The ‘Oprah of Personal Shopping,’ Stylist Skyler McCurine Uses Fashion to Empower

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Skylar McCurineSkyler McCurine is owner of Le Red Balloon and Le Red Balloon is not just a stylist services company. For McCurine, it’s not just about styling; it’s about bringing a client’s inner vision and beauty to the forefront. She’s been the ‘Oprah of Personal Shopping,’ and her brand reaches beyond styling. She also hosts seminars for young women to discuss body image, anti-bullying and empowerment.

Here, McCurine gives us the inside look at Le Red Balloon.

TNJ.com: How did you get into styling?

Skyler McCurine: I was heavily influenced by the women in my family, especially my mother, grandma and aunty. The women in my family are audacious in style; they were some of the first women to buzz their hair (before it was popular) and wear massive frames that even Elton John and Jackie-O would envy. Style and self-expression were infused into my childhood in this meaningful way.

At the age of three, I used to lay out my clothes and pick my outfit for the day. My father remembers me saying,“which one daddy? Magenta or Chartreuse?” Most little kids know blue, green, red, purple…not varying hues.  Every once in a while he’d let me pick out his bow-tie or suspenders for work, a treat that I reveled. I blame my family! Haha!

I’ve always had a deep understanding and appreciation of what style means in regards to self-expression. I wasn’t classically trained; I didn’t go to design school but served as an apprentice for a local stylist which taught me how to pave my own way. I have an extensive background in retail and business management & operations, which ultimately led me to venture off on my own.

TNJ.com: What led you to launch your own company?
SM: I had never really seen myself as beautiful growing up. I never saw photos, models, actresses who looked like me…dark skin, natural hair, thick figure. I saw Barbie and felt that I didn’t measure up. It didn’t help that I was one of the only persons of color in my elementary school–I remember hanging up pictures of models –white models– filled with frustration by the card of genetic inequality I’d been dealt.

While I was blessed to have incredible examples of beauty, diversity and brazen individuality in my own family it took me years to understand that I, too, could express myself this way. I began a regimented diet and the pounds started to melt away while the compliments started pouring in. I was disciplined about my workout routine and eating habits, and started eating at/under 1,000 a day, focusing on burning off 50 percent, but I was still stuck on image issues.

In 2008, I moved back to San Diego and returned to my job at at a high-end department store. No one was shopping, which heightened the pressure to push merchandise but I didn’t want to trade my integrity for a commission check. I started spending more time with my clients in the dressing room and running through the store to find them the perfect piece. This enabled me to see how women behaved in the dressing room from their shopping trips to finding a fun dress for a wedding, new swimsuit or jeans. They began to highlight their flaws, criticize their curves, and make nasty comments about themselves, something I had mastered. It hurt me to watch their harsh self-evaluations. I wanted them to see all that I could, that they were powerful beyond measure and so beautiful.

One of the clients who inspired me to launch Le Red Balloon was a breast cancer survivor whose treatment had left her breast-less. She was worried about finding a dress for her daughter’s summer wedding and didn’t like anything she tried on. She cried in the dressing room while I stood outside of her door, wishing I could do more to make her see how magnificent she was. I saw this woman for who and what she was: a radiant fighter. I knew she felt ugly and foreign because she, too, didn’t measure up to the standard of beauty produced, exploited and exported by our country’s media. This experience, coupled with my other client’s self-deprecating talk, was my tipping point.

A documentary screened by my favorite college professor, Dr. Kyra Pearson, about the media’s influence on women, men and their body images inspired me to start doing more research. The more I researched, the less I cared about my weight. Every book, documentary, and story I read empowered me to see my world, others, and myself with more grace, forgiveness, and wisdom. How foolish to spend so much precious time worrying about my appearance, time I could have spent helping others, combating bigger issues and making the world better. This paradigm shift was the catalyst behind my business and mindset. I knew my task on earth was to wipe the blur and occasional tear from others’ eyes and help them see the incredible people they are. Under my manifesto of, “create what you don’t see,” I custom-made a shopping experience that didn’t exist in the marketplace – one rooted in the celebration of others’ idiosyncrasies, “flaws”  and perfect imperfections. I also started speaking for/partnering with non-profits throughout San Diego educating teen girls on conscious media consumption, anti-bullying, leadership and self acceptance. This led to my TEDx invitation and talk.

TNJ.com: How did you fund the startup?

SM: I launched Le Red Balloon Lean-Startup Style and recommend this to anyone looking to start a business. The days of business plans (unless you’re securing funding) are long gone and rather archaic. I’m currently transitioning my business from a lifestyle business to one that is scalable but didn’t have any overhead when I began. I pulled what resources I had and started building one day, client and transaction at a time. I worked full-time while I started and I still work as a contractor while my business continues to grow.

TNJ.com: What were some startup challenges?
SM: Business requires the ability to bob and weave, pivot, adapt and pioneer something that hasn’t really been done before. I joined a female-focused, co-working space called Hera Hub because I needed to be part of a like-minded community. The community offers support, resources and guidance which has been monumental for me while growing my business. Entrepreneurship is a grit game and is not for the faint of heart. You have to be resilient and, above all, tenacious. I have been told, often, it’s what inspired me to launch my own business. I’ve had to be clever and create opportunities for myself when the traditional avenues have met with a closed door.

TNJ.com: As your company has grown, what have been some expansion challenges?

SM: Transitioning a lifestyle business to one that is scalable is definitely a challenge. It’s so important to think bigger by trying to figure out which business model (and sometimes this means create one) is right for your business. This requires research, due diligence and resilience. My business mentors have been pivotal. Having a handful of experienced, passionate professionals that find real value in innovation, entrepreneurship and possibility has enabled me to find solutions to pressing challenges.

TNJ.com: How do you stand out from other stylists and stylists’ firms?
SM: I’m the ‘Oprah of Personal Styling’ and have always considered myself a renegade stylist who is irked by the fashion industry, the impossible standards it promotes and the misconceptions it exploits. I don’t tell my clients what to wear because there is no formula to great style…Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is how we get to know our bodies, how we fall in love with ourselves, and most importantly, how we craft our personal style.

My service isn’t simply about “fashion.” I work to encourage my clients in a deep and personal way, uplifting every aspect of themselves, their body image, insecurities, goals, and style – not just placing them in great outfits. In addition, I have always been an advocate of “slow fashion” and empowering people to shop their closet, maximizing their wardrobe and closet space vs. overconsumption. There is giveback threaded into every aspect of my business– my humor, compassion and process set me and my beautiful business apart.

TNJ.com: Why do you enjoy what you do?
SM: I have the honor and joy of celebrating the beauty in other people who are truly deserving. I am also spearheading a movement to redefine the standard of beauty in America– I am so blessed to live my passion.