It Girl | BLANCA NAVARRO
I had the pleasure of meeting Blanca at Create Cultivate Chicago and loved her spirit. She is a super talented designer and works for Vans as well as her own business, Moments For Us. She shares her insights, inspirations, and more in this interview.
Name: Blanca Navarro
Job Title/Company: Interactive Designer @ Vans, Co-founder @ Moments For Us
Education Background: BFA in Graphic Design, California State University, Fullerton
1. Tell us a little about who you are.
I am so many things – I’m the very proud daughter of immigrant parents, I’m a graphic designer, I’m a feminist, I’m an animal lover etc. etc. In relation to my career, I’m currently an interactive designer at Vans, which means I help design digital concepts, banners, emails and landing pages for Vans.com and our retail partners. I’ve also adapted the role of prop stylist (and comically sometimes foot model) at Vans during photoshoots. Aside from my full-time role, I also have a wedding photography business with my partner and freelance on the side.
2. What sparked your interest in working with Vans?
Honestly, I just needed a job. In the middle of my 5th year in college (yes, it took me 5 years to finish), I started getting a lot of anxiety about “what’s next.” I had completed three internships and was involved with two on-campus jobs that were relevant to my field, so I thought I’d land a full-time job in no time. Needless to say, it took endless months of applying to 2-6 jobs every single day and not hearing anything, but I kept going. I applied to the position at Vans twice – once through their career site and weeks later through LinkedIn before I got a phone call. Once I interviewed in person, I fell in love with the culture and got good vibes from everyone there, so I accepted the job offer! It’s been almost three years since.
2b. What sparked your interest in starting a business?
My husband is an amazing photographer. I’ve seen him put so much care and thought into the work that he does, and other people did too. Friends and friends-of-friends started asking him to take photos of their maternity sessions, graduations, weddings and other pivotal life events. But, he didn’t enjoy the business side of it – managing clients and editing/retouching hundreds of photos. And I love that stuff! So I suggested we kick off a husband-and-wife wedding photography business. After months and months of planning and research, we launched Moments For Us together in 2017. It’s been pretty great so far; our clients and their stories are the best part.
3. Who are you most influenced by?
So many wonderful women – Roxane Gay, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, my friend and mentor Angelica McKinley.
4. What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?
Throughout my childhood and early adolescence, I hustled in so many ways for money. My first consistent responsibility was collecting bottles and cans and taking them to the recycling center on Saturday mornings with my dad. I also helped him sell and ship things through eBay for a while. Later, I landed a (barely) paid position at my college newspaper, The Daily Titan, on their editorial staff as a Layout Editor. I stayed with The Daily Titan for about three years. However, my first actual payroll job was a retail associate for a small fashion boutique. I only lasted about three months, because there were two managers who disagreed on everything and took it out on the associates. But, I did learn a lot about how to not be a shitty leader in my short time there.
5. Can you share one of your proudest achievements with us?
I come from very humble beginnings (see part about immigrant parents) so everything feels like a great achievement: living on my own, finishing college, getting a job, getting to work in a field I love, etc. But, I’m most I grateful I decided to attend a state university with scholarships allowing me to graduate debt-free. I’m also pretty stoked I won an Award of Excellence in Design from Communication Arts. The trophy sits boastfully in my living room.
6. What were your initial goals with your work? How have they evolved?
I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer since I was 12 years old, so initially, my biggest goal was to get a job in graphic design. Getting paid to do something I absolutely love is truly a life-long dream come true. Now that I’m here, my goal is to be a phenomenal asset to every team I’m on and constantly fuel the fire of my love for design by learning new tools, trying new techniques and designing for a smarter and more inclusive world.
7. What do you think is the most important life skill you learned through your work?
Understanding my worth and believing in my expertise and skills enough to stand up for my ideas. I believe in my team just as much.
