Breaking Barriers Through Fashion: Nasheli Juliana

By: Yadira Y. Caro

The world of fashion is quite alluring yet seems unattainable. For Nasheli Juliana Ortiz, the road to become a fashion designer has not been easy but has been very successful. She is the Chair of the Fashion Design Department at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, and is now getting ready to present her designs at Paris Fashion Week next month.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, she overcame health-related obstacles which ultimately lead her to this world thanks to her persistence, hard word, and talent. After completing studies in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and the Savannah College of Art and Design, she held several positions as a university professor and worked with multiple well-known designers. I asked Nasheli about her childhood challenges, misconceptions of the fashion industry, and how famed designer Oscar de la Renta gave her the first break. She gave great advice which can be applied to anyone in any industry.


Why did you wanted to be a fashion designer?

I had developing problems went when I was growing up: I had meningitis when I was 2 years old so I was in a coma. I’ve always had (learning) problems in school and my mom forced me to be in painting, drawing and dance to help me develop fine motor skills. The only thing that I knew how to do was doing clothes for my Barbies. I spent hours and hours doing clothes for my Barbies with paper towels or whatever I found around the house. When the time to select my high school came my mom said ‘you’re going to the vocational school.’ I didn’t want to go to the vocational school because none of my friends were going. But she enrolled me and I remember the first task was to do short pants and a waistband. It was the first time that I understood something completely. So I think my mom forced me to be a fashion designer. It was because she saw that something in me that I didn’t discover it until that moment.

How do you know that you could make a career out of fashion designing?

I did not knew that, really. We do not have a lot of Latino fashion designers to feel represented. I was very ignorant about the fashion industry. I started as a seamstress and then when I went to the university was when I learned that fashion design is a whole industry. I went to the Dominican Republic and studied at Altos de Chavon. I learned there all the things that you can do inside of the industry. That was the moment I said ‘oh I can still make a living being a fashion designer and not die,’ because in Puerto Rico there is still the idea that if you are in the fashion and art industries you are going to starve. That has not happened and I am happy as a fashion designer (laughs).

What do what do you think are the biggest misconceptions about the industry of fashion design?

That is glamorous (laughs). Fashion design is not glamorous at all. Its very mean, classist, sexist, and as a Latina it has been very difficult to achieve anything. I’m not in any way what people think about of a fashion designer: I am a Latina with a very strong accent and I am even fat; fat people are not allowed in fashion. It’s a very mean industry. Even though I love it I am very aware of all these sad parts of the fashion industry.

What are two or three key things a person needs to make it in the industry and be successful?

You need to be disciplined. It is very hard to make it and you need to be very disciplined, be open to feedback and you need to be willing to work with other people. This is a collaboration field.

How do you describe your designing style?

As a fashion designer I work two sides: I work ready to wear, daylight wearing clothes. I like to use a lot of stretch bands; these are very comfortable clothes. On the other side is the most conceptual side. I present social problems in my conceptual work which I present in the runways. My work is very conceptual and political.

What are you communicating through your designs?

I just want people to understand that fashion has a lot of power. Fashion is seen a lot of times as very vain, but we communicate who we are and we make statements through our clothes. Clothes have been in power in the political aspects, how to use uniforms, women liberating themselves from the corset as empowered groups. even the people that are anti-fashion are making a statement and that is fashion. I want to keep that message right. Clothes have a message and that is very powerful.

Part of the collection Breaking Arrow…PR, inspired by tumultuous historical episodes between the US and Puerto Rico.


Can you describe example of a failure that you learned from that turn into something successful?

My career started when I was graduating and during my final presentation one of the critics that came to see my work was Oscar de la Renta. It was a critique in front of all my classmates. I was pregnant with my first kid at the time and Oscar de la Renta said ‘you are going to be a great designer.’ Nobody in my classroom knew that I was pregnant, only my professor. When Oscar de la Renta said that, she (the professor) said in front of everybody, ‘first she needs to be a mom.’ Because it was so mean and Oscar de la Renta heard that he said, ‘well I am going to give her her first internship.’ That is how I landed the first job. People want to get you down but karma is instant (laughs).


What would you recommend to anybody who is thinking about being fashion design or in a related field?

I believe in academia. I believe is very important to have that formal education, that safe space to make mistakes and to have a group of people there are searching for the same goals that you are searching.

I think education is very important. A lot of people think that because they know how to sew that they are fashion designers and its a very big step and very big path to get from one to another. Education is one of the biggest things that we’re missing now in the fashion industry because fashion is a reflection of society. You need to have an anthropology context, a history context, a psychology context to understand what is design, it’s so unique and you can only have that in academia.

Are there are any two or three resources you recommend?

I am reading two books now: The Latin American Fashion Reader and Liberated Threads, Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul. With all the things happening now in the United States, I think its very important that we understand about appropriation and empowerment of black women and Latin American women through fashion.

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview? Contact me!

