I met Amanda when we were table neighbors at a panel we were speaking together on at YOUmedia a few weeks ago and I'm happy to say we became fast friends. Amanda is such an inspiration to me - not only is she one of the kindest women, she's also super funny, easy to talk to and genuinely cares about the growth of the artists and small business owners around her. We met at her adorable apartment on the north side where I got to see her gorgeous styling skills put to work, meet her adorable puppy Phife (I'm in love) and photograph/interview Amanda about her prop styling business and how she got to being a self employed, bad ass boss lady and the power in a creative community.
Thanks so much to you Amanda for letting me in your home, hear your story and get to know you. :)
Q. What do you call yourself?
I am a prop stylist and visual merchandising expert.
Q. How did you get into prop styling?
After years n visual merchandising, wardrobe styling and production at a small design firm downtown, I began getting requests for styling for commercial photography. One of my first gigs as a true prop stylist was with a photographer who was working for Kraft Foods. He brought me in to provide tabletop styling and propping for Macaroni and Cheese, Baker's Chocolate and Stove Top. I worked with another photographer to style the guest rooms for the opening of the Langham Hotel. After those projects, I was really excited about the possibility of a new direction, and began pursuing prop styling jobs specifically.
Q. Was prop styling always something you wanted to pursue or were there alternatives you considered?
No, it was not even something I was aware of until much later in my career. ow that I have done some research, and gotten my feet wet in this world, I have realized how much opportunity there is, how many talented and driven photographers, art directors and set designers there are out there to collaborate with. It's given me a new passion!
Years ago, I did consider interior design, but didn't necessarily want to go back to school. I also did a lot of research on experiential marketing, and spent a year at a floral design studio designing weddings and corporate events, but ultimately felt that my roots in merchandising made styling a natural next step. It was where I felt the most excited.
Q. Why did you choose Chicago for prop styling?
I chose Chicago long before I became a stylist. I moved to this city right after college, with a Fine Arts degree and ambition. It's been a natural evolution, from designing and installing window displays in a retail setting, to styling produce for print. I do think Chicago is a great city for styling. There are a lot of agencies that represent amazing brands, as well as start ups, and lots of opportunity for commercial work.
I love traveling. I find major inspiration in New York, London, Amsterdam, San Francisco, etc., but I will always be loyal to Chicago.
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Q. Do you feel like you're connected to a creative community in Chicago? If so, how has it impacted you or your business?
Absolutely. Being here for more than 15 years, I've planted roots and have a strong network of other creatives that I can call on for support. Often times, we will refer business to each other, or hire one another for additional help on larger projects. I have shared studio space, exchanged props, and collaborated on passion projects with many of my creative friends, which helps everyone's business in one way or another. Soho House has also been a great incubator for me and other creative entrepreneurs. I attend the photography club, fashion and art clubs, and have met great people that I have learned from and done business with. I also think it's good to be out and about, so going to events and supporting other people is really important to me.
Q. How did you decide you wanted to start your own business?
To be completely honest, I avoided it and really wanted to have a nice job, with a nice salary, benefits and a regular schedule. I had been interviewing with an event production company for almost 3 months during the summer of 2016, and was definitely interested in the job. I was booking a lot of freelance work, and when I didn't get offered the job, my husband told me I'd be crazy not to just do my own thing. Lucky for me, the whole process felt very organic and I continued on a path that had already been started. I have a very handy and creative mother, and father who started and ran his own business my entire life, which helped gave me the confidence I needed to move forward.
Q. What's your favorite part about running your own business?
It honestly doesn't ever feel like work. I'm going on a 3 week honeymoon later this month, and didn't have to ask anyone permission! All of those things, not having to answer to anyone but my clients, is really amazing. There is a sense of freedom, both with my time, and creativity, that is valuable and creates a great work-life balance. I also love the challenge, hustling every day and pursuing jobs that I am specifically interested in. I think that makes for better, more inspired work, and better relationships with clients and creative partners.
Q. Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I listed some of my favorite cities above, but I love following other people's work for inspiration, to see how another artist might lay something out, or see things differently. I enjoy reading some of the retail trade publications like Retail Minded, VMSD and design:retail, which provide great resources for the industry. Having a coffee and breakfast in a sun-filled spot in a corner of Soho House is where great things happen :)