The best feeling is paying it forward, it’s what makes the world go round – even in a place like New York City. For a girl like Kahlana Barfield, who left Seattle to pursue her fashion writing career in the Big Apple, finding someone that would root for her was something she least expected.
As Instyle Magazine’s current beauty director, Barfield writes and edits beauty stories, oversees celebrity beauty shoots, and represents the magazine at industry events and on television on shows like the “Today” show, CNN, and “Good Morning.”
Today, she’s the industry’s go-to gal, responsible for uncovering the latest trends and revealing the hottest products and technologies to enhance the personal style of over 10 million women each month.
You could say everything that Barfield has today was intentional. She knew she wanted to write and she knew she wanted to be in fashion, so she kept her eye on the prize. Her hard work paid off but she says she didn’t get there alone.
GOING FOR IT
When Barfield decided to pursue her fashion ambitions in New York City nearly ten years ago, she knew she was going to have to put in some hard work to be successful. It was New York, she couldn’t miss a beat.
The summer after college graduation she took an internship at Suede magazine, a short-lived fashion magazine owned by Essence. “I was an intern. I knew I had to start from the bottom, but I was game for that,” she said. “I just wanted to be in the industry. I didn’t expect to write when I first walked in the door. I had to pay my dues. I knew that.”
Her job there was to traffic samples and check them in to be ready for fashion shoots, often times running across town herself to pick up all the items, acting as the company’s general messenger.
It’s a good thing Barfield arrived in New York City with luck on her side. After just two months at Suade, she got offered a general internship at Instyle. She says it was a blessing in disguise. General internship didn’t mean just fetching coffee. She got to float between the different departments within the company, which forced her to think beyond just working in the fashion department. “I got to really find out what I wanted. I was exposed to the full machine of how a magazine operates,” she said. And the relationships she made with the various editors throughout the company were priceless.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
During her internship the current beauty editor’s assistant went on vacation and they needed a fill-in assistant. Barfield hopped on that opportunity and knew it was her chance to show everyone what she was capable of. “I was the first one to the office and the last one to leave,” she remembers. “I wanted them to remember me.”
On her last day as an intern at InStyle she gave everyone in the office thank you cards. The beauty director that she had assisted for asked her if she would ever consider moving to NYC if a position opened up. Of course the answer was YES. “Coincidently” two weeks later Barfield received a call about an assistant editor position that they wanted her to interview for.
Barfield joined InStyle in 2005 as Beauty Assistant and was promoted to Associate Beauty Editor in 2008, Beauty Editor in 2009, Senior Beauty Editor in 2011, and Beauty Director in 2013.
“I work for the smartest editors. My colleagues are innovative and creative. Not a lot of people can say they’ve been able to grow their career in one place. I didn’t have to move companies in order to get a promotion. It showed me that the company really valued me and wanted to see me grow,” said Barfield.
PUTTING IN THE WORK
In the fashion industry you don’t just walk into a job with BA degree, internship experience is key. That’s where you make relationships and learn the industry, said Barfield. She also recognizes the doors technology and social media have opened for those wanting to work in the fashion industry today.
Thanks to social media, there are endless opportunities in fashion outside of New York. “It’s not just about going to New York anymore, It’s about going after whatever your interest are because now you can do it with social media platforms. You can start a blog or Instagram account and gain a following and really take off in a fashion career on your terms,” said Barfield, using beauty bloggers as an example. “Now you can really do whatever you want from wherever you want to do it, you just have to take advantage of the platform and realize you’re an entrepreneur.”
It’s also important acknowledge that you can’t always do it alone. Speaking from her own experience Barfield said, “I encourage every person to have a mentor. Nobody gets to where they are on their own. Don’t be afraid to ask someone you admire to be your mentor. Today, I have several mentors. Without them I wouldn’t be nearly as far in this industry. Its important to give back. I have to pay it forward now.”
More about Kahlana Barfield
High School: Garfield High
College: Howard University journalism major, fashion minor
First writing gig: A summer internship at the Seattle Times, but the work was too slow for her. She knew she needed to go to New York.
What do you miss about Seattle the most?
Family. My entire family lives here. My two sisters are my BFF’s. I visit twice a year during the holidays and summer. The first stop after landing at the Sea-Tac Airport is Ivars.
Fondest memories of living in Seattle
Summers, I grew up in Madison Valley in the Central District of Seattle. I’d always spend weekends at Madison Beach where my grandparents lived. I remember hot days with ice cream and the community. That was our territory.
Most stylish woman you know
My grandmother. I remember as a child we’d go downtown once a month and go to Nordstrom or Bon Marche (now Macy’s) and pick out one thing. It was her treat to me to pick out something that was my sense of style.
My nana always taught me, “Quality over quantity.” I knew I always loved fashion. My grandma started all that.
Follow Kahlana Barfield @kahlanabarfield