This is the story of Art Director turned Fashion Stylist. Liz Teich, Style Expert.
Last year, as I started to expand my network and connect with other moms who also had hybrid roles of staying at home and running their own business, I found Liz Teich, Fashion Stylist / Style Expert.
Like me, she was no stranger to agency life in the early years of her career. I was curious to learn what role her personal life had played in shaping her professional career. And what advice she had for business owners marketing their services. Her incredible Devil Wears Prada-esque stories offer insight and inspiration .
It's a lengthy read as we met for an hour. So cozy up with a beverage and enjoy!
How did your marketing career start?
Like you, I started in pharmaceuticals. It was a whole different beast back in the day. That was my first job I got. I was kind of enticed by the Art Director title. They told me I was going to be jumping over junior.
I felt like I always wanted to go to medical school, like I wanted to be a doctor and this was like the next best thing. I learned so much more than I ever thought I would know about rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. We won agency of the year when I was there.
I loved the agency. I loved the people I worked with but, I felt like I was doing the work of a whole team. They had moved everybody off of my team. It was my Creative Director and I doing the work of four people. After a year and a half, I broke down. I was in tears in my bosses’ office.
I loved my team. I loved my Creative Director. I loved everybody there, but the agency, you know, they eat you up and spit you out. That’s the vibe of the agency. So I said, I needed to move on. And my boss at the time said, I can't give you a raise, but if you leave and come back, then you can make more money. But he said, you know, there's no way that you're going to move up without leaving.
And so I found a job at a small boutique agency. They only have a couple accounts, but Maybelline has been their top account for 20 years or something. I got enticed at the thought of moving from pharmaceuticals to commercial advertising. And Maybelline is a big name.
I went back to being a Junior Art Director, but I was getting paid more. And I thought it was such a great, exciting gig! I was working on these exciting projects with supermodels, picking out the wardrobe, and briefing the stylist and working on photo shoots. And it was, exciting in that sense, but it was such a horrible working environment.
It was very much like the movie Devil Wears Prada. The majority of the workplace was women and a couple of men. And the women were so catty.
I was so young and I didn't have a lot of money as a Junior Art Director. Once they found out it was from H&M or Forever 21, these women would scoff at my outfits.
One time we did one of those like white elephant Christmas gifts exchanges. I remember sitting in the bathroom stall overhearing two women talking about the gifts. One of them said, “I can't believe somebody would actually put in a cheap candle. I mean, I would never spend less than $60 on a candle.”
I was barely making enough money to afford a candle. I couldn't believe I was hearing this. I was young and in my twenties in New York City.
So the vibe was terrible but I stuck it out. It's New York and I thought that's what you needed to do. I was driven away.
I had a boss who was supposed to be my mentor. She was so nice to me in person. She would take me out to lunch and tell me I was going to get promoted. But behind my back, she would talk about me. It was abusive and manipulative.
Once time I stepped away from my desk and she stole my work off my desk and presented it as her own. And then there was the time we were pitching Maybelline’s potential skincare line. At the time, it was a very big top secret project. It was only my Creative Director, my boss and I working on this project.
We were creating the whole look of this new line. We pitched to the higher ups, including the head of Maybelline and the head of the agency. We pitched them two ideas, hers and mine. They liked mine! She didn't talk to me for a week and it ruined the rest of my experience there. She was very, very mean to me.
I requested a day off to attend a funeral and she said, I couldn't take the day off because she was taking the day off. And then she proceeded to email the entire agency that I was going to cover for her for that day. There were like a lot of things like that kept snowballing.
One Friday at 6pm I was heading out to go to dinner with friends and someone on the account said I needed to stay put because they were going to brief me on what I was going to work on that weekend and pitch to the head of L’Oréal while he’s hosting a bbq for the brand. I worked all night and through the weekend but never got paid anything additional or was told to take off another day to compensate me for my time.
