Stylist Kiri Morken Talks About How to Build a Network and Find Your Own Style

After growing up in Manhattan and working as a design coordinator for Urban Outfitters in Philadelphia, Denver-based stylist Kiri Morken decided she and her husband needed a change. In search of more work-life balance, they relocated to the Front Range almost three years ago, to the day. With the support of mentors and friends along the way, Morken is a successful stylist for Daily Blast Live and personal clients around the country. She attributes her success to hard work and a transparent support system. We also spoke about being a woman of color in the fashion industry and why style and fashion aren’t necessarily synonymous.

303 Magazine: How and when did you know you wanted to work in fashion? 

Kiri Morken: You know, that’s an interesting question because I don’t consider that I really work in fashion right now. Which might be kind of a wild thing to say as a stylist. I’ve always been interested to see what’s on people’s radars in terms of style — why they dress the way they do. I grew up in New York City, so I got to go visit the Met museum and see their costume exhibit. I’ve also drawn a lot since I was little.

Moving to Denver and exploring this new community has made me realize this even more. Just because you’re interested in fashion doesn’t mean you need to be in-the-know of designers or name brands or what’s trending. At times though, I ask myself the question, “can I really be a point of contact for people who are looking to define their style, if I’m not head over heels in love with that part of the industry?” I think it’s important, but for me, it’s been more of an educational resource and less of a passion that fuels my work. I draw inspiration from so many places.

Photo of Kiri Morken

Photo by Rebecca Grant

303:  Who are your mentors? 

KM: I’ve found inspiration and mentorship from women I know and some that I don’t know! I’m a big fan of Tracee Ellis Ross. Watching how she carries herself and her joy in exploring her style continues to be a big source of inspiration and encouragement for me. As a black woman, who also loves to play around and explore style and this idea that you don’t have to fit in a box — stylistically you can be true to yourself and she embodies that.

Here in Denver, I met Esther [Lee Leach, Editor in Chief of Cherry Creek Fashion] who has been an incredible support to me. She’s been a big mentor in my life. There’s a local designer, Kaitlyn Thomas, who’s been an incredible friend and mentor. I have a designer friend back in Philly from our days working at Urban Outfitters who has continued to support me as I navigate a fashion and styling world. I feel fortunate that so many of the people that I call mentors are really good friends.

303: Describe your personal style in 3 words.

KM: I would describe my style as unexpected, understated and edgy.

303: Tell me more about your work on Daily Blast Live? How has this changed during COVID?

KM: How I do my job at Daily Blast Live has really changed since COVID began, but I am so grateful for the company that I work for. I’m now able to do my styling remotely.

Pre-COVID, me and a team of amazing hair and makeup artists would work to get the host ready in a traditional sense. Monday through Friday, the hosts would come in on a staggered schedule and we would work with them. I would select their outfits for the day and work with them to create a cohesive palette. I want the viewers to watch the show and have their eye easily travel over the panel of three to four hosts and see cohesion, but I want everyone to stand out uniquely on their own.

When I first started there, a big part of my job was to first understand how each host wanted to show up. Some had more of a business professional look, some are more playful and some are edgier. It was important to me to hone in on that and then push boundaries a bit and encourage them to explore their style.

Flash forward to now, it’s a lot of calls and texts, letting the hosts know what I would like them to wear that day or asking if they have any new pieces. A lot of our female hosts do Rent the Runway in conjunction with their own clothing. I’m calling this new phase “collaborative styling” which I’m open to. I think that’s just the nature of the world we’re in now, everyone’s finding a different way to function and adapt. I watch the show as if I’m a viewer and I’ll text the hosts if something needs an adjustment or if a strap is showing or a collar is off.

303: What is your process with personal styling clients? 

KM: First of all, I’m so grateful to be able to work on Daily Blast Live and also do side projects like consult with personal clients or commercial work. When I style clients, I encourage them to think about how they want to show up in the world. Though I haven’t been able to do this recently due to COVID, my process is typically meeting a client in person, discussing what their goals are, watching their body language and doing a closet cleanout. What I love about personal styling is that it’s identity work.

At the end of the day, styling is an intimate experience and when people invite me into that space, it means a lot. It’s important that I learn things from my clients like, “What’s your experience going to an event?” “Do you feel good in your body?” “Do you want to wear heels?” “Oh, you broke your ankle a few years ago? Tell me about that.” It’s never just about a piece of clothing — there’s usually more to the story. It’s really exciting when I work with personal clients who leave ready to explore on their own. As a stylist, all I ever want is for people to have the confidence to explore what their style means to them.

Photo of Kiri Morken

Photo by Jenni Summer

303: If someone in Denver (or another person in a mid-sized city that is not necessarily known for its fashion) wants to get into the industry, what’s your advice?

KM: There are multiple routes but one big thing is being authentic in your exploration of your community. In my experience, that meant getting coffee with people just to understand their experience of working in the industry, whether it was a journalist, a fellow stylist or a photographer. With certain industry folks (models, photographers) I would ask if they wanted to do a test shoot together.

I came into the industry with a small portfolio and was very aware that I needed to build it up. I found that people were willing to give me the gift of their time to photograph with me or to model for me. Along with test shoots, there’s likely a lot going on, fashion-wise, in your city. Whether its a small gathering of people for a fashion event, or even just a creative gathering, even if it’s not fashion-specific. If there any networking groups where people are showing up to talk and genuinely interested in other people’s work, that’s great.

At the end of the day, I’ve found that the more I can support and promote the work I do with other creative, the better. My advice would be to stay inspired. Sometimes it can feel discouraging in a smaller city, where the opportunities can be a bit more hidden. Whether you’re inspired by nature or architecture or looking through old magazines, it’s important to pay attention to what’s being created around you.

303: Where are your favorite places to shop in Denver?

KM: I’m a big advocate for secondhand shopping — I love the thrill of the hunt. But I know that it really doesn’t work for everyone. I do find that I get inspiration by thrift and consignment shopping. So I love Common Threads on South Pearl and Buffalo Exchange on Broadway, where I can always find a good vintage piece. Honestly, I get most of my clothing from there and it really works for me. I also can’t forget Modern Nomad. They have some of the most beautiful home decor and jewelry that I’ve seen. It’s such a beautiful space as well.

303: Can you talk more about being a woman of color in the industry? What have you learned and what advice would you give to other WOC wanting to get into the fashion industry?

KM: I feel so lucky and blessed to have connected with other women in the industry like interior stylist Kerri Cole and Esther, among many others. These women are reflective and supportive and genuinely want to hear about my experience as a woman of color in Denver. I’m biracial and I’ve felt a sense of “where do I fit in” you know? I’ve wondered who will accept me or not accept me based exclusively on the color or tone of my skin. And then, in turn, how do I respond to it? There’s a reality that our culture can be fascinated with people who they can’t put in a certain racial box. It’s completely up to me how I show up in this industry, as a stylist and a model, knowing that I check a lot of boxes.

Throughout my career, I’ve felt supported by the circles I’ve been in. The people I associate with are willing to sit in their discomfort and challenge their understanding of the world. I’ve been fortunate to know people who are open and willing to share and listen and learn from others.

I think I’m still processing everything going on. In the past couple of months I feel so honored to have the friends I have in the community. Their transparency and eagerness to join alongside me and others as we fight for racial justice are amazing. I’m truly proud to be a part of this city and my creative communities when I think about that.