How Mark Bumgarner Went From Racing Driver To Fashion Designer
Scroll through Mark Bumgarner’s Instagram or website and you would assume this was a man who had loved fashion for as long as he could remember. Someone who flicked through his mother’s copies of Vogue on weekends and who sketched dress designs in all his school books. But while Bumgarner bears all the hallmarks of an internationally recognised designer with a stellar career stretching ahead of him, he came to the industry relatively late in the game.
Once an up-and-coming racing car driver travelling the globe to participate in races, he realised one day that it wasn’t making him happy, so he decided to take a break and see what came from that. As soon as he did, he realised that his real passion lay with the world of design, and that by focusing on sport, he had been pushing down a side of himself that longed to be creative.
“I wasn’t intending to switch careers,” he says, on the phone from Manila, where he lives. “When I was taking a break from racing, I fell in love with the fashion industry by accident. I started with having zero knowledge on the business to making it my full time career.”
He began poring over swatches and design books and following the careers of other designers in Asia. He quickly realised that while he loved all forms of fashion, he was drawn to eveningwear design and started making dresses in his spare time. However, as a newbie to the industry—which is known as a particularly cut-throat and impenetrable one—he struggled with casting off the identity he had held as a well-regarded professional race-car driver to start from the beginning again.
“It was difficult at first,” he says. “I think for anyone to switch fields is no easy task especially in my case, as I made a mark in racing. But luckily for me I have a supportive family. They were my number one supporters when no one believed I could actually make something aside from being on the racetrack.”
Leaving status and seniority behind is a difficult task, and it is important to recognise that your ego may struggle. In these moments, research suggests, you need to focus on the long-game and how important it is to work in an industry you truly find fulfilling. Statistics show that when people switch careers, the focus tends to be on job satisfaction rather than money, status and prestige. Possibly because as we get older, personal fulfilment feels increasingly important.
It is never too late to find your passion or what you want to do with your life. If you want to switch to fashion or music or acting despite having a diploma in medicine or law, then why not? Life is not a race
“Now I look back, I can see things a lot more clearly,” says Bumgarner. “I think I have always been interested in fashion, but never really got to pay attention to it as an industry. That’s because I was so focused on sports for so long. Eventually when I started surrounding myself with creative people from the fashion industry, I got very interested and it became my focus. What I would say to anyone considering a switch is that it is never too late to find your passion or what you want to do with your life. If you want to switch to fashion or music or acting despite having a diploma in medicine or law, then why not? Life is not a race.”
He also advises young people to step back from the neat boxes society so often wants to slot us into, whether it is related to gender, class or sexuality. It hasn’t escaped his notice that his original career was seen as more traditionally masculine than his current one, but it was only when he freed himself from gender stereotypes that he was able to see that.
“Society has us believe that a certain gender is better suited to certain fields,” he says. “That belief is crazy because passions do not choose genders. If one is passionate enough, the gender question is absolutely nonsense.”
Bumgarner is proof that success often follows bravery. Today he is the first Filipino apparel designer to be listed on the ultra-hip Moda Operandi, and he now dresses some of the most fashionable women at home and abroad. As his brand has grown, so has his confidence, and his ready-to-wear collections are now as heavily anticipated as his eveningwear and couture designs. Last year, after heavy demands from all his clients who were heading up the aisle, he also launched a bridal line.
“I get so much pleasure you get from fashion,” he says. “But the biggest one is creating beautiful things and seeing women in them, and making them feel beautiful, confident, powerful. But as a Filipino designer, I’m also very patriotic and want to put my country on the map. My ambition for the future is for us Filipino designers to have a global platform to show our creativity. I believe in the Filipino creative, and the world needs to know about us.”
So what qualities does he believe anyone considering a career change needs to come armed with? “Focus and discipline,” he says, smiling. “I believe that the answer to so many of our desires and aspirations lies with finding them.”