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By Kristen Domingue
In our conversation with Angela Harrison, we watched how a gnawing childhood passion turns itself into a career. While there are many paths to fulfillment with lots of uncertainty and twists and turns, the unencumbered certainty that drove Harrison is an inspiration to behold. Her conviction about the way every woman should feel in her clothes (and in her own skin) showcases her true gift: delivering self-love to everyone she touches.
Before I even knew what “styling” meant, I was a stylist.
Barbies were always swapping tops and bottoms instead of wearing their assigned outfits. My childhood dress-up outfits featured my mom’s flower-print dresses and platform shoes from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Clothing and accessories have always been part of my life. I was constantly warned to not run on the hardwood floor in plastic baby kitten-heels (why were those ever considered a good idea? What diva two-year-old needs clear glitter kitten-heels?).
Purses were a major deal for me too, every outfit as a child needed some sort of purse. Even though these purses were totally empty except for maybe a Lip-Smacker chapstick, I needed to have a purse for my outfits. I really don’t know where it all started, probably just growing up watching my mom and grandmothers when we went out. I always needed to be part of the outfit selection and I knew what I liked: side ponytail with bow, Princess Jasmine tunic covered in big jewels, matching crossbody bag, done and done!
As the years went on and school dances rolled around, I was always the second-opinion for dress-shopping with friends; they trusted my suggestions and really loved anything I suggested they give a try. Even though I didn’t really know how to name what I did, I had a natural eye for color, texture, and proportion. Eventually, I decided to major in fashion merchandising at Western Michigan University and see where this could go.
I loved that program. The professors were women who were visual merchandisers for the Dayton Hudson Corporation and Saks Fifth Avenue, creating window displays in a time when brick-and-mortar retail was alive and well. My mentors were buyers for Marshall Field’s and Victoria’s Secret; they were the ones who decided what these stores were going to carry. I sharpened my trend-spotting skills from the best in the business. It was such an inspiring time.
While in school, I worked at a boutique in downtown Kalamazoo owned by two women who took me under their wing. They let me create merchandising plans, took me to Chicago for buying trips, and had me choose pieces for the store. It was a dream-come-true for a 20-year-old. I got to implement everything I learned in the classroom in the boutique after school.
I knew by then what a stylist was and that’s what I wanted to be. Television programs like The Rachel Zoe Project on Bravo, with their red carpets, celebrities, and front rows at fashion shows, confirmed this was a real profession. The only thing left was to make it work exactly the same in Michigan.
Fun fact: it doesn’t work the same.
After merchandising for an international retailer and not enjoying the hectic life of retail, I decided to create a styling business that would make sense for life in the Metro Detroit area. I didn’t see why only celebrities needed help creating a wardrobe — everyone should have help with this! I wanted to style for everyday life and everyday people. Five years later I’m still at it, styling clients from all backgrounds, ages, and professions for photoshoots and national commercials, while at the same time getting back to my roots with visual merchandising for local businesses and retailers.
The reality of big ambition in a small town: Choices
I know it can sound glamorous, even in Michigan. But the reality of this lifestyle can have unintended consequences. It forces you to answer The Big Questions early.
I always envisioned myself in a place like New York or Los Angeles, working in fashion, being fiercely single, living at an office and willingly giving twenty hours a day to my career — you know, that workaholic life we equate with success!
But then, at 21, I met my significant other, a guy who unexpectedly opened my eyes to what it really means to have a successful life, the side of life we often neglect. Meeting someone who I cared about and wanted to make different life choices for was something I’d never done, nor wanted to do. I’ve always only thought for “me.” My choices were always made based on my dreams or what I wanted, and for that to change because of a relationship was new for me.
My best friend and I always found strength in knowing who we were as young women; we didn’t need relationships to validate our self-worth, and that hasn’t changed. But when you grow up and experience a relationship that makes such an impact on your life, you start to look at the dreams you had more realistically. What does moving to New York with no job and no family or friends look like? What does this relationship’s future look like? What can I do to have both?
I had to ask myself the real “grown-up” questions of what do I value most: life at work, or life when I get home?
This was a major challenge for me, and I think a lot of women face this. We feel there’s a choice to be made between professional fulfillment and personal. This wasn’t good enough for me. I need options — that’s why I’m a stylist.
So far, I’ve chosen to stay in Michigan, a choice I’ve made a hundred times over. But I’ve found a way to do what I’ve always seen as my path. I brought styling to my neighborhood of people, which then grew a little here and there, and has lead me to work on awesome projects and meet incredible people — all while still being in my relationship seven years later.
When I consider what’s true for me personally, I wouldn’t be able to get through work struggles without my family. I often wonder what my career would look like right now if I did go to a major city and work with big names, running on little sleep and high adrenaline. But I also like the freedom of creating my own styling niche and having balance in life.
It’s nice to have both, we all deserve both.
When to exceed expectations and when to let them go
When I look back at my life so far, I’ve noticed that I’m really hard on myself. I don’t excuse my mistakes, I always blame myself, always demand more. When I’ve messed up on internships or accidentally ruined a wedding gown (it was saved and 100% perfect, don’t worry!), the disappointment in myself is something I carry with me from that point on.
Even though I’m tough on myself, I regret not giving myself a break here and there. As you get older, you realize things have a way of working themselves out. It’s hard to keep perspective in the moment, to not think all is lost and ruined and irreversible, but there’s usually a solution in the end.
If I could give younger Angela one piece of advice, it would be this: Any friend who walks away because you’re trying to better your own life isn’t a friend. When I was younger my friends were everything, so I held back exploring things they didn’t want to do.
I’m a very empathetic person and I read people well, which serves me in my professional life, but before I knew better, I would take my friends’ pain and stress as my own. What’s worse is that there were many times I held myself back from experiencing life because I thought it would upset a friend or make them feel like I didn’t care about them. I wish I could tell my younger self to be a little more selfish and to stand behind her choices, even if she thought a friend might feel slighted.
Loving work that loves you back
What I love most about my work is that moment when a client can’t help themselves and feels excited about how they look in the mirror. As a stylist, when you nail it and make someone see themselves in the way they want to be seen, it’s overwhelmingly exciting. And when it’s a total slay and they can’t hide their smile, or maybe even laugh in shock at how good they look, the experience is beyond. Everyone deserves to feel that way; everyone is important enough to feel good about themselves.
Styling is much more than clothes. For me, it’s about learning someone’s taste and making choices as if I were them. It’s about using my expertise to guide them down their own personal style path. It’s about showing someone a simple way of dressing that changes everything — their comfort level, how they carry themselves. It’s something I want everyone to have.
There really are gorgeous clothes for every woman and every body type; there’s a solution to any problem you may have with dressing, there are many amazing stores and tailors out there ready to assist you in achieving the wardrobe of your dreams. Helping people get to a place where they feel good in something they’re wearing is a proud moment for me.
Our conversation with Angela Harrison highlighted the necessity of balancing dreams with what the heart wants. Watching how Angela honored her passion every step of the way and made room for love in her life is a triumph of modern feminism. Have your cake and eat it too, ladies.
Angie Harrison received her BS degree in fashion merchandising from Western Michigan University. After merchandising for a large retailer, she went on to start Angela Harrison Style: a personal, print, and film wardrobe styling service. Her experience has led her to build a diverse client list of people from various professions and backgrounds. Angie has also styled wardrobes on local and national TV commercials and has started a visual merchandising branch of AHStyle, providing styling and merchandising expertise to Michigan retailers. Facebook | Instagram