As one of the most coveted celebrity stylists in Hollywood, Karla Welch is the brains behind some of the boldest red-carpet looks today and counts stars like Tracee Ellis Ross, Sarah Paulson and Amandla Stenberg as clients. The Los Angeles-based Canadian (she’s originally from Powell River, on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast) is a true multi-hyphenate. She founded her own label, xKarla, which launched with a collection of classic white T-shirts, in collaboration with Hanes, and has since worked with Levi’s and Dockers. Now Welch is bringing her expertise into the digital space.

Last fall, she launched Wishi, an app that connects users to a roster of personal stylists who can help with everything from putting together an outfit on a budget to figuring out how to rework what’s already in your closet. “[The app] comes from my years of working in retail and understanding the service experience and the frustrations that people go through while getting dressed,” says Welch. We caught up with her to talk about why everyone needs a stylist, dressing for life’s different chapters and the importance of a human touch.

Where did the idea for this app come from?

“So many of us get stressed out about what we should be wearing. That’s the last thing we need to worry about. The bulk of people shop online. That in itself is a huge [thing to navigate], so why wouldn’t you want an expert’s help? It doesn’t have to be a red-carpet moment – 1 percent of the 1 percent live the red-carpet moment. This is for every moment of your life.”

How do you distill someone’s style?

“You think about their personality and forming this bit of armour for them. Do they want to be super-fun with fashion or do they want to create their own distinct uniform look? It’s an ongoing dialogue you develop, and it changes. I’ve been working with Olivia Wilde for over a decade. When she started, she was an ingenue, and then she became a red-carpet star. Now she’s a director. We evolve, and our style evolves over time. We don’t want to stay one thing.”

What does the future of styling look like?

“It’s a small industry, and it’s very hard. That said, there are tons of personal-stylist up-and-comers. I want to build [Wishi] as an economy for people to be a part of. We aren’t using artificial intelligence – it’s a really human experience. We’re not a bot system. The things we’re recommending are things we really know are going to work for you – that’s the human expertise. It’s like a chef [needing] to know what a fresh vegetable tastes like. I need to see what the pants are made of and what they feel like before I can say ‘This is what I think you should wear.’”

Tell us about your career evolution.

“I’ve worked in a restaurant and in my dad’s retail store, so I’ve taken with me the idea of connecting with the customer and doing the best for them. It’s amazing that styling has afforded me all these opportunities, but I’ve also been willing to go for them. What happens to a lot of people is they’re afraid to say they’re going to be something else because they might get put into one box. This new world is about working outside the paradigm, and those who are willing to do that will be most successful moving forward with tech. You’ll never replace the full experience of the one-on-one with your clients, but you can come pretty close.”

This article originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of ELLE Canada.

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