Stylist Karla Welch Wants to Help You Go Thrifting

In her Style Notes interview, the celebrity stylist reveals the most important fashion advice she’s ever received and discusses at length her newfound love for sweatpants.

Karla Welch Style Notes
Courtesy of thredUP

As the effects of climate change continue to beat down on us like the trapped heat of the sun in the earth’s atmosphere, the fashion industry has been forced to contend with its own role in the crisis. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, as of 2018, the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions made up somewhere between two and eight percent of the global total, while the textile industry continues to be a large contributor of the plastic disposed in our oceans. Of course, the exponential rise of fast fashion is not helping, with people going through pairs of jeans like they’re tissues.

Now, with Coachella upon us, the problem is only being exacerbated. According to the online consignment shop thredUP, 42% of festival-goers this year say they will buy a brand new outfit for the occasion, and 1 in 3 of those shoppers will only wear that outfit once. For that reason, celebrity stylist Karla Welch partnered with thredUP to encourage festival lovers to thrift their looks this time around. Welch has dressed the likes of Sarah Paulson, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Justin Bieber (she added his wife, Hailey, to her roster last year, too) for red carpets worldwide, and now, she’s lending her skills to thredUP. Welch put together eight festival-ready outfits to shop on, and is sharing pieces from her own closet to dig into as well. Here, she talks her partnership with the online thrift store, how her love for vintage shopping came to be, and why she’s finally embracing sweatpants for the first time in her life.

How did your partnership with thredUP come about?

I've been a fan of thredUP for quite some time. I’m a huge fan of thrifting in general. That’s really how I started styling—due to budget reasons when I was a teen. So they reached out and gave me some stats on festival fast fashion. I’m not going to shame anybody for using fast fashion. That is a bigger conversation. But there are small things you can do to have great personal impact, and by thrifting, you can get something really unique while also doing something great for your wallet and for the planet.

Courtesy of thredUP

What can people expect to find in your thredUP store?

A lot of cool tops, denim, and bright colors. It’s the gamut of what I would wear, what I think maybe an 18-year-old would wear and just cool pieces that will add a little bit of individual style.

Fashion isn’t a very eco-friendly industry. As a stylist, how do you contend with that?

In terms of that wheel, I’m just a person in it. When you talk about fast fashion, you have to look at the top of the structure. By the time the clothes get to me, the clothes are made. I’m not a participator in that decision making, but I can certainly call it out. I encourage the people I work with to wear a look twice, especially if no one saw them in it the first time. I’m very specific about what I bring in to make sure I make the least amount of impact on the planet.

How do you make sure you dress each of your clients in a way that’s uniquely them?

I think that’s just my calling card. You get to know someone, what sort of direction they want to go in, and you go from there. I just really think about them and think about what we are trying to say, and then we figure out how to articulate that through clothing. So it’s a real process. It’s very internal. Everything for me is incredibly well thought-out. I put the time into making sure I’m helping create the best version of my client.

Justin Bieber in custom Balenciaga and Hailey Bieber in Saint Laurent, styled by Welch for the 2022 Grammys.

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images

When did you decide you wanted to be a stylist?

It's easy to say, but when I was a kid, I was super into fashion, and I think when I realized styling was a job, I looked into that. It was a little bit of luck, but I just started to do shoots, and ad campaigns, and I started working with musicians, and all of a sudden one day I was like, “Oh wow, I have a career.”

Onto the Style Notes questions. What is your go-to outfit for a typical day?

The pandemic changed that. I never thought I’d wear sweatpants in my life, but I was like, “Oh wait, these are great.” So that was a deep realization for me—that sweatpants are amazing. But if I’m wearing sweatpants, I’m wearing them with great socks, a great shoe, and a blazer. I love a suit. And of course, I love a great pair of vintage 501s, one of my t-shirts, and a jacket.

Describe your style in three words.

Classic. Cool. Boyish.

What is the best fashion advice you’ve ever received?

My sister once gave me a card and it said, “Good clothes open doors.” I always took that to heart. “Good clothes” doesn’t mean expensive clothes—that’s something amazing about thredUP. The quality and quantity of pieces they offer are really incredible. For some people, fashion feels intimidating, but if you can find a few go-to pieces for yourself, you’ll feel great and there is a change that happens when you feel like that in your clothes.

Courtesy of thredUP

Do you remember your first major fashion purchase?

Not really. I remember buying my first piece of Prada 20 years ago. It’s this beautiful silk shirt with a pussy bow; I still wear it. I remember buying Nicolas Ghesquière’s black leather motorcycle jacket for Balenciaga. At the time, I certainly didn’t have the money for it. It was more than a mortgage payment, but I wanted that jacket so much that I bought it and figured out how to pay for it on credit. That jacket got me so many clients because people were like, “Oh my God. I love that jacket.” And then I think I sold about 10 of them.

Who do you look to for style inspiration?

No one. Style inspiration at this age is very intuitive. I don’t really look at anybody for inspiration, but I look everywhere at the same time—like in the movies and at concerts. But I don’t really ever look at something and think, “I’m going to recreate that.” That’s not my dance.