By Ameera Steward
For the Birmingham Times
“I want to be the type of woman who inspires other women to be the type of women they are,” said Victoria Sanders, better known as “Vic Styles.” “Basically, it just means I want to be a role model for older women, younger women, women my age, so they, too, want to be role models.”
As Women’s History Month draws to a close, the 35-year-old content creator recently gave insight into how and why she consciously embraces womanhood through her work.
Sanders creates content through photography, videos, and words. Because of her large social media following—more than 63,000 total followers on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter—brands and companies reach out to access her audience.
“I built this audience on trust and product knowledge, … [so] brands basically pay for access,” said Sanders. “Depending on what [a brand wants]—video, photo, [or] story—and how long they want to use it, that kind of determines the rate.”
Providing audience access only scratches the surface of what Sanders does. She is a public speaker, has a podcast titled Kontent Queens, and runs two businesses: Unrefyned and Black Girl Smoke.
Unrefyned is a lifestyle brand where she and a partner sell artisanal sustainable goods from across the globe. Black Girl Smoke is a cannabis-friendly digital platform for women of color.
“The job title I gave myself is ‘freelance life-liver’ because I do many things,” Sanders added.
Underneath the glitz and glamor and the brands and products, Sanders emphasized that her goal has always been to inspire: “whether that’s through a career choice, a relationship choice, a hair choice, [or] better choices about what we eat.”
“I think the purpose and the goal has always been to inspire, specifically women and more specifically women of color, because that narrative isn’t told often,” Sanders added. “We aren’t often told or shown what happens after the struggle. We know the struggle, … but what happens after you get over [that]? And that’s the goal: to show people after the struggle.”
Purpose Worth the Struggle
Sanders’s journey starts “everywhere,” she said.
Her father was in the military, so her family moved every two to three years. When she was 20 years old, her parents moved to Birmingham, but her time in the Magic City was short-lived.
Sanders, who currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where she majored in psychology and minored in women’s studies. Although she always had a love for fashion, it wasn’t until she came to Birmingham in 2005 that she realized what she could do with her love for it.
When her family moved to Birmingham, Sanders worked as a stylist for a fashion retailer, where a manager mentioned that Sanders should be a full-time stylist. At that point, Sanders researched the field by reading books, such as “Style A to Zoe: The Art of Fashion, Beauty, and Everything Glamour” by fashion designer Rachel Zoe and “Grace: Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue” by Grace Coddington, a former creative director at large for American Vogue magazine.
One person Sanders researched heavily was stylist and fashion consultant Stacy London, who had a show on The Learning Channel titled “What Not to Wear.”
“I didn’t know the names of too many stylists, [so] I researched her,” Sanders said of London. “I saw her on TV, … and that’s when I kind of realized, ‘I do like doing this. This is what I want to do.’”
At age 24, Sanders decided to move.
“I felt like there wasn’t a real creative community in Birmingham, and I wanted to pursue a career in fashion,” she said. “I felt like I had to go to [Los Angeles (LA), California] or [New York City, New York] to do that.”
Sanders dropped out of UAB during her senior year and fled to LA. She, her dog, Armani, and her mother drove 3,000 miles for what became a weeklong trip due to stops—but her mother was unaware of her daughter’s plans.
Sanders’s parents wanted her to “go to college, … get a stable job, and live out the rest of [my] life,” Sanders said, so she lied and told them she was going for another internship; they had no idea she had dropped out of school. After two weeks in LA, Sanders decided to come clean with her parents, who were “livid” and “wanted her to come back home,” she said.
While in LA, Sanders accomplished her goal of becoming a full-time wardrobe stylist, dressing celebrities like singer Ariana Grande and actresses Tisha Campbell, Tasha Smith, KJ Smith, and Ashley Blaine Featherson.
In 2012, Sanders reached her goal by interning during the day under celebrity stylist Taylor Jacobson, a one-time assistant to fashion designer Zoe. The internship was unpaid, so Sanders worked at a bar in the evenings and at a women’s clothing store on the weekends. During the seven months she worked with Jacobson, Sanders helped style actresses Kate Beckinsale and Mena Suvari. She also did styling for the TV channel Nickelodeon, working on a show called “Big Time Rush” and with the cast of “Victorious,” which is how she met Grande.
Eventually, Sanders would work with April Roomet, stylist for rap artist Snoop Dogg. When Roomet went out of the country in 2011 during the same weekend as the BET Hip Hop Awards, Roomet sent Sanders to style rappers Big Sean and Roscoe Dash; Sanders also styled Big Sean for a video.
“[Styling the awards show and video] was my first time on set alone, styling by myself,” Sanders said. “That same weekend, Big Sean left for his first tour. … I didn’t go on tour with him, but we chose the looks for his tour.”
On Her Own
In 2013, after working with Jacobson for a year, Sanders decided to venture out on her own. Staying afloat took a combination of word of mouth and recommendations from people and friends, Sanders said—it came down to who she knew and the work she did.
Sanders documented her journey in a blog, which led to her emergence on social media.
“When Instagram was born, that was just an extension of a blog I had been running for, at that point, four years,” she said. “So, [being a content creator] was just a carryover. I was already taking outfit pictures and posting them on the internet. As Instagram rose and people started getting paid for that, I was already getting paid for blog posts, so it was just like a natural, seamless transition.”
After working as a celebrity stylist for eight years, Sanders decided to become a full-time content creator. “Purpose made me stop [styling],” she said.
One day, after participating in a panel made up of celebrity makeup artists, stylists, and hair stylists for KJLH (102.3 FM), an LA-based urban adult contemporary radio station, Sanders realized that the women who were in line to ask her questions didn’t want to know about her experience as a stylist but wanted to let her know how much of an inspiration she had been.
“My purpose was to connect with and inspire real people and real women,” Sanders said.
With great responsibility comes great struggle, and Sanders has had her fair share. One of the biggest struggles she endured while pursuing a creative career was financial instability.
“We all know that the seeds you plant today do not bear fruit tomorrow, so waiting for the fruit to come was really hard,” Sanders said. “I just had to get used to being uncomfortable.”
“I think I’m still in the struggle because I’m a Black woman, so I’m always going to be in the struggle,” she added. “But as far as being comfortable, confident, financially secure, unafraid, and unabashedly myself, it feels amazing [to be on the other side of the struggle]. … I’m like, ‘I can’t wait for other women to feel this, to experience this level of worthiness and self-love.’”
Sanders is not making this journey alone; she is held accountable by her team: Kontent Queens partner Kia Davidson; manager Isabella Mastrodicasa, and assistant Ashley Cadogan, as well as Unrefyned partner Ayana Gray. Asked how it feels to work with a team full of women, Sanders said, “I think women are magical.”
“Women hold the ability to be soft and strong, to be kind and fierce all at the same time,” she added. “I feel like women make the world go round. It’s just very special to be a woman and to be able to connect with women.”
That’s why Sanders considers Women’s History Month “a celebration baby … of femininity, of womanhood, of strength, of courage, of softness, of all the things that make up women.”
“I hope that whenever you meet me or encounter me, … you leave the space that I’ve created a little bit better, a little bit more well, a little bit more inspired than when you first came,” Sanders said.
To learn more about Victoria “Vic Styles” Sanders visit her website, www.VicStyles.com, or follow her on Instagram @thevicstyles and Twitter @thevicstyles.