Emma Lightbown is a London based fashion stylist and entrepreneur. Previously working as a model for 10 years, Emma is always busy, working on a variety of shoots including advertising, editorials and look books. A regular presenter and producer, she is also co-founder of The Style Sessions and Team Lightbown.
What drew you to becoming a stylist?
I spent the early part of my career as a commercial model, so I’d already had over 10 years experience on set before I started styling. I’d watched so many stylists and picked up so much information from them that it seemed quite an easier transition. I feel that on set experience taught me more than any course ever could. My husband is a photographer and used to work with an incredible stylist called Cat Watson she helped me and gave me tips when I was starting out – when she got head hunted and moved to Dubai my husband began asking if I could help him with bits of styling and it grew from there. I had always worked in London as a model but had travelled back and forth from Lancashire. It wasn’t until 2009 when we decided it would be beneficial for both our careers to make the move.
You’re also an entrepreneur, being a founder of two other businesses: The Style Sessions and Team Lightbown. Can you tell us a little bit about how The Style Sessions started and how it’s evolved over the years?
The Style Sessions came about after a conversation with a friend at fashion week in 2019. I had been trying to find some charity work that would make use of my fashion skill set and she had seen a speaker at an event talking about fashion. We realised we could combine these two things and create a personal styling brand that focused on making fashion and style accessible to all, regardless of age, shape or size. Our aim was to create affordable workshops to combat the high prices of personal styling and also offer charity workshops for people in need. We’re still growing as a business and during Covid had to quickly adapt to the fact we could no longer offer live events or in person services so created a range of virtual services and are about to launch our first online programme to teach people how they can style themselves.
You were also busy during lockdown starting another business with your photographer husband, James Lightbown. Can you tell us about Team Lightbown and how you’ve found starting another business?
I’m not great at being still and when the virus happened and every job I was booked on got cancelled I knew I couldn’t sit around doing nothing waiting for the world to return to some sort of normality! James and I had had discussion about how many clients would still be needing content during lockdown and that we were in a great position to provide it. We have pretty much everything they need – a studio and a photographer who also directs and is able to produce motion projects, a stylist who was a former model and is an experienced art director and producer and our son who is an agency represented model. We had always talked about creating a Lightbown production company and this seemed the perfect opportunity as we had time to build the website, create content and get in touch with brands.
You mentioned your son. How have you and James balanced parenting and life while trying to work during lockdown?
It’s definitely been a challenge! We’ve been taking it in turns to work on alternate days but there have still been moments where we’ve had to resort to entertaining our son with games consoles, iPads and Netflix when we’ve needed to make calls! I’m not sure who is more excited about school starting – him or us!
You always seem to be working on exciting projects, and have worked with some big clients. Please can you tell us about your most memorable project?
I’m lucky to work on a real variety of projects of all sizes and budgets – the variety is definitely my favourite part of the job! There are so many memorable projects but one of my favourites was a piece of personal work from last year. I’d started creating more sets and loved the idea of shooting a still life story on a miniature set and then recreating it as a life size set to shoot with a model. I’d been working regularly with still life photographer Tobi Jenkins, who I share the same agent BTS Talent, and he was keen to work on the project when I pitched him my concept. James then took care of the life-size model shoot – it was an interesting project for the two of them collaborating on the overall look of the images. I styled the shoot, designed and built both sets and took the lead on art direction. I love how they turned out and the consistent feel across them.
You’re really active on social media and building your own personal brand, as well as your businesses. What advice would you give to other stylists or photographers who want to build their own brand or start a business?
Social media is really important and a vital tool to growing a business in the modern world but the biggest piece of advice I can give someone is to remain authentic. Repeat customers and clients come from great relationships, people want to see the real you and building that connection with people is really important. I like to share a mixture of professional work, behind the scenes and parts of my real life – it’s not about posting a picture of every meal you eat or a daily selfie but having a balance of work and your personality.
How do you stay inspired?
I love a good binge on Pinterest. It’s my go-to platform for creating mood boards. I also love the cinema. It’s such a great place for inspiration!
What’s next for you?
This month work seems to (fingers crossed) be returning to some sort of normality albeit with a lot more PPE involved. I’m currently working on creating a large prop for a photoshoot in the US. Unfortunately due to Covid I won’t be flying over with it to install it! I’ve also taken the opportunity to have a website refresh so will be putting the finishing touches to that!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be brave. No one will ever judge you as much as you will! I recently learnt about the Dunning Kruger effect in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability and people with higher ability often underestimate themselves. It made me feel a lot better about the imposter syndrome I often struggle with!
Have you ever had to make an insurance claim?
Luckily I’ve never had to make a claim. I had a near miss a few years ago on a magazine editorial when the model pulled on a very fragile bodysuit and her nails ripped straight through it. I called the PR instantly in panic to explain and offered to pay for it however they understood completely that these things happen. However, it’s great to know I’m with an insurance firm that fully understands the industry. As a stylist there are so few companies that understand the complexities of our insurance needs!
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