Designer Profile: Nailah Ali - New York City
Hi Nailah! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Nailah Ali here hailing originally from Detroit. Based in NYC now, I'm a graphic designer at my core. I'm also a fashion/beauty blogger, and a photog hobbyist.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I studied Advertising (the management side) at Michigan State University. As for being creative, I always say that I'm an artist at heart. From making my own jewelry when I was a kid, to playing hairstylist to my younger sisters, to being a first-tier flutist and saxophonist in middle school, to writing poetry in college, I've always been drawn to more creative ways of expressing myself.
My first introduction to applying my creativity in the working world was during my first internship doing PR for Truscott Rossman in Michigan — a bipartisan communications firm. At the time, which was back in 2012, I was on a quest to show my value, and I saw an opportunity to do just that when I noticed how swamped my supervisor always was. One of the things he was tasked with was creating graphics for our client's social media platforms and doing event photography. I was an unpaid intern at the time, so when he noted that he could use help with the creative work, I took it upon myself to learn what that meant. From there, I jumped to and from a number of different design gigs, learning and sharpening my skills. One of my most rewarding experiences was when I worked at Saga Marketing, a small creative agency based in Detroit. It was there that I was introduced to REALLY great design and learned a great deal about how to get that level. I was HOOKED from there.
You work spans various creative realms, but when did you start doing design? Was it always something that you were drawn to?
During my time at that internship, I taught myself how to use Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and picked up photography as well. Not only did I find that I was fairly decent at picking up all of those skills, I really enjoyed it — which was super important to me at the time. I went as far as saving up and borrowing money to invest in a good camera to learn on. I also discovered my interest in blogging during that internship as well. These experiences essentially opened up a whole new world to me, and I was super determined to become really good at it all, haha.
When I started my blog, I shot all of the content myself, including my own looks. It was a great way to learn, not only how to shoot, but how to edit. I've always loved fashion and started the blog partly to gain experience in and learn more about the industry. The fashion scene in Detroit isn't the biggest, and I wanted to learn more, so I moved to New York, almost three years ago, to pursue doing graphic design and marketing in fashion.
What inspires your designs?
I'm inspired by other designers like Eileen Tjan and Ruben Rodriguez, fashion, music, and just everyday experiences. I've been fortunate enough to design in a number of different industries from healthcare, to education, to fashion. Having that diverse resume of experience allows me to get inspiration from just about anywhere, as design affects everything around us.
Could you tell us more about Femme Fair and the work you do there?
Oh man, where to begin, haha. Femme Fair was an opportunity where I finally felt like I could really go ham on designing. The experience had everything that is important to me when seeking out new clients or gigs. On the event side of the spectrum, it was a female-led effort that was all about empowering women. It encouraged vulnerability and community-building; it encouraged sustainable fashion practices by curating closets of pre-worn goodies from local bloggers for guests to shop; it encouraged diversity by inviting bloggers and panelists of color to set up shop and speak, and we made sure to advertise how inclusivity and diversity was a key component of what Femme Fair would be all about.
On the designing spectrum, it was just an honor to lead the team, along with my badass friend and co-founder of Femme Fair, Melissa Landestoy, in re-establishing the brand. It was some of the most fun I've ever had in my short career thus far as a designer. The team was encouraging, engaged, and excited about my whacky ideas and design sense. It was truly a team effort and it was just so refreshing to know I was an integral part of making Femme Fair 2018 the amazing experience that it was.
Do you have any tips or advice on finding clients?
Whew, I could write a book on the tips and advice I have to answer this question, haha.
- To start, my number one tip would have to be to just get started. If you're thinking about freelancing or starting your own thing, just start. I started by using freelance platforms like UpWork, where I found my first and most long-standing client (we just wrapped up recently). The good thing about platforms like UpWork is that, if you're still sharpening your skills as a designer, it's a good way to get paid practice in. You're going to want to be pretty good to get the clients you TRULY want.
- My second tip is to be open. You're more than likely not going to find your dream client right off the bat. Be open to doing the "uncool" and "boring" work for "smaller" clients. It's how I learned to cultivate trusting, healthy client relationships. It's how I learned that I shouldn't devalue my work and charge a living wage. It's why I learned to write contracts and quotes. It's why I'm able to keep my skills sharp. The list goes on and on. Working with "smaller" clients sets you up for when you do land your dream client, or the fun client, or the creatively open client, like Femme Fair.
- My third tip is to do everything you can to check your imposter syndrome at the devil's door. It's probably the biggest reason for any downfalls, or self-deprecating behavior I've experienced in my career (and still do sometimes). Believe in yourself and in your work. If you don't, nobody else will.
- My fourth tip is to lead with confidence. Talent is always good, but if you're not confident in you're talent, you will struggle, please believe me on that. If you don't feel like you're talented enough, practice more, study more, oh, and practice more. If you feel like you don't have time to do that, get up earlier and know that you might have to sacrifice that night out with friends every once in a while. If you're still not feeling confident in your work, fake that shit. Because if you fake it long enough, it'll become real. At least that was the case for me. I recently saw a quote that says this: "There are people less qualified than you, doing the things you want to do, simply because they decide to believe in themselves."
