Local stylist Malika Barber gets in your head, then your closet

Malika Barber, owner of Make Me Over Malika, wears her company's logo and a signature, statement necklace. (Stephanie Aaronson/Philly.com)

Most people probably wouldn’t expect their styling consultation to start with the question, “What are you self-conscious about and why?” But that’s exactly how Malika Barber, owner of the styling company Make Me Over Malika, begins each styling session.

“I ask a lot of questions about the person before I even get into the clothes,” the 25-year-old fashionista says at her suburban, single-family home in New Castle, Delaware. “I think because I have [a] background in psychology, I look at it totally different than the average stylist.” She’s wearing her favorite denim shirt from J. Crew topped with a cream lace appliqué tank top, patchwork skinny jeans and pointy, gold-toed cream-colored pumps. Her natural hair is coifed into a fluffy, straightened style.

Barber studied Psychology at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland before going on to earn her Master’s Degree from West Chester University. The tagline for her company, ‘The Psychology of Styling,’ plays on Barber’s background in counseling and the customized point of view she brings to every session.

A far cry from her entrepreneurial styling endeavor, Barber currently works full-time as a forensics case manager for the Mental Health Association of South Eastern Pennsylvania on 12th and Chestnut streets in Center City. While she admits her current position is “a little bit different from fashion,” and not necessarily what she’s completely passionate about, Barber still enjoys the job because it enables her to do what’s most important to her: help people.

As a forensics case manager, Barber assists criminals who are essentially pleading insanity to re-enter society. “I pretty much help them adjust into the community after being incarcerated and dealing with those mental health issues,” Barber says. “I get blessings from it.”

Barber was innately fashionable growing up. Her mother, Linda Barber, recalls her daughter’s extraordinary school outfits. “It’s amazing,” the elder Barber says. “When she would get dressed as a little girl I would say, ‘Aren’t you going to get embarrassed going to school?’ And she was like, ‘I don’t care. This is my style.’”

People took notice. First, when she was 16, Barber was approached to work at Abercrombie and Fitch because of her unique personal look. Then, while in grad school, the marketing director for Philadelphia’s J. Crew sought Barber out while she was shopping.

“She just kind of walked up to me,” Barber remembers, “and was like ‘Oh my gosh, I love your look! Do you want to work for me?’”

A series of fortuitous, confirmative events like these would eventually lead to the inception of Make Me Over Malika. Barber started styling by picking outfits for her friends in college. Things really took off when Barber’s mother secretly submitted her photos to the Delaware News Journal, their local paper.

“She thinks I do it because I’m her mother,” Linda Barber says, “but I do it because she’s really good. They absolutely loved her.”

Soon thereafter, Barber’s house phone began ringing. People wanted to request her services. Cathy Edginton, a 20-year styling veteran of Doncaster, asked Barber to work for her. Turned-off by the prospect of working for someone else, Edginton implored Barber to delve into the field regardless “because you have a talent,” she said. All of a sudden, bloggers from around the World Wide Web wanted to feature Barber on their sites. She started doing research on starting her own venture and in January 2014, Make Me Over Malika was born.

By day, Barber works to find benefits, housing and jobs for her clients. With Make Me Over Malika, though, she has a different type of client. “I’m trying to tap into that untouched market,” Barber said. “The everyday woman who is not a celebrity but she’s still just as important and she needs a service.”

Today, Barber says Make Me Over Malika is doing really, really well with people seeking her services as far away as Bermuda. She works to build a rapport with her clients—commonly more affluent women in the Philadelphia area including doctors, attorneys and the wife of the Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School CEO—which allows them to return time after time for maintenance, as you would with a hairdresser. Her services always begin with a phone or face-to-face consultation where potential clients complete an assessment form and upon moving forward with her services, Barber's clients usually trust her to hit the racks for them. "Having the client complete the assessment really helps me to get a feel for what they do and do not like," Barber says, "so I do not have many returns."

She combines fashion and her passion for service as much as possible. Barber often speaks around Philadelphia at local schools regarding career development and entrepreneurship. Most recently, Make Me Over Malika held its first annual clothing drive, “Young Women Give Back Too,” in her hometown of Yeadon. “Our first clothing drive was a HUGE success,” she wrote on the Make Me Over Malika Instagram account. She and her team, she said, surpassed the company’s goal, collecting over 150 boxes and bags of clothing to be distributed to local shelters.

On Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27, Malika will participate in Confident Career Woman, a two-day professional workshop for women, where she’ll be styling women for the corporate world using a collage-filled vision board.

Her mom gushes about her daughter’s service-oriented spirit. “She has such a compassion.” Even in fashion, Barber’s ultimate goal is to help.

“I feel so good when my clients tell me they learned something,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Yes!’”