It started to take a toll on my health to the point where I went to acupuncture once a week. It was about seven or eight o'clock at night. I would excuse myself and tell my team that I had to leave “early” to go to this acupuncture appointment down the street. My boss talked to HR and said I couldn’t keep going in case they needed me to stay late.
The biggest turning turning point for me in the advertising industry was when I lost my former head Creative Director. He died of a brain tumor. It was so eye opening to see someone spend their whole career working for an agency and have something tragic happen. It made me realize I wanted to do something for myself. It made me want to create my own business.
Thinking back there were other signs of work life imbalance. I remember one time around 10 o'clock at night; my old boss was going on and on telling me about how miserable she is at home. Sharing how she hates her family, how her son is fat and she can't stand her husband. No wonder she got promoted to partner! She devotes her all her time to the agency. It was her whole life, her way to avoid life at home.
To me, it wasn't worth giving up my life. I told HR I wasn't happy. And HR told me; maybe you're not cut out for this job.
I remember at the time thinking, I’ve built my whole career for this! I majored in Advertising Design. I had experience in fashion. I had interned in fashion. I always knew I wanted to meld the worlds of fashion advertising together. And that's why I loved the Maybelline account so much! I was picking out the wardrobe from style.com and briefing stylists. I was so involved in that process. And that's what I loved, even on the pharmaceutical accounts. Even if it was a stylist was picking out head to toe black for all the patients, I was so excited to select a certain kind of black top or the props. This was the most exciting part to me. I thought I was destined to be an Art Director. For somebody to look me in the face and say, “you're not cut out for this” was disheartening. And that was it.
What was going on in your personal life at the time? in your career?
To be honest, I didn't have much of a personal life because my, career was my life! The advertising agency culture consumes your life, even your free time. We’d have happy hour with the team or Winey Wednesday or Thirsty Thursdays. It was a lot of alcohol to the point where I actually like was questioning, is this too much? My whole life was work or going out with the team. I was with my husband who I met through a coworker. He was my boyfriend then. But he got kind of sucked into the whole world and there came a time where I was working so much I hardly saw him.
Was he in the same industry?
No, thank goodness. He’s a teacher. He had more sane hours and more freedom and he was so supportive. There would be times that we'd have dinner plans and at six o'clock at night. The Creative Director would say, I'm sorry, you can't go anywhere. We're going to brief you on something that you're going to work on over the weekend.
You really can’t have a life in advertising. I lost my mom to cancer as a child. Having that as part of my identity, it shaped like my perspective on everything. It made me realize life is too short to devote your days, nights, and weekends to your job, if it's not for you.
That's well said for sure. So how did you get out of it once, once HR said “you're not cut out for this”, which is so absurd.
I thought about it for a while and I wrote a letter about what my boss was doing to document how abusive it was. I was very open and honest. They needed to know. That’s how I gave my two weeks notice.
Years later, my role as a Stylist took me to that agency and I saw the same Creative Director was still there.
I'm friendly with one of the other Creative Directors who I loved and she's now retired/freelancing. Another one I loved actually lives in my area. We have all commiserated about the times there so I know I’m not alone with how toxic the environment was.
Wow. So where did you go from there?
I took a little a little breather. My husband was off for the summer, so we decided to get in the car and drive cross country. I was 25 years old. I used my savings to spend a month driving across the country. I was hitting the reset button.
During that time I contacted everybody I knew to get my name out. And I, thought about doing so many different kinds of jobs, even considering acting. But I had so many people, including my husband reminding me my first love was fashion. I had experience in fashion. Why would I not go back into fashion?
We visited my cousin in California. She said the best advice I can give you is this: when all my friends turned 30 or 40, they realized they wanted to work for themselves. They are so happy.
I contacted a place where I had interned and I asked if I could freelance there while I figured out what I was going to do next. And, under the condition that if I got any jobs like as a stylist assistant, they would let me do that.
