How Your Life Can Change in a Week: An Interview with Marina Carulo

One of the murals we painted in Kenya

I met Marina in Kenya while volunteering with Cross Cultural Thresholds. We added some much needed colorful imagery to a school in Kibera. I was taken with her positive attitude and joie de vivre. She was about to start a completely new job as a jewelry designer, and I was impressed because she didn’t have any experiece with jewelry (except a keen eye for fashion!) But I was even more impressed when I caught up with her last week and found out about her new career adventure!

Here’s how a life can change in a week:

Monday:  She had an interview for a position as a full time foot model. The salary was $85k + benefits (who knew foot models make that much) and travel was required. Unfortunately Marina was not a true size 6 – one foot was a 1/3 inch too big. However she hit it off with the interviewer and she shared some sketches.

Tuesday: The interviewer called to ask if Marina would apply for a position as a shoe designer. She didn’t know anything about shoe design so she spent the entire night on the internet reading everything she could about the industry.

Wednesday: She nterviewed with Marc Fisher (designer for Guess and Tommy Hilfiger, and son of the founder of Nine West). He grew up in the shoe business and was pleasantly surprised with Marina’s knowledge and creativity. She was offered a position as a mens shoe designer (with a much higher salary than a foot model!)

Thursday: She started the job and has loved it ever since!

Next week: She was off to China for 21 days to learn about the manufacturing end of shoe design. She said, “as the plane took off for China, I realized how lucky I am, and life seemed so full of possibilities!”

How did she get to this point?

Marina grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her mother scrimped and saved to put her through private school, where Marina remembers being in awe of her classmates beautiful clothes. That’s when her love of textile and design began.

With just $500 to her name she moved to New York when she was 23. She didn’t know a word of English, so she enrolled in an intensive ESL program at Westchester Community College. After 2 years, her favorite teacher introduced her to the Chairman of the Textiles department at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). He helped her get a scholarship, and two years later she graduated with a degree in textile development and marketing with a 4.0 GPA.

Over the years she has had several jobs in the fashion industry, but none have been as challenging and rewarding as her job with Marc Fisher.

What does it take to be a shoe designer?

At the beginning of the year, Marina and her team receive a trend directory from Tommy Hilfiger and Guess. They begin sketching their designs and picking out the initial materials. They narrow it down to 100 and send those designs to their factory in China. After a few weeks, they fly to China to review the proto-samples and narrow them down to 80.

Then they begin the technical specifications for each sample (what kind of stitching, what colors to use, where the logo will go, what materials will the uppers, cushion, and soul be made from, types of gromets and laces and so on). It’s crucial that every detail be mapped out down to the glue. Production will stop if the manufacturers don’t know if the eye holes for the laces should be nickle or silver.

Three weeks later they get the “salesman lot,” also known as the “pre-production sample.” They send these to buyers (like Macys, Nordstroms, etc) and then they have an idea of how many to order. A few months later the shoes start appearing in fashion shows like FFANY.

The entire time, from design to selling in the store takes 1.5 years!

Next week Marina is headed for Milan, Paris and London. Three times a year, the design team goes to Europe to get inspiration and buy samples of materials, shoes, and patterns that they want to incorporate into future shoe lines.

Marina warns, “This may seem glamorous, but it’s hard work. You really need to love fashion and design. It’s hours and hours of comparing colors, patterns and texture, and I know that’s not for everyone.”

What I love about this story:

Marina's great smile!

So many people pigeonhole themselves. Marina could have easily said, “I know nothing about designing men’s shoes!” But she knew she had the most important skills: creativity, a desire to learn, and an open-mind, and you can accomplish most jobs with those skills. In my book, passion and enthusiasm always trumps experience.

When I asked her how she avoids making excuses she said, “I think of the path I want to go down and I imagine it lined with open doors. I have no idea how long it will take to get through each door, but all I need to focus on is the one right in front of me. I never think of the obstacles, because what is the point? Obstacles won’t help me get through the door.”

She feels truly blessed by God, and wants to start giving back. She asks herself, “What purpose do I want to serve the World?” In my opinion, she’s already served the world with her motivating story!

Using your enthusiasm

I just stayed up all night reading a fantastic book. Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie. He’s the guys that started TOMS shoes, a company which donates a pair of shoes for every pair you buy. I must have been living under a rock, because I never heard of the brand before reading the book, but now I’m seeing the little TOMS logo everywhere. In fact, I started the book on the train and I was facing a stranger. Her legs were crossed and she kept tapping me with her bouncing leg. It was incredibly distracting, but when I looked down at her foot I saw that she was wearing a pair of TOMS shoes. Well how could I get annoyed with someone who shops with their conscience? I immediately told her about what I was reading, and she turned out to be a nice person. I would never have talked to her otherwise. It felt like a sign that I was supposed to be reading that book.

The wheels in my brain were rolling last night after I finished the book. As soon as I woke up I did three things. First I called my friend and shared an idea I had to make his new business venture more marketable. He was really appreciative. Then I wrote down my personal business idea. Lastly, I wrote a thank you letter to Blake Mycoskie. I’m realizing how important it is to communicate support. It makes my day when someone leaves a nice comment on my blog, or facebook account. I get giddy when I see a stranger has subscribed to my blog. It makes me feel like I’m not alone. It would have been easy to read his book, say it was good, and then be done with it. But I want him to know that he reached me and I’m grateful for that.

Also, I think it’s important to do things when you’re excited – don’t wait for a better time.  I only slept three hours last night, so I probably should have taken a nap before writing him a letter, or giving business advice, or even writing this post, but I was excited and people can sense your excitement and it gets them excited. Nothing is more powerful than passion. So if you have an idea share it immediately, don’t wait until it’s well thought out and perfectly worded. You can always correct yourself later, but you can’t recreate that first spark of enthusiasm.

I read an advance copy of the book, so it’s not available until September 6th. You can click on the picture of the book to order in advance. When it is available I will be writing a full review, and giving away a few copies on my blog. Not only does he recount his incredible story, he also inspires you with other people’s unimaginable success, and gives tips on how to create meaning in what you do. Stay tuned!