Gothic lolita, cute food and a famous kitty: Epic Interrogation: La Carmina – gothic, alt fashion and travel blogger extraordinaire
One of the best things about the Epic Interrogations series is that I get to interview some of my idols. One of the ladies I particularly admire is La Carmina – an alternative film, fashion and pop culture journalist, TV host, and author of three books. La Carmina has been profiling lolita, gothic, jrock and visual kei subcultures on her blog since 2007, and she’s built herself an incredible online presence – she writes for AOL travel, provides trend consulting, and runs her own coolhunting company, La Carmina and the Pirates.
If your company name includes the word “pirates”, you’re OK by me.
I first came across La Carmina through her column on the Lip Service webzine, and I love her laid-back, cheery approach to alternative subculture. If your mother ever tells you there’s no such thing as a happy goth, you’ve just got to show her La Carmina’s site. This girl is quite awesome, and gorgeous too. I’m stoked to be talking to La Carmina about making money being creative, gothy and cute, and how an ex-law student with no media connections made it into TV, and her famous kitty.
Firstly, we just want to know who you are, and what you do. Can you share your journey from mini-Carmina to La Carmina of today?
Hello, I’m La Carmina. I am an alt culture, fashion and travel TV host (No Reservations, Bizarre Foods, NHK). I am a journalist for AOL, CNN and Huffington Post; I am also the author of 3 books (Random House, Penguin USA), and run a popular Goth/alt/Japan fashion, travel and culture blog.
I hail from Vancouver, Canada but my work in travel TV takes me all over the world, especially to Japan. This year, I’m excited to be going on press trips to Hong Kong, Macau and Italy.
How did it all begin? Ever since I was one year old, I travelled yearly to Hong Kong and Asia with my family. In my early teens, I visited Tokyo and my mind was blown open by the stunning Visual Kei, Gothic Lolita and Harajuku Punk styles I saw. I was drawn to alt subcultures: they represented a safe space where misfits (like me) could band together, and celebrate how we were different from the rest.
When I began my blog in September 2007, I was a Yale Law student at crossroads — I needed to be in a more creative field. Blogging was the perfect way to share my love of Harajuku fashion and subcultures. Upon graduation, I had books and other projects in the works, so I decided to pursue this road instead. And never turned back. I grew up in Vancouver with no media/entertainment connections whatsoever, so my blog let me break into tight-knit industries such as TV hosting. Every day, I’m amazed at the opportunities that arrive in my inbox; my adventures keep getting weirder, and I love it!
As of today, right now, how’s business going? What are your current projects? What are you excited about?
I never imagined that La Carmina blog would take off and lead to life-changing opportunities in travel TV, design and journalism. I hadn’t even considered this career path before, since it’s a hard one to break into. But I’m loving the wild ride, and everything grows bigger by the moment.
At the moment, I am blogging daily (my site is monetized, as is my YouTube channel). I’m concentrating on travel writing for AOL and Huffington Post, and doing TV hosting and arranging via my company, La Carmina and the Pirates — we have new TV jobs in the works.
How long did it take you to grow your business from the initial idea to where you are today? Was there any one event that served as a catalyst for your success?
My La Carmina blog and online presence organically led to TV hosting, arranging and consulting offers. Everything happened gradually: not long after launching my blog, I received publishing deals for my books, Cute Yummy Time and Crazy Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo.
Then Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods discovered La Carmina and invited me to be on the show. This opened the floodgates to gigs with CNN, NHK, Travel Channel, Canal Plus, Sony Australia, Dutch Pepsi and more.
My First Mate, Naomi, is invaluable as a translator and scheduler on Tokyo TV shoots. So the logical next step was to establish our own company: La Carmina & The Pirates.
Did you go to university? What was your experience like? How useful has your degree been in getting you to where you are now?
I’m a graduate of Columbia University in New York, and Yale Law School. I like to say I majored in “nightcrawling,” since I probably learned more from NYC alt nightlife than the classroom. Both schools were an opportunity to explore my interests and figure out what I wanted to do — and above all, NOT do.
Who or what has been a support or inspiration to you throughout your journey?
My round-faced Scottish Fold cat, Basil Farrow. He is an adorable, fat-cheeked cat with tiny folded ears and fuzzy yellow fur — he looks like a living teddy bear. In 2008, I had Thanksgiving dinner at Mia Farrow’s house, since I was invited by her son Ronan Farrow. A cat stuck its round, furry head out from Ronan’s desk and purred. It was love at first sight. With Mia away all the time, Basil was lonely — so he came to live with me.
