Lydia Okello understands that opinions can open doors. Her fearless style blog has garnered attention and won fans around the world, and has led her to being featured in magazines including Glamour, Seventeen and Bust, along with countless web sites, from Buzzfeed to MTV Style to Refinery29.
When it comes to writing about fashion, Lydia insists that honesty is the only policy.
“My greatest asset, in terms of people being interested in my blog, is having a unique voice and not compromising that voice,” she explains. “People can often feel that they need to present themselves a certain way or mould themselves after someone who’s already successful. The times I’ve been the most honest and personal and forthcoming have been the most successful in terms of my readers.”
As the creator and lone contributor of www.styleistyle.com, along with a styling and consignment role at top Vancouver boutique Front and Company, Lydia’s voice is being heard. She didn’t plan it that way. It’s just part of an ongoing journey that began even before she came to Canada’s best Fashion School.
“I grew up in Abbotsford, BC. I always had an interest in fashion. The fact that Abbotsford was isolated was probably a really positive thing. I could explore different avenues and what I should like was never dictated to me. We would go to Value Village and buy 1980s prom dresses. Whatever was weird and silly and cheap was our protocol for what to wear. It made me appreciate the fun of fashion. It’s something I look for even now: the joy of experimenting through clothes. I started blogging and realised that fashion could be more than a hobby. Bloggers were starting to have a voice in the fashion industry.”
After spending a year at the University of Fraser Valley, a fashion drawing class, along with a friend taking the Fashion Merchandising program at Blanche Macdonald, provided the impetus for Lydia to start thinking about investing in her own fashion education.
“I was researching the options and I could see that Blanche Macdonald is the number one school as far as Fashion Merchandising goes. The Fashion Merchandising program was a great way of getting into the industry and learning all the facets of fashion. It made sense geographically too. I could move to Vancouver and start my adult life.”
Fashion School soon turned a hobby into a passion.
“The year flew by,” she smiles. “It was definitely challenging. Probably my favourite class was styling with Tyler Udall. And I loved Peggy Morrison’s classes. She has such a wealth of knowledge in terms of the industry and fashion history. I could sit and listen to her talk forever. Even though it was hard at times, I enjoyed it too. The more I learned the more I became excited about fashion and the more I wanted to know.”
Lydia’s increased appreciation and understanding of fashion led to a giant step in her blogging: both in its content and its reception.
“Before I came to Fashion School the blog’s focus was on personal style. The more I learned the more I wanted to expand my scope as far as what I was writing about. I wanted to feature more about the industry and up and coming designers. I realised that I could speak about the fashion industry without just parroting what other magazines and media outlets were saying.
“That’s when things started to snowball. I can’t tell you exactly how. The Internet is crazy! I was featured in Seventeen and an American magazine called Bust, which is a feminist publication. I was in an airport with my mum, browsing through an issue of Glamour and saw myself there in its pages.”
As Lydia’s reputation as an independent voice grew, she realised the power that her unique viewpoint held.
“For me representation is really important,” she continues. “When I have the opportunity to represent an alternative I’m going to do that. Because I can. That gives a voice to people who wouldn’t necessarily have that voice. That’s why it resonates so positively. It’s awesome when I get feedback from people saying that reading my blog made them feel good about themselves and made them want to try different things.
“The fashion media has been tightly controlled until the last fifteen years or so. The styles came from the top and were received by the masses. Now it’s more of an even playing field. It’s not celebrities who get paid millions to eat carrots and run on a treadmill every day leading fashion. It’s people in the real world with real commitments, but they can still express themselves through fashion.
“My relationship with my readers is pretty awesome. I’m having a conversation, not standing on a soapbox and shouting my opinions. I can interact with people on Twitter, Tumblr or Pinterest. A lot of people can’t have those conversations in daily life. I couldn’t have them growing up in Abbotsford. I had a friend who loved fashion but everyone else thought we were weird. They didn’t get it.”
People are getting it now. In addition to the long list of sites that have featured Lydia’s words and images, writing gigs are beginning to arrive in her many in boxes. Her biggest career decision now is finding the time to devote to her creative career, fitting it in alongside her work at exquisite boutique Front and Company.
“Having Blanche Macdonald on my résumé was the catalyst for Front and Company hiring me. It showed that I had experience in the industry. I understood styling and merchandising, and it showed that I had the motivation to pursue a career in fashion. I work in the consignment department a lot of the time, and the knowledge of clothes I gained in my Fashion Elements class is so helpful. I’m nerdy and like knowing exactly what something is called. I can tell you the exact name of every type of collar!”
As StyleisStyle’s reputation continues to grow, it’s unclear exactly where it will take Lydia. She’s open to anything: just as long as she can continue to share her thoughts, and her life, with openness and honesty.
“That’s what’s worked for me. Being truthful and realistic about what I want to share has been my greatest asset. That’s what resonates with people.”