Ty Hunter changed the style game for stars like Beyoncé and Billy Porter. He did it by never following the fashion industry's standards.

Ty Hunter changed the style game for stars like Beyoncé and Billy Porter. He did it by never following the fashion industry's standards.

The celebrity stylist behind some of Beyoncé and Billy Porter's most iconic looks spoke to Insider about his career, thrifting, and Black representation in the industry.

What do Beyoncé and Billy Porter have in common? Aside from being skilled musicians and actors, they've both also become fashion legends with the help of Ty Hunter.

The 50-year-old stylist grew up in Texas, surrounded by a family of strong women who cultivated his interest in fashion at a young age. He gave them outfit advice regularly, styled his peers for fun, and eventually got a job at a boutique fashion store in his local mall.

It was there in the late '90s that Hunter met Beyoncé's mother, Tina Knowles, who promised to take Hunter to bigger, better places outside of retail — and she did. She first hired him to work with Destiny's Child on the "Survivor" music video in 2000, and their partnership bloomed from there.

After years with the group, he followed Beyoncé as she went solo, and became responsible for some of the most iconic fashion moments in the singer's career, from her stunning Met Gala looks to the orange dress she wore to announce her pregnancy at the 2011 VMAs.

Hunter is the first to say that he owes much of his success to the Black community, starting with the women in his family and later the Hollywood stars he's worked with.

Ty Hunter sits on a chair and smiles while wearing a black and red snakeskin blazer over a white turtleneck.
Mamadi Doumbouya for Insider

But it's also his sheer talent that's kept him going, cementing him as a fashion legend. Today, Hunter is the author of a self-help memoir — "Makeover From Within: Lessons in Hardship, Acceptance, and Self-Discovery" — and Billy Porter's go-to stylist.

Most importantly, though, Hunter is still true to himself.

In a conversation with Insider for our ongoing series, Black Ensemble: Fashion for the Culture, the celebrity stylist opened up about his earliest fashion memories, sustainable style, and the challenges Black creatives face in the industry.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Ty Hunter sits on a chair and rests his head on his hand while wearing a black and red snakeskin blazer over a white turtleneck.
Mamadi Doumbouya for Insider

You've essentially been a stylist your entire life, starting with friends and family in Texas and later with celebrities like Beyoncé. Do you remember the first time you styled someone?

It was definitely my mom and my aunt Ethel, my godmother. My mom had me at 19, so they were in their 20s getting ready to go out. They used to watch "Soul Train" and Natalie Cole had all these commercials — it was a whole thing.

My mom would ask me, "Which shoe?" or "Which handbag?" She had this one dress — big with yellow roses all over it — that I loved. It was just so weird. It had this huge, black-and-white, polka-dot sash that went around it. You can just imagine mixing patterns back then in the '70s and early '80s. I just thought it was the flyest thing.

And when she wore that, I know people didn't get it. But I got it at a young age.

Headshot of Ty Hunter who is wearing a black and red snakeskin blazer over a white turtleneck.
Mamadi Doumbouya for Insider

You've talked a lot about how your family embraced your love for fashion early in your life. Can you share more about that?

My mom was a single mother, so when she was at school or at work, my grandmother and my great-grandmother took turns watching us. Our favorite pastime together was going to flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army. As a kid, I loved those places.

Back then, you would get teased if you had on Goodwill or Salvation Army clothes. But because I was creative and had the fashion sense to style it, I didn't care. Nobody knew that I was wearing Goodwill or Salvation Army. They just thought, "I like what you have on. I love your style."

So a lot of it came from just not having the means to buy the top brands. Whatever the hot jeans were, I would get one pair — whether Calvin Klein or Jordache or Girbaud. My mom did her best, and we had stuff. She would let us go shopping and put things on layaway, and then I couldn't wait to get those things.  She made sure we got them.

Black fashion has a long history of upcycling, and so do you.

When I was waiting for our layaways, thrifting and vintage shopping was my passion.

Still to this day, I hate brand new. I know I sound crazy, but when my shoes are brand new? Ugh. I'm like, "I need to walk in these!" My Chucks look like they died, like they've been on this Earth for three decades.

When you find something at a vintage store, it just has a better meaning. Just imagining who owned it first and how many beautiful spirits went through these garments. It's like going through a treasure chest and finding diamonds.

And it helps you be an individual. You don't have to worry about being so trendy that you'll go out and somebody will have on the same top you spent all this money on. It's rare that you have those problems when you thrift.

Ty Hunter stands on a rooftop while wearing a black and red snakeskin blazer over a white turtleneck with white boots. A cityscape of New York is in the background.
Hunter wears shoes by Sunni Sunni.Mamadi Doumbouya for Insider

And going to thrift stores and garage sales with your family, in particular, is special. It really bonds you in a unique way.

It's so much fun! We used to just pile up in the car on the weekends and go for it. We'd look for those signs — back in the day, we didn't have Google and stuff — we'd have to find the posters on stop signs. My uncle used to look in the green sheets back in Texas and see where yard sales would be in different parts of towns.

I just loved it, especially if you go to a rich part of town. You find some things in there — still to this day. I went in Austin, and I found four Givenchy suits for $12 a piece. They didn't even know!

