Do You Return Everything You Purchase For A Photo Shoot as a Stylist?

So . . . that question that many Photo Stylists get asked.  More than “Do you return everything?” (The real question is: Do you return items you use? (aka "used") I think the question is more “How do you handle shopping for shoots”?  This is my process:

Reach out to Brands.  First, I reach out to brands I work with (& brands I would like to work with) and  to see if they will lend me items for the photo shoot.  (If credit is an option, like a magazine, you usually can offer them credit in exchange for lending)  I have been lent (& given) wardrobe, props, furniture, plants, florals . . . really, just about everything.

Shopping Online and In Store.  If reaching out to brands is not an option, (it may be a time factor, oftentimes, items will be sent to you via mail through their corporate office, and that could take some time)  I then shop (both online and in store)

When I know that I will be shopping for MANY items in one particular store (usually, smaller, boutique shops) to give my client many choices, I know I will return many items, so I ask to speak to Manager, Owner, etc. and explain that I am a Photo Stylist and I am providing choices to my client, and I anticipate having to return items to their store.  (I just want them to be aware as a courtesy to them and establish a relationship with them)  You want them to be excited when they see you shop in their store and say . . . “what photo shoot are you working on now?” not ohhhh . . . here comes that Stylist that returns everything! (Retail stores can have high turnover, so re-introduce yourself to new staff.)  Also, It is a very good item to give/send gifts to those who help you and always send a thank you!

Reach Out / Schedule Appointments. Approach larger department/speciality stores to meet staff and to see if they offer "Studio Services" to Photo Stylists.  (This mostly applies to wardrobe/fashion) Studio Services can either lend you items for your Photo Shoots (for photo credit), give discounts or you they may have a "restock" policy.

Build Relationships.  It’s always a great idea to have relationships with colleagues/stores/sources in the industry.  You really help each other out.  You receive clothing, props, etc. and they oftentimes can get photos from the shoot.  (Don’t promise photos. Ask appropriate people first. Photographer/Creative Director, etc.) Or you can tag photos on IG for them to repost.  Always options  . . .

I know when you are beginning your styling career, it can be a little scary to reach out to people.  Just try to be brave - you will be happy you did!  Of course, not everyone will say yes, but you will definitely receive "yeses" and it will get easier.  As you establish your styling business, it’s important to establish your “go-to” sources/lenders. Appreciate them, be grateful and try to extend yourself to them as well - it is a relationship.

So, this "buy & return" scenario becomes the most unethical (really, it’s all unethical if you are returning items you used!)  when you are working with wardrobe.  I work with models/wardrobe. When styling with clothing/shoes, I typically give the models the clothing they wear for the photo shoot. (Charge/Itemize these items on your Invoice to client)

If you are routinely asked/or expected to return all items from your photo shoots, it is a conversation you should have with your client/photographer.   The buy & return “game" can be a stressful/unethical one - best policy is to alleviate that stress and establish relationships with the type of stores you will be shopping with and be honest.

Don't assume that large department stores will not work with you on lending/borrowing items.  I have worked with many large corporate stores that you might think would say no or is a long process to get approval.  Many give their local management/store approval to work with Stylists.

Have a question or comment about this topic?  Please ask or let me know what you think! Or do you need help navigating situations/dilemmas like this or would like some 1:1 styling business consulting or our phone/email/meeting scripts to make this (lending of items) happen for your business?  Contact me here.  Would love to help.  


Subscribe to our Style Newsletter for all the Tips, Techniques & Trends in the Style Business!


50% Complete

Subscribe to our Style Newsletter for all the
Tips, Techniques & Trends in the Style Business.