This interview series in partnership with @barbiestyle is dedicated to celebrating women who believe that anything is possible. These are women who have created independent and uniquely modern careers and have blazed their own paths toward success. They did not follow a road map or climb a corporate ladder. Instead, they believed that their unique vision could a fill a void to empower themselves and those around them.
In an industry like fashion that is not renowned for diversity, it’s the individuals who challenge the status quo that become catalysts for progress. Marjon Carlos is one of these individuals, using her voice as a journalist and creative consultant to impact cultural narratives. Growing up in Dallas, Texas, Marjon went on to study gender and African American studies at Brown and Columbia Universities. After working as the founding arts and cultural editor at Saint Heron—the creative platform led by Solange Knowles—Marjon took on the role of Senior Fashion Writer at Vogue in 2015, and recently left to go freelance. In addition to Vogue & vogue.com, her writing and brand collaborations include: Elle, Refinery29, Jezebel, Paper Magazine, and Man Repeller, to name a few. This is what Marjon shared about being your own champion, standing up for what you believe in, and what advice she has for women who want to follow in her footsteps.
“My mom is a professor and my dad is a doctor, so education was really important growing up, as was being able to communicate well. At a very young age I had to learn to express myself, and those principles have impacted where I am today. I read a lot as a kid and my dream was to be a writer. Funnily enough, I did everything but writing for such a long time. Unlike a lot of people in fashion journalism, I didn’t go to journalism school, I didn’t intern at publications—I came in through the side door. After grad school I worked on the corporate side of fashion, and got into writing from there. I think I feel more emboldened to follow this path because of that. If I’ve arrived here after avoiding it for so long, then I’m probably where I need to be. I often sit down and envision what I want out of life. I realized the other day that I’ve had a poster of Kate Moss since I moved to New York City when I was 23, which has moved with me to every apartment. It says ‘As seen in Vogue’. I think there are little signs around you everywhere, and that you should pay attention to them. I began working at Vogue as the Senior Fashion Writer in 2015, and left in May this year to work as a freelancer. Now, in addition to writing, I consult with companies to put together creative teams of photographers and writers, which is similar to what I used to do at Vogue. I love the challenge of creating a project as a whole. My days involve writing emails, setting up interviews and meetings, looking after myself, and seeing my friends—something I have more time for now. A big part of me going freelance was so that I could spend more time with the people in my life.
Growing up, I always stuck out, and I never thought of it as a good thing. I went to predominately white schools and lived in predominately white areas of Dallas. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized that individuality is important, and that I needed to move forward in my own lane.
With every career step and every job that I’ve had, I make a point to do things my way. I’ve always been rewarded for that.
With the fashion industry in particular, being real and down to earth is important and pays off. I also think standing up for what’s right in an industry like fashion is important. In meetings at Vogue, when we were discussing casting, I would always stand up and say, I think that we should include these types of people or this person. These people should be a part of the conversation that we call fashion. If you have a platform and a voice, I think you have a duty to use it.
You also can’t have creativity without individuality. Creativity is about taking risks. It’s about working however many hours it takes to get a project done because you’re so excited about the outcome. It’s a lot of sweat and tears, passion, joy, frustration. You need to have the confidence to just get the job done, even if you don’t have everything worked out.
Growing up I looked up to my mom. I thought she was the smartest, prettiest woman. When I was in my 20s, I also looked up to strong women who were vocal activists, like Assata Shakur and Audre Lorde. I still think of those women as role models now, as well as Zadie Smith and Michelle Obama.
I think having role models in life is important, but that you also have to depend upon your own strengths and be your own champion.
Independence has always been important to me, and I think that’s why I resonated with Barbie so much as kid. Barbie had her own thing going on. She lived alone in her penthouse (I had a Barbie townhouse with an elevator), she had a convertible, she had her stylish crew of girls. She had a lot of adventures, she was coordinated, she was happy. I played with diverse dolls, because that was my reality. I had black and white friends. My mom always made sure that I had black Barbie. At the time, I didn’t understand why it was so important. But I gradually realized what she was trying to instill in me, which was a sense of seeing yourself in something that you play with constantly. I think that Barbie has made some really empowering strides in the last couple years. I interviewed Ava Duverney after her Barbie came out, who told me that she didn’t really have Barbies to play with when she was young—and now she had a Barbie doll made after her, and how that was so huge. She gave it to her mom.
When it comes to what I find rewarding in my work, I think that finishing and filing a story is a great feeling. Writing is very solitary—you don’t really know if you’re doing it right. So when you send a piece off to your editor and they respond saying it’s great, there’s a big sense of relief. Then you send it out into the world, and people will immediately respond to it.
I have a lot of young women of color who come up to me saying that what I do is inspiring and that they really appreciate what I do.
That keeps me going—knowing that there would be lot of people that I would let down if I didn’t keep moving forward. When young writers ask me for advice, I always tell them to read other people’s work. To constantly be pitching, writing and networking. But networking in a way that makes sense and feels natural. Getting to know someone and growing that relationship rather than just asking them for something straight away. Now that I’m freelance, I have more time to mentor women. If someone asks me if I have 15 minutes to get coffee, I can say yes. One of my mentors is Isolde Brielmaier, the Director of Arts and Culture at Westfield. She was a professor at NYU, she’s worked at Columbia and the MOMA, she’s on the board of the New Museum. I remember seeing this beautiful black woman at all these parties and reached out to do a story on her. A couple of months later she asked me if I needed a mentor, and has been one for me ever since. When I was thinking about leaving Vogue, she walked me through what that would look like. It’s so nice to have a woman who’s been there and wants to offer you so much. It is a gift to have someone like that in your corner.
In terms of what I’m proud of, I’d have to say going freelance, as it was such a big risk. Completing graduate school was a huge success, as was working at Vogue. I also like knowing that there are other successes of mine that haven’t happened yet. There’s still so much that I want to do, and that’s what inspires me to go forward. I want to write a book and a screenplay, and maybe write for a magazine again one day. I don’t know what those things are, but I know they’re coming.”
As told to Amy Woodside, May 2017
Photographed by Amy Woodside & Zlata Kusnoor at A/D/O in Brooklyn