You've been in the fashion industry — both as a consumer and creative — for a long time. How do you feel about the fashion industry's relationship with Black creatives now compared to the past? 

I feel like we're getting there. Compared to where things were when I started to where we are now, it's a big shift. I'm happy to see that we're getting the appreciation and acknowledgment that's well deserved.

Now when I go to a bookstore, every magazine cover has somebody Black or Latino — all different races. I think it's better for the youth that's coming now to see they can do that. It's not as far-fetched as it was when I was growing up.

And I don't think race should have anything to do with talent and creativity. It should just be: You like this because it's beautiful. But it's good to see a lot of my people at the forefront.

Ty Hunter poses along a textured wall. He's wearing a black and red snakeskin suit over a white turtleneck with white boots.
Mamadi Doumbouya for Insider

In what ways have you seen Black fashion leaders innovating and advancing the industry?

People are really expressing themselves. We're telling our stories without having a muzzle put over the mouth.

Back in the day, we had to worry about the backlash of the masses. There was always a creative block. We had to move a certain way and do what society would accept. But now I feel like people are creating, being free with it, and being their true authentic selves.

That's why I feel that fashion is really going to a whole other atmosphere, because people are displaying their talents without fear of what the backlash is. And even knowing what the backlash is, they're able to do it and say, "I'm gonna just go for it."

At the same time, many Black-led fashion trends are often credited to white artists and creatives. Where do you think there's room for improvement in sustaining Black-led trends and representation in fashion media?

These days, you have to literally push people into corners to acknowledge it. Unfortunately, that's just the way the world moves. The big, rich man's always going to steal an idea or take credit for things.

It's happened to me several times. I've done things in the past that have been taken, and ideas that end up going somewhere else. So I understand the pain.

That's why I think it's important to mentor the youth and be a voice for people who don't have that power or strength to speak up. In these times, we have Twitter — regular Twitter and Black Twitter — where people will speak up for you if you're not able to speak up for yourself.

Young stylists and young designers contact me all the time with questions. So it's important to just be there and cut the red tape for those who follow behind you. That's how I've been able to be in this business for over two decades.

Side-by-side images of Ty Hunter who is wearing a black and red snakeskin suit with white boots and a black beret.
Mamadi Doumbouya for Insider

Is there any particular part of Black history and culture that regularly inspires your work?

Family — my mom and my daughter. My mom has cancer, and my daughter is 29 now. I lost so much time with them traveling with Destiny's Child and Beyoncé on tour in the early days. We didn't have the luxury of FaceTime, Zoom, and all this.

So they're my push because life is hard, and times are hard. They give me that strength to keep going. A lot of times I'll be like, "I hate fashion. I hate clothes. I don't even want to look at clothes. I'm gonna just be home naked. This is too much. It's overwhelming."

Fashion Weeks and stuff? It's rare that I even go to things now. It's just too much. So they're my extra push in this selfish world.

Moving forward, what do you think the future of fashion will look like, and what do you think it should look like?

Sustainability. I see more people creating and reworking stuff. And I see more reversible clothes, things that break down into something else, and things that have more wear to them.

There's so much out there, you know? It's like, "Let me create something to get a buzz." The shock value of things — everybody's just going extreme. They want to stand out so much.

Headshot of Ty Hunter who is wearing a black and red snakeskin blazer over a white turtleneck.
Mamadi Doumbouya for Insider

Sometimes I wonder how much bolder we can get.

Yes! Like the red shoes or the body bag. Like, you're walking with a whole body. I love fashion, and I love those kinds of things for editorial, but people are walking around in them. They're just going to the bodega to get a bag of chips.

But the one thing I can say is I'm starting to see more people take risks. I love the more male energies adding feminine traits and characteristics. Men are getting their nails done and actually going to the salon. I thrift in the women's section to look for blouses, and now there are straight dudes in there finding tops.

And when I started styling Billy [Porter], I would go to the showroom and see things that nobody would wear but Billy. But now a variety of men are taking risks.

That's a good thing — fashion is becoming more nonbinary and sustainable.

Ty Hunter, who is wearing a black and red snakeskin blazer over a white turtleneck, holds his dreads in one hand and looks into the camera.
Ty Hunter, who is wearing a black and red snakeskin blazer over a white turtleneck, holds his dreads in one hand and looks into the camera.

Mamadi Doumbouya for Insider

What advice would you give to the next generation of creatives in the fashion industry?

Live your dream and go for it, but definitely put yourself first. Learn to say no when needed. And don't sell yourself short. Set it straight in the beginning. If you take a job accepting pennies, then you will continue to accept pennies.

If you work 9 to 5, put your time off or an hour each day into researching and learning your craft. I need to be able to see your work, either on a website or a social media page. You can't just say, "I want to be a stylist." Because a lot of people say they want to do that.

Fashion is people selling themselves daily through social media. It's just a different time. It's changed so much. So to stay above it all, you have to learn to really focus and stop comparing yourself to other people.

Stay tuned for more Black Ensemble stories in the coming months, featuring some of the most important trendsetters in fashion.

Read the original article on Insider