Need a surefire way to get into styling NBA players? Earn the support of one Earvin “Magic” Johnson like founder of ALBA Legacy, Jhoanna Alba did. After hitting it off with Magic at a wedding two decades ago, Magic asked Alba to choose his accessories for him. Alba says that Magic “encouraged me to start my own company, and I did.” Now, when Alba asks, “How can I pay you back? He always says, ‘With your success.’”
Starting with a good mentor is crucial for a stylist, but not everyone can court Magic Johnson. Others sit at the knee of lower-profile mentors that can introduce up-and-comers to clients and shield them from the spotlight while they hone their skills.
There’s no set-in-stone process for becoming an NBA stylist. When looking for interns, President and Founder of the Thomas Faison Agency, Rachel Johnson isn’t looking for the “person that went to FIT and they got their masters in blahblahblah.” Instead Johnson is “assessing personalities” and “the tenacity of a person.
Johnson herself wasn’t even aware of opportunities in the fashion industry until she met Puff Daddy’s stylist in 1993. He told her, “I get paid to put clothes on [artists] when they’re in videos.” Johnson remembers, “As soon as I heard that I thought, ‘that’s what I’m going to do.’” Fourteen years later, Johnson was standing in her client Jay Z’s office at Def Jam with the manager of an NBA player interested in a stylist. “So, who is the athlete?” Johnson asked. “Maverick [Carter] said LeBron James and I almost ran out of the damn office.” James became Johnson’s first current athlete client, and the foundation for her Thomas Faison agency.
Creating relationships is one of the most important aspects of the business. According to stylist Brandon Williams, building trust with a client is just as vital as knowing what’s stylish. In the past year, Williams has got clients like Matt Barnes wearing more “progressive things that were not really accepted from the beginning” (“slimmer jeans,” “rolling up his pants, no socks”). Alba agrees, “it’s not just about the clothes, it’s like, ‘great game!’ It’s the relationships you build with these people.”
Unfortunately for stylists’ personal lives, this can mean a lot of time in transit.
They try to see their local clients bi-weekly, but players like rising sartorial star Mike Conley of Memphis require a little more effort. Williams, who styles Conley, makes a “very tightly scheduled trip” out to Memphis once a month to “do what [he] needs to do for the whole month.” Advice for any blossoming stylist: get used to “being tired, no days off,” says Williams in between stops picking up gear for clients. NBA stylists can’t pass up when a v. rare size-17 shoe becomes available.
Stylists need to love fashion, but it has to be balanced with a big dollop of humility. Dressing a player isn’t about what the stylist is into. Williams noted that the balance of dressing an NBA player is delicate. “An NBA guy is very concerned about masculinity and the athletic stereotype…they have a locker room to go into.” Being a stylist is about making clients look good in what they feel comfortable in. That way they can put all their focus into basketball.
Styling NBA players is a great gig for the right person. Building relationships with talented athletes, helping them grow as a person, getting invited to watch basketball games with client’s families, and even the food. An unexpected bonus for Johnson is that “all [her] clients have chefs and [she] gets to eat the best food ever.” NBA stylists: Out here eatin’.