The typical yuppie career in the Philippines follows a reliable but rather limited path: graduate from college, find a well-paying corporate job, get a promotion, live a prosperous life, and live happily ever after.
Once you venture outside of the relative comfort of the Philippines, however, all bets are off. Ask any Filipino abroad and they’ll tell you that, for the most part, moving abroad means starting from zero. We’ve all heard of Filipinos who had to give up their manager positions here to start with minimum wage jobs abroad. Starting from the bottom as a fresh grad is not a walk in the park, so how do you hustle your way to your dream job in a new country?
We talked to Christine Braganza, a Stylist/Account Manager at The RealReal, a luxury consignment startup where her clients are some of the most affluent and prominent residents of New York. While most of Christine’s peers in Manila began their careers in corporate jobs, she got her start as a salesperson at Bloomingdale’s, a chain of department stores in the United States.
So how did Christine go from salesperson to stylist?
Starting from scratch
Christine is no stranger to hard work. Even as a student, she was already juggling her responsibilities at her various fashion-related jobs and her workload as an AB Communication student at Ateneo de Manila University. But starting her first full-time job in the United States was a completely different experience.
Soon after graduating, Christine started working as a salesperson for Bloomingdale’s in a small town in New Jersey before becoming an assistant at the store’s personal shopping department. She was constantly on her feet the whole day helping customers, organizing and hauling around clothing, working the cash register, making frequent phone calls, and other physically demanding tasks, usually all at the same time.
Aside from the physical exhaustion, dealing with people the whole day also carried some mental and emotional challenges as well. Christine had to deal with bullying from fellow salespersons, as well as the struggles that come with helping customers the whole day. She coped by focusing on what was important, which is work itself.
“People come into shop for a number of reasons and they take that with them when they walk in the store. You just try to look as happy as can be and not let anything ruin your day.”
A city-dweller for most of her life, Christine also had to make huge adjustments living in a suburban area of New Jersey. The contrast between life in Manila and in New Jersey was jarring. Christine shared, “I would deal with coming home at 9pm at night to the eerie sounds of the forest or wake up to deer outside my window. It got worse in the winter because driving meant shoveling snow and worrying about getting stuck on the road if the snow became too bad."
It soon became apparent that it was time for Christine to make her move to New York.
“I realized how much of a city kid I really am, no matter how hard I try. I felt like the move to the city for me was a long time coming so I was more prepared and less scared.”
Dignity in labor
In New York, Christine joined the personal shopping department of the upscale Saks Fifth Avenue. As a personal shopper, Christine guided her clients in putting together outfits from some of the world’s top fashion labels. Despite the fashion industry’s demanding nature, Christine embraced the opportunity to be immersed in fashion and to style some of the most prominent people in the world, including celebrities.
While a job in retail isn’t something that many of Christine’s peers at school would get into, it is something that she credits for her successes. She said that “it was helpful to have the right mindset about it. I learned early on from my family that there is dignity in labor so I tried to focus on that.”
On stressful days that sometimes included personally stripping off her clients’ clothing and taking the shoes off their feet, she found herself contemplating moving back to Manila. “Sometimes it’s still in your head how you never would have been doing this if you were back home, but you get over that. Once you realize that you are the only one thinking that way, you understand the job more and end up learning a lot.”
Helping people every day taught her to be patient in dealing with different, sometimes eccentric, personalities and to listen well to her clients. “I learned that you just have to let people do things in their own time. I also learned to be more accepting of people.”
The next step
Christine’s knack for understanding the needs of her clients and building relationships with them helped her land her job as a Stylist/Account Manager with The RealReal. This entails visiting her clients’ homes and combing through their closets to figure out what they want to sell on The RealReal’s website. She then takes the items for authentication and the company sells the clients’ items on their website.
Adjusting to life in a startup wasn’t too difficult for Christine. Her background in personal shopping helped ease her into the job because she spends most of her time working with her clients. Her strong client management skills have helped retain many of her former clients at Saks, and attract some of their friends to try The RealReal’s services too. The big difference in working for The RealReal is that she now has greater flexibility to work on her own schedule.
When asked what it takes to make it in New York, Christine’s immediate answer was “the willingness to work hard”. Explaining further, she said, “If you do your job and you do it well, it's not enough. You have to do your job and more to really stand out to succeed. You also have to learn to be resilient and learn to not take things personally.”
New York, New York
While the frenetic pace of life in New York can be exhausting, Christine wouldn’t want it any other way. Between meeting new people from all walks of life and just living in one of the greatest cities in the world, the experience has been a valuable part in becoming her own person.
“At this point I could say that I do prefer my life here versus my life in Manila. I can say that I can survive by myself and it's not something I thought I would ever get to do.”
Having to live independently in a new city and being able to forge her own career path has pushed Christine to grow up much faster than she would have back home. While Manila will always be home, New York allows her to grow into the person she wants to be.
“Right now, New York is home. New York allows me the freedom to make the choices I want and support myself. I've grown so much as a person in so many ways that I don't think I'm done here yet.”