Spreading Disney’s Magic: Interview with Sarah Domenech

By: Yadira Y. Caro

Sarah Domenech works where you vacation. As the Public Relations Managers at Walt Disney World Resorts, she spends her days at the Orlando parks or traveling throughout the US and Latin America to ensure everyone knows about the latest Disney has to offer. She helps keep the magic alive.

Sarah started her career in her native Puerto Rico as a journalist in the area of music and entertainment. Later, she moved to Florida to continue her career in TV and newspaper journalism. In 2007 she started working at Disney managing projects and marketing strategies. Today, her focus is on the Hispanic markets in the US and the Americas. She is always quite busy but she is indeed having fun, judging from her social media posts or her posts for the Disney blog. Even with her hectic schedule, Sarah took some time to answer my questions about her job and current challenges.

How did you ended up working with Disney?

I’m a journalist and I was working as an entertainment and travel editor in Orlando and used to cover Disney World a lot. One day, they asked if I was interested in a PR role within the sales and travel organization. I interviewed and after 11 years, I’m still with the Company.


Can you describe what it is like in a regular week at your job?

What I love about my job is that there are no regular weeks. We surely have standard meetings and things to do but we get media requests every day, celebrity visits and projects; no day is similar to the one before or the next. I talk to media on a daily basis, pitching stories about our theme parks and resorts, talk with celebrities and management to plan photo opportunities and now, our weeks are all about the opening of Toy Story Land. I am working with the media to cover the press event and opening of the new land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Can you describe 2 or 3 things key things you believe are necessary to succeed in this job?

Organization is very important since your day can be different from hour to hour and need to keep track of tasks for different projects – a lot multi-tasking happens here: relationship skills are key since you not only need to establish new relationships with media partners but maintain them and strengthen them. And last but not least, writing. There’s a lot of writing involved in this role. Oh and be on top of media trends, the landscape for media, specifically for Hispanics, is changing constantly and you need to keep up with what’s happening.

Do you have an example of a failure from which you learned from (at this job or elsewhere)?

Too many actually! Since English is not my first language, making grammar mistakes in press releases and even during presentations are my pet peeves since I have made so many. But with every mistake, I have learned and move forward and I haven’t made those mistakes again. I learn a new English word every day!

Any 3 books, podcast, websites, etc. you recommend to any professional?

Oh dear! I read a lot, well, I consume a lot of media. For example, in my line of business I go to online newspapers like El Nuevo Dia, People en Español, Parents Latina, and The New York Times. My favorite books are The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho– life transforming – and 100 años de Soledad (100 Years of Solitude) by Gabriel García Marquez. Anybody that is in communications and works with Hispanic and/or Latin American markets, should read those.

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview? Contact me!


Government Communications in the Magic City: Interview with Nannette Rodriguez

By: Yadira Y. Caro

‘There is always breaking news on Friday after 3 o clock’ said Nanette Rodriguez, half jokingly, half serious, during a Friday interview at her office in the City of Miami Beach where she has been leading communication efforts for almost two decades. As the now Director of Communications prepped for a day of possible issues ahead, she chatted enthusiastically with me, a Miami Beach resident, about the lessons she had learned to ensure the city can communicate effectively and its citizens and its employees, while earning the city several recognitions along the way: in 2011 the Miami Beach Twitter account was named by Code for America as one of the top three city accounts to follow just behind New York 311 and Minneapolis Snow Emergency. The City of Miami Beach products include MB magazine, MBTV (including online channel), and use of existing platforms with their YouTube channel, Flickr and Facebook page.

The passion of this native Floridian for her job is contagious as well as her interest for learning the latest trends in social media and ways to communicate.
Note: Interview has been edited for space.

How did you started in communications?
Let me go back in my childhood: when I was very young I used to write stories, and illustrate books. I was also very in tune with the news, current events and my favorite show was 60 Minutes. Here I was this child in second, third grade, watching 60 Minutes and writing fictitious stories and illustrating. I’ve always had a knack for the written word. Historically in our family, my father, my grandmother, my great grandfather, they were all photographers. All of those interests kind of intertwined in my interests, so when I went to college I first studied Art; I was an Art and Business major.

So you thought about that early on, to make money from your art? 
(Laughs) Early on I thought ‘you have to make money on what you like.’ I did go into Communications and graduated from the University of Miami and did a degree of Communications and Marketing. From there, while I was still in school, I was working for a cable company, working for the family business in the photos industry, then finally got a job on TV. I worked on WPBT, public television, for 10 years and got to get my hand on many different very creative jobs, did advertising campaigns, we did publicity with other media, doing national campaigns across the country on new programs, also working with the local news at the station. That experience actually became the perfect fit when I was asked to work in the city of Miami Beach.

So you’ve been with the City for about 20 years?
It will be 20 years in November.

