Chopping It Up
Chopping It Up With InStyle Fashion & Beauty Editor-At-Large Kahlana Barfield
“As a woman of color, my voice is needed at a magazine like InStyle.”
I consider myself somewhat of a ‘Fashion Girl’ so I already knew who Kahlana Barfield was. In addition to The Cut Life, I work in Fashion PR and I’ve watched Kahlana from a distance, taking note of her rise to the top of one of the hardest industries for women of color to establish a path that leads them to the same or even the high levels of success that’s often readily bestowed on our counterparts. Kahlana definitely worked her way to the top and the former intern – who has been with InStyle since the days of chasing coffee and couriers – currently serves as the Fashion & Beauty Editor-At-Large for the magazine, one of the most respected publications in the industry. Needless to say, I was beyond thrilled when she accepted my request to interview her for The Cut Life! I think it’s so important to see shades of yourself in the industry you want to work in and below, Kahlana openly shares her story of success and the hard work that it takes to be such a bawse babe with you all!
1. How do you start your day?
I start my day with the news; I wake up at 6AM and the firs thing I do is turn on the news just so I can know what’s going on in the world. I usually have market appointments – when you work in fashion or beauty, you’re going on appointments with different fashion & beauty brands for example, MAC might have an event for editors to preview their new collection. So no day is the same for me; no day at all. One day I might have a press preview and the next, I might be on set for an editorial shoot for the magazine and then the next day I might be flying to Paris for a press event with Lancome. No day is the same and what I find great about my job is it’s so textured; every day is different so you don’t get bored because there’s always something exciting going on.
2. I read an interview where you touched on the lesson your grandmother taught you about your image and appearance. How do you feel what she instilled in you affects your success?
From the time I can remember, my grandmother would pick us up – my sisters and I – on a Saturday or Sunday and our time with her would be church, brunch, Nordstrom. She always taught us about clothes and fashion and our hair and our nails. When I graduated from high school and I was flying to DC to go to Howard, I put on a pair of sweats and my grandmother was like “Where are you going?”. I was like ‘I’m going to the airport, I want to be comfortable, it’s a red-eye flight’ and she was like NOPE – you never know who you’ll be sitting next to on that plane. That was something that really stuck with me because, at the end of the day, your appearance is the first thing a person sees. It may sound shallow that you’re ever judged by your appearance but it’s the reality. When you see someone who looks good and put together, you might have a stronger desire to learn about that person. For me, appearance is everything and what my grandma taught me has completely stuck with me and I definitely think you have to look the part especially working in fashion & beauty. I can’t be looking a hot mess telling you about your hair; my hair has to be on point, too!
“I remember being young and chasing trends. Now what I’ve learned is you waste a lot of money doing that so I try to find pieces that A) fit me well & are flattering and B) that are timeless.“
3. For those readers who might not know, tell us what your job entails as Fashion & Beauty Editor-At-Large.
I started at InStyle as an intern. I graduated from Howard and I started as an intern and was hired as a Beauty Assistant after my internship and I was promoted from Beauty Assistant to assistant Beauty Editor to Associate Beauty Editor to Beauty Editor then Sr. Beauty Editor and then Beauty Director and then my position now as Fashion & Beauty Editor-At-Large, which consists of multiple things. I have pages in the magazine that I’m responsible for, that I edit and write every month. I also represent the magazine on television so it could be The Today Show, Good Morning America, Wendy Williams & I usually do fashion and beauty segments where I give advice. I also represent the magazine at fashion & beauty market events so those are press previews; we see all the products that hit the market 3 months before they [actually] hit the market. What’s great about my job is I’m a writer and an editor but I do On-Air, video content and I take press trips, fashion week, all of that so it’s a jumble of different responsibilities which I love! It’s just been great being with the magazine for so many years, knowing it inside and out and then also bringing a different voice and perspective to the magazine. That’s what has been gratifying for me over the years.
“It’s such a competitive industry. Everybody wants these jobs; you have to find a way to stick out.”
4. Your path from intern to editor is quite inspiring. As a fashion girl, I totally understand the intern struggle but also the benefit of sticking it out. How did your faith carry you along the way?
It was nothing but faith! When I started as an intern, the market was so saturated and there were no jobs. Everyone wants to work at a fashion magazine, especially a big fashion magazine! How many girls move to New York wanting to work in fashion so it just seemed unrealistic; there was just so much competition! I had to pray every night ‘God, please just order my steps. Please just let me work unto my ability.’ And that’s something my dad used to always say to me – there might be someone smarter in the room but you can always outwork them. Always. I really have a very strong work ethic and I learned that I want this and I can do this. They’re not creating positions; you have to wait for someone to leave to get in and nobody is leaving because everybody loves these jobs! My thing was I could go find a regular 9-5 job, you know, my Plan B, but if I stick to my Plan A, I’m going to be happy everyday that I go to work. I’m going to be doing what I love. I’m going to be doing what I’m passionate about but if I give up on this and go with my Plan B, I’m going to regret it and thank God I just stuck with it! Without my family’s support, I wouldn’t have been able to do it because it took time. I didn’t land a job until a year of interning with my Bachelor’s degree. My faith in God and the support of my mother is what really kept me going. My thing was this was the time; I’m young, I just graduated college and now is the time for me to make that sacrifice because the end result is going to be worth it. If I have to wash these dishes it’s ok because, at the end of the day, I’m gonna be a boss! I encourage young girls to put in the work and have a positive attitude while you’re going it; a positive attitude makes a difference, too.