8. Where do you hope to be in five years?
Mostly, I hope that myself and everyone around me has great health and happiness. If lucky enough for more, I hope to be a Southern-California homeowner (hey we’re manifesting, right?) and a mother of two. I hope to be earning enough to live comfortably, take care of my parents and be able to donate to causes I believe in. Lastly, I hope to always hold an open mind and heart.
9. What is a typical day like for you?
During the work week, I typically wake up around 6:45 am, right before my alarm goes off and reach for my phone to check social media. Once I get to my desk at Vans, I usually chat with my manager for 5-10 minutes. Then I read theSkimm’s newsletter to catch up on current events and politics. Once my co-workers start coming in, we head down to the barista together for overly complicated lattes and cappuccinos. The rest of the work day is spent binging podcasts while working at my desk, attending meetings and everything in-between. Once at home, I cook dinner and then work on freelance projects for the last two or so hours of the night before heading to bed.
On weekends and days off, I catch up on life’s errands I don’t have time for during the work week. I still wake up around the same time and still reach for my phone, but try to skip politics altogether. I like to make elaborate breakfasts on my days off, usually it’s either a tofu scramble with veggies and hash browns or vegan pancakes with fresh berries. The rest of the day is spent cleaning the apartment, running errands and you guessed it - working on freelance projects.
10. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far in the process of pursuing your goals?
I had a professor in college who did not like me (I suspect because he hated outspoken women) and he once asked me to step outside the class and told me that I’d amount to nothing and no one in there (pointed to my classmates) would ever want to work with me. I knew he was wrong, but it was extremely upsetting to hear and it made me doubt myself as a person and my skills as a designer. I dwelled on it for months, but now I honestly look back and laugh. I got a kickass job before finishing school and was given a raise and promoted just a year after. If my alma mater ever asks me to come speak to design students, that’s the first story I’m telling them. I will never ever doubt myself over an insecure man trying to bring me down ever again.
11. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” – Oprah
(No, unfortunately, she didn’t give me that advice directly. I took it from her book What I Know For Sure.)
12. When do you get your best ideas?
My ideas for projects truly stem from the project’s problem and what the client is trying to accomplish and convey. Graphic design is unlike studio artwork where ideas flow through the artist; instead we derive solutions from the objective of the project.
13. Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?
I once printed the wrong version of an ad (a very important one) in several thousand newspapers. I realized my mistake and immediately felt like shit, but knew I needed to own up, so I did. I went straight to my director to confess and we quickly came up with a solution. I volunteered to go to every news stand on campus and collect all the old paper. Did I mention it was the middle of summer? My colleagues must have felt bad for me, so they went down to help as well.
I learned that it’s always best to be honest - no matter how much trouble you might think you’re in. Everyone makes mistakes and if you pretend that it wasn’t your fault, people will see right through it and never trust you again. Even though this mistake was extremely difficult to own up to and it cost my company thousands of dollars, everyone on my team valued my honest and willingness to make it better. I ended up getting promoted to art director a few months later.
14. How do you unwind?
It’s pretty cliché - I take take long baths. Sometimes I’ll do a hair or face mask before the bath too.
15. What would you tell someone else who is interested in entering your field?
Graphic design is such an exciting and fun career, but it’s also extremely competitive requiring consistent hard work. It’s a field that’s always evolving, so there’s always something to learn and areas to improve on. Don’t let complacency become you, and remember to help younger designers as much (or more) than the help you received starting out.
Think about what makes you and your work different. What’s your speciality? What’s your story? What’s your style? Hone in on that and let yourself shine within your work.
If you’re still in art school, I highly recommend doing as many internships and joining as many clubs as possible. It’ll impress recruiters and give you a diverse background in work, teams and cultures. Don’t assume you just want to go into freelancing full-time. While it has many benefits, it’s important to learn how companies and teams run before trying to create your own business.
16. What do you hope people take away from your story?
I have never and will never consider myself “cool” or successful – I still see myself as a nerdy girl obsessed with graphic design and computers. And, I still believe in the American Dream: no matter who you are, what you look like or where you come from, constant hard work and passion will guide you to success.
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