There may be no other generation in modern history as wistfully flighty as the millennials. It’s been said many times, among many other choice words, by many a disapproving elder—and even by condescending older millennials who attempt to dissociate themselves from the poisonous branding. Countless articles on the internet capitalize on this collective wanderlust and stoke the fire. They know exactly what we feel.
They tell us we need to follow our hearts, and we need to love what we do and do what we love. Writers and blogs and everyone with a camera phone (so basically, everyone) constantly drill into our heads the need to spend our younger, more spirited years traveling and getting those experiences, financial security be damned. For the most part, the relevant industries have made this easier: there’s a seat sale happening more than once in a while. Airbnb’s made it cheaper to find a place to lay your head.
Some of you, the more cautious, conservative types I can imagine, might be wondering where the prudence is in all of this. Whose smart idea is it to tell kids to blow their hard-earned money (if it is their hard-earned money) flying around instead of doing something a normal adult would do, like, I don’t know, building up a nest egg? Or to give up a gig that’s cushy for the objectively harder path of following your dreams? It’s actually impossible to trace it back to one single entity, so we don’t really know who to thank.
What we do know, though, is that it can be done. Constant travel need not automatically mean instability—at least, not the long-term kind. Presenting the best evidence for a life of travel (and the sense of uncertainty that’s built into it): Martine Cajucom.
Most of you know her as the cousin of “It Girls” Isabelle Daza and Georgina Wilson. Some of you also know her as the current creative director of local sunglass brand Sunnies. There might be a number of you who are aware that, after a lifetime of moving around from one country or another, she ditched a pretty comfortable creative job in the States to come over to Manila and help launch Sunnies.
This here is the story of how she ended up back in her home country, after a lifetime of bouncing around and traveling in packs and surviving on her own and giving up comfort for personal growth. And doing it all over again if it ever comes to that.
I don’t know you that well. You’re someone who’s not too prominent, I think? I think that’s okay with you.
Yeah! It’s a good thing. It was never really my intention, I guess, to be prominent.
You didn’t grow up here.
I didn’t technically grow up here. But I was born here, I spent a lot of time here–actually, I did grow up here. I spent every summer here, every vacation, my whole family lives here, even though I grew up technically mostly in the US, very very Filipino.
What’s the story of you coming to Manila?
Well, Manila’s always been home to me as much as Los Angeles has been, because, like I said, my family lives here, I used to come here so often. It actually started because Georgina would come visit me in LA all the time, and she just said, “Manila needs someone like you! I really wanna work with you, I really wanna do something with you!” After maybe four years of her trying to poach me, she kinda finally convinced me to give it a shot. I’ll give it a try.
Was it hard to uproot yourself?
Actually, no. I would say that it was such an easy transition for me. The people here are so warm, so friendly, and obviously I have a network of my family and friends already here. It was quite a smooth transition, remarkably. Right when I landed, I felt like it was a good decision to make.
It was never a hard time for you?
Oh, of course. I left a job I had for five years, a job I loved, a job I was comfortable in, and I was good at. To leave all of that—obviously, a Western salary—to leave that to go to the Philippines, it was actually a big decision for me. It was, actually—you’re right. It was a really tough decision, but ultimately, I think it was the right one for me. Like two and a half years later, I definitely don’t regret it.
What was it that made you come to terms with, “Okay, I gotta do it?” Was there anything that finally pushed you?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve been working for a company that I really respect. I used to work in an American firm there, their head creative office, and I really respected the vision of my CEO. But I really wanted to do something for myself, and that’s why, essentially, I came to the Philippines. I wanted to build a brand of my own. I wanted to make something authentic and call my own.
Is this something you’d suggest to millennials? I think at some point, in most of our lives, you have to make a decision about staying or going. Would you even suggest uprooting oneself to do something different?
