It’s fair to say that Tunbridge Wells has no shortage of clever fashion stylists who, thanks to their well-trained eye, help to push people out of their sartorial comfort zone to create a wardrobe that works on every level. Sue Mee Maudsley, AKA The Design Stylist, is one such talented stylist working in this particular field, but it’s fair to say that she also has just a little bit extra tucked up her proverbial sleeve.
The mother of two is also a qualified fashion designer and industry consultant who had been working professionally for over a decade until she had her two sons, and that familiar working parent ‘juggle struggle’ kicked in. So instead of carrying on commuting and dashing here, there and everywhere to make things work Sue Mee decided to go freelance with her consulting and design work which included projects for the likes of Burberry, John Lewis, Monsoon and New Look.
While she was freelancing, Sue Mee says she started being approached by entrepreneurs who wanted to create their own clothing and independent brands. “They asked me to take their ideas, consult and mentor them, to show them the processes of how to design step-by-step.”
A few years later she decided to set up her own business, The Design Stylist, which encompasses all aspects of Sue Mee’s fashion expertise including advising people who might feel a little lost or in need of a fashion reboot on what to wear. “A friend suggested I do this actually as I was doing a lot of it for my corporate work. So now I use my knowledge and experience in the fashion industry to ensure the cut of garments, their fabrics, shapes and silhouettes suit the style of my clients. It’s quite harmonious because I usually design a year in advance, so that means I know the upcoming trends for styling my clients.”
Good style never goes out of fashion
For the uninitiated, what does a personal styling experience involve with Sue Mee? “When I take on a client I like to see how they shop, the type of fit they go for with their clothes, and actually all that helps me immensely.
“Over the years of designing, I’d been asked to style outfits for many retail brands, press shows and presentations. I really started to love the interaction with people, especially seeing my designs being worn, and seeing how happy people were when someone else dressed or styled them. It gave me joy to see how much it improved their self-confidence and self-esteem!”
Sue Mee’s passion for fashion is a life-long one. As a teenager she learned to sew and make her own clothes, as she says she couldn’t find anything suitable: “It was either childish, or too grown up. This led me to studying fashion design at university, which also included a knitwear specialism, business and communications. I loved being creative, but I also was aware that I needed an academic side to my work too. Undergoing work experience placements was really essential as it gave me an insight and understanding to the industry.
“My first placements were with Vivienne Westwood, River Island, and a local bridalwear designer. It was great to work at different levels of the market, and to see how it all worked.” From there Sue Mee went on to work for various brands including John Lewis, M&S, Burberry, Monsoon, Topshop, New Look and Simply Be, working on everything from knitwear, nightwear and babywear to outsize clothes, swimwear, lingerie and shoes.
Sue Mee has also worked with a number of independents. “There have been some wonderful clients too including Contur, Yummy Yoga Girl, Babyboss and Zola Eve. And with the current trend of well-being and health, I’ve been working on a lot of yogawear and activewear which bear more sustainable fabrics and less carbon footprint as they are made in the UK.”
Sue Mee says a real highlight of her consultancy work is seeing her clients’ ideas come to fruition. “When you see all the hard work between us has resulted in the garment finished, hung up, or photographed online it’s a huge adrenalin rush! I also love the feedback from their customers when they’ve been wearing the products for a while, and that they love it! For example, one of the times I spotted one of my dresses on TV, worn by a celebrity, and then a knitted cardi worn by a lady in one of my favourite pubs in Tunbridge Wells. It’s so rewarding to see the creations being worn by my customers.”
My top styling tricks
Colour: As we have such grey days here, I always advise to add a splash of colour to your outfit, in your favourite shade to brighten and illuminate your face, and to uplift your mood
Prints: Whether it’s small and delicate or large and bold, it’s a great way to break up plain areas of your outfit. Experiment with scarves, tees or long dresses
Coats: This completes your outfit as it can layer over various pieces, and should be able to be dressed up or down on different occasions
Step out in style
I visit the homes of clients and we lovingly de-clutter their wardrobes. Sometimes they are nervous but I put them at ease.
I show them how to outfit build their remaining clothes and we then devise a ‘wish list’ of the essentials that are missing.
We do a personal shopping session together and focus entirely on the wish list, and I send snapshots of their outfits after their session.
It’s so lovely to receive feedback that they’ve enjoyed their time with me, and that I’ve made dressing in the mornings easier. It’s empowering to see the confidence and happiness in my clients’ faces when I put together an outfit for them.
Typical clients include mums returning to work after having a baby, people who have lost a lot of weight, those who have changed job roles, guys who dislike shopping, and people who are holding onto the same clothes for many years.
Sue Mee’s shopping black book
I love the small indie brands here, like Bod and Ted, and Anna Poulsen. Sophie and Anna have a really good eye for quirky and individual brands.
There are also some great High Street choices too, including Whistles, Jigsaw, Next and Phase Eight here.
The charity shops here are brilliant too, if you love a good hunt! I found a beautiful Maxmara knitted cardi in one the other day.
Preloved stores and dress boutiques are a great place to go too, for the conscious minded, and it’s great to recycle your unwanted clothes.