Stylist Haylee Ahumada didn’t always think she’d work in fashion. In high school, she dreamed of becoming a veterinarian and even attended a medicine-focused program. But one day, as the class was practicing dental work, Ahumada felt the ick and never went back. “I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she tells Remezcla. “My professor even told me she always knew.”
Today, she’s a celebrity stylist working with names like rappers Rico Nasty and Joey Bada$$ as well as singers like Pink Sweats and Sabrina Claudio, garnering attention for her streetwear-heavy styling and knack for monochrome looks.
The Puerto Rican-Colombian creative grew up in Paterson, New Jersey—a predominantly low-income Latino neighborhood she says she’s very proud to be from. But, it’s also a place she always knew she’d have to leave.
“If anybody knows anything about Paterson, you know it’s the ‘hood,” she says. “I’m so proud of being from where I come from because it’s so hard for people to make it out of that city.”
Ahumada’s love of fashion started in Paterson thanks, in large part, to her grandmother. She recalls watching her knit and sew when she was a kid. Later in middle school, she met a group of fashion-forward friends that she began styling at her young age, before she really even knew what that meant. She developed her instinct for color combination at age 15, when she asked for a pair of sneakers by Angela and Vanessa Simmons, which she later styled in a duo-chrome pink and purple outfit for her birthday.
After high school, Ahumada left Paterson to pursue a degree at LIM College in New York City, but she quickly started feeling uneasy about the lack of diversity at the school.
“I felt like I couldn’t relate [to] the girls going to school. I didn’t feel included,” Ahumada says, adding that she’d often be the only woman of color in a classroom.
Four years later, Ahumada dropped out without a degree.
“I felt that was what my parents were waiting for… for me to come back home, not to drop out,” she says.
But, she refused to return to New Jersey and recalls telling herself she didn’t go all the way to New York to give up. Her love for the city kept her motivations high, so she spent the next six months getting to know herself. During that time, she somehow convinced LIM College’s counselor to let her live in the dorms—a chance Ahumada says bought her some time to find her next move.
Relatably, internships helped her get her foot in the door. In 2014, she accepted a position in editorial with Complex magazine, where she met her mentor Matthew Henson—the stylist behind A$AP Rocky and The Weeknd. Back then, Henson worked in marketing at the publication. But a few years later, he asked Ahumada to be his fashion assistant as he ventured solo.
“I worked with him for almost 7 years. My life changed a lot from that,” she says.
Her own big break in the industry came when stylist Marcus Paul introduced her to rapper Pusha T, who later brought her on to work on projects by herself. By that time, she had begun working with Afro-Puerto Rican rapper Rico Nasty on music videos that, as Ahumada recalls, would never get released. Styling musicians fascinated Ahumada, who says her own fashion has been inspired by the aesthetic of ‘90s hip-hop.
“I loved lowrise jeans and [having] your baby hairs all pushed out,” she says. “That, to me, is part of the style of fashion. That gold, glitziness of the ‘90s.”
Ahumada has been a solo act for a few years now and has never been signed with a talent agency. Instead, she has relied on her work ethic and a knack for networking that has allowed her to grow her clientele and her connections inside the fashion industry. It’s the nitty-gritty process behind her work that she wishes people could see—like the times she had to spend her own money on clothes or the heavy-lifting of boxes and garment bags.
“Clothes don’t appear out of thin air,” she spells out. “What I do most of the time doesn’t come from a store.”
Almost 10 years after moving to New York, Ahumada is convinced she made the right decision the day she quit her realistic goal of becoming a veterinarian—and she urges other Latinx aspiring stylists to do the same.
“I would definitely say just keep going, keep pushing for it. [There are] so many more brown and Black people doing more things than before. But it’s still very much needed.”
For now, she plans to keep dreaming of clients and cutting-edge looks, and, in 2020, her goal is to work with Rosalía.
“I have a dry erase board [in my room] and it says Rosalía x Haylee 2020 on it,” she admits. “I’m going to make it happen.”