Journalist Marjon Carlos knows the power of walking away. In 2017, Carlos walked away from her job as senior fashion writer at the world’s most famous fashion magazine — her former dream job, the one that famously, “a million girls would kill for.” But while Carlos’ life looked perfect from the outside, she says she was burnt out: emotionally, physically, and mentally. “Being a Black woman there was really lonely,” Carlos says. “There were days I cried by myself in a bathroom or empty conference room.”
The leap Carlos took by going freelance was a bet on herself, and it’s paid off well. Now, she’s one of the most sought-after journalists in the industry, profiling the world’s most famous celebrities and penning the kind of cover stories that trend on Twitter. And if her former work life felt lonely, Carlos has now built up a community around herself, especially on social media, where on her show Your Favorite Auntie, Carlos holds forth on the topic of the week, and offers what she calls “a message of enlightenment, warmth, dialogue, and catharsis.” And boy, do we need that right now.
Inspired by Carlos’ determination to carve out her own lane, live vibrantly, and show up for herself and her community, The Cut has partnered with SOREL to bring you her story. Read on for a candid talk with the unstoppable Marjon Carlos about how she built her career, how the fashion industry is changing and how it can do better, and how her style propels her forward.
Let’s start at the beginning. When did you know in your spirit it was time to leave your former job?
Eight months before I left, I didn’t feel I was being encouraged or like I could progress in the ways I wanted. And being a Black woman there was really lonely. There were days I cried by myself in a bathroom or empty conference room. The moment that was very edifying for me when I had my birthday party. I was surrounded by all my favorite people, I felt an enormous amount of love — and I realized I hadn’t felt that feeling in months. I thought, “I have to go. I have to leave.” From there, my confidence just rose.
Where are you finding the inspiration to write — and to capture this moment without entirely basing it in trauma?
It’s weird because I feel Black people specifically are living in this bipolar existence wherein that we are targets, but at the same time we’re being celebrated and carving out opportunities for ourselves in unprecedented ways. I did a lot of writing in these last couple of months that perhaps I wouldn’t have if we were under so-called normal circumstances. I’ve just been finding inspiration where I can and going for it.
How is your style moving you forward?
I’ve really derived joy from shopping and exploring my style in the last few months, experimenting with different designers. I saw this sweater dress online, and maybe it wasn’t the most practical purchase, but I had to have it. I love it paired with my white SOREL boots. As soon as I saw them, I thought, ‘You know what? These are a great white boot’ — and I love white shoes. They’re just super comfortable and I love the way they look with dresses. I’m wearing them everywhere now that the weather’s changed. As soon as I put them on, I thought, ‘Ooh, these are good. These are my new fall boots.’
Has your relationship with fashion changed since quarantine?
It’s funny, right now I’m wearing silk pajamas, so definitely love my loungewear! But in the beginning of quarantine, I was wearing a sweatsuit every day — my freelance uniform. Of course it’s comfortable, but it does get depressing after a while. It’s just not me. So I made the change to more color, more pattern, pieces that are a little more elevated while still having that element of comfort. My silk pajamas have that, my SOREL boots have that. I like pieces that show some effort. That’s been important to me as quarantine goes on. these days, if I’m going out, I’ll put on a dress, I’ll — well, maybe I won’t put on makeup! But I will grab a purse. I will try to show up with my style, because that small effort does change things.
How are you staying connected?
I love a good, long phone call. And I stay in touch through my IGTV show, Your Favorite Auntie. It was born out of a need to talk about things and stay connected. Every week I have an hour long conversation about a particular topic and give advice that you’d want to get from your auntie that you can learn from and grow from. It’s been really cool to build community that way, and offer a larger message of enlightenment, warmth, dialogue, and catharsis.
What would you tell a young person who’s starting out in this industry or needs advice negotiating their worth?
Something I do every year is I literally break each month down by the goals I want to achieve, print them out, put them on a poster board which I hang in my room, and I just look at it. I really manifest it. And as for negotiating your worth, one thing I learned is that money is arbitrary. You can just name your price. I always say to go for higher, and add tax.
How did you feel when you saw Black writers and editors spearhead media’s racial reckoning?
I thought it was wonderful. This generation is like, “No actually, that doesn’t work for me.” I was really inspired by that and it made me rethink the ways I move — when I speak up, when I’m quiet, and how we show up for ourselves.
For those who speak out, the fear of retaliation is real, and it strikes harder on Black women. It is not a myth. You’ll find that you’re not getting callbacks, or not getting opportunities because people think you’re a “troublemaker.” I was called problematic. That was so funny to me. I thought, “Well, I’d rather be problematic than a doormat.”
Any advice to the Black women specifically who spoke out?
If you’re finding the traditional path isn’t working, carve out your own lane, find your own opportunities. But don’t second guess the decisions you made to speak up. Black women are saddled with the responsibility of keeping things calm and status quo. We are supposed to make everyone feel comfortable about ourselves: That is a double, triple burden. And our silence keeps other people from being checked.
If people in fashion really got honest about the work that they had to do, what would that look like?
Hiring more Black people, hiring more people of color, and giving them the tools to succeed. It’s one thing to get people in the room — if they don’t stay there, it’s because they don’t feel supported or encouraged. Now it’s about centering other voices and other experiences. If fashion can get to that position, for sure, it can become more inclusive.
Let’s end on a high note. What are you optimistic about for 2020 going into 2021?Seeing my friends and my family again. That would be everything. I’m also optimistic about the creativity that is coming out of this moment. We’re all being so innovative, learning to pivot and try new things. There’s a lot to be inspired by. I’m inspired by the conversations that we’re finally having, even if they’re messy. Talking about race and racism is frustrating for people and it’s clumsy, but I’m inspired that we’re at least starting those. I’m hopeful that we’ll all start taking care of each other and showing each other more grace. I feel strongly that if we just carry that same mentality into the new year, we can make this — I know this sounds so cheesy, but make this place really beautiful.
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