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Life and Work with Carmen Trejo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Carmen Trejo.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Carmen. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I am an immigrant. I was brought here to the U.S. by my parents at the age of seven. We lived in Glendale when we first arrived and moved around to many places all over Los Angeles. I have lived in Los Angeles, San Gabriel, Covina, Valencia, the Valley, back to Glendale and now I live in Pasadena. Since I spent my childhood and teenage years undocumented, I wasn’t able to attend college. Before graduating from high school, I found myself stuck because I wasn’t able to get a drivers license or work like my peers were. Almost daily, I thought about my undocumented status and hoped for the approval of my residency application so I could do something with my life. During my senior year I found out about a program called Inner-City Filmmakers. The program selects inner-city/minority teens and young adults from all over Los Angeles and introduces them to the film industry. I was accepted into the program and kept myself busy as I waited for my residency to be approved.

At 19, my application was approved and I was finally granted permission to work legally in this country. I called Fred Heinrich of Inner-City Filmmakers, and two weeks later I had my first job as an On-set Production Assistant on a feature film. I worked in production and post-production for about four years. Initially, I loved working in film. Since I came from humble beginnings, to find myself working on movie sets was very exciting for me and my family. After a while the demanding hours and sometimes demanding personalities started to wear on me. Around this time, my friends who I went to high school with started to graduate from college. This made me feel like I didn’t have a real foundation to fall back on and I decided to quit working in film and go to Cosmetology school.

I finished school in one year and began my career as a hairstylist at Fandango Salon in Silver Lake in 2005. I worked at Fandango for about 12 years until I felt the need for a change. I began looking at other salons in the area until I found a small retail space in Highland Park that was for lease. I made my husband contact the landlord for me because I was super scared of taking this giant leap on my own. Before you know it, I was signing a lease to have my own little hair studio. I opened Viva Studio on August 9th, 2016. Initially, I thought it would just be for me. A few months later, my long-time friend and former co-worker Jamie Martig joined me. A year and a half later, another long-time friend and co-worker Jessica Arnold joined us. I feel very lucky that I have a great clientele who has supported me and stuck by me for all these years. I am also grateful to have two amazing, hard-working women who work alongside me and contribute to the success of my small business. Last month we celebrated our 3rd year anniversary.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Initially working in the film industry was hard for me because I felt very out of place. As a young Mexican immigrant woman, I felt like I didn’t belong. As a young woman working in a male-dominated industry, I faced a lot of sexual harassment. I was disillusioned many times and realized that sometimes the praise form my male superiors regarding my work performance was not genuine. I never felt completely comfortable in that environment. Leaving the film industry was hard because my family had hoped it would take me to better places. It was really hard for people to see me give up what they perceived to be a great opportunity.

Woking in hair was much simpler when I was a booth renter because I was not responsible for providing adequate space for others to work in. Everything is my responsibility now and if can’t take care of things myself, I have to find those who can. Working with my body for the last 15 years has also been hard on me physically. I am definitely starting to feel the effects of tendonitis and carpal tunnel. Although doing hair for a living can be super fun and creative, it can also be very hard on the body.

I feel that being undocumented for such a long time didn’t allow me to have the confidence to think that I could achieve much. I did not believe there were many opportunities for people like me. For many years, I was more aware of things I couldn’t do rather than those I could. It’s taken many years for me to believe in myself and gain the confidence to dream, plan, achieve goals and chose what I want to do.

My advice for women out there who are starting out is to choose what you want to focus on and give it all you got, or as we say in Spanish “Echale Ganas!” Be responsible, be consistent and put good energy into your work. I believe if you do things the right way, there is a very good chance they will come out alright. I believe we can all do many things in life and I encourage everyone to pursue other interests. I am currently a part-time college student with plans to transfer to a university next year. One day I would like to have Bachelor’s degree. I also believe that we must surround ourselves with women who we look up to, who support us, and who will help us grow. I think its very important to give back to the community or volunteer. It is important to be supportive of our friends and loved ones as they pursue their personal interests. We must keep moving forward. For those who are immigrants or from the Latinx community, I want to say that we can all do more than was is expected of us. We can all achieve something positive as long as we try.

Although I had slow start, I feel that my road has been a smooth one. My chosen career has allowed me to go from an employee to a small business owner. Through my work, I have met so many amazing people who have provided me with so many opportunities. My long time client/friend Maria gave me an opportunity to become a volunteer interpreter for KIND (Kids in Need of Defense). KIND provides free legal aid to undocumented minors seeking asylum in this country. As an interpreter, I am responsible for communicating their experiences during meetings with attorneys. My hope is that the kids who I am helping see that I am like them and that they will be okay. Doing hair has allowed me so much freedom and flexibility but more than anything it has allowed me to make connections that have improved my life and I am very thankful for that.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Viva Studio – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
I have been a hairstylist for 15 years. I specialize in cut and color. I am known for someone who listens to the clients and who can archive the results a client has asked for. I am also known for the consistency of my work.

I am proud to have created a space that people like working in and where clients feel comfortable. I am proud to have built strong relationships with women stylist who have chosen my studio as the place to practice their passion. Perhaps what I am most proud of is to come from a place where I wasn’t allowed to work, drive, or pursue an education and end up as a business owner and college student.

There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that a lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
My advice is to talk to everyone and be open about what you want to do because you never know who will be willing to help, connect you or guide you in the right direction. Sorround yourself with women that inspire you and are excited to help you grow.

What has worked for me is sharing what I am doing with everyone and ask for advice.

Contact Info:

  • Address: Viva Studio
    5701 N. Figueroa, Los Angeles, CA 90042
  • Website:
  • Phone: (323) 6820406
  • Email:
  • Instagram: @vivastudiohighlandpark

Image Credit:
in red and orange clothes -Gerald Gaunty, photo with dog- Michelle Mishina

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