Costume designer talks career success and new project, ‘REBEL’ on BET

Being Mary Jane Costume Designer Janelle Carothers
Photo credit: Dorian Hill

Relentless hard work, artistry, purpose, and a daily love affair for her work has led costume designer Janelle Carothers to produce du jour moments for major clients. Movie director John Singleton was recently quoted saying, “the looks that Janelle creates will change women’s lives.” She is currently working on Singleton’s new movie project called REBEL airing very soon. Rolling out had the opportunity to catch up with the young and talented costume designer that has made characters for stars such as Cassie Ventura (The Perfect Match) come to life.

Carothers shares with rolling out how she began her career in costume design, challenges she has faced, and tips for aspiring costume designers.

Where did your career as a costume designer begin?

My career has made some full circles. So the literal answer to the question is: I started as a costumer doing small independent films and made for TV movies. Shortly after, I transitioned into an assistant stylist which is styling for award shows, live performances, music videos, commercials, etc. I poured in a lot of years as an assistant stylist, then took another full circle back into the tv/film world as an assistant costume designer. From there I landed opportunities to costume design and here I am. My passion for Costume Design began With my love for story telling. I love to people watch, therefore I like to say that people inspired my pursuit. I Love watching folks just living. There are so many walks of life, and so many stories behind many looks. For me, it was answering the questions of how can I help the actor and the director tell this character’s story without saying a word. Executing the vision of the powers that be into making you believe this character is who they say they are.

What challenges have you faced along your career journey?

Lots! The challenging part was all the different catch 22’s. Get a job to get experience, because no one will hire you until you have experience. Get into the union. Can’t get into the union unless you find a union job. Can’t get a union job because you’re not in the union. It’s almost like it’s designed to make you quit, but you can’t. Every obstacle you overcome bears a new obstacle. ‘Tis is life. I look back and see how far I’ve come, and I look ahead to see that there’s still so much more to do.

How important is having a mentor and who inspired you in the costume design industry?

Finding a mentor is key!! If you really want to be great, slow and steady wins the race. Taking the time to really learn the craft and study under people who are great at what they do is critical. I literally have so many mentors and so many people who I have wanted to be a blessing to and pour into them and their careers. When you approach finding a mentor with that mindset Instead of the mindset of “gimme gimme gimme” you will reap so much more. I truly believe that you just give and pour into people and God is in control of what you get out of that.

What three key pieces of advice do you have for women of color who aspire to work as designers for movie, stage, theater, and television productions?

“We” (women of color) must support each other in the journey. Believe it or not, there aren’t a lot of African American costume designers. We have got to work with each other, support each other, and refer each other. Even though I costume design my own films, I am never to “accomplished” to help out my fellow costume designers, whether it be directly or indirectly. “We” have the ability to be each other’s biggest resource if we don’t let pride and ego get in the way. Like I said previously, just focus on being a blessing. The fruits of your labor and operating with positive intentions will have blessings pouring down on you. What is for you is for you. Your time will be your time. Stay out of the competition lane and stay in a collaborative state. There are still so many doors to open and so many walls to still tear down. So if one wins we all win and we all benefit.

Learn your craft. If you really want to do this, then really do it. A lot of “us” didn’t go to school for this. We didn’t grow up with seeing people that looked like us do this. So basically we are starting from scratch which is perfectly fine, but you have to commit to the entire journey not just subscribe to the beauty of it. So many people want a shot at this until they realize that shot includes waking up and having to be at work at 4 a.m., lugging, loading, keeping track of every penny spent, meetings, missing parties, keep track of details, script break downs, taking an extreme amount of notes, and budgets. You don’t just get to come to work, dress cute, dress a few people cute and go home. You have to be all in.

I am actually in the editing process of my book which talks about all of this. So my third piece of advice would be to pick up a copy when it releases at the top of this year. It’s a shameless plug but I seriously have a lot to say on this subject matter. I knew so many could benefit from someone who’s been through it all to put in ink their testimony. So I did it.

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