Would I suggest that, realistically? It’s hard to say, because I did it and I was a success story, and I couldn’t be more thankful for all the cards that were dealt my way, and what’s happened to get me where I am today. But it isn’t a route for everyone. I would make people assess what are their true assets and skills, and see if it’s a good decision to make. But generally, I am very pro-push yourself out of your comfort zone and do things you’re passionate about.
But also, if you come to a [certain] age, you also have to be realistic about your goals and what you can actually achieve. That’s true, that’s very real advice. Not everyone can do something extraordinary. (It’s true, though! Sorry, millennials.) I would say that I’m pro-doing things outside of your comfort zone and making the most. Honestly, I tell my nieces and nephews in college, I give them real advice.
You won’t be the first person to say those things.
It’s so true, though, gosh. I think… what would I say to millennials about how to be successful? I think true success comes with self-awareness. I always say that. It’s knowing what you’re good at and making the most out of that for yourself, individually. Not everybody is going to be an entrepeneur. Not everyone is an outlier. But it is important to know what you’re good at and make the most out of what you’re given.
Let’s talk about Sunnies real quick. You’re a creative director for Sunnies—what exactly does that entail?
Being creative director here means guiding the direction and vision of the brand in every aspect, in terms of development, styles, marketing, just the overall giving life to the brand. Making it human, I guess.
Was it something you envisioned yourself doing back when you were a kid?
I’m not going through the list of things I wanted to be when I was a kid. First job I ever wanted, I wanted to be a veterinarian, I wanted to be a makeup artist, graphic designer, photographer, I dabbled in everything. I got into journalism, I got into writing, and then I got into marketing. I guess being a creative director is kind of this cornucopia of everything I’ve ever liked doing. And it’s guiding a team and honestly working with a team that is more talented than I am in so many ways. And it’s being a leader, and I guess it’s what led me here. My dream job!
It’s really your dream job, being a leader?
Well, yeah! I suppose!
Did the things you wanted to do in life change with every place you’ve been in?
Hmm… not really. I mean, everywhere I’ve been, I’m always inspired in some way. But I think, from even an early age, I’ve always been myself. I always know exactly what I like. I think it’s what led me here.
You’ve never worried about not knowing what you were gonna do?
Oh, of course. I think we’ve all gone through a quarter-life crisis. Especially when you’re in college. College breeds quarter-life crises. “What am I gonna do with my life?” And I’ve been there. I definitely went through a massive quarter-life crisis at 20, 21. And I think when I was in college, I was very passionate about photojournalism, and I read a list that said that the number one job that people were out of work in and make no income was photojournalism. I was like, “Shit, what am I gonna do with myself?” And now I just kinda wanna tell kids in college, just relax. Things are gonna be okay. Just work hard and go out of your way to meet as many kinds of people as possible. And you’ll find yourself. You’ll find a job. You’ll find fulfillment in your life.
Did it take long for you to swallow your pride and admit, okay, I can’t be this?
Yeah. I’m very realistic. I’ve always set very realistic goals for myself, all right? Even if I become the best photojournalist in the world, still not gonna cut it for the life that I want? It’s okay, everyone defines happiness differently. Everyone defines success differently. That’s when I started getting more into retail and marketing. I don’t know, I guess I just had a natural knack for it, and here I am!
Would you recommend, should the opportunity come up, that people leave—maybe not leave for somewhere better, but just leave?
If you’re unhappy where you are, if you’re unsatisfied, if you’re unfulfilled, then by all means, leave.
Were you unfulfilled when you decided to leave LA?
Not necessarily. I was fulfilled, but I also felt like I hit a plateau, where I wasn’t gonna grow more. And I had all the fulfillment I had in those five years, and I was so grateful for it. And obviously the learning curve was so steep; not as steep as Sunnies, but learning could be definitely really really steep. So I think, once you stop growing, once you stop learning, it’s time to move on. I guess that’s the advice I would give to a millennial. Always push yourself to learn, always push yourself to grow.