5. There are so many misconceptions about what success looks like. If you could dispel one myth about success, what would you tell people?
One myth is that a lot of followers equals success; that is so funny to me. Listen, social media is an amazing, amazing platform – Instagram, Twitter, all of it is amazing but I think that a lot of people look too [deeply] into it. What you see on the outside is not equate to success. There are so many definitions of success but to me success is living your truth, being honestly & unapologetically you. It’s living your passion. People look at followers and social media and think you’re successful but a lot of time that can just be a popularity contest. A lot of time, Instagram is perception and what people what you to perceive them as but it’s not who they are. If I can be an inspiration to anyone (online), I try to put out who I am at all times.
6. What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm about your job on tough days?
I reflect on what it took for me to get here and the hard work it took to get here. And I think that the positive outweighs the negative so I try to focus on the good things I have going on. And I also have an amazing husband who always reminds me of how blessed I am. He keeps it 100 with me at all times. He’s just a very positive person so if I’m complaining about something, he’s going to remind me that I have nothing in life to be complaining about and my life is full of blessings. Also, it’s fashion and it’s a fun and amazing job but it’s not that deep. At the end of the day, everything is going to be ok! I’ve been through so many dilemmas before now that I know it’s going to be ok.
7. What drives you as a successful black woman?
My family. They’re my biggest cheerleaders. I could do the smallest thing and they make me feel like I’m Michelle Obama. They just really are so proud of me and their love and support mean so much to me so they definitely motivate me to keep on going. They make me feel like I can do anything in the world. To have a family – my husband, my sisters, my mom and my dad – to have that type of support is just amazing, They’re always like ‘Do you know who you are? Do you know what you’ve done?’. They fill my life with prayer and positive energy and you need that!
8. If you could go back and tell 18 year old Kahlana one thing, what would you want her to know
A lot of the stuff that I would tell myself I did. Let’s say I was talking to 18 year old you when you lived in Atlanta, I would say leave. Home is always going to be home so I would say move to New York, move to LA. Experience life somewhere else because you can always go back to Atlanta. When I was in Seattle, I thought that I’m going to go as far away from Seattle as possible for college because my mom & my family is always going to be in Seattle. I wanted to experience life. I wanted to see something different. I would definitely say take yourself out of [a familiar] environment and put yourself in maybe an uncomfortable position because that’s when you learn the most. Don’t be afraid to fail; when you fail at something, that’s when you learn. Also, don’t worry about your high school boyfriend. For me, I was going back home to Seattle over summers when I could have been interning in NYC. I was sacrificing myself and experience I could gain to go be with him. If I could do it again, I would make myself uncomfortable, move to New York and learn how to be on my own and take a risk and do something that was completely out of the blue or uncomfortable. I think that when you’re put in uncomfortable situations, you learn from them the most. Don’t do what’s comfortable; do what’s uncomfortable – that’s what I would tell my younger self!
9. What are your current beauty must-haves?
It’s so funny – I’ve been a beauty editor for so many years but I find myself using the same things over and over again. New things come and go but the staples are always the same [for me]. For my skin, I use La Mer moisturizing crème; I’ve been using it for years and I love it so much! It’s the best for my skin – normal to dry & it keeps it very soft. I find when something works, stick with it. I love a good red lipstick; I love a matte red lipstick and my favorite is ‘Dragon Girl’ by NARS. I think that shade looks good on all black girls; I love & use ‘Ruby Woo‘, too but this would be my number 1! Dragon Girl is a blue based red that pops without being too bright & it doesn’t cake up at all; it’s smooth but still has that matte finish. I also ALWAYS wear a white nail polish. When you create a signature look for yourself, it always keeps you looking polished so for me I’m always going to have a red lip on. I’m either going to have red or white nails. For white, I use ESSIE ‘Blanc’ and I think it’s a great neutral because it pops against dark skin. For my hair, I’ve been rocking my signature bob for the last few years which I love and give credit to Cynthia Alvarez who’s my hair stylist in New York [when I’m in LA and use Kiyah Wright]. They both give me the loose waves that I love but my hair product that I love is Oribe ‘Dry Texturizing Spray’. I like [my hair] to have some lift and volume so I just spray it at the root and just gives it an instant lift. I use a Clarisonic brush to exfoliate and just clear my pores at night. I use a basic moisturizer and cleanser. I do use sunscreen now because we [as women of color] do need it, too. I keep it simple. Just find what works for you!
Thanks to Cynthia Alvarez for helping make this happen & thanks for an amazing interview, Kahlana!