Without a doubt, he’s from an acting family. I put some of his videos on YouTube, and they got tens of thousands of hits. Basil eventually got featured in the Fat Cats episode of Discovery Channel’s Cats 101. He’s also one of the main characters in my cookbook, Cute Yummy Time, and has thousands of friends on Facebook. I couldn’t have achieved as much without him!
You have a diverse range of income streams. Did you intentionally set out to do this? What are the advantages and disadvantages of managing so many different projects?
My income sources vary constantly, and come both directly from the blog and from related projects. The specifics are outlined in this blog post about monetizing my fashion blog. I guess I’ve become accustomed to balancing it all — usually, some projects are on the go and others are on the back burner. I love every aspect of my work; it feels like play, so I don’t mind the long hours.
Working for yourself is not for everyone, but I thrive in this free environment: I love being able to travel anywhere, any time, and do business on my own terms.
What’s one thing you’ve done that dramatically improved your earnings?
Build a strong social network. I’m interested in meeting people, and take the time to answer blog comments and Tweets. These relationships can be invaluable for collaborations.
I’d love to talk about promotion. You’re quite a prolific blogger, but we all know that simply writing a blog isn’t enough. What have you done to bring new readers to your blog?
I try to bring as much value as possible to my social networks, especially Twitter and Facebook. I post Jrock news and inspiration photos; I ask and answer questions, and hold impromptu contests. I think by providing fun, genuine, quality content, people will hop onboard and stay with you for the ride.
Do you get more out of face-to-face or online networking?
My approach is to cultivate a strong social network and interact with the people on it. Technology and the web have put everything on international grounds, so I get the most out of web connections. Many times, I’ve worked with people for months before meeting them — if at all.
What kind of face-to-face networking events do you attend? How do you approach this kind of networking?
I don’t attend face-to-face networking events. I’d rather throw the party and have people come to me. I’ve hosted club nights, fundraisers and other events in LA and Tokyo, including an art auction and New Year’s Goth party in Hollywood. I’m also often invited to anime conventions as a special guest.
The Entrepreneurial Life:
What are three tools of your creative business you absolutely could not live without?
It’s essential to be fast, lean, and web-savvy. My collaborators and I work via Gmail chat and conference calls, and collaborating on documents. We take digital photos and bring our laptops anywhere. There’s no need for expensive overhead to get things done.
What have been some of the best things to happen to you because of your business?
I’ve had so many positive experiences on TV shows that it’s hard to pick just one! For the Dutch Pepsi TV shoot, we played zombie games at the Sega center, ate caterpillar sushi at the Alice in Wonderland theme café, and sang songs off-key at karaoke.
In a French TV documentary about Tokyo subcultures, my friends and I chased each other with hammers in a dollar store, and then drank absinthe all night at a wild fetish party.
I loved taking Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods (Travel Channel) to a haunted jail restaurant. The famous TV host got handcuffed and drank “blood” from a mannequin’s head! (You can see the entire video clip here)
Are you a workaholic? How does your business impact your personal life?
Absolutely not — I believe in that cliché of “working smart.” A lot of people work themselves to the ground for no reason or gain. I think it’s important to manage your time well, say no to the unessential tasks, and delegate (for example, I have Japanese translation interns).
I’m lucky that much of my work and personal life overlaps. For example, Sebastiano and I are going to Hong Kong, where we’ll be having “fun” at a Macau hotel-resort opening, cute cooking lessons, and an art fair. But the trip and apartment are sponsored, and these activities are material for paid AOL Travel articles, my blog, and other projects.
Working for yourself, how do you deal with procrastination tendencies?
I’m not much of a procrastinator by nature. I make lists galore, and feel antsy unless the items are ticked off. I’m also surrounded by like-minded people who keep me in check.
What’s the best thing about being La Carmina?
I am very lucky that all my work revolves around my passions — for youth subcultures, Gothic, Japan, alternative art and expression. I feel fortunate I am able to work in a variety of mediums, such as writing and TV hosting. And travel around the world, and meet so many wonderful people.
What do you think the future holds? What exciting projects loom on the horizon or in the back of your imagination?
Coming up, I’ll release several design collaborations to benefit Japan, and model for these brands. And I will appear on the cover of a Goth magazine! Stay tuned to my blog to see where my spooky-cute journey takes me next.
Thank you La Carmina for stopping by to chat about business online and being awesome! If you’ve got any questions for La Carmina, add them to the comments below, and do not, I repeat, do not go away without checking out her inspiring blog.
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