“You can have anything you want in life as long as you dress for it.” This is Latina costume designer Melissa Vargas’ favorite quote. It is also the one that guides her every day. It stems from her deep love for design and storytelling. 

Vargas moved to the United States from Colombia with her family when she was 12. She was raised by her single mother in New Jersey. She always had a strong connection to New York, spending much time in the city. 

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Vargas has always had a passion for storytelling and using costumes, clothing, and design to tell those stories 

The New York-based Colombian talent was all-in from a young age after first designing music videos around 2012.  “I started designing music videos thanks to the help of Lia Meyer-Sommer and Greg Brunkalla. They took a chance on me when they hired me without any previous experience,” she told FIERCE. She was immediately hooked.  

After designing a few music videos, director Ben Younger asked Vargas to design his film “Bleed for This.” He essentially gave her a start in the film industry. 

In the beginning, Vargas recalls doing a lot of unpaid work as a freelancer. She did so simply to gain the experience she needed to be successful in this industry. It was not easy getting used to that life as a freelancer, Vargas told FIERCE. But her hard work clearly paid off — hard work that she credits to her Colombian roots. 

“Culturally, as Colombian-American, I can say we work our butts off. I always had faith that the hard work I put into anything would eventually pay off.”

Today, she is a costume designer for film and tv, working on projects such as “Bleed For This” (set in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s), “Finding Steve Mcqueen” (set in the ‘70s), “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” (set in the ’90s during the Wu-tang Clan’s rise to fame) and “A Thousand and One” (set in the ‘90s and early 2000s in New York City).

Her impressive list of work is not an accident but a sign of consistent hard work and dedication to getting it right. 

Melissa Vargas paid her dues in the industry to earn the opportunities that have led her to where she is today 

The hard work really matters, she notes, as does the experience. “If costume designing is something you’re interested in, starting off as a Production Assistant is a great way to learn the ins and outs of the film and TV industry,” she suggests. Sometimes, getting your foot in the door and showing what you are capable of are crucial first steps to solidifying yourself in a career. 

Vargas also notes that her success is not because of just one talent but many. 

“I believe my proficiency in sewing and garment construction, coupled with my appreciation for quality and attention to detail, has contributed to my success,” she said. “I’ve learned that with a bit of creativity and vision, you can make simple alterations that make someone feel confident and completely different.”

Melissa Vargas is a Latina to watch and a JEFA on the rise. Her unique storytelling talents and passion for style allow Vargas to capture moments in time in such an impactful way that it can totally transform the piece she is working on by bringing those characters to life. 

Clearly, her vision and dedication to her craft are intentional, and this Colombian artistic genius has earned her spot as an in-demand costume designer and stylist.