Lifestyle Shoot #1 – From “Whaaaat?” to “WIN!”

Everyone having a blast at the first ever Kaftan Life lifestyle photoshoot

Spoiler alert: Everyone had a blast at the first Kaftan Life lifestyle photoshoot.

What to do? What to do?

A month prior to our first lifestyle shoot, my co-founder and I didn’t know what a lifestyle shoot was. Of course, we knew that brands photograph their products in “real-life” scenarios. But when we started our research with a vague search of “fashion photography…?” we didn’t fully know what we were getting ourselves into.

Luckily, we were getting used to knowing next to nothing and figuring it out. At this point, we had learned how to…

  1. Find an ethical manufacturer in another country
  2. Spec out new products and collaborate with a design team to develop original prints
  3. Order samples and arrange international shipments of those samples
  4. Audit and provide feedback to perfect our product…

We started where any clueless person starts: THE INTERNET. We watched videos on and YouTube (neither are sponsoring this post, but they should consider it) and took notes with more enthusiasm than we had in school (and we were nerds in school!). Many videos and blogs discussed how to do a photoshoot for free or “nearly free,” and this deal hunter was excited about saving some dough.

(Spoiler: our photoshoot was neither free nor nearly free. However, upon reflection, prioritizing paying and feeding our team made the shoot the success that it was!)

The knowledge we acquired online gave us a template, the lingo, and the How-To. Now we needed a plan. 

What’s the goal?

When in doubt, nail down a goal. We specified a primary goal for the shoot. We decided that it should gel with what Kaftan Life means to us: On this shoot, everyone has a good time.

We laid out a few additional goals:

  • Educate: Demonstrate how to wear a kaftan. The use cases of kaftans vary across time and culture, so it's up to us to show potential customers how they can get the most out of our kaftans.
  • Promote: We worked hard on our kaftans. We collaborated with a team in Jaipur, they worked hard on our kaftans. The photos needed to reflect the love, the work, and the beauty that we saw in our products.
  • Tell a story: Our friendships are integral to the spirit of Kaftan Life and we wanted the lifestyle shoot to reflect that. 
  • Snacks: Have lots of them. 

Lifestyle Shoot Snacks

Trader Joe's should probably also sponsor us.

Madison in Debut Dabu at Graft

Wine, also in the "snack" category. Madison in our 'Debut Dabu' Long Drawstring Kaftan at Graft. Sommelier Femi in the background.

Where to go?

First, we chose the location: Charleston, SC. Charleston is cosmopolitan without any undercurrent of frantic energy. In my experience, Charleston represents an appreciation for life, #aesthetics, and damn good food and drinks. That was the atmosphere we wanted to capture. (Aside: Kaftans are perfect for the literal atmospheric conditions -humidity- of the Southeastern US.)

We booked a very attractive Airbnb in Folly Beach and emailed the host requesting permission to shoot there. She was on board, excited, and supportive! 

Airbnb: The Laylow Bungalow

Our picturesque Airbnb

Who to bring along for the ride?

We met Karli, our photographer, at a wedding where we were impressed by her ability to manage the crowd. Working with Karli gave us the opportunity to support a young woman starting out in her career! Turns out, that feels AWESOME!

At this point, we had very few contacts in the fashion world. But we had one very reliable (non-fashion-industry) contact in Charleston, Hank, my best friend’s cousin. Hank introduced us to a bunch of his contacts in Charleston, including two photographers and the owner of a fancy infinity pool which we used as a backup location for our beach scene. Hank throws himself into his work in the music scene, and he tackled our photoshoot as if it was his own project.

Sundaze Kaftan and Infinity Pool

Image: Vi in our 'Sundaze' Long Drawstring Kaftan. How often do you get impromptu access to a set featuring an infinity pool overlooking the marsh?

Kyndall, brought every room to life, instantly connecting with the models and keeping us lol’ing with her stories of the time she almost met Keith Urban. Bain, Kyndall’s boyfriend, is also a talented photographer and videographer. He came along presumably because he wanted to spend the weekend with his girlfriend and his Charleston friends, but we lucked out because he helped set up scenes and caught some great BTS (behind-the-scenes) shots!