So I had this great freelance gig where I was working during fashion week. It was like the busiest time of year. It was so exciting! I was working with a stylist, styling out the runway show, working the door for the show at Bryant Park Fashion Week. Most of my job was very entry level, including getting the head of the company coffee and salads during fashion week, but it was more rewarding than advertising ever was for me.
A lot of people approaching me now think they're going to assist me once or twice and become a stylist. When I decided to go into styling, I was willing to start from scratch and earn my stripes all over again. This was a healthy perspective. I knew I had to put in my time and work hard, even if it was for free. So I offered to work for free as an intern for stylists. I worked hard and I did end up getting paid eventually but I worked as an assistant for a few years before getting my own jobs.
When I was working in the ad agency world, to make ends meet, I had a jewelry line that was my outlet. I was so stressed out and working all the time that any free time I had, I was tinkering with and updating vintage jewelry.
It got to the point where every time I'd wear one of my pieces, people would ask me where I got it and if they could buy it from me. So I ended up I ended up selling my jewelry in my cubicle. I had women in my office lining up at my cubicle to buy my reworked vintage pieces. I didn't think anything of it, I had fun with it.
One day somebody at my office said, “You know, there are all these creative markets all over the city. Did you ever think about selling your designs there?”
What a great idea! I ended up trying it out and I made so much money in cash in one weekend, selling like for one day. I was working on it every night, after work or if I wasn't on a shoot for a styling, I was working on my jewelry. I was working even more than I had been when I was in advertising at that point, but it was more fulfilling. It was more worth it to me, even though I was hustling even more and making less, I loved it.
Wow. And I bet a huge difference was no one was stealing your ideas.
That's not true. At the markets, Urban Outfitters and a lot of bigger brands would come around and get ideas from the independent designers and knock them off. So, the next season after selling there, I saw my designs in Urban Outfitters! People would come to the market and say, “Oh, I saw this necklace at Urban Outfitters, but yours looks a lot nicer.”
And I would say, “That's cause mine's original. And theirs is made in China.”
I tried trademarking and patenting and all that. But since I was reworking vintage existing pieces, I couldn't get a patent or trademark on it. Unfortunately it had to be 100% new pieces.
So on my two days off, one day I would spend at the market and my other day, on Sundays, I would go to antique fairs or flea markets. I would drive out to Long Island and go to antique stores and buy tons of pieces, their broken jewelry. My Dad started helping me scour eBay. We would buy vintage watches, watch bands, and vintage pieces. I also enlisted my sister, a fellow stylist, to help me make the pieces and tinker with them.
It got to the point where we were in major retailers, around the world, and on celebrities and in magazines. I couldn't keep up with it! When my styling career took off and the blog took off, something had to give. And unfortunately that was what had to give, but it was the stepping stone I needed to create my business.
Incredible. So tell me about your blog and your business took off.
I've had so many lives. I guess I ended up starting the blog as a hobby, like the jewelry. I was working on a campaign for TJMaxx, the Maxionista campaign. I'm not sure if you remember that from a decade ago.
Yeah! So while I was an assistant on that, it was the first time I had ever heard of what a blogger was. I was styling three different bloggers for the campaign. They had so much to say, and they were so good at what they do, but they didn’t have the training and the experience that I had.
I had studied fashion since I was in high school.I took three years of fashion in high school. I went to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) for a summer and studied fashion. So I knew the technical background of fashion. And I had interned in every department at a popular clothing company. So I had this background and so much knowledge to share, but I didn't have a blog. So I decided why not? I'm going to start a blog.
There's not much overhead to start a blog other than buying a domain and setting it up. It was a form of advertising for my styling business. There was no Instagram, and Facebook was more of a friend thing. It wasn't about promoting your business as much as it can be today.
I used the blog as my advertising and it became a great marketing tool. Brands were reaching out to me and asking to collaborate, and I never even thought to charge. I was happy to support small businesses. Plus I was happy to get free stuff. It was an exciting time and it didn't occur to me until few years ago when somebody asked how much my rate was. And I realized oh, I have to know my worth. I hired a manager and I started making it more of a career rather than a hobby.
