If you had told Kim Cam Jones in her early 20s that she'd someday have brands clamoring to pay for her trips around the world, or that she'd become a fashion week street-style regular and frequent Louis Vuitton and Dior collaborator, she might have laughed in your face. The Australian-raised daughter of a British father and Filipino mother, Jones had never traveled before age 23 and found herself working a series of odd jobs as a bank teller and at a salad bar after dropping out of university in Australia.
"I was bored out of my brain, and it was the most terrifying thing because I could see what my future was looking like. That jolted me," Jones says. "I didn't really know what it was like to be fulfilled."
It was that search for something more that prompted Jones to book a ticket to the Philippines, a country where she had plenty of family roots but no lived experience, and fall so deeply in love with the culture that she came back to Australia only to sell her car, break up with her boyfriend and buy a one-way ticket back to Manila. There, her striking features and effortless charm landed her modeling jobs and a TV hosting gig that helped make her name in the local scene even as her personal blog, where she served as model, photographer and writer, helped her reach a global audience.
In the seven years since then, Jones' blog and Instagram following (currently 765k strong) have only grown. And while she still feels a bit like she stumbled into fashion half on accident, she's increasingly establishing herself as an authority that brands and publications alike are eager to work with.
Earlier this year, I met up with Jones in Manila — my childhood hometown, her adult one — at the house she shares with her husband Jericho Rosales. Manila's infamous traffic had made me late, so we only had a bit of daylight with which to take some pictures before sitting down to chat. Rosales, who is himself an actor so famous in the Philippines that it's hard to go anywhere there without seeing his face on a billboard, offered to be our chauffeur while I looked out the window for a spot that screamed "Manila!" to me.
Having previously met Jones surrounded by the glitz of a New York Fashion Week backdrop, I wanted to show her in the everyday environs of the country that helped catapult her to where she is today. Because as much time as she spends in renowned fashion capitals these days, Jones identifies more deeply with her Filipino roots than ever.
"I've had a couple of instances where people have told me not to say I'm from the Philippines," she tells me. "I'll be in Paris and they'll tell me to say that I'm from Asia, and my response is like… Asia's a continent!"
As far as Jones is concerned, there's plenty of talent in Manila worth being proud of. That's one reason she decided to launch her newest venture, the Fore, a website dedicated supporting emerging designers through collaborations with Jones that she'll promote on her own platforms. Through the Fore, she hopes to be able to help up-and-coming talent — from the Philippines, but maybe someday from around the world — connect with audiences around the globe.
Back at the house after our photo excursion, Jones told me more about how she got invited to her first Dior show, what makes her hopeful about the future of Filipino fashion, and why she decided to launch an online store rather than turning her blog into a media brand. Read on for the highlights from our conversation.
You went from working at a salad bar, as a bank teller and as a general practitioner's assistant in Australia to modeling and TV gigs in the Philippines. How did that transition come about?
My knowledge of anything to do with modeling was so rudimentary; I had no idea what modeling really meant. I just knew that I wanted to do something creative, and this was my only way. So my brother, who had done some modeling when he was in the Philippines, introduced me to his agent.
I started going to castings and auditions. I booked my first gig, which was a shampoo commercial, and after 20 hours I got a talent fee of $30 and I was like, 'Mom, I've made it!' And then it aired and my part had been totally cut.
I was discouraged, to say the least. I have so much respect for models because you're waiting for hours. It's not glamorous; you're not treated very well. But I did end up booking a lot of commercial gigs, like for fast food or medicine. And then I landed a TV hosting gig on a cable channel here, which was predominantly about lifestyle. Very commercial, to put it politely. But I owe a lot to it, because they put me in front of a camera, and it was the moment that I realized liked being a part of production.
These days, you're directing more and more of the shoots you appear in. Why was it important to you to move toward that?
When you're in commercial modeling or doing any kind of TV production, your actions, your clothes, your energy is being dictated. It got to a point where I was just drained from being told what to do. It was like, 'I'm here again, I'm back in the bank in Australia and I can see where this is going to take me.'
So out of pure stubbornness, I was like, 'I'm done.' I wanted space where I could create whatever I want. Slowly but surely I started flexing my creative muscles, I started tinkering with a camera, downloading Photoshop for the first time, reading a lot, just exposing myself to things so I could really develop a personality in whatever work I was creating.
