As a second generation Chinese American, I was raised in the stereotypical asian "is that a B on your report card?!" household. Stringent, to say the least. I was born in Hillsboro, Oregon but Mandarin was my first language and I had a rough few years as a toddler learning English whilst being raised in a traditional Chinese family.
Every Sunday instead of biking and making forts with the rest of the neighborhood kids, I attended Jiaoying Chinese School: art, dance & language. Every Saturday, I did my homework for Sunday Chinese school. Sure, I got an hour break here and there to bike and play with the rest of the kids but it was always too short of a break. I luxuriated in every minute I got to be an american kid. I began lusting after white culture. I wanted to be a cheerleader, not get top grades in math class.
As you can imagine, this split culture thing seriously stunted my confidence. I didn't want to sound stupid or have incorrect grammar or have a funny accent so if I wasn't 100% sure of the sentence I was about to say, I opted out and kept to myself. Frugal asian household called for clearance rack clothes which in turn didn't exactly boost my barely budding bit of self confidence. Somewhere in late elementary school, I started rejecting my "totally lame" home culture. For two years, I verbally bullied my mom into letting me quit piano lessons and Chinese school. By 6th grade, it worked. I joined my high school's youth cheerleading program. I decisively placed less attention on grades and academics and focused instead on replacing my Old Navy wardrobe with Abercrombie so I could sit with the cool kids. Getting my mom to pay up for expensive jeans was harder then any math test I'd ever taken. It didn't matter that both my parents were quickly climbing up Intel, this is all too expensive!
In Chinese culture, we don't brag about acquiring a new flashy TV or bringing home the Mercedes Benz. We brag about how we snagged a great shirt from a garage sale or Goodwill, instead of being ashamed of needing to go to Goodwill in the first place. Spending excessively on a flashy car or even going to the salon for a $60 haircut and blowout results in raised eyebrows between asian family to asian family. This behavior is observed as excessive. Excessiveness is not a valued trait. I can't say I observe the same attitude in American families.
Anyway, by the end of middle school, I had ditched the nerdy bangs, got my braces off and made some white friends. I even made the varsity cheerleading team at my high school my freshman year. Sweet, I'm moving up in the world. That same year, I visited Pike Place Market on a family vacation trip and bought a cute little wire music note ring for ten or fifteen bucks. I'd always been crafty but I looked at that pricey little piece of jewelry and thought damn, I should have just made that.
So I thought I'd try. Upon arriving back home to Portland, Oregon, I acquired a couple pliers from my handy stepdad's toolbox and a coil of 20 gauge wire from Michaels. Okay, this is harder then it looks. But I didn't lose heart. Each piece of twisted, gnarly attempt brought me closer to quality that my music note ring was. Over the next month, I put in over 40 hours of practice, obsessively twisting, shaping and knotting wire until I was satisfied that my rings were up to the Pike Place market standard.
Once they smoothed out and looked store bought, I started wearing my rings to school and within a few weeks all my friends were wearing them, then their friends and teammates were wearing them, then even girls in other grades and other high schools. BOOM, my first small business was born: lightshandmade jewelry. After the first 2 or 3 months, I could produce a ring or bracelet in 45 seconds to a few minutes. I would binge watch Netlix and churn out dozens of these trendy little wire love, infinity and bow rings and bracelets.
After opening in 2012, I exploded on Etsy and in the following three years steadily built my brand by getting my line of simplistic jewelry in local boutiques, artists markets and getting features on blogs and online platforms. By summer of 2015, I had a team of six and rebranded lightshandmade to fleur & co. portland - jewelry handmade in the city of roses. This team included three makers, a social media strategist, a digital media head that designed my website, and a general consultant/photographer. My whole team were students my age or younger - just graduated high school or about to be seniors. These were my friends - people I was partying with.
I attribute the success of my jewelry business to the asian culture I was born in to - specifically the frugal aspect. I looked at the $14 ring and saw it for what it was - a 10 cent piece of wire, just bent nicely. The first pricey wire ring was an investment - a great investment that inspired a business model that allowed me to make $10,000 in revenue in three years by turning around $3.99 coils of copper wire into 40-50 rings/bracelets priced at $10/$14, respectively.
My point - DIY is your friend. Open up a Pinterest and become a DIY enthusiast like me. Invest in a glue gun and save hundreds. Surround yourself with beautiful successful arts and crafts that are deceptively easy to do. And if you can make things for yourself, you can make things for others. Etsy is easy peasy way to open an online shop and start making side money fast.
As for me, I'm currently opening up my first brick and mortar boutique in Beaverton, Oregon so I can stop giving the boutiques I sell to the 50-60% wholesale discount. Dalliance Holiday Market will feature stunning original art by my older sister Diana Zhu, my personal illustrations & poster and card designs, Somnium custom dreamcatchers & floral archways, Halcyon Cosmetics & Bath, as well as a curated selection of secondhand retail and accessories. Dalliance is only a three month holiday market - this is so I can attend Chapman University in the spring and study Graphic Design and Strategic Marketing & Communications there.
To the readers of SALT: asian or not, if there is one takeaway here, it is to thrift on. Be loud and proud about every dollar you save. Start making instead of buying. Repeat after me: frugal is trendy. Walk into Goodwill with your head held high. Play some Macklemore if you need too.
I'm gonna pop some tags, only got twenty dollars in my pocket.