Paola Toledo, Founder of Paradise Pao

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Paola Toledo, also known as Pao, is a digital personality, photographer, filmography buff, and fashion / beauty blogger. Her platform, Paradise Pao, not only draws one in aesthetically, but the content consistently keeps it REAL. Her instagram page allows viewers to go on a journey with her through branding, travel, and even relationships. We instantly knew there was even more than meets the eye to this gorgeous human being, inside and out. So here she is, our first Spotlight of the New Year, sharing her story of passions, struggles, Mexican roots and digital wins with ya'll. Enjoy!

Pao, did you always dream of being in fashion + photography? Or did you have something else in mind growing up?

Growing up I definitely always gravitated toward art-related hobbies. I was big into drawing and painting as a kid. Then I took a shot at writing poetry and made an entire book of poems which I dedicated to my grandma. From high school and beyond I got into photography and public speaking. I was the lifestyle editor of the yearbook and my job was to capture student life through fashion, events, and anything social. For college I knew I wanted to study a career that tied everything I liked to do together so I chose communication because it provides such a broad spectrum of opportunities. I focused on television production because I am honestly such a behind-the-scenes nerd. I love having the camera in my hand, giving direction, styling, and transferring the visuals which only live in my head to a more tangible form of art like photographs and videos. I dreamed of creating art but I never thought fashion would be such a big part of who I am and the influence it would have in my work. I think that the reason fashion became such a pivotal thing in my life is because of how amazing it made me feel. If I was having a bad day I would literally just do my hair and put on an amazing outfit and it would change my entire mood around. I would feel vibrant. I would feel strong. I would feel limitless. And I think that’s important. Look good, feel good is definitely true and I apply it every day to my life.

You have a very impressive platform. What inspires you to produce such visually appealing content?

There is nothing like hearing “I just love how you are so unapologetically yourself, I wish I could be like that.” “You CAN be like that,” I tell people.

I think that’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever received and I think it’s crazy to think that some people believe they can’t be themselves and are constantly apologizing to the outside world for who they are. I don’t apologize for my opinion, for my confidence or for living life like I’m always on vacation. I think that’s what inspires me to create the content that I do for social media. I want to show everyone how I live, my way so that they feel inspired to do the same for themselves. I always tell my followers that I am here if they need me that’s why it’s important to be responsive, post consistently and post good quality content. I care what my photos look like and about my aesthetic of course, all the fun instagram stuff. But what inspires me is that a girl somewhere out there is looking at me to be inspired, to learn from, to feel like it’s okay to be herself.

In addition to your career and blog - you have a large social media following. Is there any kind of pressure to keep up with a certain image?

I don’t ever feel pressure to keep an image because I am very transparent when using my platform. I show the raw life behind the scenes using snapchat and insta-stories and then I polish a pretty instagram post, but I never not show how my feelings. I will admit that if I’m feeling depressed or anything too negative I will keep it off social media because one, there’s already so much negativity out there in the world. I don’t need to pile anymore, and two - I don’t think being on social media helps when I’m feeling down, so it’s honestly better to take little breaks by staying offline. But I am very true to my followers. I am a person that feels every emotion strongly whether it’s happiness or sadness and that’s completely okay because that’s who I am. The only “pressure” is that people think everything is perfect with influencer’s lives and I am always the first to remind my followers that I am not so they should not expect that from me.

What is your best advice to those wanting to their own build brand identity professionally, but are struggling to stay true to who themselves personally?

For a long time I did not post consistently or anything exciting or worth looking at. That is because I was not at a place where I was 100% content with my life in terms of my relationships, my stability, etc. I was very “on the move” and experiencing a transition period in my life. This meant that a lot of my posts were very basic and I was just posting to post. I did not feel fulfilled and that’s why I stopped posting videos on youtube and posting on my blog. I did not want to put anything out that was not authentic and good-quality. That’s why I took a break. And of course with that break I figured out so many things in my life. I cut ties where I needed and built life from scratch. It was so refreshing when I finally started posting again because everything felt REAL. It felt like life. I would advise someone who wants to build their brand identity to organize, to have a plan to execute, and to set little goals because those little goals will start getting crossed off and before you know it you’ve got your whole plan looking at you in the eyes telling you “I’m ready for the world to see.” I really think with branding it’s all personal. People can look at five brands that offer the exact same thing and they’ll choose to follow the brand that speaks to them, the one they relate to. But they can’t relate to you if you are not completely yourself. The right people will find you and seek you for what’s inside.

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What do you pride yourself in for standing out from the crowd in such a digital age?

I pride myself in being very proud of my roots. I’m Mexican and was born in Mexico. Although I’ve lived in Washington my entire life, I travel to Mexico all the time because I love my Home. I speak English and Spanish to my followers and all of my youtube videos are in both languages. People identify with me for that. I get messages from girls around my age and younger asking me, “How are you so comfortable with showing your culture?” and I’m like, “WHAT?” They ask because they want to be that comfortable and that in-touch with their roots and by them asking that it makes me feel like wherever they are it may seem like it’s not okay to be that way. That appalls me because no one should feel like they have to only show part of who they are to “be safe” or fit right in. No. Who we are as a whole is what needs to be shown. I stand out to these girls because I am so happy being who I am, showing my roots, my culture, my language. To get where we’re going we must know where we come from. I think blogging is amazing in that way because there are so many international bloggers from all over the world that speak so many different languages and are offering great fashion and beauty information on their platform to the followers that identify with them and that’s beautiful.

What is next for you, Pao?

What’s next for me? Moving from Washington. I plan on moving to Los Angeles for a while to do young people things, work somewhere awesome and fall on my butt a couple times. I want to struggle. I want to lift myself up and continue growing. I want all of it. For a long time I have been comfortable and I’m ready to do things that scare me. I’m excited to network and continue growing my platform by uploading more videos in Spanish, showing more of my life through vlogs and connecting with online creators. I’m excited to expand my photography business into a new area and meet new clients. My work has definitely evolved this year after educating myself by going to workshops and collaborating with other photographers and stylists. I’ve gathered inspiration and really found my style of editing so I’m really excited to produce more work.

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Interviewed by Emily

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