Adelaide based stylist Kelly Fleming was working in a legal office when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

But when dressing herself in the mornings became difficult, due to her illness, Kelly made a decision to launch herself into a new career.

Studying through the Australian Style Institute, Kelly qualified as a stylist so she could help herself and others in the process.

“Styling has given me so much flexibility that just was not available to me before. I now find myself in new places regularly and meeting new people all the time, which I absolutely love. The opportunities that come my way are always varied, which keeps me from ever feeling bored. Having countless opportunities each day to flex my creative muscle absolutely sets my soul on fire!” she says.

“I’m not chained to a desk and I am connecting with people in a really valuable and personal way, it’s just so rewarding to see clients come into their own and have a ‘here I am’ moment. Styling keeps me feeling so positive. The art of styling is to help others find their ‘real self’ and to help them portray that. It’s those good vibes and fuzzy feelings that I have to admit I’ve become pretty addicted to. Being a stylist is such a special calling in life and I’m so glad I have found it.”

Kelly’s approach to styling factors in her own illness and the challenges faced by her clients, which sets her apart from others in the industry.

“I do a lot of styling for people of disability,” she says. “One of the biggest challenges we face in the physical sense is that getting around clothing stores and in and out of change rooms can prove to be quite difficult. It’s also really exhausting. To remedy this situation, I do a lot of online sourcing for my clients, which is so convenient, however the disparity between sizes both between clothing labels and even within the one clothing line can be so challenging. There’s not a lot of regulation in that area and it certainly can make shopping difficult.”

Now focused on championing accessible fashion through her blog and helping others in similar situations look and feel their best with fashion that is easy to wear, Kelly is grateful to have had the opportunity to shift her career and have a way of channelling her creativity while making a difference in people’s lives.

“Before my MS diagnosis I worked in the corporate world which lingered more on the stressful side of life. I knew I needed to make change. What I love about working for myself as a stylist is that I can give it my best shot when my body is up to it, and when I need rest, I take it. Managing my health issues feels like a full-time job in itself, so I love that when I can work, it’s wonderful and fulfilling with such positive outcomes,” she says.

“Before my diagnosis my workdays looked like a typical ‘rat race’ kind of a day, and I wouldn’t say that it brought me whole lot of joy. My disability gave me such a perception and priorities shift that I am genuinely grateful for. These days I find I am much more balanced in my approach to the workday. Mindfulness plays a huge role in staying present and prioritising tasks. I find that I work best in the mornings, so I get a lot done then, in terms of research, writing for my blog and sorting out the business side of things. I make sure I rest in the afternoon so that I can be on board for mum duties after school pick up. It’s a daily choice as to how I deal with my health struggles and work. For the most, I try to go about things with a positive attitude and take things in my stride.”

The Australian Style Institute, where Kelly gained qualifications as a stylist, is the brainchild of Lauren Di Bartolo, an expert in human behaviour who founded ASI after seeing strong parallels between confidence and self-esteem and how people dress.

The ASI runs courses all over Australia to empower people like Kelly to become stylists and set up their own styling businesses nationwide.

“Studying with the Australian Style Institute has been such a transformative experience for me,” Kelly says. “I remember sitting in the information session and hearing [National Course Advisor] Penny tell us all to ‘say yes, and then figure out how.’ It was like a lightbulb went on for me, giving me permission to allow myself to think that anything is possible and that I could live a successful and creative life, even with a disability. Penny went on to say that whatever challenges we may face, ASI would only ever be a phone call away.

“I loved that right from the get-go I knew I would be supported. Through my studies, I’ve grown to really appreciate the Australian Style Institute’s approach to both style and the way they support their students. I’ve learnt so much about human behaviour and how personal style is an extension of oneself in ways that I had never considered before. In terms of support, I’ve never felt so seen and heard. Particularly with my health struggles, I have always been met with understanding and ASI has always helped me to figure out ways for me to succeed.”

Kelly loves her new career and is dedicated to giving people lessons in how to feel and look great. In fact, she’s even offered Upside Adelaide readers her top three hot style tips:

  1. Fit is king, don’t worry about the size on the label, worry about how the garment fits and how it makes you feel.
  2. Organise your wardrobe and edit it regularly. Have nothing in there that you don’t love!
  3. Invest in styles that work well for your shape and wear colours that complement your skin tone, that’s what will make you feel amazing and confident.

By Libby Parker