By Kara Bettis The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
Essense Hill spends her work days doing what some would love to be doing -- she shops. On a Friday morning in January, Hill selects outfits for a client at clothing retailer H&M at Triangle Town Center in Raleigh.
Three years ago, Hill, 36, was working at a personal injury law firm. Her coordinating outfits drew the attention of coworkers seeking fashion advice. She helped a friend shop for professional and stylish clothes, and when the results drew attention on social media, Hill got her first referral.
In June 2014, she pursued the company full-time and launched Essense Heel, a personal styling and closet organization company based in Raleigh.
"I'm known for shoes," she said about her company name. "I have over 100 pairs. I love shoes."
Her favorite pair is her latest purchase -- a yellow 5-inch stilletto from ShoeDazzle that's complete with a bejeweled snake encircling the gold heel.
Hill trained with celebrity stylist Shun Melson, who taught her how to earn an income through personal styling. Her startup costs consisted of hiring someone to design her blog and someone to take photos.
Many of her 23 clients are in their 30s, and with each one, she does an initial consultation to understand the individual's style. She'll ask if there is a certain celebrity or person whose fashion sense they admire or want to emulate. Next, she helps them set a budget.
"Some people hire me for a special event, like a reunion, where they want to look really good," she said. Other clients are professionals who don't have time to revamp their corporate look. Her goal is to help women look like celebrities without spending thousands of dollars.
"I want to be accessible to single moms, or 9-5 women who want to look good," Hill said.
At H&M, Hill catches a 70 percent off sale, ideal because she is working with a client with a $200 budget, which Hill says is pretty typical. Thankfully, she said, she has an eye for bargains, sales and thrift store shopping.
Her fees start at about $50 an hour.
Most women trust her to do all of their clothes shopping, and many of her clients don't live in the Triangle. She purchases the clothes, then mails them to her clients. She sends "lookbooks" that includes photos of outfit possibilities before she ships the clothes.
"Normally, I'll shop at a store that they'll be able to get to in case sizes don't work out," Hill said.
Hill markets on social media sites Instagram and Facebook, along with writing a blog about the styles she's wearing and what to wear to places and events such as work, dates, formals and Triangle fashion events and grand openings.
If a client doesn't have a large shopping budget, Hill will organize her closet and arrange items by color. This allows the client to have better access and more creative ways to coordinate outfits with the clothes she already has.
"We don't wear all of our clothes because we don't see all of our clothes," Hill said. "Your closet should be somewhere you want to shop."