Rhiana Wells wants to empower women and spread joy through fashion which is why she created her blog, Wear Bows and Smile. Rihana received her Masters in Styling and Visual Merchandising in Milan, Italy. She held summer internships at Lilly Pulitzer HQ and Oprah Magazine, then went on to work for Vineyard Vines, where she worked as an in-house stylist for three years. After leaving to work for a non-profit still close to her heart, she launched Wear Bows & Smile. Now she is working as a Senior Stylist at Justice in Columbus, Ohio! She’s taking all about styling and her adventures with us today. Take it away Rhiana!
“Whenever someone asks how I got into styling, I have to take a deep breath and ask, “How much time do you have?” This seems to be a likely story from many stylists and fashion editors that I’ve met throughout the years. While the path to my current position might look more like a zig-zag trail map than a straight ladder upwards, I wouldn’t trade any experience that has led me here. I think that my career is as good an example as any that there is no “right” or “wrong” career path. Each position and opportunity has molded and shaped me into the stylist that I am today, and looking back, I am so glad that I followed my intuition and kept on going in moments of doubt.
Recently, my mom found a picture I drew in Kindergarten that stated I wanted to be a fashion designer when I grew up. While that certainly changed in my mind throughout the years (THANK GOD I did NOT go to law school…), I think I always knew that (for better or worse), this was the industry that was meant for me. Growing up, my mom owned a jewelry and candy boutique and I loved helping with the displays and buying jewelry – I often joke that this was my first experience with still life styling. It wasn’t until freshman year of college that I had my first real taste of styling when I assisted on set with a fashion editor for a local newspaper. It was that opportunity that gave me enough experience to finally land my dream internship at Lilly Pulitzer HQ in the Marketing Department (after applying for 5 years!).
I’m still fiercely loyal to the Lilly Pulitzer brand today, for truly it was the one experience that made me realize that fashion was definitely for me and I think applying a hard work ethic also showed me what I was capable of, giving me the confidence I needed to reach bigger! The next summer, I went on to intern in the fashion department for Oprah Magazine and then shortly after graduation, I accepted a position at Vineyard Vines HQ. At the time, everyone had to start in the Call Center (a bit like…real life pledging?), and I accepted the position with the hopes of transitioning into the Marketing Department within 6 months…but, that never happened.
One day, I followed a little gut feeling and got up the courage to ask the Senior Stylist at Vineyard Vines, Jessica, if she ever needed help steaming and let her know that I had on-set experience. It turned out that she needed a LOT of help. One day when I was helping set up a still life shot for the catalog, she said “Hey, styling is a funny thing, you kind of either have it or you don’t. I think that you have it. What would you think about maybe joining our team?” Really, the rest is history. Jessica taught me EVERYTHING about on-figure and still life styling and is still my greatest mentor and encourager to this day. I think that everyone starting out in their career needs a “Jessica,” and I know how lucky I am to have her!
After 3 years at Vineyard Vines, I made the decision to leave to work for a non-profit (FOCUS) that I had been involved with since high school and volunteered with for 6 years. They had approached me about a Director of Communications and Development position in their national office. What did I know about the nonprofit world? Hardly anything! I was ready for a change but leaving styling hadn’t really crossed my mind. I thought about it a lot (*prayed about it a lot) and ultimately, decided that the opportunity to use my skills to help an organization that meant so much to me was too good to pass up! This career move was a little less “follow your gut” and a little more “follow your heart.”
During this time, I launched my own fashion blog, knowing that I would definitely miss styling. Besides learning more about photography, social media, photoshop, and how to run a website, the blog allowed me to work with some of my very favorite brands, as it still does today! Most importantly, it’s connected me with some of the most incredible women, like Patricia.
I LOVED my time at FOCUS and worked with the kindest, most wonderful and selfless people I will ever meet. I gained incredible skills and learned so much from the experience. Towards the end, I felt a little nudge in my stomach (an unsettled feeling) that kept telling me I needed to be somewhere else. In the spring of 2016 I decided to apply for Vogue Talent’s Brand Communicator Scholarship Competition, hosted by Vogue Italia, where the winner would win a substantial scholarship to a Masters Program in Styling and Visual Merchandising in Milan, Italy. The prompt looked fun, but no American had won before and I DID NOT expect to win first place! I was SHOOK, but ultimately, I saw it as a clear sign that THIS is what I’m meant to do. As soon as I made the decision to accept the scholarship, I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace and knew that I was on the right path again.
Moving to Milan was a huge LEAP of faith, but I really feel like this recent move to Columbus, OH for my current position as the Senior Stylist of Justice felt like an EVEN BIGGER leap of faith. It’s so hard to know if a career decision is the right one. I wish I could say that it gets easier as you get older. This recent career move was a mixture of following both my gut and my heart (it sounds cheesy, but it’s true). Now, I feel so incredibly grateful that I get to style for a brand that I love so much and truly believe in. Styling can get stressful and overwhelming at times, but I really think that I’m the luckiest stylist in the world because every morning that I wake up for a day on-set, my biggest focus is bringing joy to the girls on set and making sure that they feel comfortable and confident. I know they will remember that day for the rest of their lives, and how cool that I get to play a small part in it?!
There’s a quote that I LOVE from Oprah, where she says, “What I know is, is that if you do work that you love, and the work fulfills you, the rest will come.” Why is she so smart? I think that in the end, we all KNOW when we are on the right path – it’s a feeling in your gut. You can’t make it up! What I tell every young adult that asks me about getting into the industry is the same: Work really hard, go above and beyond, find great mentors, be KIND to everyone, be a sponge, and always follow your gut (and ok, maybe your heart, too).”