Growing up surrounded by arts and entertainment the 24-year-old entrepreneur, podcast founder, and model Gigi Robinson knew from a young age her professional path would be filled with creativity. The New York City native is currently juggling a blooming career with getting her M.S. at USC in Innovation Design, Business & Technology. Robinson’s podcast “Everything you need is within” tackles everything from mental health to making a difference in the world.
The Untitled Magazine got to learn all about Gigi’s upbringing, her current projects, and passion for learning. Read the full interview below.
As a native New Yorker, growing up around arts + entertainment, how did that affect your upbringing and choices in career?
I think growing up in New York was so special because I had access to world-renowned museums and venues from such a young age; that kind of stuff is just my idea of fun and also my form of escapism. And in terms of entertainment, living in New York helped me to enjoy listening to different kinds of music as a kid and gave me a world of my own I guess. Music can have a unique influence on the design and the way people communicate which I think is awesome.
You went to the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City – can you share some highlights from attending the celebrated school? How did it prepare you for your career goals?
Yes, I went to LaGuardia High School, which is a specialized art school in New York City. I went there for fine art and photography. While I was there I also attended the International Center of Photography “Image Makers” program for passionate photographers. It was there that I found a passion for creating images and was able to build up confidence each time I clicked the button of a camera. Every time I shot with a new client I was able to see happiness and empowerment in them, and each time I created night landscapes I learned something new about myself. When I graduated in 2016, I ended up going to the Fashion Institute of Technology for a year, where I focused on the portraiture side of photography. And then I transferred to USC where I was able to commercialize and monetize this hobby for myself, which has led me to become a creator today. I genuinely thought that I would end up doing photography for big brands or movie posters; I think the output of my career today is a little bit different than what I thought I would be doing but the medium is still the same.
You are currently getting your M.S. in Innovation Design, Business & Technology from USC’s Iovine and Young Academy – can you tell us what inspired you to pursue that direction and some of your favorite subjects while studying there?
I just felt like I wasn’t done learning, and the innovation that comes out of this program is so unique and has inspired me to become a better leader as well. I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to use my creative thinking skills to pursue really anything that I like. It’s given me a lot of the structure that I needed to explore different fields that I otherwise wouldn’t have touched. IYA classes have also helped me create better content online. To put it simply, I decided to continue school just because it was a gut feeling. And I knew that if I got in, I would go. As for my favorite subjects, while studying there, I would say probably learn about different methodologies that are used within new innovation and creative thinking spaces.
You are a chronic Illness Advocate – can you share some of your personal experiences having been diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and how you are helping others with your advocacy?
I help others by sharing stories and showing the struggles of daily life while living with an invisible condition. I now have a very large platform where I’m able to spread the word, catch people’s attention, and also communicate to other leaders about chronic illness and bring education into the workplace, schools, and personal environments. Really at the end of the day, I like helping people who live with chronic illnesses be able to communicate better. Something to remember is that about 25% of people in the United States live with a chronic illness. So if you don’t deal with this, you likely know somebody that does. So I think reminding people that you often don’t know what somebody’s going through is a big driver of me doing what I do.
I’ve had many challenging personal experiences over the years, like having certain professors not believe how sick I was or not letting me use my disability accommodations. They would make things more challenging for me, forcing me to handwrite instead of using my laptop. I also had close friends not believing that I was sick and doctors telling me that it was all in my head. Luckily my family has been extremely supportive which was a godsend. I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome at the age of 11, which is pretty rare considering how many people get misdiagnosed before getting to the bottom of their symptoms. I was very lucky, partly because of the fact that I live n New York City and I had some incredible doctors helping me at such a young age. I use these overarching experiences as motivation to help spread the word about EDS and other chronic illnesses.
Can you tell us how you navigate mental health + body image issues in the public eye?
Most mental health and body image issues are very individual and stem from our perception of ourselves. Unfortunately, social media serves as this brutal vehicle that exacerbates these issues. And so because of the lack of media literacy that we have today across the digital world, we tend to not necessarily correlate mental health and body image issues to social media. I don’t care about what other people have to say about my body because it’s so uniquely mine. And for me, what I share between me and my care team is between us and no one else, because body image is such an inherently personal subject. On social media, it’s all about how we’re curating the content that we’re consuming, which therefore shapes the way that we’re thinking about ourselves. So if you’re able to, take a step back and realize when you’re having a self-deprecating moment or when you’re having negative thoughts about your body, and try not to compare yourself to some random person on the internet. You are the only one of you, and that’s beautiful!
