use the earth to feed people. We can’t afford to be constantly growing clothing. Recent figures have shown that we have enough, existing garments to clothe the next six generations. Six generations equates to about another 120 years. 


A: My daughter because she's a teenager now, often wants new things, my response is check to see if you can find it on Vinted first. Let's check on eBay, let’s check on Thrift. What do you need? How badly do you need it? 



D: I think the teenage years are the most difficult years, because you want to look like your friends, to be like your friends, to fit in. Then by the time you reach your 20s you want to be more individual again. 


A: Also, they have pocket money, but not a large budget, so they tend to go for the really cheap brands because that’s what they can afford with their pocket money. To be fair, I was completely guilty of that when I was younger too, because I couldn't afford anything more. I used to second hand shop and vintage shop, that my favourite thing as a teenager. I went round all the local charity shops. I would spray boots silver and cut off things and make things. I remember making a dress out of dad's windsurfing sail because it had some clear perspex in it. It didn't occur to me that that he was still using it…but it made a great dress. 


That’s what I was up to as a teenager because we didn't have access to shops or online shopping. So I would get quite creative.


D: Did you learn sewing skills from your mum? 


A: Yes I learnt from mum bit by bit. I don’t know where else I got information from back then. The people in old haberdashery shops were generally quite helpful. 


D: For the future what would you like for The Styling Bank?


A: I would love to make it more of a resource and information hub as well as a physical resource, to share, keep expanding the sharing of information and obviously to build on what I've got. 

There are a few other places now where you can get clothes, but what I've done is always about recycling, I don't buy new things, it’s donations. If I feel I really do need to buy a few things, I try Vinted or somewhere like that first to fill some gaps. Otherwise it's really about sharing that’s there. The main thing so far has been that it has shown others how things can be done differently to inspire change, that's been my main goal, and to lead by example, showing how we can do things better? 

I’ve also been studying to increase my knowledge in Sustainability and how to help affect change further up the chain in the industry I work in. I’ve been inspired by the work the purpose disruptors are doing so I recently completed a Creative direction course and I’m currently studying a certified course to be a IEMA Practitioner Member (PIEMA).

Practitioner membership is regarded as the benchmark for environmental professionals driving change and delivering on sustainability goals in their organisations, projects, products and services, which I intend to use to further not only for The Styling Bank but to contribute my experience and knowledge from working in the Ad Industry for so many years to become a creative sustainability consultant. 




Web               Alice Timms      

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                      The Styling Bank


LinkedIn        Alice Timms  









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