Many of us have pretty specific dreams for our kiddos. Yes, we ultimately want them to be happy—still, maybe we really want them to attend this school, go into this career field and so on. Mari Hidalgo King, Dallas mom and visual director of Neighborhood Goods, also has a clear vision for her son’s future, but it’s about basic virtues. The rest is up to him.
“Being a parent, it’s about what you think a good person should be,” the Oak Cliff mom reflects. “It’s a constant instruction, making sure you build a really wonderful human for the sake of themselves and everybody around them.”
King also values imagination and creativity. Since both she and her husband are in artistic professions, they’re especially suited to fostering that sensibility in 4-year-old Javier. It’s all about helping him find his own voice and path in a world where uniformity often reigns.
Hails from Dallas
Lives in Oak Cliff
Alma Mater Texas A&M University and Parsons School of Design
Current Occupation Visual director at Neighborhood Goods
Former Occupation Fashion stylist
Dream job as a child A singer
Significant other Joshua King, co-founder and executive director of Aurora, a multifaceted arts platform
Child Javier, 4
One-on-One with Mari Hidalgo King
DFWChild: Creativity seems to permeate your life and personality. What were some of your earliest memories of exercising creativity and playing imaginatively?
Mari Hidalgo King: We grew up in the Barbie era, right? So, I remember one weekend my mom was out of town. My father was watching me. We both enjoyed the silence in the house, and we just sat doing our thing all day. I chose to just play with dolls and a dollhouse all day.
Then it was dinner time, and I couldn’t stand up because my legs were numb. I didn’t even use the restroom that day. I didn’t do anything. My father’s a doctor, and he just panicked. He was like, “What is wrong?” He scooped me up, rushed me to the hospital, got X-rays. And then slowly but surely, of course, my legs started working again. They just needed to move.
I love to sit and play and [use my] imagination. I grew up just making videos with friends and having our own pageants. Imaginative play started really early.
“One of the big rules I like is letting them […] just enjoy being dirty in a creative manner […] I think that’s the nexus of creativity.”
C: Tell us about your experience working in the fashion industry in New York and why you decided to leave.
MHK: I interned with Proenza Schouler. I worked with Donna Karan Collection as assistant to the senior director of sales. Then I worked with a startup downtown New York designer for two and some years. After that I was freelancing, and they were renovating our apartment [in Brooklyn], so we had to move.
I was down [in Dallas] for a holiday and started getting styling work, because I posted that I was in Dallas on Model Mayhem. A photographer reached out for the cover of a magazine shoot. I jumped on it and then found an agency down here and it just felt good. It felt like I’d still be doing creative work.
C: What has kept you in Dallas?
MHK: Truthfully, the art community and the Cedars [neighborhood] and the photo industry—it just was so much fun, honestly, and it was so dynamic that there was no need or want for more. I felt really full. I have my house in Oak Cliff. I have my studio in the back, and I was working on my own clothing line. It sort of checked all the boxes, unbeknownst to me. And then a really great friend turned into my life partner.
C: How did you meet Josh?
MHK: We actually met on set. He was a photo assistant to a great photographer, Cindy James, and I was a stylist. So we were working together on jobs.
C: How do you and Josh foster creativity in your son, Javier?
MHK: Since he’s so young, what we’re trying to do is with any little moment, let it be creative. Josh will just work right alongside him. If we have the tool over here that we’re using, we’ll give him the same tools to use over here. Javi has his own notebooks and his own paper, and then we’ll be doing our creative exercise and he’ll be doing his.
Or he might come and join our paper. Joshua has a beautiful piece that’s like “father and son.” [It’s from] very early on; Javi is doodling on his work.
I was wanting to do some ceramics, so I bought some clay [for us]. I’m very tactile and was just trying to have him just use his hands. We cook a lot together. So that’s a lot of creative play for us. One of the big rules I like is letting them get dirty and letting them just enjoy being dirty in a creative manner and in a free manner, and having him hear his own voice.
I think that’s the nexus of creativity—being able to hear your own voice and follow that path. We’ve been doing a lot of Montessori, and I love that method.
C: How did you make the transition from fashion stylist to visual director?
MHK: I worked [in a freelance capacity] for Neighborhood Goods to open their first store in Legacy West. I was brought in by my good friend, Marisa Dukowitz, who is a brilliant designer and store spatial designer. They ended up smartly hiring Marisa, and then she needed a visual store component and reached out to me for that.
