In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.
It's difficult to remember a time when celebrity stylists were unknown entities, acting purely behind the scenes with little recognition. These days, thanks largely to social media, they are much more likely to get the attention they deserve, especially when they've had the kind of year that styling duo Wayman Bannerman and Micah McDonald have. These longtime friends are represented by fashion and beauty brand development agency Starworks (which also reps Rachel Zoe), and have a diverse mix of up-and-coming and established clients, including Serayah McNeill, Anika Noni Rose, Jerry Ferrara, Justine Skye, Forest Whitaker and Tessa Thompson. The duo capped a year in which Thompson consistently and relentlessly slayed every appearance and red carpet for her starring turn in "Creed" by being named stylists to watch in The Hollywood Reporter's sixth annual list of the 25 Most Powerful Stylists in Hollywood.
Earlier this month, Wayman and Micah took a break from prepping for the Teen Choice Awards to sit down with Fashionista to talk about networking at a Harlem house party, choosing your passion when everyone thinks you're crazy, and how they've carefully built their roster of celebrity clients.
You two first met at a party in Harlem in 2008. Was it a fashion party?
Wayman: Not at all. A mutual friend was just having a Friday night BYOB house party. The friend I came with was talking with Micah and said, 'you guys should actually meet. You both work in fashion.'
What were you both doing at the time?
Micah: I was doing the POVs for corporate at Marc Jacobs in the Bloomingdale's division.
W: I was working at GQ as a fashion market assistant to the fashion director. Basically, I was working with the fashion editors on cover shoots and other fashion editorials in New York and LA.
Did you immediately bond over your fashion gigs?
W: Well, when my friend said we should meet, I said, 'nah we don't need to meet.' People will say they work in fashion, but they don't really work in fashion. They may just be fans of fashion who have opinions on the industry. But then I figured out that Micah was really looped in. Once we figured out we had all of these parallels and similarities, we ended up talking all night. A group of us [became friends after that], but eventually we phased those other friends out.
M: [Laughing] Literally, that's true.
Were you thinking at that point that you wanted to work together?
M: Not at all. We were in our respective careers at the time. I wasn't even thinking about styling. I'm from Ohio, honey, where styling is a fantasy, if that. You don't even think of it. People just show up on red carpets and you don't know the back story. If I wanted to work in fashion, I thought that meant, 'get a job in corporate fashion.'
But as time went on [Wayman and I] both ended up in freelance styling roles.
How do you end up in a freelance styling role?
M: You get out there, you intern, you try to locate the stylists who need assistants. Go on websites — even Craigslist will have styling intern posts.
[Wayman] got off to a great start because as part of his job, he was already [doing styling work] with publications. But I had to intern and assist because even though it was the same industry, [I was making a career] shift. I worked up the ranks as an intern and assistant until I could get those freelance styling positions.
What was it like shifting careers?
W: I actually started my career in finance. I was an investment banker at JPMorgan Chase. But the whole time, I was taking evening classes at FIT.
As soon as I finished my two-year FIT program, I quit my job and started interning [in fashion]. Everyone thought I was crazy. But at that time I had to follow my passion, instead of doing what was safe. I had done safe for two years and safe had kept me miserable.
Wayman, did you get your position at GQ through interning?
W: Yes, my sister encouraged me to just apply. There was a blog I followed at the time, www.freefashioninternships.com, where I saw the post, and I just blind applied. I had no connections there at all.
How did you turn it into a job?
W: For the first three months it was a free internship. But I wanted to show the publication in those three months that I was really committed because I had this opportunity presented to me. And then when the internship was done, I was able to have the opportunity to work with them.
So how did you decide to work together?
W: While we were both freelance styling individually, we had also been friends for several years. Every year we would each do vision boards with celebrities we would like to acquire, visions we would have for ourselves professionally and personally.
In January of 2013, we were doing our celebrity vision boards together in my apartment. At first, it was like, you want that celebrity [on your vision board] a little more than I do, so you take him, and vice versa. Then it came down to certain celebrities and we would both want that person and it would get competitive. We said, what if we try to acquire them together instead of losing them to an outside party. And that's how we joined forces.
When you came together in 2013, were you still freelancing?
W: Yes. We had a plan, but it takes time to manifest and implement that plan so we still needed income coming in before the plan took off.
When would you say the plan took off?
W: That same year.
M: By the end of the summer. One of the key individuals we didn't want to let go of was Forest Whitaker. We knew 'The Butler' was being released later that year and the buzz around it. So we went after him and were about to acquire him as a client.
How did you acquire him as a client?
M: We just put our resources together. Who do we know who knows who? Who would be interested in working with us to get us toward him? What were we willing to offer up to prove ourselves to him?
You make those strategic moves to try to get yourself into the room, and once you're in the room, you have to sell it.
And what does a celebrity styling pitch look like?
W: We create fashion inspiration vision boards for [potential clients]. We tell them, these are some of the looks and styles we would like to bring to your brand for your press tour or upcoming appearances.
Your group of clients is very diverse. Is that intentional or is that just how it's worked out?
M: Intentional. We live diversity, we breathe diversity, and we crave it.
W: We want to show that we are not only catering to the African-American market, which we love and are a part of, but that we also love the industry, talent and the creative arts. We live a diverse palate—it's a part of our daily lives—and we want to show we can work with an array of people.
You’ve had a pretty amazing year with Tessa Thompson. Is there someone on your vision board that you don't have that you want?
W: We do have a lot of models on our vision board. We want to tap into the celebrity model market.
Any names in particular?
M: We like to work with clients where it's either someone new or someone on the cusp of reconfiguring things. We don't seek out the top celebrity who is already approved for all these designers and [our role would be to] just keep the wheels spinning.
What does "approved by designers" mean?
M: Designers have certain celebrities who they will have pre-approved, or have said, 'yes we'd love to dress her.'
So if you have a client who isn't on the list, you have to get approval?
W: Exactly. Say there is an event, like the VMAs, and you're working with a new client. Basically, we have to do a fashion pitch to each design house to see if they would want to dress her.
M: And honestly, we love that build. We love to take someone and strategically lodge when we were able to get this designer who was saying no to say yes. Then we are really able to see how we have made our mark. So the person we may want to work with could be someone who doesn't even have a movie out yet, but by next year, you will understand the build.
Especially with the rise of the tagged celebrity stylist on Instagram, do you feel any pressure to be 'celebrity' celebrity stylists?
W: Not at all. I make sure I have a life outside of it and that I'm not dwelling in any comment sections.
M: I don't feel the pressure. I got into it to have a creative outlet and really, styling in and of itself is my passion. Celebrity or fame has never been a passion of mine. I've always said I want to be notable, not famous.
You've been working together for just three years. It feels like a meteoric rise from the outside. Does it feel meteoric to you guys?
M: I am widely grateful. But I think when you apply hard work and strategy as meticulously as we have done, you should expect these things for yourself. It's a blessing that it has happened for us in the way that it has, but it is by no luck.
Did it feel surreal to be in this year's Hollywood Reporter Power Stylist issue?
M: I thought I had to go back and revisit all of my dreams because this was my only dream!
I am from Zanesville, Ohio. Growing up in high school I knew I wanted to work in fashion. I knew I could go to Columbus and be a buyer for The Limited Brand. Never could I have imagined I would be here in Beverly Hills talking to Fashionista as a celebrity stylist.