“Being creative is one thing, but being commercially viable in a saturated market is another.”
Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how they managed to land that insanely awesome job? While the internet and social media might trick us into believing that our ideal job is just a pipe dream, the people in those jobs have been, believe it or not, in the same position once, fantasizing about the job. seemingly inaccessible to anyone else.
But behind the awesome titles and fancy work events is a lot of hard work. So what lessons have been learned and what skills have proven invaluable in taking them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?
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welcome to how i got herewhere we chat with successful people in their respective fields about how they landed their awesome jobs, exploring the highs and lows, failures and victories, and most importantly the knowledge, tips and practical tricks they gleaned along the way.
A career path in the fashion industry is rarely linear. Job titles are flexible and constantly changing, versatile employees are obtained in a variety of fortuitous and non-traditional ways. Those who love it, love it – and they accept the industry as the unpredictable beautiful beast that it so often is.
Stylist, designer and art director Carlos Mangubat is one such person. After graduating with a fashion degree from RMIT University, Carlos initially thought he wanted to be a trend forecaster – but after volunteering at Melbourne Fashion Week he tapped into an undiscovered love for the world of styling.
A partial master’s degree, several internships and countless Sydney-Melbourne flights later, Carlos is an incredibly established and respected designer in the Australian fashion industry. Here’s what he learned along the way.
What do you do and what is your official function?
My name is Carlos and I am a stylist and creative/art director. Sometimes I take up photography and writing as a hobby. I contributed to fashion magazine from about 2012 until now; styling for shoots and writing feature articles and interviews.
Take us back to your beginnings. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start with an entry-level internship/role and work your way up? Tell us the story.
I went to RMIT University for about eight years, only finishing with a fashion degree in product development. Initially, I wanted to be a trend forecaster. I interned and worked for WGSN and Scout – two trend forecasting agencies – but after volunteering at MFW I was introduced to the world of styling.
While studying fashion, I interned, helped and continued to volunteer at MFW. I did this for about four years while I was building my own folio. I wanted to move forward so much that I seized almost all the opportunities that seemed useful to me. I also helped other stylists, like long-time colleagues FJ stylist Elaine Marshall – as well as Philip Boon, Kate Carnegie, Emily Ward and Belinda Ponczek, mostly on editorial and advertising work.
When I started my masters in journalism (something I thought you had to do to become a fashion editor), I did an internship at Grazia. I used to fly to Sydney and back from Melbourne (same day) every Wednesday for months. I didn’t tell them that I had lived in Melbourne for months.
When they found out I was flying in every week, they started giving me more opportunities and putting me on more shoots. It was a pleasant environment. I found out later that I was more qualified than half the editors there, so I decided to quit doing internships and study journalism. Since then, I have continued to work as a stylist and occasionally write articles.
What challenges/barriers did you face to get to where you are now? Can you name one in particular?
One of the biggest challenges is maintaining a steady cash flow. Freelancing is tough, but if a client doesn’t pay in a timely manner, it can be very stressful. When I lived in London, I had two other jobs to supplement my income.
I was chasing clients for months, which made it difficult to pay rent on time – hence getting multiple streams of income. I made sure I wasn’t relying on my “dream” job to pay for everything. Learning how to balance your cash flow and your budget (and your accounting) is a necessary skill for a freelance career.
What do you want people to know about your industry/your role?
A very good mindset to have is to have both your “business” and “creative” hats on. You can’t have one without the other. Learning to be a good businessman is just as important as being a talented creative, if not more so.
Knowing how to network, market your product and skills (yourself), balance your bookkeeping and create new business opportunities is just as important as developing concepts, managing inventory, creating looks and stories, etc. Being creative is one thing, but being commercially viable in a crowded market is another.
What is the best part of your role?
Being able to turn the thoughts and ideas in your head into reality is pretty amazing! For example, I collaborated with a photographer who had a strong architectural vision and we created a shoot based on repetition, lines and form. The end result was one of my best works to date.
It was more about imagery and composition, which was a big change from just focusing on seasonal trends. The story had a timeless character, which gave it more depth and meaning. Another great thing about the fashion industry is the people you meet, work with and discover. It’s a real plus.
I’ve worked with some really cool and inspiring people – from artists and Hollywood celebrities to unknown creatives with no profile. Interacting with a diverse group of people coming together to create something is special. The collective love and creativity make it quite a humbling experience.
What would surprise people in your role?
Again, being both a good businessman and a creative person is very important to winning and keeping customers. Knowing how to deliver a defined brief and having strong interpersonal skills are valuable to keep clients on your side. Plus, reliability and the ability to go above and beyond can help you retain a customer and your reputation. Knowing what people want before they ask for it can take you a long way!
What skills have served you well in your industry?
Again, good interpersonal skills – being able to interact with different types of people and personalities – can take you a long way. Also, being able to keep your cool in very stressful situations is a skill that comes in handy in fashion (especially during fashion weeks).
Having the stamina to push through obstacles (even when it all seems like too much) will show clients that you can still perform under pressure. It’s great to be able to adapt and be resilient in difficult situations. As a freelancer, you may only have one chance to show off what you can do – so you need to make it count!
Also, being able to remember names and faces is something people really appreciate. Anyone you know could be of help to you. For example, a volunteer who helps you do your hair could become your client in a few years. Remember everyone and treat everyone with respect.
What advice would you give to someone who one day wants to play a role like yours?
To those who want to be stylists (especially today’s generation): work hard and don’t expect things to come your way. Earning your way and people’s respect doesn’t just come from what you post on social media. A hard work attitude on and off the set will let clients see that you are more than just an image.
How about some practical advice?
Life Tip: Fashion is not easy, work hard and hustle. Don’t trust what you see on social media.
Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.
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