I’ve always styled a lot of interiors, and the past two or three years of my 12+ years styling, it’s been a big portion of my work. I think having that experience in all those different shapes and forms and different products and different uses, the hope is that I can inform this space with that skillset.
What I love about Neighborhood Goods is the openness to experimentation in terms of not having the norms. It’s a ton of work, but it’s really invigorating. I love my “mind views” and play and all the future planning and quick solving and all the different materials I work with and need to know. It was a fortunate turn of events that began last May .
C: It seems like a natural transition.
MHK: It was really a nice fit. I’m thankful for it. And I’m excited to see what we can continue to learn, evolve, push ourselves [toward] in the market to re-experiencing retail. And truly, because I really love our brands—our products are a lot of small companies that really have worked hard to create a smart, thoughtful, responsible product and at a very competitive price point—we don’t really want to make it exclusive, but we do want to make it feel elevated.
“I got on a flight within three hours with no luggage because I was like, ‘My brother just had his first [baby]. What am I doing in New York?'”
C: What had it been like to be part of a retail business during COVID-19?
MHK: A lot of work. It is reactive, which makes for a lot of short timetables. And you just have to stay limber. What I like is that we’re all hypersensitive to safety, and our stores are really spacious and we like to keep it clean. We’ve always tried to follow a model where it’s not super cluttered. It is shoppable. So all those things lend well to this moment.
C: Your Puerto Rican ancestry is very important to you. What are some of the ways that you teach Javier about his heritage?
MHK: Being Puerto Rican, we speak a lot of our language, experiencing heritage through words and also through food and music. Music is big in our house. And it’s not just kids music, it’s Latin music I love. We have congas and djembes. So I just try to make sure that he has a little bit of rhythm.
What was cool is our homeschool teacher—in Hispanic Heritage Month, she spoke of Sonia Sotomayor and she spoke of [the artist] Basquiat, who are Puerto Ricaños. And so when we were somewhere and I saw the flag, I [would say to Javier], “Hey, that’s the Puerto Rican flag, and that’s what you are, and that’s what Sonia Sotomayor is, and that’s what Basquiat is.”
So we’re trying to build that little web. And abuelo and abuela are his grandparents. They are amazing at speaking Spanish constantly to him.
C: Was it important for you to raise your son around his grandparents?
MHK: Yeah, very much. My father is his pediatrician, so they’re going to be around each other that way too. They’ve always wanted to have that extra time with the grandkids. They’ve always really valued it, and that’s taught me that it’s valuable.
When I was in New York, my brother had his first child, and I got on a flight within three hours with no luggage because I was like, “My brother just had his first. What am I doing in New York? This is not where I need to be right now.” And when I turned 25 and was in New York, working in high-end fashion, I thought, Well, I don’t know if I’m ever going to have kids, but I do know I have two amazing parents who have given me a lot of opportunity.
So I wanted to start in something that I am able to save and able to work towards if they ever need help.
C: After you had Javier, did you ever struggle with the idea of going back to work, or did you always know that you wanted to be a working mom?
MHK: It was always in my brain that I wanted to work. I enjoy working very much. But it’s just that constant push-pull. I feel like I’m a better mom because I work, but I absolutely miss moments. Then there’s the silver lining of this moment of the pandemic. I feel like I get to know my son so much more, even though four days out of the week, he has care. It still makes all of us better.
We’re homeschooling, we “podded” with another family. We had to write our own contract, figure it all out with another family, and essentially dedicate nearly two months to a bunch of interviews and a lot of time to it. But that reinvention and that pivoting—it feels really good. And it’s a dance for sure; it’s tricky, but it was before too.
C: That’s true. It wasn’t an easy balance before; it’s just a different type of hard.
MHK: I’m going to quote my accountant, Rachel Stauss. She said that everything is the same, but you just have to cut through an ambient anxiety right now that makes it all just a little bit harder. So yeah, it’s all operating differently.
But thankfully, our store’s doing well. People are happy. We’re keeping people safe. Everyone has a nice awareness about it. I think everyone is getting in step, but we’ll see. Every moment, every day, just try to do your best. And then the rest will figure itself out.
C: What is the most important lesson that you want impart on Javier?
MHK: I would say the biggest piece is for him being able to listen to his inner voice, and to make sure that that inner voice is kind and compassionate and thoughtful about others.
I also want him to assured in his own vision. I think it’s like, “Go, honey—I want you to go as fast as you can, as hard as you want, but you always have to be mindful of others.” I want him to have respect, manners, and to hopefully better the world in some way.
This interview was originally published in December 2020.
Photo courtesy of Korena Bolding Sinnett