Independent Contractor Spotlight — Wardrobe Stylist

Erika Figueroa delves into making a living as a stylist and driving for rideshare apps to fill cash gaps

Originally from the Tims Ford Lake area of Tennessee, Erika Figueroa moved to Nashville after earning her degree in fashion merchandising from Middle Tennessee State University. She interned under famed country music tailor Manuel Cuevas, known as the “Rhinestone Rembrandt.” Post internship, Figueroa managed a clothing boutique, where she did some personal styling for customers. Eventually, she left her job to become a full-time independent contractor.

Now, she does on-set styling for celebrities by working with other stylists who hire her, and she does personal styling and closet renovations for individuals looking to revamp or streamline their aesthetic. Recently she’s helped on-set with Taylor Swift’s backup dancers and has worked in wardrobe for certain installments of the Country Music Awards (CMAs). In between gigs, she drives for Uber and Lyft and is also developing her entertainment career.

This interview came about because of a rideshare trip to a local coffee shop. Clearly, being a driver for Uber and Lyft brings you some interesting connections. How has gig work helped boost your styling career?

Erika FigueroaYeah! It’s funny. You never know who you’re going to meet or come in contact with. I actually met one of my stylists that I help. I met her husband through Lyft and Uber. He was like, “My wife needs help with some projects.” And I was like, “I can help her!” Then I was on set with her, and a really awesome girl gave me a few contacts to some other wardrobe stylists.

These in-person connections are important because you’re doing an interesting experiment where you’re not using social media. What prompted that?

EF: Yes, I’m actually off social media. It’s been nine months now, and people ask me all the time, “How are you not posting?” or “How are you meeting with these people?” And it’s just more about personal relationships now. I’ve actually had more success since I’ve been off social media. It’s really changed my life. I’m not saying I’m going to be off forever, but my goal is to go a full year. It’s just personal relationship building. I’ve realized that it is so much more important than posting a photo or DM-ing someone. There are so many pros to social media, but I just felt and saw a lot of cons to it in my personal experience. I knew I was wasting a lot of energy and creating through an app versus actually doing it in real life.

What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of being an independent contractor?

 EF: I’ve had to put myself in a position of feeling very vulnerable, asking people if they want to hire me. When you have a normal nine-to-five job, you do your job, you leave, you go home, and that’s it. I have to think about it daily. What’s my next gig? Or I’m preparing for the next gig.

What are the financial realities of working for yourself?

EF: As a stylist, I do like fashion, and I love shopping and stuff like that. I’m not able to do the shopping like I did before, in this moment. It doesn’t mean I won’t forever. I’ve cut my expenses down a lot—like I don’t eat out anymore—you know, those little things that you don’t think add up, but they do. It’s been a great experience because it’s a lot of little things you don’t really need anyway.

How do you manage the cashflow?

EF: I don’t do Uber and Lyft every day, but I try to have a supplemental income. I really want to shoot for at least $100 a day. And then if I have gigs where I’m getting a bigger amount, then I’m like, “Okay, well I won’t drive Uber and Lyft this week. I’ll just focus all my attention on this project.”

What’s your typical schedule?

EF: I drive a lot more in the morning time. I don’t even really drive at night that much because I don’t want to deal with the drunk scene. I meet a lot of people who are traveling or going to work or using it for school. I can work from five to eleven and be done for the day. Then I can come back and reach out to people to see if they need assistance with styling. And if I do have a job come open, I’m able to do it. With the styling gigs, my availability is pretty much open. That’s what I tell them.

What is your favorite part about being an independent contractor?

EF: Just the freedom—I’m free. I feel like my arms are wide open and I’m just soaring. I love waking up and being on my own schedule. Honestly, it was the best decision I could have made—to quit my job. I was very hesitant. I thought about it for months. I loved my job, and I loved my boss, but the freedom aspect of it . . . Being an artist and a creative type—it’s hard to be locked down to a job.

You’re really following your creative instincts. What drives that?

EF: I’m just an artist in general. I love to perform. Styling is something that I’ve been doing for such a long time. It’s within me to style; it’s just very natural. And then acting and singing is another part of my artistry that is a lot more in-depth, and I really am loving exploring that.

 What advice do you have for aspiring artists, stylists, independent contractors, or gig workers?

EF: A lot of people I come into contact with want to quit their jobs and do Uber and Lyft while they work on their side projects. And my best advice is to research it like you would any other job. I looked up the best Uber and Lyft drivers in the state. I watched a lot of YouTube videos on how you can make the most money for your time.

And then with styling, it’s just reaching out to anybody in the industry who inspires you. See if you can intern with them. Be fearless. And people will trust you when you’re honest. Say, “Hey, I’m new to this. I’m trying to do this.” People kind of want to help you when you’re putting yourself out there.

You really have to hustle more than you ever have. But the benefits are greater—knowing that you did this on your own and you’re really just going for it.