What was your plan or vision then and how has it changed throughout the years?
Miami Beach was in the Madonna phase of Miami Beach, I guess you can say. The international film stars were here, Bird Cage had just premiered, it was the post Miami Vice (era), star studded, the clubs were coming of age, it was that type of Miami Beach. Government wise things were changing, things were moving forward. In my career in communications we started with the type writer (laughs). Actually when I came to the city of Miami Beach I was used to using higher level tools (in my previous job). When I got here we got a computer, but we did not have email! I was used to having email prior to that, I was like ‘oh my gosh, we are going back to the dark ages, but its ok, I’ve been there’ (laughs). One of the first initiatives that I brought to the city was develop a website. Of course that took a couple of years in the coming, there were not a lot of people that actually knew how to develop websites at the time.
We were actually one of the first few government stations that were doing original programming. We were also the first station to go live on the web via live web streaming. We were also the first station to do close captioning and do close captioning in Spanish.

Miami Beach has been a pioneer in many of these things. The city has also won awards such as the Savvy awards. Are there any other examples of awards the city has won?
As far of communications, there is a slew of awards that we have been awarded or recognized as top 10 of something: awards for our Florida Government Communicators Association, 3CMA which is the City-County Communications and Marketing Association awards, our magazine is finalist for an award again this year, some of our videos have won awards, we actually have submitted this year for the Emmys. It’s not just about the awards, it’s great to be recognized. If we are communicating the message effectively, if we have people talking about the result of that message. that to me is more of a result than someone giving you a gold star here, your trophy. No, I want to see results of our effort. To me, that is the award.

What is some advice you can share in terms of what governments may be doing wrong or share simple practices they can start doing?
I would not say they are doing it wrong. First of all they need to start using (social media); you need to be where the conversation is. How I explain it to many other government agencies is to remember the town square back in the 1700s when our pioneers would try to get information from town to town about American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, whatever important documentation needed to go out there. There was somebody on a horse that would ride from town to town and post something in the town square. Now everybody has a town square because everyone, well not everybody, but most people have a Facebook page. And your Facebook page has posts, it’s your bulletin board, it’s also your bulletin board where you can talk to other people and post on theirs but everybody sees it.
Older generations, yeah, they still tune in to the 6 o’clock news because they know at 6 o clock they are going to receive that information. But even the older generation is now on social media. We see our demographics that are following us on social media. We had My Space before had Facebook, that’s how long we’ve been on social media (laughs). Of course the followers on there were very young. But when we went to Facebook and more people were clinging on to that, our demographics pretty much evened out.
Anybody on social media will tell you the older generation is the largest growing group on social media and that that is a reason why any government agency needs to be on there. It’s not a thing for the young anymore, its cross generational, and cross cultural as well because you can speak in many different languages on social media. We’ll put Spanish messages up as well and electronic news list serve which we have been doing since 1999 doing e-blasts and emails. I want to know what the next means of communicating is because we need to be there.

How does that translate to internal communications? Is there a similar approach to that?
On internal we do a lot of email plus internally we have our quarterly publication which actually we tried to do away with because we had our intranet, an internal website. Like we do with our community, we did an internal survey and it showed that the majority of our employees are not at a desk or an office. We have public works employees that are out on the street, we have parks and recreation employees that are out in our parks, we have firemen and firewomen and police officers that are all out on the streets. The majority of our work force, I would say only about 300, are on an office out of close to over 2500 employees. Although some of them were getting the printed version, we did away with it. (We thought) ‘now we have an internal website, we don’t need to print this anymore.’ Oh my goodness, everybody was like ‘what do you mean?’ We don’t have access to a computer and we love to see the pictures!
We had to totally reevaluate how we were doing things. Again, you can’t just depend on one type of communication because people not just receive but comprehend information in different ways.

I wanted to ask you about the branding of the city. It seems it has a pretty clear use and approach. Was it difficult to shape that branding?
Boy that was fun! We did that about 12, 13 years ago. After 99, we did the general obligation bond and with that bond we were going to be doing a lot of infrastructure work in our neighborhoods and public facilities. Between our Planning department and our City Manager’s office they thought ‘while we are doing that, maybe we should come up with a way finding, a signage branding for the city.’
As part of that way finding signage identity, came our identity Miami Beach, the Beach being the book bold, the more emphasis on it and not separated, together, but the emphasis is on the Beach, not in Miami, because if you see them separate you may think ‘oh its Miami,’ ‘oh it’s the beach. ’ No, we are Miami BEACH. And on the celebration of our Art Deco and our MiMo (art style), the firm (we hired) came with a whole graphic identity package for the city.

Being a native Floridian, what do you think is the biggest misconception of the city?
We are not your typical beach city, although that’s the first thing a lot of people think of: South Beach, the nightclubs, the nightlife. But we are more than that. We are really a trendsetting community not just in the tourism industry and what you see in entertainment but in technology. A lot of the things that we do in our city as far as infrastructure, policing, fire; people from other communities, actually cities from around the world, come and visit us to see how we are starting to do things. It’s not just that glitz and glam that you see that everybody thinks of us as Miami Beach.

For professionals in communications, what do you think they should learn more about to further their careers?
Keep yourself relevant, don’t become a dinosaur. Communications is a constant learning profession, as many professions are. You always have to be on top of what the latest is and know it, learn it, become it, be in the know. If you don’t keep yourself relevant you are going to keep as old as a transistor radio.

Or a typewriter.
Or a typewriter (laughs).

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