Ask Biki…

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Why Professionals Should Not Work For Free

It’s a new year readers and as the saying states, ‘Start as you mean to go on’.  This post is more of a reminder to myself than anything else, to ensure that this year, (and forever more) I don’t get taken on a ride by the industry; and to ensure that if I do find myself on a ride, it is one that is being paid for entirely by the client.

Not so long ago, someone put this YouTube link on Facebook and I agreed so heartily with the speaker that I knew that I had to put it up on my blog.  Here is the ever charismatic, incredibly funny and blunt American writer, Harlan Ellison stating why professional writers, creatives et al should be paid for their work, and should stop giving out freebies.  Although his experience comes from what happened to him in the film industry, everything he says can be applied to the fashion industry-


How right is he?

I believe he raises two great points-

1. The fact that working for free does not give good publicity value.  This has been the reason given to me by so many companies in the past who have tried to get me to work for free.  However Harlan points out why this is poppycock and that the only value is if (and I love these words) your palms are ‘crossed with silver’.

2. The reason why so many industry people expect creatives to work for free and insist on it like it is the ‘norm’, is because ‘amateurs have made it tough for the professionals’.  Professionals will continue to be undercut by amateurs as long as the latter continue to work for nothing.  This is something the fashion industry will continue to exploit because they know behind the individual insisting (rightfully) to get paid for his/her work- there is an orderly queue of (very eager) people willing to work for free.

I have to state here that I was once in that queue standing for hours like a chump because I was naive and thought as Harlan bitchily states, whilst flapping his arms in about  2:18 of the clip- ‘that I was going to be looked at and be noticed’.  However, in the long run I’ve realised that ‘being noticed’ is not enough and I also learnt that clients (like most men on a first date) don’t respect and appreciate what they get easily and for free.

The latter has been the toughest lesson of all, when Harlan talks about having to almost beg for the DVD’s that have his work, I can identify with that- there have been certain magazines that I have styled for, for free who made me have to draw blood before they sent me free copies of the magazines that had my work in it.

I could go on and on about this topic but I won’t as it is a topic that I am going to revisit often.  My personal experiences have made this subject one that I am very passionate about.  It may not happen in my lifetime, but my dream is for when ALL professionals can Just Say No to working for free because then the industry will be forced to pay professionals for their work, lest their brand looses value by doing work that is amateur.

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What they don’t teach you in Fashion Styling School

First of all I have to start with saying that I am not knocking fashion schools, as they have produced  some of fashion’s greats like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen.  However for every handful of talented artists who honed their arts in school, there are dozens of equally talented ones who learned their arts through practice.  Examples of such stylists are Katie Grand (she quit Central Saint Martin’s after a year and commands about £6,000 a day, so I believe she counts) and Hector Castro.  And if we are judging stylists on commercial success alone, celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe has no formal fashion training.

Recently an incident occurred that involved me narrowly being sued thousands of euros, which I feel the need to share so that other stylists can learn from my mistakes.  To make a long story, not very long- I borrowed a dress from a PR department and after I returned it, the PR manager contacted me to let me know that the dress was now ruined as there was a stain on it.  ‘Stain’? I thought, ‘What stain’?  You see, I had no idea that the dress I returned was in fact damaged.

Now several errors brought me to this shaky point-

1. When I had seen the amazing dress which although was fish leather (oh yes), did not feel or look like leather- as it was an unfamiliar texture to me, I should have asked the PR officer how to take wrinkles out of the dress or if the wrinkles could in fact be taken out.

2. The weird thing is although my assistant had steamed the whole of the wrinkled dress, only one area of the dress got stained.  I assume or guess that, that is because she held the steamer in that particular area for too long.  After the phone call I got from the PR, I then called my assistant to see if she could shed any light on the ‘disaster’, and it was only then that she informed me that she had noticed the mark on the dress as she steamed it and had ‘hung it out to dry’. before putting it on the model.  I told her that in future, should any accidents like that happen in a shoot, always let the stylist know.

3. I also learnt a lesson which is that, no matter how rushed for time a shoot is, I’ll always try to look closely at each outfit after it has been steamed by an assistant to make sure the piece has not been harmed.  In the team’s haste to get all the shots done, I had given a lot of responsibility to my assistant including making a judgement call about steaming, dressing the model (after I selected the pieces for each look) and re-packing the pieces back into their appropriate Press bags.  These were the responsibilities and tasks I had to do when I was assisting.  In fact, I did more as in addition to the above I would often be instructed to pick up the press bags and deliver them after the shoot.  However, just because I did this with no casualties, doesn’t mean that all stylist assistants will be so lucky.