What was the process like of becoming a part of the class of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s 2022 Swim Search Finalists?
Okay, so I would say that I saw a window of opportunity to partner with Sports Illustrated this year because of their new initiative “Pay with Change” which is about only choosing sponsors and advertisers who are actually making a difference in the world. I agreed with this ethos and so my submission piece was about the way that I could use the SI platform to advocate for people on a global scale. I put my submission tape on LinkedIn and tagged the editor-in-chief, which led to her sharing my post and was ultimately the reason why they invited me into their class of 2022. They have mentioned that showcasing my application on LinkedIn has forever changed the way people will apply to the swim search because I made it noticed in the professional and corporate worlds and nobody had ever done that before. So I was able to combine my passion for storytelling, videography, and photos with my purpose, which is advocacy for people with chronic illness, mental health, and body image issues. And I packaged it all up together and it worked; they chose me to be one of the 12 finalists this year!
What has your experience been like as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model? Have you always wanted to pursue modeling?
Being an SI swim model was extremely fun. I am sure you’ve seen stories out there by now about my experience of getting rained out during my photoshoot. It was also incredible to meet Yu Tsai, one of the Sports Illustrated photographers. He’s been a mentor to me more than he knows over the past decade as I dealt with EDS and has helped foster my passion for photography. So just being in the room with him was incredible. I always thought that I would be able to pursue modeling if I wanted, but it’s more about the people I’m working with to change things rather than just posing. It’s about bringing awareness to chronic illness, mental health, and body image, more than just flashing a smile.
What was your main goal when starting the “Everything you need is within” podcast?
After a lot of turmoil and social media dilemmas during 2020, I did a lot of reflecting on the lack of social media literacy and the elevation of marginalized creators as well as creators making a difference in the world. So I decided I wanted to start an Instagram live series that would eventually be turned into the podcast, “Everything You Need is Within”. The thesis for this series was that I was creating a space online where creators could uniquely talk about their content, their mental health, and their struggles while also making a difference in the world and impacting people. It became about the intersection of the creator economy and the mental health challenges that they’re facing as they scale as creators. I thought, what better way to do that than through a video podcast where I have new conversations every single week with top creators around the world?
Do you have a favorite episode?
There are so many favorite episodes, but I think I just appreciate all the different phases of the show. The first season was done on Instagram and the second season was done on Spotify Live. The third season was also done on Spotify Live but we added a video element to it. So there are a lot of different types of episodes but I think the episodes with a lot of conversations specifically about the creator economy are my favorite because I’m such a nerd, and I like to geek out on all of the tech and innovation. It also feeds into a lot of the research that I was doing for my master’s, as well as the projects that I worked on at USC.
As we wrap up season 3, I can already think of where we are headed and what we are developing the show into. I’m excited for season 4 of EYNIW to launch in 2023.
Who would be a dream guest you’d love to have on the podcast?
The podcast is hosted and produced by Gen Z for Gen Z. Why did you want to focus on Gen Z only?
I think giving the generation that everybody thinks doesn’t work hard enough and that is too sensitive and has too many opinions, deserved a specific place to have conversations that were focused on modern-day topics. Whether that be financial literacy, mental health online, becoming a content creator, or being a student, I wanted to create discourse. And yes, it is by and for Gen Z but that doesn’t mean that other people can’t and don’t listen – of course they do. I think this makes it more well-rounded and gives people a bigger scope of understanding of the way that we create and interact.
Tell us about the Her Campus Media panel you got to speak on, “Does The Dream Job Still Exist?”
Okay, this was fun because I’ve been working with Her Campus for a while. They contacted me back in 2017 to be a campus writer for them at USC but I declined because I was too busy at the time. I think that’s important to recognize also, that you need to know your boundaries when committing to certain jobs. Over the years I’ve been able to do a bunch of different content creator panels with them, and so when they asked me to come on the “Does The Dream Job Still Exist?” panel and talk about my journey, I immediately said yes. They have not only been integral to my success as a creator, but they’ve also been extremely supportive as I’ve grown as a person over the years. This event is also where I met one of my awesome interns who is an undergrad at Parsons in New York City, and that’s really awesome.
As a young entrepreneur, what is your biggest advice for young audiences?
My advice for young audiences is to make sure that you’re fact-checking, researching, and curating the things that you’re consuming. If you don’t do this, and you let yourself take in a multitude of toxic content, it’s eventually going to take a major toll on your mental health.
Are there any other special projects we can look out for in 2022?
There’s not much I can say right now, but I have some exciting unannounced projects coming soon – stay tuned!