Alumni Voices|


icon of a calendarApril 15

icon of a pencilBy Kelli M. Warshefski

Picture of Empowerment

Glamming with four alumni who are doing it all

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Robert Hall

Navy B. Rae Photography (NBR) is about more than just taking a photo. It’s an idea conceived from a team of women supporting one another in their creative endeavors. It’s a growing, successful business. It’s a venture in lifting up women in the community. It’s the picture of empowerment.

In 2019, Brandi (Gaskin) Young, SBA ’04, had a vision to start a unique, full-service photography business. Photography had been a passion of Young’s since childhood, but she set her career path toward STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), continuing to put her artistic dreams on the back burner. It wasn’t until she had an approaching milestone birthday that she decided to “take a leap of faith” and turned to friends and fellow Oakland University alumni to help bring her vision to fruition.

“I knew that I wanted to separate the business from every other photographer,” Young explains. “I wanted to really zone in on portraits with the focus of mainly photographing women and giving them a glam photoshoot.”

Young knew she needed a team to put her dream into action and reached out to three friends. “I met these ladies at OU and have been able to witness their talents ever since. I had to bring them all on board.”

Four women looking at camera

Doing it all

With all that goes into NBR, it’s important to note that this luxeperience is merely a side hustle for these four ambitious women. “We all have full time work commitments aside from NBR,” says Bailey. “Women, in particular, are made to choose one thing — a career, love or family — to stay there and be grateful for where they are. But we are all examples of women who are going after it. And we encourage our clients to do the same.”

First, Young called her former OU sorority sister, April Payne, CAS ’06, to share the idea. They had been talking about it for a while when Young realized she needed a full-service photography business. “We brainstormed a lot over the phone, but the whole full-service process just kind of organically happened with our conversation. I always believed in my friend’s vision and I said, ‘Sign me up!’”

Shelby Wilder, CAS ’03, was next to join the team. The two met at OU through mutual friends and remained in touch after graduation. Young worked with Wilder on a few other projects prior to NBR as a stylist and model, and knew Wilder would be a great asset to the team.

However, Wilder took a bit more convincing than Payne. “At first I was a little hesitant,” Wilder admits when first learning about Young’s vision. “I know from past experience that it takes a lot of work to style people. There’s a lot of back and forth, convincing people to do something different and taking them out of their comfort zone. But, I decided to try it out.”

It didn’t take long for Wilder to jump all in. “Talking to that first client — and it was a great client that made it easy — is what made me realize this would be really rewarding,” she says.

Lastly, when it became time to bring in another makeup artist, Shay Bailey, CAS ’05, was the clear choice. “Shay and I had mutual friends at OU and knew each other through different circles,” Young explains. “So, I reached out to her. I was intimidated, though, because I knew she was fabulous.” “And the rest is history,” she says.

“I think of the amazing friendships and relationships I’ve built and still have to this day. Actually, most of my friendship circle stems from my OU family. That alone continues to bring some of my most favorite lifetime memories.”

Brandi Young

Left to right: Shelby Wilder, Brandi Young, April Payne, Shay Bailey

Glamming it up

NBR clients range from those who need a professional headshot for work, want to dress up and feel like a model for a day or just need to reconnect with themselves. No matter the reason, they all get the Luxexperience: a full-service photoshoot that offers hair, makeup and wardrobe.

Young sets up a consultation to learn about the client and their style. Then, she contacts the stylist, Wilder, to give her the rundown: the client’s likes and dislikes and the purpose of the photoshoot. Wilder then schedules a one-on-one consultation with the client to discuss wardrobe — whether it’s to use clothing the client has or if the client wants help shopping for new clothes.

“I grew up in a very fashion-forward family,” Wilder says. “My mom and grandmother loved to shop and put things together, and they always did it on a budget. So, I am a firm believer in ‘shopping your closet’ — if you start in your own closet, you save so much time and money. I encourage any of our clients to explore what they already have.”

From there, Wilder creates a style board that outlines the whole look for the shoot, from wardrobe styling to hair and makeup recommendations. On photoshoot day, Wilder, Bailey, Payne and Young arrive at the client’s home to set up the photoshoot and start the glam process. But first comes the mimosas and pastries.

“This is what I love about Brandi,” says Bailey. “She doesn’t just bring in generic ‘snacks,’ — it’s fresh pastries from local bakeries. She’s very intentional about the vendors that she brings into the space.” Bailey and Payne get to work on the client first with hair and makeup, a task the two describe as an initial step in helping the client relax and ease into the photoshoot experience.

“We’re glamming but we’re also talking and shaking off their nerves,” says Payne. “We get a chance to really engage and learn about the person.”

With hair and makeup complete, Wilder goes to work with her garment rack, trays of accessories and a prep kit with needle and thread, double-sided tape, steamer, lint roller and shoe shining kit, to name a few. Wilder helps the client dress, adjusting and fixing their wardrobe as needed.

“I love to make sure that everything looks as perfect as possible,” says Wilder.

With music playing, mimosas and pastries consumed, and the client dressed to the nines, it’s time for Young to take over. And, while she goes into it with some ideas, it’s not until Young starts shooting that the creativity really begins to flow. “I know it sounds cliche, but I really do get into a zone when I start,” she says. “I like to try new poses and make the most use of the space. I also have the client move around to get different looks and vibes.”

As Young shoots, the team stands back and observes, ensuring the client’s hair, makeup and wardrobe remains perfect; all while NBR’s number one goal remains for the client to feel spectacular.

“I remember one client saying ‘thank you for allowing me to reconnect with myself,’” Young recalls. “Another said ‘you never know what feeling like a model does for your psyche’ or ‘I needed this day to focus on me, not the family, not work.’”

“The best part is the client doesn’t have to do any work,” says Wilder. “Once they book the appointment and have the consultation, they just show up on the day. That’s really a good thing for the client.”

“They sit in a chair and we do the rest,” Young continues. “From beginning to end, we take care of it all.”

Looking back

“When I think of my days at OU, I immediately think of the days and nights spent at the Oakland Center, and crossing over Beer Lake going back and forth to my dorm,” Young says. “I remember in the cold months literally walking on the lake because it would freeze over …”

“Oh, you were one of those people,” Bailey chimes in, laughing.

“Yeah! When it was frozen, we would sneak out there to take a picture,” Young explains. “Memories like that and hanging out with your friends, going to events on campus … really just having fun, but we didn’t really realize we were having fun at the time.”

As students, Young, Payne, Wilder and Bailey spent a lot of time on campus. They lived in dorms, had full schedules in their designated majors and were all involved on campus in different ways.

While working toward a degree in management information systems, Young spent a lot of her time in the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Payne, who majored in communications, was in the same sorority as Young, and with a passion for the performing arts, she minored in dance and leapt at any chance to perform on campus. Bailey shared a similar interest in dance, which she manifested into creating a new student group, Intrigue Hip Hop Dance team, while majoring in communications with a minor in advertising. Wilder was earning a degree in sociology and remained heavily involved in her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, and Greek life.

“I think the friendships and the web that we have today almost 20 years later is a testament to OU’s student life,” Bailey says.

“I think of the amazing friendships and relationships I’ve built and still have to this day,” Young adds. “Actually, most of my friendship circle stems from my OU family. That alone continues to bring some of my most favorite lifetime memories.”

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