Inspirational Woman: Stefania Bartolomei | Personal Style Coach

Stefania BartolomeiItalian Stefania Bartolomei is a London-based style Personal Style Coach who relocated to the capital in 2015.

With a background in fashion, design and product development from her native Italy, Stefania tried to pursue a career in fashion in London, but suffering from anxiety inside and rejection from companies, Stefania struggled with her situation.

But, after a freak road accident involving her husband changed her thinking, Stefania set out on her own and opened – a personal styling company for real women with real lives. And, over the past six years, the company has gone from strength to strength. And, post-pandemic, she has seen an influx in clients.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am a proud Italian, who is equally proud to call London my home.

I grew up in a close-knit family, none of whom had any interest in, or flair for, the artistic side of life. Yet the city worked its magic on me and so here I am, with a passion for fashion and a love of the arts that run deep within me.

One of my earliest memories is a fascination with colour, and I explored this further at school, winning prizes for the visual arts. But it was as a teenager that I saw the possibility of turning my passion into a career, working with fabrics, colours and clothes, which led me to choose Fashion Design for my degree.

After graduation I started working in the textile industry in Prato, a city famous for its fabrics heritage. I then moved into the clothing industry, with roles in graphic and fashion design and product development. 

Every experience taught me something valuable, and I still treasure what I learned during those 10 exciting years.

However, while I loved my work, there was another idea bubbling beneath the surface; a feeling that I could use what I had learned to help people more directly. And this was made all the more real to me due to the struggles I had experienced with my own appearance as a teenager. Aged 16, I had been diagnosed with a thyroid condition which led to me putting on 20kg in one year. This rapid change, at such a critical stage of development, affected my confidence and led me to make counterproductive choices. Essentially, I never felt right about how I looked, something which is all the more tricky when you work in an environment like fashion. And then, in a life-changing discovery, I found out about personal styling. 

It was as if a whole new world had opened up to me, and I jumped right in. I studied the principles of styling, and began by applying them to myself, with dramatic results. It changed my way of thinking, shopping and behaving; it boosted my confidence, and set me free to express my personality and enhance my physical strengths, instead of disguising what I thought were my weaknesses.

Having experienced this truly liberating process myself, I was determined to help others experience the same transformation, achieve the same boost that I had, by exploring and understanding their personal and professional style, and overcoming the stresses and challenges of the workplace, or social events, or other occasions in which they felt let down by their appearance. I wanted to make a difference to people’s wellbeing, and empower them to live their lives with confidence.

So, while still working in the fashion industry, I took my first qualification, a course in image consulting, at the London College of Fashion. And in 2015, I decided to move to London with my husband, and turn my plans into reality. I took a second, advanced qualification in image consulting and then took the leap to launch One of a Style.

Today I use my innate Italian style and passion for clothes to deliver style coaching for real people with real lives, helping people step out with confidence, by exploring and developing a personal sense of style that perfectly suits their lives.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Of course. A few years ago, after becoming a mother, it felt like a good time to rebrand, so I worked with professionals to clarify my vision and goals, define a more specific target audience and redesign my website. I also engaged a branding expert to redesign my logo to reflect these changes. And after some strategic decisions, I also started working with a business coach. Still currently, every few months we have a session, we sit down and discuss my achievements as well as my struggles, new goals and visions, and I find it extremely useful because it can be very difficult to stick to our original goals, new ideas can arise easily, some can help to achieve those goals while other can only be disruptive. Stopping and having a business briefing regularly can truly help.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes I did. And since the very beginning.

Starting a new business in a new country is quite a challenge – but I was determined to make it work. 

I felt that business networking would be an excellent way to get started, and so tested out a few networks, eventually opting for one that matched my business best. Initially, I found it daunting, both due to my inherent shyness and to being a non-native English speaker; the fear of speaking about my business to a room full of strangers was a hurdle I had to overcome.

After just a few months I gained some paying clients, which led to more referrals, and I felt I was on my way. Then in September 2017 another new chapter of my life began when I became a mum. Whilst this was an amazing experience, it did have an impact on my business; I took a year away from work, and on my return had to start all over again, with less time and resources than before.

In March 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and my business, like so many others, was turned upside down. At a time when I was focused on growing my client base, having made key investments and big plans, I faced a situation in which face to face sessions and shopping trips were no longer possible.

Once lockdown formally began, things got even more challenging. My son was back at home full time and my husband was working around the clock; it was hard to carve out space to refocus the business. When the second lockdown happened, I understood the pandemic was far from over, and I had to pivot once again, this time offering virtual styling solutions instead of face to face. But I didn’t see this as just doing the same thing online. 

