Born with pen in hand.
One of my most vivid memories from my childhood was when I was 9 years old. I had gotten a new green Rolling Writer rollerball pen (rollerballs were new technology in the late 70’s). I was sitting at the gold gilt Rococo inspired Sears desk in my bedroom writing a story on college ruled paper. I don’t remember what I wrote – but I was responding to something that inspired me. I was lost in the words flowing out of my hand and lost in time. I still have flashbacks to that moment in my life – as it was when I first understood that I have a creative urge that I can’t ignore.
I am blessed to say that I have been in the flow my entire life. As a first generation American, born to Filipino parents who immigrated to and met in the United States, I have been set up for a life of creativity whether intentional or not. My parents’ priority for my older brother and I was for us to get a good education and raised us in a top public school system.
I didn’t know that art school was an option or a creative career was a direction after high school. I was lucky to have a great art teacher in high school who told me to put together my portfolio and apply to art school. She was instrumental in bringing in admissions representatives from art schools around the country to tell us about their programs. I was hit with a lightning bolt of realization that I had to become a designer.
I was admitted to one of the oldest art schools in the country, the Rhode Island School of Design. I picked a major I knew nothing about until well into my Freshman year. I majored in Industrial Design because I fell in love with the machine shop and the tools. At the time it was a male dominated field, but I felt at home as I was a tomboy with a knack for taking things apart and being able to put them back together. Industrial Designers to me are engineers who can draw.
My Junior year at RISD I had a crisis of vocation. One of my mentors took our class to the largest landfill in New England, extolling to us the responsibility of having an awareness to look downstream from our drafting tables into the waste stream. In that moment I questioned the viability of being a designer – one who answers product briefs to make more stuff which eventually ends up in a landfill! I considered getting an MBA after college so I could do more with my design degree. The best professional advice I ever got was to go and get a job in a company instead of staying in academia. I also had a knack for organizational development, as I was heavily involved in school politics at RISD.
My professional journey began over 30 years ago as a footwear designer in Boston. My first job out of school was in corporate America for a footwear brand, where in my first weeks I learned about all facets of the company: sales, demand planning, merchandising, product development, marketing and accounting. My orientation included working at the company’s DTC retail outlets in the mall and at their lease in a large department store.
At one point in my tenure with the company I was the only designer appointed to a corporate reengineering initiative. I found this work fascinating as it was an early opportunity to work with cross-disciplinary teams to envision a better future for the company and streamlined business practices in the spirit of ‘total customer service’ or TCS. This experience fueled my strategic and systems thinking aptitude. I had the realization that a business enterprise itself is a design opportunity for which creative problem solving skills may be applied to its challenges.
In 1997 I answered the call to Nike World Headquarters in the Pacific Northwest. Nike is the design mecca of the athletic footwear industry. Nike reflects the spirit of its place in the trailblazing state of Oregon – a contrast to the industrial revolution era footwear industry in New England. To me Oregon was a new frontier.
I spent many years in Nike footwear design as a design leader working with teams to build industry-leading products and build new product lines to accelerate business growth. There was an opportunity to help build Nike’s Sustainable Business and Innovation team in 2005 – combining my passions for design, business and sustainability. It was there that I honed my sensibilities for systems thinking and enterprise leadership. The experience opened my eyes to the entire value chain of delivering consumer goods. From the oil well to where chemicals are derived for the making of polymers, and everything in between to the end of life of a product after consumer use.
I went back to Nike Design in 2011 and joined the Brand Design team where I learned about the creative work that goes into consumer facing experiences. I had a first hand view behind the curtain of Nike’s world class marketing machine. In 2013 I was called back to Product Design to manage the design studios responsible for the Sportswear and Actions Sports businesses.
After 17 1/2 years behind the Nike berm, having traveled all over the planet to meet the needs of consumers, retailers, and work with manufacturers in the Asian supply chains – I retired my number. No professional athlete can play straight without taking a time out.
From 2014 to 2016 I took a time out in Paris with my family. The city of Paris is one of the few places on the planet that I’m sad to leave whenever I visit. It’s stunningly beautiful in its art and architecture. Paris was a place to reclaim my creative spirit, given that I have been in management positions for the majority of my professional career. I’m putting the pen back into my hand.
I have published articles and given many talks on design and sustainability, and aim to focus on how art, design and writing about self-realization are tools to envision a healthier future for the planet and civil society. I am following my creative urge to respond to the infinite amount of inspiration I find in museums, art galleries and architecture all over the world. The world feels full of options where I can channel my skills and talent. There is so much inspiration – anything is possible right now.