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'Mixing cultures leads to human progress.’

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Feature by Michael Canning

Creative director and entrepreneur Mara Lecocq was brought up in the Philippines and France, then worked in Paris and Toronto before the lure of her dream job with a digital advertising agency saw her relocating to New York City.

In 2017, she won an entrepreneurial grant from the Sophia Amoruso Girlboss foundation, was named a rising creative star by Mashable, and dubbed a next creative leader by The 3% Conference. Currently, she is focused on Secret Code and Where Are The Boss Ladies, two projects aimed at better representation for women. We spoke with Mara on how America inspires her, inside tips for life in New York, and why she actually likes the subway.


On where you’re from

I’m from two countries at the same time. Born and raised in the Philippines but went to French school and spent all my summers in France. French mom, Filipino dad. Also lived 14 years in the Philippines and 14 years in France. Full 50/50 mind, body and geography.

On where you’re living

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but off Lorimer Street, the Puerto Rican and Dominican neighborhood. I love how they speak Spanish at the laundromat and how there’s Merengue blasting at the corner store. And they think I’m hispanic. Both my home countries actually don’t think I’m one of theirs, only Latin Americans do. So I feel a sense of belonging, somehow. Also, the Philippines is the only Asian country that’s a Spanish colony, so there are similarities in culture.

On why you moved to New York

For my dream job at AKQA, my greatest digital ad agency fantasy back then.

On the best new phrase you’ve heard in the USA

Get ittttt.

New skylines. Mara on the rooftop of creative agency BETC in Paris (above) and on the rooftop of New York creative agency AKQA (below)

On your relationship with New York

Gratitude. I felt ‘normal’ for the first time in my life at age 30, when I moved to New York. I’ve always felt ‘on the side’ of my home countries — in New York, I finally feel like everyone else, because most people have an awesome immigrant story, whether it’s theirs or their family’s. So, coming from everywhere is NBD. The diversity in New York is incredible. My favorite place is inside a subway car. I love seeing people from everywhere.

What I love is that everyone has this optimistic, go-getter, immigrant mindset. Everyone encourages you to be your best self. It’s a really invigorating place to be in. 

On the best thing about life abroad

Feeling wide-eyed.

On what inspires you in New York at the moment

The feminist movement is going bonkers right now. It’s incredible. Being at The Wing, a co-working space designed for women, is so inspiring. I love how they combine community and activism in such a beautiful place. I’m sad feminist dudes who like pretty things can’t join. Ah, new business idea!

'I love how they speak Spanish at the laundromat and how there's merengue blasting at the corner store. And they think I'm hispanic.'

On whether American culture has influenced your creativity

Yes, definitely: more power and shamelessness. I come from pretty humble and self-deprecating cultures, so America has taught me to just OWN IT and GET IT (laughs). I still have my demons but I try to learn from Americans and ignore the noise.

On what is different in America from France or the Philippines

Knowing how to sell yourself are table stakes here. I learned that America is a country where you can be successful by being really good at speaking. France is all about the hard skills, and we’re generally horrible at speaking. So I had to step up in terms of how I presented myself, spoke, and what types of first impressions I gave. Every culture has something amazing to learn from. And even if in France we’re cynical about people who just talk — and don’t walk the talk — I think Americans are really powerful in how they talk. They inspire me every day. Walking is easier for me, so now I need to learn to TALK the walk. Ha.

'Secret Code', a customizable children's book designed to inspire young girls about a career in tech

On where you find inspiration

Conversations with everyday people. The news. Stand-up comedy. I like feeling what moves societies and coming up with ideas from there.

On New York arrival tips

Go live where your potential friends live. Be ready to spit out four times your rent (first month plus broker fee plus two-month security deposit. Get a credit card ASAP — get over your foreign impulse that credit cards are evil; this is how the US rolls. Get your Green Card ASAP. And don’t get trapped in a company you hate; tell them with ‘Trump’s America’, you need to feel security and that you won’t get deported if there are layoffs. It’s a negotiation tactic. So, negosh!

'I had to step up in terms of how I presented myself, spoke, and what types of first impressions I gave. Every culture has something amazing to learn from.'

On the inspiration for ‘Secret Code’ and ‘Where Are The Boss Ladies’

Over a decade in my career in advertising, I was feeling a growing passion for an issue: representation. Being one of the rare female leaders in advertising and technology, I decided to solve the problem in two folds: by inspiring little girls to get in male-dominated industries, and by inspiring women to remain in them.

I created Secret Code, a customizable children’s book that stars your girl as a tech hero. The way it works is you personalize her name, skin color and hairstyle, and two weeks later she receives a beautiful children’s book with her story as a badass robot engineer. 

Studies show that stereotypes sink in between ages 5 and 7, and that has an impact on children’s interests, and later, their aspirations. I wanted to have an impact by targeting those formative years, when children are building their models with children’s books. I won a grant from Sophia Amoruso’s Girlboss Foundation. I signed with William Morris/WME. I got an offer from a publisher, and Secret Code is coming out in bookstores this fall. I won a grant from Sophia Amoruso's Girlboss Foundation. I signed with William Morris/WME. I got an offer from a publisher and Secret Code is coming out in bookstores this fall.

And to address the issues later in the pipeline, I started Where Are The Boss Ladies, a crowd-sourced list of female executives in advertising, to offer a resource for women to find a boss they can relate to.

Above: Girlboss Foundation panel in Los Angeles. Below: Mara presenting on International Womens Day.

On creative diversity and new cultures

Mixing cultures leads to human progress. People grow up with stereotypes that hold them back. In order to grow past them, you need to meet the people defying these stereotypes, and draw inspiration from different sources. As Sallie Krawcheck said, ‘Innovation is the clash of differences.’

On a New York secret

Not a secret, but I’m always blown away by Comedy Cellar. Such quality and so many great insights that make you understand society better.

On your favorite gallery

Gagosian Gallery. It’s like… welcome to America.

On good drinks

Any bar where you can sit, where there’s no line, where there’s more than beer, where there are no TVs, and where people don’t shout.

Otherwise: Attaboy. Their cocktails are amazing. There is no cocktail menu and they come up with awesome flavors that fit your palate.

On an Insta you follow

My favorite instagram is @adventurerscap (laughs). I'm a 90s adventure game freak.

On good coffee

I really enjoy a good old mug of joe. I was brought up on espresso (France) and I discovered when I arrived in North America that I found watered-down coffee awesome. It’s comfy. Like tea, but less boring.

On a fix you need from France or the Philippines

France: croissants at Almondine or Maison Kayser — it’s okay. Breaks my heart that they’re not served in shells, but it’s next to where I live so that will do. BTW, ‘okay’ is a pretty good rating for French standards. But yeah, the French are not blown away by French food in NY, because it’s either overpriced or canteen-like. We’re just like, ‘Uhm this $30 dish is $15 in Paris, and better.’

Philippines: I often get my Filipino fix from home-cooked meals. That’s basically all I cook. But otherwise, Jeepney — more authentic.

On window seat or aisle

Window. So I can shove my head in there and sleep.


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