Instead, I created a personal virtual experience, which made the most of the medium.

The pandemic months have been truly challenging for my business and have wiped out many of my certainties. But this has also shown me how resilient I can be, and how much love and passion I feel for my job. And it has inspired me to develop new services and opportunities, at an unprecedented pace.  

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

There are a number of standout moments from the last five years; here are some highlights.

(1) In November 2016, I styled a fashion shoot at the Haven House Children’s Hospice in Woodford Green. It was a charity event, published in the Great British Life Magazine, and my role was to create outfits for a teenager suffering with leukaemia. 

Apart from the experience itself, and the opportunity to see my name and my work in print, I will never forget the smile on that girl’s face; it truly filled my heart. She told me that she used to have long hair, but had lost it during chemotherapy, which made her feel like she wasn’t herself any more. But once I had worked my magic, she grinned her way through the photoshoot, and kept telling me how excited she felt.

Creating this impact wasn’t straightforward, as the clothes were provided by a local charity shop, and I felt they were lacking the freshness that would make them  appeal to a teenager. So I took it upon myself to search for and provide some key accessories (such as scarves, jewellery and shoes) which made all the difference.

I know from my own personal experience how awful it can feel to not recognise yourself, and I understand the impact clothes can have on our feelings and confidence. I was very touched when I read the final line of the article, which said: “A special thanks goes to Stefania Bartolomei, who really went out of her way to make this day very special for Jessica and her mum.” 

(2) Two years ago, I was contacted by one of the major Italian journals – La Repubblica. They were launching a London section, for Italians living in the UK, and asked me to tell my story, which they published just six weeks later. 

The article created so much interest in me and my work; there was a boom in visits to my website, and I was contacted by lots of people who were inspired by my story. Some wanted to have a chat about how to set up a successful business, and others became clients; two years later, I still have people contacting me as a result of that article. It was a totally free PR opportunity, which I grabbed with both hands.

(3) More recently,  I’ve found myself involved in some amazingly powerful collaborations with clients and other businesses, including:

  • Working with Happy Fern to create a sustainable limited edition T-shirt, as a way to encourage my connections and others to embrace a more sustainable attitude without giving up on style, while supporting a small business. It turned out to be their best seller.
  • Being selected by my client Marianna Penna as one of 24 business women taking part in the WoW LEXeFISCAL project and community, in March 2021. The project has been mentioned in the major Italian journal Il Sole 24 Ore , Askanews and the TGR Campania. At the end of the campaign I received a certificate that acknowledged my resilience, generosity, dedication and care towards the project and during the pandemic. 
  • Being interviewed by my client Adela Manzoor for her Facebook Community BOSS WOMEN by SJ and being involved in their book “bossing with resilience” too, through a chapter about my Covid-19 story.
  • Recently I’ve won 2 silver awards at the Best Business Women Awards in the categories: Best Consumer Business and Best Customer Service, attracting also media attention, and indeed the WIBN network recently wrote an article about my awards adventure.
  • I’ve collaborated with the jewellery luxury brand Pomellato to some events in their boutique in London, providing mini colour analysis sessions to their guests during the duration of the event.

I am so proud to have established collaborations and ongoing relationships that have gone far beyond a styling session.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

My consistency, my authenticity, my resilience and also investing in business, from marketing, to branding and business consulting, to networking.

I always believed in myself and the power of what I was doing and never gave up, not even in the most challenging times.

I tried to always put myself out there, give a message that was clear and neat, and I’ve also invested in my business a lot in terms of energy, time and money.

Clients don’t just find you and success doesn’t just happen, you need to work hard to attract them into your business life.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

When it’s about style I feel like I am a mentor, as I take time to really get to know my clients, to find out what they’re like, as well as what they like, before we get started. And when we work together I don’t simply elaborate consultations, but I make sure they understand,

But in other fields (again like branding, marketing and business coaching) I am the mentoree, and despite having learned so much over the years (and many people in my networking ask me advice very often) I can’t be a mentor in what is not my field of specialization.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I’d surely start from the family, trying to give more support to mothers, especially working mothers, who often find themselves juggling between work and family. I’ve experienced this myself, not just during the pandemic, I face it every day. I feel like there is still no gender equality when it’s about the family management, as most of it is still on women’s shoulders (at least in the majority of the cases).

It’d be great to have more help, accessible help, and allow women to work better and realise themselves and their career goals.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Believe in yourself and listen to yourself. Follow your passion. Focus on your dreams.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I’d like One of a Style to become bigger and wider, so to being able to help as many people as possible. So I think as a next step (and challenge) I’ll work on growing my business, probably training people to work for me, creating a team. Watch this space!

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