Balancing the Grind with Lauren Di Bartolo, Founder of Australian Style Institute

Lauren Di Bartolo is the founder of Australian Style Institute, which offers a range of in-person and online fashion courses for aspiring stylists.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’m Lauren Di Bartolo, the founder of Australian Style Institute, a group which trains the next generation of fashion stylists and creatives across Australia.

I founded the Institute after my own experiences in the fashion industry left me thinking that we needed a new approach to styling. I felt the old way of doing things – labelling people apples or pears and saying they could only wear orange or blue – was totally restricting and wrong.

Australian Style Institute’s courses blend fashion creativity with human behaviour – allowing our students to see the science behind what we choose to wear and why. I believe this allows us to take a deeper look at styling, which in turn leads to stronger and longer lasting effects from clients.

In my current role, I oversee the courses which take place all over Australia (and often further afield too).

I love interacting with our trainers, mentors and students who make Australian Style Institute such a fun and thriving place to be. I’m currently overseeing expansion plans, including a brand-new headquarters soon to open in Sydney.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Part of the thrill of running your own business is that no two days are the same. Yesterday morning, I was interviewed for a segment on Sunrise to discuss sustainability in the fashion industry, and look at the future of fashion.

I then boarded a flight to Sydney to see our new campus opening later this year. It’s so important for me to ensure that every space we create is creative and helps people thrive. Our new space in Surrey Hills will do just that.

On the plane I took the opportunity to do a guided meditation. It’s something I like to fit into my routine; I always have some saved and ready to go, usually via Calm or YouTube. I’ve actually taken some meditation courses and am a firm believer in the good it can bring, particularly from a creativity standpoint. Some days it just can’t happen but we shouldn’t overlook the shower moments. These are some of the most powerful moments for thinking about nothing.

In the evening I had a meeting over dinner, then by 10.30pm I was on my way home listening to a podcast and preparing for the next day.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Yes, it certainly does. As a company director and a stylist, I have lots of meetings – both in the office and elsewhere – but of course when we are in full “stylist” mode, the team and I will often be on the run. A lot of this involves sourcing clothing and accessories, preparing for a brief or a shoot, organising locations and photography, there’s plenty that goes into it all.

I like to take a flexible approach though so my team is always supported. I’ve been known to have business meetings on the beach in Byron while I’m there gaining inspiration, Google Hangouts chats in an Uber, emails are great to catch up on during a flight!

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Balance is a tricky thing to strike. I truly believe that balance also alters to different stages in your life. For instance, right now I’m in the product development stage of new projects I’m working on (there are a few key things in the pipeline). This means I need to put in a few more hours right now. Other times though it’s about taking more ideas to generate or recharge.

That said, like many women in business, I have hit points of exhaustion by working too hard, and I’ve learned how to take care of myself the hard way.  

For me, that involves a combination of discipline and rule-making. It’s a work in progress, but this includes getting up early and seizing the day from 6am most days. It also means abiding by my ‘turn-off’ rule, I head to a steam room a few nights a week and relax.

It’s somewhere I literally can’t take my phone, so it’s the best way to plan in time away from the screen. I know I also won’t go back to it unless I’m expecting something specific.

As a creative, we’re not just paid for our time and efforts. We’re also paid for our ideas. Sometimes it’s the quiet moments where we are of most value to our clients.

I heard of a Scandinavian agency which was open for two years and closed for one year, on a constant loop. They came back with fresh ideas and innovation. It was so valuable, clients would pay them to close. It wasn’t tiring. It was fresh and pushing the boundaries.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I’ve stopped alcohol and sugar recently. It’s been a way to reset behaviours and to wake up fresh. I really value clarity of mind, and the brain fog wasn’t helping me to concentrate. I’m valuing time to retreat rather than going out.

I’ve also stopped spending as much time on a makeup routine, not because I care less, but because I care more about finding confidence in simple rituals and my own skin.

While as a fashion stylist, I know it’s important for us all to find ways to feel confident, I’ve found simplifying my morning routine has given me more time and less chaos.

I have Alicia Keys to thank for bringing a focus back on natural beauty. And like many women, it took COVID to help realise this.

I’m also coming back to a daily ‘Goals and Reflection’ document. It’s said we spend more time planning a holiday than planning our lives, and I’m determined to shift those priorities!

I like to keep my goals and lessons close to me – so I’m not learning them over again. Dreaming can be the first thing to go when we are busy.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. I’m interested in human behaviour and this has been a great resource for me.
  • Seth Godin – his works have been really informative – he’s a brilliant marketer.
  • Malcom Gladwell – I am really inspired by him as a thought leader.
  • Any “founder stories” – I love Gem Watts’ Glow Journal podcast.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

  • Sleep Cycle. It gives you a rating every morning. I’ve started to get competitive and try and have a better sleep each night! It’s not going well.
  • I love Chani Nicholas’ horoscope app and Co-Star. I read my updates some mornings religiously and other times not for weeks, sometimes for a laugh.
  • The Hay House audio app is a library of self-help, mediation and audio books. I’m always tuning in.
  • Tik Tok, of course! I’ve been falling into a deep, dark tunnel of content recently
  • Calm app – who doesn’t love going to sleep with Harry Styles?
  • Notes – I always have this handy for planning.
  • I’m also going back to WhatsApp even for business chats, when I’m travelling internationally I rely on it. It’s an oldie but a goodie.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

I recently watched the Formula 1: Drive to Survive documentary on Netflix. I was really inspired by Toto Wollf. He has had a very challenging career and I admire the extent of what he has taken on.  

Despite travelling so much and dealing with such high stakes, he still had a sense of calm, focus, and an ability to look after physical self too. That’s what I took from that documentary. It doesn’t matter how high pressure your job is, you can make it work.

You’ve got to be careful about what you see on Instagram about people’s work-life balance. Don’t believe everything you see. Some of Australia’s best names in fashion who will come into the office and crumble because they don’t feel they are being enough – whether that’s for themselves, for their jobs, or for their families. Things you see on Instagram aren’t real. We’re all doing our best to juggle. The juggle is real!

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

I’ve found that finding activities to do that give you energy is far more valuable than switching off at the end of the day.

We can be tempted to think that to unwind, we need to turn on the TV. But if you have a dream, find something that will give you what the day couldn’t. It will help you towards your next goal. A creative outlet.

We also show people how to treat us. Whilst we want to be there for others, we can only give when we have something to give. This is actually something which I teach my students through the courses at Australian Style Institute.

I remind them that there will be people who pop up on their phone screens and they know we will be available to download onto for an hour just because. But we need to be mindful about how we deal with our energy and these calls. We should all strive to find people who fill our cups as much as we fill theirs. 

Equally, get real. Remind yourself of what really matters. Sometimes we think there’s a basket of ironing that really needs to be done or a dishwasher which needs to be unpacked. Whilst it feels great to have it done, get done what matters today and then draw a line. Prioritise so you can make your dreams a reality too.

Finally, whenever possible, take your shoes off and get grounded in the park. Not many people know that Chanel sling-backs really do sling back. It’s hard to feel too overwhelmed when you’re immersed in nature.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.