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"Some people keep me as their little secret..." - What's life like for a personal shopper?

Natalie Svikle has built up a booming business catering to others’ retail needs. “Personal shopping is no longer the prerogative of the wealthy,” she tells TheJournal.ie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Natalie Svikle

FOR SOME OF us shopping is a chore up there with mowing the lawn. For others it’s a passion, pure enjoyment whether anything is actually purchased or not.

For Natalie Svikle it’s a profession.

Coming to Ireland 12 years ago after growing up in America, Natalie (31) originally studied business and languages. She quickly found that fashion was the thing that excited her most, and she wanted to make a career of it, to “live the dream” as she puts it herself.

She trained as an image consultant in Paris before going out on her own as a personal stylist and shopper.

“There isn’t a typical client in my line of work although about 70% of those I work with are female,” she told TheJournal.ie.

Every client has different goals or needs. Some want clothes for a special occasion, others want an entire wardrobe overhaul. Some want exclusive items that can’t be shopped for easily.

Lifestyle

Understanding the client’s lifestyle is key. Natalie will take the time to get a glimpse of their life, what a typical week means for them. She regards this process as “style soul-searching”.

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“Some people come to me because what they’re wearing no longer reflects what they are,” she says. “They want to reflect who they are, but they don’t know what direction to take.”

Other clients may have moved upwards in a career and need practical solutions on what they’re now expected to wear.

There are definitely clients who never step into the shops and I manage their wardrobes and all their shopping. They have more important things to focus on.

There is no typical working day for Natalie, something that she loves. No two days are the same.

“In general, if I am not working with clients my day is spent between keeping up with the new arrivals in the stores across the city, building up brand knowledge, looking for new brands to work with, keeping an eye on trends and fashion-related media and other things,” she says.

Also, like in any other business, there is administrative work and less enjoyable stuff, the bread and butter essential to any successful venture.

Anything to do with wardrobe management or styling sees her visiting her clients. Personal shopping sees her bringing her client shopping at whatever destination. If someone has trusted her with their entire wardrobe management she visits them and they do the personal shopping experience from home, although this comes at a different rate.

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Niche

Word of mouth, while important, is not the dealbreaker you might think it would be.

“My services are very niche, very personal” she says. “There’s a lot of delicate factors at play.”

For example many of my clients would never disclose the fact that they use my services, or that they use me for buying gifts. I provide complete confidentiality and privacy from that point of view.
Others are happy to rave about my services which is great, but there are some who like to keep me as their little secret.

Natalie’s business was built when the economy was still booming eight years ago. She survived the recession and is now “fascinated” to see how her industry is recovering. “Ireland is just as good a market as London or Paris at this stage.”

With a client base spread across Dublin, London, and into Europe, she says that, nevertheless, Irish people are becoming much savvier in how they spend their money.

People no longer buy randomly. They want a great return on their investment, and they’re happy to use a professional like myself to help them make the right decisions.

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Glamorous?

She says that it is easy to underestimate what she does.

On paper I shop for a living – the fact is it’s demanding, extremely challenging and often very stressful. Eye for style is just a tiny part of it, you need discipline and an ability to work under extreme pressure. High street fashion is a world removed from luxury retail, but I have to work comfortably in both.
I manage budgets, I have to produce results in a limited timeframe. You need to be flexible, and always have a Plan B. You’re creating an entire experience here.

But surely it must be glamourous?

“A lot of people think my work is glamourous because of the way I dress, that I’m living every woman’s dream. Looking well comes with the territory, that’s true,” she says.

Look at it another way – an entire day running around in stilletos, carrying bags that feel like they have bricks in them, or working crazy hours to fit in with clients’ schedules is hardly glamorous in my book. But what I do is definitely both rewarding and interesting.
Do you have to love fashion? Yes and no. Fashion and fashion designers are inspirational, their ability to produce something fresh will never cease to amaze and inspire me. I love the transformational powers of fashion and self-expression. But I’m not obsessed with it, and neither are most of my clients.

All that aside, there is no denying that Natalie loves her job.

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“I absolutely do! I consider myself one of those few lucky people who don’t hate Mondays and happily go to work,” she says.

You’ll burn out quickly in this job if you don’t genuinely love it. I’ve seen so many stylists come on the scene who gave up after a while.

One thing seems certain – the future is bright for what Natalie does (she’s recently inked a deal to become the official personal shopper to Kildare Village to boot).

Personal shopping may have been the prerogative of the wealthy only ten years ago. That’s not the case now.
What I love most about my job is the sense of fulfilment from seeing a client’s confidence grow right in front me and knowing that I solved a problem for them.

“It doesn’t personally matter to me what budget I had to work with to achieve that, all that matters is seeing that satisfaction and knowing that I had an impact on a fraction of somebody’s life,” she says.

Odd Job: Personal Stylist / Shopper

What does it pay? Rates start from €60 per hour. Specialised services like personal shopping abroad or total wardrobe management come at a higher rate

How many are there? Quite a few. “There are a good few independent personal stylists and shoppers across Ireland on top of the in-house services that many department stores offer, so it is a pretty competitive industry,” says Natalie

What qualifications/experience do you need? None, but a background in fashion or experience as a professional stylist would be handy

Do you know someone with an unusual occupation for our Odd Jobs series? Email the author below.

Read: Dread being a bridesmaid? This woman does it for a living…

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