- Shakaila Forbes-Bell is a fashion psychologist who has worked with brands like Next and Depop.
- She was told a master’s degree in the subject at the London College of Fashion was a waste of money.
- Forbes-Bell describes how she proved them wrong.
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Shakaila Forbes-Bell, a freelance fashion psychologist. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
In 2011, I was studying psychology at University College London. At the time, I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. I became invested in social psychology and how it intersected with fashion. I did my dissertation on the link between race, clothing, and first impressions.
I reached out to a style psychologist, Kate Nightingale, and interned with her for about a year. I shadowed her, consulting with brands on their employee uniforms, and looking at retail. My input was added to a pitch deck and sent to brands.
I decided it was a bit too corporate for me, but it was great to see that someone was doing this role, and it inspired me to find out more.
In 2014, I started a fashion-psychology master’s at the London College of Fashion
I continued to look at multicultural marketing. I’d seen a Vogue editor say that Black models didn’t sell, and it made me angry. I wanted to prove empirically this was incorrect.
So as part of my final thesis, I conducted a study that found people were more likely to spend more money on a product when it’s promoted by diverse models. That paper was published in the International Journal of Market Research. I finished my master’s in 2016.
It was one of my goals to become a published psychologist, but I still never imagined myself as a fashion psychologist. I didn’t know it was a job.
Even the careers advisors at the job fair I went to after I finished my master’s didn’t have much knowledge about which jobs I could go into.
After I did my first paid internship in 2017, my blog was reshared in articles by journalists.
On my Instagram account, I posted an image of me at my graduation, with the caption “first Black woman to get a degree in fashion psychology.” It went viral on Twitter.
I got a lot of support, but I also had a lot of trolls saying that fashion psychology wasn’t a proper degree and that I’d end up working at McDonald’s. I received some racist comments, too.
My sister died suddenly in February 2018 and I began taking care of her two kids. I decided I needed to be more serious about my career. For a while, I was working for a luxury-watch brand. I hated it because I couldn’t be creative in the role and didn’t have a supportive manager.
In November 2018, I started working part time for a B2B influencer marketing platform as a marketing assistant as I adjusted to looking after two kids. The role involved me writing research papers. I’d look at research on what was trending in the fashion world and apply my fashion-psychology knowledge to it.
In January 2019, I was offered my first brand partnership
I supported clothing-brand Next’s “Dress Like a Boss” event, which was focused on imposter syndrome and how women could feel more empowered in the workplace after returning from maternity leave.
I provided research and gave a 30-minute talk at an influencer brunch event about how you could use psychology to choose outfits that would give you confidence. I was also interviewed for Next’s blog.
I’ve never pitched for work. Brands mention my blog when they reach out to me. I think my search-engine optimization has played a part in my success. I’ve also changed the way I speak about fashion psychology. Before, I spoke about it in an academic way because that’s what I was taught. When I started speaking in more of a casual way, it showcased my personality.
Now I freelance full time. I recently did an hourlong talk for Maybelline’s corporate team and head office about consumers’ relationship to fashion. The most fulfilling part of the job for me is getting to speak at events and on TV about what I love.
With what I do, no day is the same, which is bittersweet
You also always have to try and look good because you never know when you might need to be on camera. For my routine, after I’ve dropped the kids to school, I start work about 9:30 a.m. I take a break to pick them up at 3:30 p.m.
I usually stop working at 6 p.m., but I’m always switched on and close to my phone. On the weekends, I’m usually shooting content for my Instagram page. I never run out of things to do in my job, and that can be fun.
An influencer once told me that I’d inspired her to pursue a career in fashion. She said that I’d substantiated fashion psychology as a real career.
I’ve learned to just go for the career I want. I had a vision that I could really make something of myself.