4. I also learnt the importance of ensuring that a stylist commissioning letter expressly states that the company commissioning you for the project takes full responsibility of all pieces loaned for the project.  Luckily, I had such a letter and narrowly missed the bullet.

All in all after some scary emails that kept me ‘Sleepless in Berlin’ for a couple of nights, all has been resolved and the final results of the project are brilliant.  But I’ve learnt a lesson or two, oh yes indeed I have.

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Ask Biki- Civil Wedding African Style


Dear Biki

I am planning to have a civil wedding in NYC this Fall and would like my African culture to be reflected in my outfit.  However I don’t want to look like my parents, i.e I want to look youthful and stylish.  What do you suggest?

Thank you, Patricia


Dear Patricia

First of all- congratulations!  And now how to ensure that your African culture can be perceived in your ensemble without looking like you are a few decades late to audition for the Imani Izzi, ‘Barking dog, African princess’ role in ‘Coming To America’.

To suit the formality of the event, I would advise you to wear a fitted Ankara print dress, with a tailored jacket that has a matching block colour tone.  Jewel By Lisa, is a Nigerian label that has put a luxurious spin on Ankara print.  The brand’s modern take has seen it infusing cutting edge shapes, adding complimentary fabrics and embellishment onto the classic print, all of which will ensure that guests don’t confuse you with your mother on your special day-


Courtesy of Hauteafrica.comCourtesy of

 A great way to bring out your African heritage in a subtle yet powerful way would be through accessories– for e.g. wearing coral beaded jewellery, an ankara clutch bag or an ankara print fabricator

Ankara print fabricator, courtesy of


Courtesy of

Etsy also do a unique selection of African inspired jewellery

Courtesy of

If you are feeling particularly creative, you could also arrange for a gele to be tied on your head-

Courtesy of

Urbanknit also have a spectacular wide range of Ankara print clutches

Courtesy of

Furthermore, African hairstyles like small braids or intricate cornrows will bring out your ethnicity in a subtle and very attractive way.

To crown your look, I would advise on opaque tights (preferably black) and vertiginous stilettos

Enjoy your very special day! x


Ask Biki...

How do I set my Blogging Rates?

Yesterday evening was particularly exciting for me as for the very first time, I was approached by a company and asked my blogging fees as the company would like me to blog for their site.  This request couldn’t have come at a better time as whilst revising for my PR and Marketing and Consumer behaviour modules (for my CIM diploma), I can’t help but notice that a lot of emphasis is being put on Digital and Social Media.  Furthermore, if super brands like Burberry, GAP and Estée Lauder, are anything to go by- its the way forward.  So I’m more than happy to blog for as many brands as possible- only thing is I haven’t actually sat down to figure out my rates yet.

After reading the request from the company, I went to my fairy godmother-Google– to see what she had to say about the matter, but after typing ‘How do I set  my writing rates?‘ I was inundated with mostly irrelevant information.  Reason being, whilst there is a lot of information on how to set writing rates for traditional media– newspapers, magazines and the like, there isn’t much information about how to set rates for new media, e.g. blogging and web content.

There are so many questions I have for e.g.- is it better to charge by the hour, per word or per project?  With the current financial climate and with so many bloggers at the ready, what is a good rate to charge?  For now, I’ve decided to get the wheels turning by asking the few freelance writers/bloggers I know what and how much they charge and hopefully I will be able to work from there.  This may seem obvious, but as a freelancer it’s always a good idea to use various social media tools like Facebook and Linkedin, to connect with people in your field- at times like these, they can really come in handy.

Ask Biki...

What’s the hottest fashion trend right now? Doing business in CHINA

Lately, I can’t help but notice that 1 in every 5 fashion business article I read seems to be giving the deails of a  fashion luxury brand doing business in China.  For those of you who are unaware of this, let these facts wash over you-

  • In China, affluent customers are choosing luxury in every aspect of their lives according to a 7-counry survey of households earning $150,000
  • Prada forecasts that its sales in China are expected to double or even triple in the next 2 to 3 years
  • Sports apparle Nike Inc has set a target of boosting its annual sales in China to $4 billion by 2015
  • Much of Europe’s hyper-luxury sector is being devioured by China, one of the fastest growing emerging markets
  • Yoox Group, the Italian company that builds and manages about half the fashion worlds’s etial outlet (Armani, Marni, Dolce & Gabbana etc), was recently the first multi-brand e-tailer to launch a high-end multi brand boutique in China called-

Personally, what these facts tell me is that it is time for me to move shop to China and get a slice of the lucrative pie.

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