Thanks to the initiative of Hildeberto Martinez, the Chases Calendar of Events, which records important international dates worthy of celebration, reminds us that today, November 23rd, is the International Image Consultant Day. Hooray!
This day has a lot of personal meaning to me. I’ve been in the field of image consulting for twenty-nine years. I remember how it was at the beginning of my career. I was newly divorced with three little kids. (Caitlin, pictured above, was only 5-years-old.) I won’t deny it, I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it in this career. I’d been out of the workforce for twelve years. I’d been dabbling in image consulting during my marriage, but quite frankly, it was barely a jobette. My earnings had paid for pretty dishes and linens — not rent, utilities and food.
One of the best things that happened to me when I went to my first professional association meeting back in the late 1980s was when a leader in the field introduced herself to me and blurted out that it was possible to earn $100,000 a year as a style and wardrobe consultant. Really, I’d said? It sounded too good to be true.
That level of financial success didn’t happen overnight. But I never gave up on my dream. Oh I had my dark moments, believe me. Mostly they happened at night. I’d think to myself, Brenda, forget it! Go out and get a real job! This is too hard! But in the morning, I would brush off the doubts, get dressed like an image consultant and leave the house. I’d go out and network, try to get my name out there, speak in front of groups for free in an attempt to get a new client (which worked!), collect names from people interested in getting my newsletter. My list probably started with twenty-five names but the key is I started.
I also decided I’d stay inspired if I hung out with other image consultants. Where would I find them? I found plenty of them in our local chapter of the Association of Image Consultants International. I started saying yes to committee work and I said yes to being an officer both at the local level and the international level.
Boy, am I lucky I did that! While serving on the international board as VP of Marketing in the 90s, I was in charge of redoing AICI’s logo and marketing materials. We needed to hire a professional. I found the right person for the job in graphic designer, Jenny Phillips. She was way overqualified for the job and we were hardly paying her anything but she’d just relocated to the Bay Area and was willing to work for cheap.
One day I went to her house to pick up the sample boards of logo designs. I happened to notice some paintings on her wall. They were adorable watercolors of shoes and handbags. “Wow, Jenny,” I said. “If I ever decide to write a book, would you consider illustrating it?” “Sure,” she said.
I was years away from that dream taking hold but when it did, I turned to Jenny. She hadn’t changed her mind. It wasn’t easy to get the publishing house to hire an outside person but when they finally saw her work, they wanted her too. She illustrated my first three books. We recently reconnected and she’s redesigned my business cards and websites. That incredible connection wouldn’t have happened without AICI.
Another charming, wonderful thing that’s in my life on a monthly basis are the Bellas. We are three image consultants who met in the ’90s. We meet once a month and have been doing this for nearly fifteen years.
This is how it happened: I’d worked with such great people in my term as president of our SFBA chapter of AICI. When that term was over, I knew I didn’t want to end the camaraderie that had grown. So I invited a few AICI members to meet at an Italian restaurant in Marin County and contemplate a format where we’d get together on a regular basis and support each other in our image businesses. Four people were able and willing to make a commitment and we started meeting monthly at each other’s houses.
This group started out as business networking and brainstorming. One person had to leave when she shifted gears and started a family. Three of us remained. We got our name when a friend of ours said, “You should call your group the Bellas.” This friend is Italian and since we’d first banded together at an Italian restaurant it just seemed perfect!
We continue to share about business but we do so much more! We take field trips to museums, the theater, lavender fields, and we shop together. We’re always wanting to be sure our purchases are Bella-approved. Last month we explored Petaluma and had brunch at Della Fattoria where we just happened to run into actress Frances McDormand. Next month we’re going to see Kathleeen Turner in the Berkeley Rep production of Red Hot Patriot: The Kick Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. Like many people in AICI, we started as colleagues but now we’re friends forever.
This career is so incredibly rewarding. I’m never surprised to hear about people leaving other careers to become an image consultant and start their own business. Why? Where else can you spend your days making someone understand their unique beauty and help transform poor self-image into confidence and radiance instead? In this profession, you can get feedback like this every day:
- “Wow, I was feeling old and unattractive when you arrived. Now I feel gorgeous!”
- “Your plan for my trip worked perfectly. I never once worried about having the right clothes.”
- “I was so anxious about getting the right outfit for my interview but when I put myself in your hands, all my worries disappeared!”
- “You’ve done more for my self-esteem than years of therapy could!”
I join my colleagues and friends today to celebrate International Image Consultant Day. What a fabulous profession! Our clients couldn’t be happier and they reward us by paying us. Win/win! It is possible to have a thriving business. So if there’s a place in your heart that thinks you might want to take this on as a profession, boy, I am jumping up and down, excited for you and saying Go For It!!!