I moved to California about 7 years ago, in August of 2010 to work for Smashbox Cosmetics. My main goal was to move to LA and get into television. After I moved to San Diego, I picked up a second job at Aldo. I was working there when this actress named Sheree Swanson walked in and complimented me, asking if I had ever thought about styling. I said ‘no’ and her response was, “Oh, well I work on pilots all the time in LA. If a designer on set ever needs an assistant or anything, I’ll definitely tell them about you and let you know.” So two months later, she called and said she was working on this pilot called Shared Spaces, which Miguel Núñez was producing. So I met the wardrobe stylist on that set and we became really close. She actually had properties in LA, and I told her I really wanted to move to LA, so she said, “I’ll lease you out a place while you’re here.” Back in San Diego, I was going through a really hard time, I was homeless, going from pillow to post, just trying to figure out what I was going to do. So when I got to LA, I just kind of hit the ground running professionally, but personally, it didn’t last. I was really notorious in my group of friends for crashing Hollywood Red Carpet events. Any event, you name it, Golden Globes, Grammy’s, Oscar parties. I think it really worked for me because I was completely oblivious to knowing who anyone was, so I wasn’t intimidated. At the same time as that was happening, I was living on Skid Row, where I lived for about a year. There was a huge contrast in my life - I was living on Skid Row, in a facility, and at the same time, crashing these lavish Red Carpet events.
What made you take the leap into entrepreneurship?
I met Joanna, the founder of Scenester.TV, at an event that I crashed. I overheard her saying, “You know, I’d really like to interview the celebrities at this event, but I don’t have a host. We have the equipment, but no host.” This was at Madame Tussaud in Hollywood, and I just kind of leaned over and said, “I can interview them, it can’t be that hard.” She kind of looked me up and down and said “Okay, well let’s have you test on the wax figures first.” So we did that for like 15 minutes, and after that, I started to interview the celebrities that were there. Larry King, Nick Cannon, Soulja Boy, and Vanilla Ice were my first interviews. At the end of the night, she said, “Hey I want to start this Hollywood red carpet web series for the outlet, and I think you’d be fit for it, so I’ll call you in a couple of months.” So she did, and then we did the Golden Globes, and some other fun things like gifting suites for the Emmy’s and the Oscars.Which later lead into me wanting to model...because actors on the red carpet after the interviews would ask if I had modeled .So I interviewed Janice Dickinson at this Emmy’s gifting suite at the end of 2013, and I told her, “You know, people come up to me all the time and tell me I should be a model. What should I do?” and she said, “Go to Paris, that’s what I did.” I looked at her like how could you even say that? But that resonated with me for about a year, and then in 2015 I moved to Paris - for a month. I signed with my first agency in Paris, and I ended up staying for about 6 months. When I came back to the states, I lost my apartment. So I just started doing temporary jobs here and there, still doing the red carpet hosting, but I was still worried about this huge contrast in my life: I am at these high profile events but my personal life is in uproar. The reason I am an influencer now is because I started a style blog and brand that is 100% me. By popular demand from friends, and fans of Scenester.TV, I started a style blog on Instagram about two years ago. I was thinking about what to call it. I decided on The Real Life Mannequin because when I worked at Aldo, I would stand still and people would be like, “Oh my godish you look like a mannequin! I thought you were a mannequin!” So I thought it was perfect, had a little history - it’s funny, and cute, you know? Oh, and just for the record, I’m not homeless anymore! For the past 3 years I have not been.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
I call myself a telemarketer sometimes because I cold email and cold call brands a lot. But I think the fact that my brand kind of speaks for itself really helps a lot. I worked really hard on the branding early on. I had a lot of people telling me to be authentic, be yourself, because I am my brand. When people see me, in 2 seconds they get it: he’s fashion forward, he’s elegant, he’s bespoke. The brands I reach out to have similar aesthetics. I think finding similarities between the brand I’m reaching out to and I is important to even having the potential to collaborate with the brand. Then, from there, delivering immaculate content, that’s another valuable thing towards building a strong relationship with the brand, where you could go back to them in the future, or have them reach out to you. Another is having a genuine audience, because your audience validates you. Like I’ve posted something on Instagram and 15 minutes later, I get a text from the executive director of the brand that reads, “Thank you, we’re already generating sales from your post.” Those are things that I put in my press kit so that other brands can see it. Like this is not just fluff, what I’m doing is real. When you hire me, you’re getting authenticity, you’re getting a brand, you’re getting a story, you’re not getting just anyone posting a photo on Instagram. My family was always super supportive of me, encouraging me to accomplish my biggest goals and dreams! so never experienced any contention from them. But the influential factor would be having the courage to reach out to brands and pitch myself to them in a collaboration. Most influencers have agencies who do that for them. Although I am represented by Dulcedo when I first started out I did my own outreach and research. In the past year I have collaborated with over 20 different luxury boutique and corporate brands internationally (INDEPENDENTLY).
What advice would you give to an upcoming young and old entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Do what you think is great! Don't second guess your skill to appeal to a certain demographic or crowd. Some of the best successes are grown and molded organically. I would stay true to your brand and be creative for what you think works because your creativity is what sets you apart from the rest. Also you have to constantly BE and think outside the box. Trends and people are changing and I feel like as entrepreneurs we are the top 5% of the world who are trendsetters so it's important to maintain that!