You've said you're a very shy person. How did you get past that to start your own website?
It was my brother's idea. I wasn't really the kind to journal my life online, so it became a moodboard of sorts. I liked the anonymity of it, because I had come from such a straight sort of path — very narrow, very protected.
But I saw where this digital thing was heading, and I wanted to be a part of it, so I decided to have an online presence. Every time I clicked publish on Wordpress, I would feel such anxiety that I was sharing even this small part of me with my like, five followers. It really was about me just sort challenging myself and seeing what I could do.
Then I would inject these traveling experiences, not because I wanted to show everyone that I was traveling, just because I had never traveled before. And I really wanted to document it and share it.
How did it become so fashion-focused?
I still don't see myself as a fashion person, really. [laughs] But fashion became an avenue because it's so malleable. You can do so much with fashion.
I didn't grow up with "Mama's pearls" or "Mama's vintage Chanel." I would sit at home as a 12-year-old and attach foam to my shoes to make them flatforms. I would sew up the hem myself. I would just tinker with the clothes that I had, because we couldn't afford new ones. Our uniforms were secondhand. So my love for fashion is less about what it means to own fashion and it's really more about the story behind fashion, as opposed to the brands and labels.
Even now, the majority of the content on my website isn't paid for. It's just because I want to create stuff. At this point, I could probably build a small team and have someone photograph and write on behalf of me. But it's really not about that. Even if the photos aren't as good or the writing's not as good [as a result], it's still an outlet for me. I'm still connected to that girl who was making things on her own in her bedroom at 2 a.m.
How did you turn that passion into the kind of business that brands like Louis Vuitton wanted to work with?
Louis Vuitton approached me and I'm so grateful for that, because they really trusted me. To this day, they give me creative freedom to go out and do whatever I want. And then because of Louis Vuitton, other brands started knocking.
And I'm a very goal-oriented person. One of the brands that I really responded to and admired was Dior under Raf [Simons]. So the beauty team reached out to me and said, 'Would you be interested?' And I was like, 'If I'm going to do beauty, it has to have some sort of substance, there has to be some sort of story behind it.' And with a brand such as Dior that is so ingrained in the rich history of a house, I pitched something to them — 'I said, I need to be at your show, this is what I want to create.' I did this whole proposal and they liked it.
There was a point where I was like, 'OK, this is my business model, I want to work with brands and create content.' The thing I didn't realize was that brands have briefs, and expectations. There's compromise. And then again, it was frustrating. I just want to have the freedom to create something compelling and substantial. But the offers that I was getting were like… I don't want to badmouth anyone, but it was so commercial. I could not get behind this idea that I was just adding to product placement and noise. It was all about selling product. You end up feeling a bit hollow.
How do you balance not wanting to add to the noise but also not completely shutting down your livelihood?
These days if I partner with a brand, there has to be that balance creatively but also with a bit of an advocacy. I found myself creating these photoshoots featuring young designers, and it became really a part of my goal to give them a platform.
It doesn't pay! [laughs] But I love working with them. It's something that's very close to my heart, which is why I started the Fore. These young designers — be it in the Philippines or Australia or anywhere — they're so hungry to create change and to challenge the status quo. I love that energy; I feed off it.
I knew that if I was going to use my audience for any kind of good, it would be to help share the work of these emerging designers. So I decided I would launch the Fore, which is a website where I'm collaborating with emerging designers to create pieces that are going to be even more accessible to the greater public. I'm looking for designers that have an existing strong body of work that I can pull from. A good example is Carl Jan Cruz. He's so young, but he has such a clear direction.
Everything in fashion is becoming more and more ubiquitous. It's very easy to fall in the trap of dressing like everyone else. But I think the Fore will be for those wanting to challenge the status quo and see what else is out there.
You mentioned earlier that your biggest followings are actually in New York and the U.K., but you've remained really committed to your ties to the Philippines. Why does that feel so important to you?
Our economy is so strong right now, it's one of the fastest-growing in Southeast Asia, and I remain really hopeful about that. I think when and if we continue on this trajectory, having more choices and having more freedom financially, I want these fashion spaces to already exist.
Geographically, our market is not the hugest, but entering its culture as an adult has made me appreciate the Philippines in ways that I don't think I would have if I had grown up here. So being able to put the Philippines on the map a little bit in terms of the fashion world means a lot.