How I Get It Done: Kahlana Barfield Brown Knows How to Dress for Instagram

Kahlana Barfield Brown. Photo: Flo Ngala/ Courtesy of Kahlana Barfield Brown

Follow Me is a weeklong series about personal brands, for better or for worse.

After more than a decade working as an editor at InStyle, Kahlana Barfield Brown left the corporate world last year to focus on her personal brand full-time. With a healthy following on Instagram (246,000 followers and counting), she’d become a serious influencer in the fashion and beauty worlds, and companies were approaching her left and right to collaborate. She’s currently working on a big, secret project for 2020 (“It’s driving me crazy that I can’t talk about it”) and frequently lends her expertise to shows like Today, Good Morning America, and The View. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and 3-year-old daughter. Here’s how she gets it done.

On a typical morning: I wasn’t a morning person at all until I had my daughter. Now my body automatically wakes up around 5:30 or 6 a.m., with no alarm or anything. If it’s a good day, I’ll go to the gym right away before my daughter gets up. There’s a gym in our building, and 45 minutes of cardio makes me feel like I did something for myself. If I’m really in beast mode, I might have a session with David Kirsch. He’s my longtime trainer, and he also works with Heidi Klum and J.Lo. I did a story on him years ago when I was at InStyle, and I’ve been training with him ever since. He helped me get ready for my wedding.

After I work out, I’ll make breakfast for my daughter. I try not to check my email before she goes to day care. After I drop her off, I come back home and that’s when work starts. I’ll check my emails. I’ll shower and do my beauty routine. The cool thing about my job now is that every day is completely different. Yesterday, for example, I had a photo shoot, so I woke up super early for my 7 a.m. call time.

On building her personal brand: When I was at InStyle, my role was pretty outward-facing. I did a lot of segments on the Today show, and when we started creating content for brand partnerships, I was often the person who appeared in videos for that. Then, a few years ago, brands started reaching out to me directly about different opportunities. And my boss was great about it. She was like, “Okay, you’ve built this personal brand, so you should be able to do independent projects.” She was very supportive. And that’s how it started.

For most of the shoots I do these days, I’m the one in front of the camera. Which is funny because I’ve spent the majority of my career behind the scenes, working with the hairstylist and makeup artist, maybe interviewing the talent. Now I’m the talent. It still feels new. But I enjoy it a lot.

On her social media presence: For a long time, magazine editors — my colleagues and I — were a little bit suspicious of social media. People would say, “Oh, you’re doing such cool things, you should document it.” And I was like, “No, that’s so braggy.” It wasn’t considered tasteful, and as an editor, discretion was important. But eventually, it became clear that things were changing. And I was like, “Either you get with the program, or you get left behind.” So I started to post pictures when I went on press trips, or dressed up for special events.

At first, I had this fear about who I was supposed to be on social media. It was like, Wait, am I Kahlana? Or does it need to be InStyle? I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to represent. Then I realized that in order to naturally connect with people, I had to talk about the things that I’m interested in. And, yes, InStyle was a part of that because InStyle was my job. But I also like to hang out with my girlfriends on the weekends, and listen to music, and do things outside of work. So I started sharing those things, too. That’s the key to social media — not thinking so hard about it. When you aren’t so filtered about your life as an editor, a wife, a new mom, that’s when people can relate. And that’s when it started having legs.

On trying to limit her screen time: I’ve made a conscious effort to disconnect from my phone and set boundaries when it comes to separating work from home. But it’s hard when you’re an entrepreneur because your business is on your phone. I like to respond to things right away, because if I wait, something else will come up, and it’s hard for me to get back to it. Otherwise, I try to log off for the day, or at least for a while, when I’m with my daughter.

On finding her sense of style: When I started out in the fashion industry, I thought it was really important to have whatever the trend was. Buying the hot shoe for the season, and the hot bag. Now, I’ve gotten rid of all my bags that aren’t Chanel or Bottega Veneta. I just want quality, simple leather — not ruffles everywhere. I also stay away from bold, recognizable prints and patterns because once you wear it, especially in the day and age of Instagram, you take a picture and that’s a wrap. I invest in neutral, versatile staples that I’ll be able to pass down to my daughter. But it took years to develop my own sense of style. I love interesting denim pieces. I love streetwear. I love heels and sneakers. I know what silhouettes work for my body.

On the process of getting dressed: I wish I could say that there was some type of formula, but I literally wake up and look at my closet. I don’t plan anything the night before. I play around and try things on, take a look and see if it feels right. Try a different shoe — do I like this better, do I like that better? I love the process of getting dressed. I love devoting a good 30 minutes when I can go into my bathroom, put on my music, and do my makeup and my hair. It never feels like a chore to me. But if I’m just hanging out in Brooklyn on the weekend, you will see me in my sweats and sneakers, with no makeup and my daughter in her stroller. And I would put that on Instagram too. I don’t feel pressure to be done up all the time or maintain a certain image.

On getting her clothes tailored: I’ve had the same tailor for years. I found her because she worked downstairs at the cleaners under my office at InStyle, back when it was in Rockefeller Center. I still go there to see her, maybe once a month or so, with a pile of whatever I need to get done. So much about style is having the right fit. I’ll try something on and I’ll see the vision, but if it’s not hitting me the right way, I’m going to get it tailored first.

On being her own boss: For years, I put so much effort into working for somebody else and building up their company. And now, my effort is for me, and that’s motivating. If I worked that hard for somebody else, I’m going to work twice as hard for myself. I used to think entrepreneurship was scary. When friends of mine quit their jobs to go out on their own, I would be like, “Okay, what if things don’t work out? How are you going to pay your bills?” But when I did it myself, it was so liberating. I have no fear anymore. If anything, I should’ve done this sooner. Now I also have a manager and an agent. At first, I thought that sounded like a lot. But once my business started growing, I needed a proper team. And it’s been a game changer. They take care of all the little things, like invoicing, and it’s worth every penny.

Kahlana Barfield Brown Knows How to Dress for Instagram