So awesome! Okay. Well, what else do you think people in marketing or business owners in general can learn from your experiences?
It's so cliché to say, but the quote you always hear, “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,” is so true. I would rather work 24/7 for myself or for building something I believe in and enjoy it rather than working for an ad agency that sucks my soul.
Even if it's making less money, it affords me to have a better life. I would definitely look at your life, your free time, and your wellbeing. Those are all as much of payment as your salary. I'm making more than I was in advertising now, but I didn't start that way. And that was okay because I was enjoying my life more.
It seems like a lot of the marketing fell into your lap. Talk about like modern day marketing; what's your view on it? How do you approach it?
There's so many great ways to market yourself now that I didn't have back when I started my blog or started as a Stylist. We're so lucky now to have Instagram, Facebook, TedTalks, blogs, and even word of mouth. We're so well connected now that it makes it so much easier to promote each other.
You’re a local celebrity in Westchester. You get recognized out and about all the time!
I know it's so funny. I went to a coffee shop the other day and they saw my name and knew I had promoted them and they were like, “Oh! You're The New York Stylist!” So it's funny because we don't have to use traditional advertising anymore. At least not the way we studied in school.
I remember when I started at my second agency and Guerilla Marketing was like the big thing. It was so exciting; everybody was talking about it. The higher ups were scared of it. My boss at the time was working on a guerrilla marketing campaign for Great Lash Mascara, and she wanted nothing to do with it. And I said, no, guerilla marketing is the future! That's where we should be investing our money!
People are scared of it because it’s not advertising to them. Their advertising is the full-page ad or the spread in the magazine. It’s the 30-second radio or TV spot.
For me, I embraced guerilla marketing. I took a bunch of Great Lash mascaras out to Union Square. I grabbed people off the street to interview them about what they love about Great Lash mascara and gave them samples. It was exciting to reach more people in a different way than putting out an ad with the iconic pink and green bottle in a magazine. Unfortunately the people in advertising were so traditional and didn't get it.
So the biggest advice is to look outside the box of traditional forms of marketing and advertising. Think about how you can reach a bigger audience in a very authentic, real way. Like the way that I use my Instagram; I don't promote my personal styling that much.
It’s not something I talk about that much because I don't need to hit people over the head with it. I'm a stylist. It's in my title. It's what I do. I am my biggest form of advertising. I'm a walking advertisement. The majority of my clients come from either word of mouth from finding me on Instagram or Google search. I don't promote it as much. When you are authentic and you put your real self out there, people want to trust you. It makes selling your brand or your product easier.
Well said! So do you and your manager sit down and have a brand planning session every year?
It's more organic to be honest. We do check in and she does sometimes guide me on things, but the manager is there to negotiate with brands. She acts as an agent, dealing with the numbers and negotiations in the contracts while I handle the creative.
I love this approach. It plays to your strengths! Okay last question: what’s next for you?
I’ve been doing commercial styling for almost 15 years so its something that I can do on the back of my hand now. It comes so easy and feels so natural. I am just starting to become a little more wary about what jobs I take. I want to be around for my family. I was traveling a lot for work before the pandemic and now I can’t do it as much. I am re-thinking my business and focusing more on my social media and influencer relationships. It’s been exciting as I create these mini ads. I do it all myself, which I love.
I am also loving working with Moms and doing personal styling for them. It happened so naturally and accidentally. I did not intend to create a personal styling business. I had Mom’s reaching out to me asking for my help and it came organically so I created a business out of it.
Liz Teich is a New York based fashion stylist, lifestyle blogger, on-air style expert and mom of two. Liz has been a professional commercial stylist for 15 years, styling fashion and home goods for print and digital advertising campaigns for major brands and retailers including Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Alex and Ani, Timberland, and Peloton. Through the campaigns she’s worked on she’s styled celebrities including Mike Tyson, Ashley Graham, and the cast of Stranger Things.