- My fifth tip is to practice your organization and productivity skills as much as you practice designing. Being organized is key to staying on top of deadlines and keeping client's happy. From organizing your email inbox to utilizing project/client management platforms like Asana, staying organized and practicing healthy productivity habits allows you to balance it all a lot better.
- My sixth tip is that you do not have to take every client that comes your way. If it's not a good fit, don't be afraid to let the client know that. It's not going to be the end of the world and so long as you're consistent in your search, you will always be able to find clients.
- Last, but most certainly not least, is to not underestimate the power of word of mouth, yes even in the digital age, and resultingly, the power of maintaining good relationships. This is how I've gotten most of my clients, from word of mouth, having an online portfolio, and just doing consistently good work. Strong relationships lead to friends and clients sending their friends or business associates, whoever it may be, to YOU. Focus always on doing stellar work in a timely fashion, always be as transparent as possible when communicating with clients, and you'll be well on your way to having healthy enough relationships where people are sending their folks your way for work.
How do you manage your design work, blogging, and other creative pursuits?
I utilize productivity platforms like Asana; Gmail is my best friend and has amazing tools for keeping me organized (and at inbox 0 believe it or not), and, because I still like to write everything out, I have a physical planner as well. I try to schedule out everything I have to do, from work-related tasks to washing my hair, to spending time with loved ones (and with myself) and so on. It's the only way for me because with so much always going on, it's easy to forget some things here and there.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
At this point in my career, I'm starting to get to a point where I can choose the kinds of clients I want to work with. One of my goals has always been to eventually apply my skills to brands or platforms that are doing good in the world. And the idea of doing that is one thing that keeps me passionate and hungry. Getting to work with meaningful brands like Femme Fair was so enthralling and inspiring for me. This goes for my blog as well. I want it to be a space for women, especially women of color to come to and see themselves. Hear themselves in my words and my experiences, and learn that it's going to be all right.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with your work?
Honestly, the biggest setback usually starts with me. I often experience debilitating imposter syndrome, I take things personally, I constantly struggle with feeling as though I'm not good enough, and that I'm behind. These mindsets are the catalyst for the struggles that I've faced throughout my career. Whether that be not getting a gig I really wanted, not getting paid enough (which leads to barely ever having enough money for general survival), losing a gig I really enjoyed, working myself to the point of burnout and the like.
Don't get me wrong, my mindset has gotten better over time, the more I've experienced, but my setbacks and challenges typically stem from me.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Getting out of our own way so that we can make way to support other women without the baggage that being in our own way often causes. Having an approach to supporting each other that comes from a place of love, empathy, compassion, and a genuine, welcoming stance. And, probably most importantly, having a mindset of collaboration over competition. I've struggled with comparing myself to other stellar women to the point where it's debilitating for me. So, when I feel those feelings start to creep up, I consider that notion that it's not about competition, it's about just doing your best, being yourself, and always moving forward.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
My good friend and co-founder of Femme Fair, who I mentioned before, Melissa Landestoy. I literally wouldn't be where I am today without her.
Myesha Gardener, another one of my amazing close friends and fellow designer and photographer. Her drive, curiosity, and eagerness to always better herself is inspiring. She's only 24 and has already done so much.
Myleik Teele is the owner of Curlbox, public speaker, podcast host, new mother, and my career and life coach — she doesn't know this though, haha. She has literally helped me out of slumps and stopped me from giving up on myself on many occasions.
What have you learned from your experiences that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
I've learned to trust myself and just go for it. I've learned to not take things so personally and that at the end of the day, it's never the end of the world. I've learned that so long as I don't view myself and my work as valuable, no one else will, and it will show up in my work that way, too. I've learned that the struggles, fear, and self-doubt I often face are a part of a larger mindset that needs shifting. And that shift takes time. I'm learning to be patient with myself.
How do you deal with moments of self-doubt?
One of the primary ways I've learned to deal with moments of self-doubt is by embracing those moments and facing them head-on. We are human, and self-doubt or any of those self-deprecating feelings are going to show up, as they're a natural part of who we are. How you respond to what you’re going through is often times the key to whether or not you get through it. I just try to keep these things in mind when self-doubt or anything like that get to creepin' up on me. I give into it, acknowledge it, and just try to move past it without feeling guilt or shame for doing so — this is considering that sometimes those feelings really get me down to the point where I don't function.
What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
I want to learn more about fashion history, and I've started to learn hand lettering.
What are some of your favorite places in New York?
Shell's Loft - an event space, and a haven for brown girl magic happenings such as Cornrows and Cocktails and Brown Girl Brunch, owned by a boss ass latina.
Double Zero - Best vegan pizza I've tried so far. My BF and I are regulars lol
Beacon's Closet - Favorite place for vintage clothes shopping
Myesha's apartment in Brooklyn because when we're together, my spirit gets filled