Molly, Hank’s girlfriend but more importantly, my friend, joined the team as well. She showed up with a bag full of backup supplies and was ready to entertain with her banter. 

Karen, Karli’s mom, kept us on track when we got overwhelmed (which only happened ... once or three times).

Who to photograph?

Originally, we planned to photograph friends. What better way to convey the spirit of Kaftan Life than to live it and capture it with professional photographers?

However, there was no way we would get our friends to Charleston on such short notice. Instead, we hired local models and bloggers (and model/bloggers, #hustle) from Instagram and made them pretend to be friends until everyone believed the lie (spoiler: we're all friends now)!

I am forever grateful to these women who responded to my (sometimes awkward) Instagram messages and emails. Their willingness to work with us made us feel confident and capable.

Janiece was the first model I reached out to and therefore bore the brunt of my uncertainty. She taught me how to move forward more smoothly, and she did so in a way that was kind and thoughtful (Janiece, maybe you should do a Skillshare video?). Vi , the next model to sign on, is vibrant and downright hilarious—I think about 85% of the group shots featuring Vi have genuine laughter in them because of her quick wit.

Madison and Lindsey were next to commit. In the model search, I sifted through a lot of blogs. Madison's blog, which is perceptive and tackles tough topics, stuck out to me and made me especially want to work with her. Lindsey was an absolute trooper. We shot our beach-turned-pool scene on the first cold day of Fall in Charleston! Of course, being the pro that she is, Lindsey made that gusty, below-60 beach scene look warm! All while being an absolute joy to work with!

Kelsey, Alysha, and Devan joined us for our final scenes at the Airbnb. Initially planned for 3-4 models, we ended up having 5 of the models for our final scenes, resulting in a bit of a party! Thankfully, we caught a few of Kelsey’s wisecracks on video – her humor was dry and quick. Alysha’s interest in food and fashion made her the perfect pretend-brunch hostess. Devan brought some serious energy to the set and kept us entertained with her stories.

#Extra Organization 

As our team grew, we had to stay organized.

We wanted to eliminate wasted time (it was the weekend, after all!), so we crafted individual itineraries that ensured each model knew where to be, what to bring, and who they were working with. This also meant that each photographer could be actively shooting throughout our 2-day shoot schedule. The individualized itineraries honestly seemed like overkill at the time, but when you have a total of 7 models, various scenes, multiple locations, and no revenue, this type of extreme organization conserves resources.

The pre-planning was intense and yeah, a lookbook with *cough* 40 or so pages *cough* is a bit much. But being aggressively, obsessively organized made sure that we were honoring our commitments to the team, and resulted in extra time for additional scenes and time to get to know each other so the scenes were genuinely fun!

It’s obvious that we laughed.

So yes, we laughed a lot, and as far as I know, no one cried!

At the end of the weekend, we walked away with:

  • The knowhow to go from planning to execution, including lookbook creation, team and set acquisition, scene scheduling, and shooting
  • More photos of more scenes than we had even dreamed of obtaining
  • Two new places to eat and drink in Charleston (Graft Wine Shop, The Watch at the Restoration Hotel)
  • Lots of props from the models and photographers alike for having arranged a pretty flawless shoot on our first go! I feel such pride when the models and photographers from this shoot tell us that they had a great time.

It's really easy for new business owners to get swept up in the "how tos" and the logistics of starting a business. We've been lucky enough to also focus on the people element of our tasks. The best part of starting a business has been meeting people who are passionate, smart, motivated, and talented. One day, things may be strictly business. But for now, we’re choosing to collaborate with people whom we genuinely enjoy and cherish, and we’re making sure they have a damn good time working with us. That sincerity and positivity comes through in the final product, and we are thrilled to share it with you through our website and social media!

Props from Devan

Image: Props from Devan

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Startup Stories: Winning Lifestyle Photography

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