I’m so happy that you have discovered our little project and also very excited to be a part of this journey with Julie. Isn’t she great?
I come from the wondrous flatlands known as the Chicagoland area and grew up enjoying the midwestern culinary treasures that are Portillo’s hot dogs, Oberweis ice cream, and Lou Malnati’s pizza (yes, I pray for my arteries a lot). My family is Chinese with Southeast Asian roots. I’m the youngest of three, and all three of us inherited my dad’s creative flair. My sister is a graphic designer and my brother a cartoonist (all I’ll say is that I had some amazing save-the-dates for my wedding). I’m a professional photographer. More on how that happened in a little bit!
Like Julie, I first heard about human trafficking and exploitation in college. It was impossible to look at the world the same way after that. I was ashamed to have not been aware of this issue. I was angry that it was somehow so concealed. I was heartbroken to hear that it involves children and babies. I didn’t know what I was going to do. All I knew was I had to do something.
I eventually exchanged my accounting shoes for counseling ones. Graduate school brought me to Boston where I met some amazing, world-changing individuals who were putting the plans together for Amirah, Inc. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be their program intern and eagerly accepted the role. In sum, it opened my eyes to a lot of things. I learned it is better to provide opportunities versus pity. I learned the power of a survivor’s resilience and that there is much to learn from it. And I learned that prevention, restoration, and the decrease of demand are all important if we are going to successfully fight exploitation.
After my dad passed away in 2008, I found myself using one of his digital cameras a lot. Looking back, I think it helped me cope with his passing. Soon, I enrolled myself in a digital photography certification course because I started to fall in love with photography and wanted to improve. My heart for photography didn’t fully awaken until I took a fashion photography workshop in Boston. Life changed. I knew fashion was the direction I wanted to pursue. One of my most exciting assignments was volunteering as a photographer for a non-profit organization that had a presence at Fashion Week in Los Angeles. This was when I first explored combining fashion and social justice. As I also got more plugged in with different pockets of the fashion community, my heart broke over just how saturated fashion media is with seduction and objectification – tactics that are often employed by traffickers. I decided that if I’m going to do fashion photography, I was going to find a way to do it with integrity. So I started doing fashion shoots presenting women in a positive way and incorporating fashion and beauty items from brands that are both empowering women and creating quality products.
Case managing by day and photographing by night (and weekends), I began wondering how to roll all my passions and interests into one venture. bonJOY was a concept that was born during a brainstorming session I had with myself. What if I could combine the things I love to do and turn it into something awesome? Is that possible? Is there a way to combine fashion + beauty, creativity, social justice, empowerment, and culture-making? Would it even make sense to combine everything? And then, how?
I didn’t have a plan. But I had a person. And that person was Julie. We just started to talk about ideas until we began thinking this could really be something that would benefit women on both sides of the business – artisans and customers. We made bonJOY happen. And so here we are! Carving a tiny path in the world of fashion + social justice, trying to make a difference in our world. Fashionably!
My mission in life is quite simple. 1.) To point people to justice and compassion, and 2.) To fight battles against exploitation and abuse with grace and wisdom. I have decided that I’m not going to speak for victims and survivors of exploitation and abuse; I’m going to create opportunities for them to speak for themselves or at least show them that the opportunities are there.
A little bit of what my life looks like now? I married my best friend, Nathan, in July 2014 outside at a gazebo back home in Chicago. We live just outside of Boston and are on the brink of possibly venturing to another side of the country soon. We love eating and traveling together, dreaming of one day getting a puppy, and coming up with ridiculous names for our future children. Nathan and I love each other like crazy and care deeply about our marriage. We’re also extremely dorky… but that’s what we like!
I’m excited to see what bonJOY can do and look forward to sharing this journey with you all!