How did you first get involved with personal branding?
I got interested in personal branding before I even knew what personal branding even is. It stems back to my early days of rebelling. I got my hair braided, cut my hair, got my first tattoo. I was doing personal branding without even knowing about that word. When I first started college, I was majoring in engineering. I was failing. I knew that engineering just didn’t align with who I was. I changed my major to visual and performing arts without telling my parents. I slowly discovered more about how to express myself. I loved the idea of creating a story or portraying a story. But again, I didn’t register that as personal branding. When I moved to the US, I enrolled in school for fashion design. I quickly realized that I hated sewing and didn’t like cutting fabric, or anything related to creating the actual garment. What I loved, however, was being able to tell stories through my garments. I created a whole collection about wabi-sabi, a Japanese philosophy about embracing imperfections. I dived so deep into this philosophy; I watched films, bought books, read magazines. While creating a research book, I discovered how I embodied these different elements. I decided that I wanted my collection to be unisex. Despite going to a very traditional fashion school in Texas, I convinced my teachers that a unisex collection was tied to wabi-sabi.
My collection attracted a lot of attention. Margo, a girl from the communications department, reached out to me to collaborate on branding. That was the first time that I officially learned about personal branding: a personal way of portraying who you are to the world. Together we explored my brand identity: St. Marino, the saint I was named after. While we were unearthing the true meaning of Marino, the saint struck me as rebellious. As a young girl, upon learning that her father wanted to give her away for marriage, she protested and asked to become a monk instead. She shaved her head, changed into mens clothing, and joined the monastery. What a bad bitch! That was the beginning of exploring culture, identity, and rebelling against the idea of the gender binary. I realized that what made my collection amazing was the branding.
After graduating, I worked for Victoria’s Secret as a fashion designer. It was my first big-girl job. I was making a lot of money but I realized that I had no personal brand in corporate. I had to suppress my energy, my voice, and my style. I became really quiet because I was scared to voice my opinions in such a hostile and competitive environment. I eventually quit my job in the fashion industry and decided to start my own brand as a platform. I knew that I wanted to build a business for myself that would allow me to travel and live from anywhere. I started a travel blog to help women, especially women of color, to travel more and on a budget to live vivaciously. That’s why my business is called Livin Vivaciously.
Then the pandemic hit. No one was traveling and I knew it was my chance to PIVOT. I ended up sharing content on Instagram about building an online business and branding. More and more people started to ask me, “Marina, how do you show up authentically online?” “How do you manage to incorporate yourself in your brand? I feel like I already know you!” That led me to experiment more with putting out educational content on branding. I figured out that what I was naturally doing and teaching others was personal branding. Now I help freedom-obsessed women build true-to-self online brands.
What is your story of migration? How does your background shape your work?
I was born in Egypt and moved to Kuwait when I was just 6 months. I lived there for the majority of my childhood before I moved back to Egypt for college. We immigrated again to the US after the Egyptian revolution, at the end of 2012.
We first moved to Texas because my dad knew one person! It was not easy to find an apartment, and our family friend had to host us until we were able to convince an apartment leasing office to lease us an apartment. Everything from paperwork to navigating how my brothers will go to school or whether I can even go back to school was a challenge. I became the family’s official translator, and honestly, also a guardian. I met with lawyers, went to parent-teacher meetings, and negotiated electric bills. At the mere age of 19, I definitely felt like I was becoming an adult way before I was ready.
All of these experiences–although very traumatic–helped me become more agile to change and to accept that sometimes life will challenge you and you will get through it. It definitely helped me build a lot of self confidence and it made me more of a leader. It gave me a lot of courage to have a voice, because I wasn’t necessarily able to speak in that way before. I started not only making decisions for the family but I was also doing that in my own life as well. I started making independent decisions away from my parents and my community. I lead the path that I wanted for myself.
How does your work serve other migrants and how has it been received?
I see my brand as starting some sort of revolution. A revolution in myself, my world, and other people. I challenge norms to give other people permission to also challenge norms. Women often message me saying, “You allowed me to do this. You are able to make it feel safer.” A lot of people ask me how I handle my parents. I know my brand is special because it is specifically geared towards immigrant women. I show them that it is possible to have a voice and create boundaries with their loved ones. I show them that there are different ways of living: earning more, finding purpose, and starting over on their own terms. I want to show women that their resilience and stories matter by helping them communicate their worldview through their brands.
In my Brand Development Coaching Program, women of color and immigrants find ways to build an online brand around the lifestyle they want, despite challenges and cultural norms. I help people by tapping into they’re true voice. When you’re able to tell your story, even in pieces, you’re empowered, and you’re able to own your own story. When I own my story, my expertise, and all of my past, I am able to own everything else in my life: my location, my income, my time. That is what living vivaciously means. It’s just about becoming more true to yourself.
What do you find most rewarding about what you do?
I love it when I see more women living their best lives, whatever that means to them. As a brand coach, I know I’m succeeding when my clients tell me how my programs have helped them OWN their story and show up in ways that feel true to themselves without holding back. I feel rewarded when I hear women talk about how their new way of life is coming with ease, joy, and confidence. If someone is telling me they’re having fun, that is important. I want them to adopt all these strategies in a way that feels like themselves so that they can live their own life with confidence and ownership.
What advice do you have for others wanting to follow a similar path?
Start believing that there are alternatives. My journey as a personal branding coach started with the belief that there is a way to make the lifestyle that I wanted a reality. My advice is that you should first start with self discovery. Journal about the life you want and the life you don’t want. Get in touch with your needs. What do you want to keep in your life? What do you not see in your life? Then, comes the envisioning phase. What does the life you want to live look like? Are you living near water? Are you speaking your truth more? Get very detailed about the vision. You can use this free template that I created to help you envision and plan for the life you want to manifest. Then, the planning phase. You know what your end goal is so you reverse engineer it. Do you need to move? Quit your job? Launch your online service? Planning allows you to have a breakdown of steps that you can take to reach your ideal life. Next is the action phase. In order to quit your job how much do you need to save? Who do you need to talk to?
Your vivacious life is the compound of all your actions. It’s not about speaking your truth once. It’s not about quitting your job once and not doing anything about it. It’s a never ending process. And you always go back to square one, to the discovery phase. You have to always be honest with yourself. Audit yourself. Always ask what you need to move onto the next level and go through these phases all over again. We’re always evolving. Also, reach out to me! I’d love to share my insights and speak to people and Instagram is the best platform for that.
Egypt Migrations is always looking for people to contribute to our digital initiatives. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to support the organization.
Marina Girgis is an Egyptian-born and US-based brand coach, strategist, and avid traveler. Her travels have inspired her to start her brand Livin Vivaciously; a platform for freedom-obsessed women and business owners to help them make more money online while living their best lives! Marina has over 5 years of diverse experience in sales, marketing, and design at companies such as Estee Lauder, Victoria’s Secret and CURLS Beauty Brands, and she is able to create complete brand and marketing strategies that take her clients from idea to cash in a true-to-self way. Marina’s ultimate goal is to empower women to overcome their limiting beliefs, face their fears, tell their stories, and live more freely despite gender and cultural norms. Follow her on Instagram.