working girl: marjon carlos, fashion & culture writer

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– As told Tamara Pridgett

Not many people can say they were a part of the cool kid clique that is Solange’s Saint Heron, but being one of the founding editors of the website is just the tip of  Marjon Carlos’ iceberg. The young writer has a long list of well-known publications on her resumé and was the winner of her department’s thesis award at Columbia University. She’s acutely aware of the trials and tribulations of a writer’s life but also aware of the business aspects of it that require a smidge of audacity.

stats

Age: 31

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Profession: Freelance Fashion and Culture Writer

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work

How did you get started?

Well, I have been freelance writing since 2008, starting at Refinery29 and then Huffington Post. I was submitting work on culture and entertainment while I was in grad school at Columbia for African-American Studies. But I started my blog, LADYPANTS, in 2011 after I left my jobs at NET-A-PORTER and Moda Operandi. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I needed to get some things off my chest. My mother suggested starting a blog and the rest is history. The platform allowed me to get my voice out there, to develop my opinions, and collaborate with other young creatives. I started writing for The Huffington Post more, Vogue Italia’s Black blog, Pop Africana and publications like that, met tons of editors and figures in the fashion industry, and learned about photography through my then boyfriend. It was truly a creative time. During this time I also met the editor at LURVE Magazine, who asked me to interview Solange Knowles for the magazine’s Fall 2012 issue. Solange and I had met a few times before through mutual friends, so I was happy to do it.

This connection led me to being asked to join the Saint Heron staff this past Fall as the Arts & Culture editor. I had never helped start a publication before, but all the founding editors had so much passion for the project, we just threw ourselves into it. It was a wild ride, but we really were putting out a young, female Black collective voice in culture that is sadly missing.

This Spring I then went on to focus on my freelance writing career at various publications, like elle.com, refinery29.com and now vogue.com. During all of this, I was working at saks.com as an Online Personal Stylist for my day job, but now I am entirely focused to my freelance writing career.

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What’s an average day like?

I wake up and immediately check emails. I then make a to-do list because my mind works at an unnerving pace, so I have to organize my thoughts and moves. I am likely developing pitches, working on stories, or following up with people. I also always take time to research and read a barrage of articles: there is no topic that I won’t read about, so I’m constantly soaking up information. For a writer, the only way you get better is by reading other people’s work. Even more, when you’re writing about fashion and culture, you have to have your finger on the pulse; you have to constantly be searching for something to report on that no one else has. It’s exhausting sometimes, but I also really love burrowing down Internet rabbit holes to find myself on the other end, with article ideas to pitch.

With that said, I’ll work into the early afternoon, take a break, where I eat and solve all the problems of the world with my friends on Gchat. Then I get back to work or clean up my apartment, run errands. If I have an event or am meeting friends in the evening, I prepare for that. I try to get out of my house, which is also my workspace, once a day. Writers are like hermits, after all: we can hide away for days at a time, so I need to take a break and get re-energized, if it’s a movie, art exhibit, babysitting my niece, meeting a friend for a drink, getting a manicure. Whatever: I have to run around a bit.

The ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:

An upside is definitely having your work resonate with people. I am always humbled by that; am always surprised when people like my work. Writing is so personal, so when you present your ideas and opinions to an unfiltered audience, you are never quite prepared for their reaction. When Brandy said she loved the Saint Heron piece I wrote on her career last fall, I was like, “Oh, I’m good. I can go sit down somewhere now!” (laughs) A downside? A few months ago I heard Zadie Smith speak at a luncheon and she said this really simple but poignant thing: “Writing is such misery. It’s such a lonely process.” And she’s right… when I’m writing I find myself fighting with my neuroses around my abilities as a writer. You’re secluded, even if you have a great editor, and you’re inside your head with all sorts of hesitations. I say writing is really 95% psychological and 5% actual production: you have to get over yourself and then the creativity comes. It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it.

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Your greatest achievement so far?

Is it odd to say that I haven’t reached it yet? I was really proud of myself the day I graduated from Columbia University for grad school and won my department’s thesis award. I was really proud of myself when my first Vogue piece was recently published. But I’m still working towards that ultimate goal. I still have tons of rungs to climb. I’m proud of where I am, but I haven’t even hit my point of potential.

What might be next for you?

I am developing a book… in my head. It’s all there, I just need to put pen to paper.

What advice do you have for young women who want to write about fashion and the intersection of gender, race, class and sexuality?

As I mentioned before, always be reading. Never stop reading. You learn by osmosis through reading your peers’ work; you pick up on new words, formatting, tones, approaches. It’s all there for you, so you should be soaking it up as much as possible. Also, remember that networking is a huge component of what you do. Don’t just go hunting for business cards, though: really form lasting, beneficial relationships with people. If you have been wanting to meet someone in the industry, reach out and approach them without wanting a thing in return other than getting to know them. They’ll be much more eager to help you. Surround yourself with people you admire and respect, too. Like-minded, creative people are the perfect collaborators and supporters. Lastly, you’re only as good as your last piece, so make it count.

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hair

What are your top 5 go-to hair tips?

  • I’m all about research. I want to research the best hairdresser, colorist, weaveologist, braider, etc., before I embark on a style. So do your research!
  • I also say bring in photo references for any look you are trying to effect.
  • I’m also a slow convert to a silk pillow, but they really do work!
  • I also think it’s worth paying more for the best results: why skimp on something so significant to your overall look? You may feel indulgent, but it saves you heartaches and heartbreaks at the end of the day.
  • Lastly, make sure your hair doesn’t take up too much of your time or energy. I love talking shop, but I think Black women shouldn’t reduce their conversations or interests to just hair. I’ve written about black hair in ad nauseum, which was fun and political and started some great conversations, but I told myself that I never want to close myself off to other areas of discussion. As my hairstylist told me, your hair is not your heart.

Fun Fact: I make the best fish tacos this side of the Rio Grande and have dabbled with the idea of moonlighting as a fish taco food truck chef. Don’t be surprised if one of these days you see me rolling around Brooklyn, selling them. You’ll thank me later.

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