That’s fair. I’m sure you’ve seen so many articles giving advice to young people saying, travel while you still can? Do you recommend that, given the cost of travel?
You can always travel on a budget. In George’s Besties book, they made me write an article on how to travel on a budget. I’m definitely the promoter of traveling on a budget. I hate quotes, but one of those stupid Pinteresty things that says, “Nothing in this world you can buy can make you rich than traveling.” Something like that, but it’s so true. Nothing you can spend on will make you richer than travel. That’s something I really believe in. People who have traveled and lived abroad, their minds are so much more open, so much more receptive to new ideas.
Traveling on a budget is easy nowadays. They make it so easy. Airbnbs and budget airlines, a million things that you can do. There’s so many ways you can travel on a budget.
I did a six-month stint in Europe, I studied abroad and traveled around with a backpack. Literally my luggage was full of sardines. All I ate every day just to save money was sardines and hard-boiled eggs. I was 20 and it was so fulfilling, it was wonderful. Something I’d recommend to everyone, maybe not hard-boiled eggs and sardines.
You’re a trooper. Would you be offended if I said I didn’t think you would actually pull that off?
No, of course not! Actually, it’s so funny! Nobody understands how down I am for stuff like that. Traveling on a budget, doing things like that. I did that so much.
People are surprised when they find out.
People are really surprised. I grew up in the US, I know how to rough it out. I guess people here are also shocked that I know how to do my own hair, I know how to do my nails, I know how to do my own makeup, because everyone’s so accustomed to having a glam squad. But I’m actually very comfortable doing a lot of things on my own.
I think people’s assumption of people in the US is that no matter where they’re from in the US, they have it easy. I’m guessing that’s not completely true for you if you know how to rough it up? Was it always easy?
I’m generally quite low-maintenance, anyway. Whatever the perception is for me, I’m truly low-maintenance. The US, I think the US teaches a lot of independence. I love the Philippines, but people are very handicapped here also. The US teaches independence more than anything. It’s a little more cutthroat, it’s very capitalist, and nothing’s really handed to you on a plate. [In] the US, everything you do, you have to do yourself. You have to work hard. Study hard. The jobs that I got weren’t through any connections. They were just from my own merit. I guess that’s the sort of difference, which is why I was able to rough it up and feel comfortable doing that.
Actually, remarkably, my family is very low-maintenance, also. Ish. All my cousins, when we’ve traveled, especially when we were younger, they knew how to travel on a budget too. We’ve all had our fair share of cramming 10 people in one hotel room. I remember this one trip we took, it was with Belle and George, and my other cousins, we went to Las Vegas and we fit like 15 people in one hotel room. And my mom was cooking in the bathroom. We all like laugh about it today; we were like 18, 19, we know what it’s like.
But by no means were you guys not well off.
No, we weren’t struggling, but we knew how to stretch a dollar.
Glad you mentioned the difference between US and Manila. You mentioned earlier that George said Manila needs someone like you. What did that mean?
Not that presumptuous, but she just said, “Manila is so up and coming, and there’s so many opportunities for people like you.” That’s more what she meant. There’s opportunities for people like you if you want to come do something really stylish and cool. The country’s going through so many changes and people are so receptive to so many new kinds of [ideas]. It’s more progressive. That’s more of what she meant.
What was your idea of Manila when you were just visiting?
Good times. Manila to me has always, I associate with having a good time. Back in the day, going to Embassy and things like the beach and leisure and food and community. That’s what I’ve always associated Manila with. But growing up, I remember that there wasn’t really many contemporary things here. Like Western luxuries that I like.
Has that perception changed since you started living here?
Definitely! I think all the new restaurants, all the new independent labels popping up, it’s actually a more bustling art scene, a more contemporary, progressive art scene here. It’s really refreshing and it’s nice.
But do you look at the city and the country in a whole new way?
Not really. I’m just happy to be part of it.
I don’t know if you noticed or how true it is, but people see you as sort of an It Girl. I assume you don’t subscribe to that stuff.
No, of course not. I think we all collectively cringe at the word. But it’s a compliment, so I guess it’s flattering. Cringey but flattering.
But I guess people here look at certain people a certain way, with that perception I guess. Does it ever get too much?
For me? Not for me. I’m definitely not at that level, that it would be bothersome for me. For me, it’s still more novel. Like, ooh! When people say, “I’m your biggest fan,” I’m so unbelievably flattered, I’m more excited than they are. So yes, it’s still on a level of novelty for me. So it’s more fun.
It sounds like you’re really happy to be here, but was there ever a time you regretted moving here?
No, definitely not. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Although I love the US, too. Not to knock the US. I love Los Angeles, I love growing up in California. And actually, even before that, I used to live in Hong Kong, New Delhi, so I’ve never regretted a new experience, especially if it’s something you learn from. That’s definitely what Manila’s been for me.
What’s your favorite part of Manila right now, since you moved?
I always loved how Manila is always community-based. It does have its downsides, but I’m with my family all the time. It’s so much fun. Every time we see each other, it’s a party because we’re all women. I think their ratio is like eight to two, women to men. So every day, we laugh; every day, with my whole family, my aunts, my cousins, my mom. So I guess that’s my favorite part of being in Manila: like having that family bases and being with them.
Would you ever have plans of uprooting again?
Yeah, of course. I definitely have plans of uprooting again. I’d love to live everywhere. If I could live in every country for a year, I would. Manila isn’t forever for me, but it’s always home.
So is it safe to say that you have a bit of a nomadic soul?
I do! I definitely have a nomadic soul. Yeah! I do, I think it comes from my childhood also. We moved around every year or two.
Has that ever gotten in the way of life? Of living?
No. I think people define living differently. It wasn’t that difficult; moving to a new country every two years was just exciting, and no, it doesn’t get in the way of living.
It’s never a problem to tie you down?
No, it’s not, actually.
Where would you go if resources weren’t an issue?
Hmm… space? Why not? Like anywhere?
Then definitely space. The moon is one option. Other planets would be nice to visit, habitable planets. If we’re talking about literally, resources aren’t an option, a habitable planet, traveling faster than the speed of light. Teleporting to another habitable planet.
That’s something I’d actually like to see happen.
Yeah! I think everyone would. It’s really cool.
What are your biggest career accomplishments so far?
This one’s pretty cool! *holds up award* They kinda broke it, but it was being nominated for Entrepeneur of the Year. It was funny, the awards ceremony was significantly younger than everyone else. They thought I was the girl giving the trophy. *laughs* So that was massive. A lot of things. This year alone, we’re gonna open up two more concepts. And we’ve been working really really hard. We’re doing the Sunnies Cafe, which is gonna be hopefully amazing. We’re gonna open up an optical eyewear line called Sunnies Specs, so that’s all prescription eyewear: frames, eye exams, and lens for one bulk price. Obviously very competitively priced, as with Sunnies. So that will be massive, too.
Is there anything else other than the awards and the expansion?
For me, personal success? Do I need to do more? I don’t know, maybe I’ll think of something. Maybe it was getting abs briefly.
Is there anything else you’d like to get into?
Lots of things. I’d like to play the harp. I’ve always wanted to play the harp. I’d love to learn how to play the harp. That’s top of mind for something I’d love to get into. A lot of travel. I’m still dreaming to see the northern lights. Like this year is gonna be the last year; if I don’t see it this year, it’s gonna be another decade. So that’s pressure there.
I have a lot of secret projects happening. Secret projects and things I’ve been working on for a year. I can’t say, but they are exciting. More products, basically, I guess. I don’t know how you can hint it. I’d [also] love to get back into clothing one day.
Photos by Ralph Mendoza, grooming by Sylvina Lopez, styled by Ryuji Shiomitsu