Breaking Bread and Privilege Through Isolation: A Q&A W/ Tamara Yen G

I called up my friend Tamara (affectionately known as Tam) who is a multi-hyphenate creative living in the newly COVID “free” state of Vancouver. Finding out that she’s been given a bit of respite, from a global pandemic that has relegated us all to the four walls of our homes, it’s hard not to feel envious when she relays the news of her city’s reopening on the call. I say through closed teeth that I’m happy for her and I am, but the immense mental duress isolation has elicited upon me has me clamoring for those jaunty days of a New York City summertime, not the sweltering-comfort of the suburbs of Chandler, Arizona.

Our relationship as creative peers has only existed on the plane of social media. And in that regard, the nous that the follower develops for the person is erroneously built upon appraising a persona untethered to reality. What is it that I assess from Tam’s feed? Well, it’s hard to pin-point exactly who she is between the smoldering, smizing selfies, her self-created Challah-inspired bags (which I pronounce wrong and she patiently corrects me), and the two hyperlinks in her bio that link out to her coterminous endeavors. If anything, her pages function as a dynamic moodboard, showcasing the contemporary phases she is in and what inspires her as an entrepreneur.

Off the cuff, I tell her that I think of her as a “DIY goddess” who is adpt refashioning streetwear ephemera. She laughs, concealing that there is more behind her. This mentality to build things for herself is rooted in her blood. 

She details: “My [grandparents] had a very similar mentality of saving everything, which I think a lot of immigrant people do. You never know if you're going to get this again, so save 1000 yogurt containers because that's Tupperware.” 

A minute facet of her upbringing has become the impetus for what she does. She noticed a lack of fashion-sensibility from adaptive clothing brands for folks her age and younger, so she decided to root the design language of Tams in that image. She saw inefficiencies in the spread of welfare in her community, so she set up and worked with fundraisers. Her friends needed jobs, so she created her modeling agency, Times Agency, to connect her folks to clients and get them paid on their own terms.

When she talks about her endeavors she uses “we” rather than “I,” denoting a selfless-driven nature in what she does: She is not creating for herself, it’s for everyone else. These are the complexities you can’t develop through cursorily scrolling atop an Iphone screen. COVID had a way of attenuating our frenetic pace and attuning us to think critically about our feelings, peers and the world. And if I wasn’t given this moment to actually see Tam, I wouldn’t have picked up that we both think we should “drop drop culture” or that she has a love for Neopets, which she “embarrassingly” revisited for moodboard inspo.

Tam is a self-starter, a fashion designer, a supporter of her community, and much more than her Instagram makes her out to be. 

I think there is no better place to start than first delving into your history. From a creative capacity, I know you most from your DIY reworks of “streetwear” garments, but where did your acclimation to design start? 

Gosh, if you talk to my mom she'll tell you that she hated going into her closet because I would cut up every single cool item of hers and make it cooler. I’ve been doing that since I was very young and the reason I even know how to sew is my mom. She put me in a sewing camp when I was probably about 10 years old and I remember I hated it. And she being the Chinese lady that she is, she’ll never spend money if we already have something kind of similar — not at all what I want — existing in the house. I just remember at sewing camp, we were making pajama shorts. Every girl had the cutest fabric and my mom was like: “We have this little peach fabric and you're sewing for the first time, so I'm not about to spend money on you. Take what we have and go with it.” It did not motivate me to want to finish those pajama pants. But you know, that is my mom, without even intending to, telling us to use the things you have around you, especially before you get good at it. I definitely grew up with that mentality. 

And how do you think that bleeds into your own personal style?

I've always kind of just been the Raggedy Anne growing up. I was always the shrimp in the class — my dad likes to say — and I didn't fit into a lot of the pre teenage clothes. When all my friends started growing up and shopping at all the cool expensive, womanly stores, I was still the shape of a boy. I was like: “Great, none of these crop tops are gonna look good on me." That's kind of when I started to see the idea of brands really taking over in identifying yourself. Whether this is everyone else's experience, I remember in grade seven when all the girls in my class started shopping at stores like Artizia and Old Navy (which were cool back then). If you got something from those stores, it gave you sort of an elitism over everyone else who didn't have it in class. And my mom was absolutely not about spending $100 on a sweater I was gonna wear once. So either I’d figure out how to make it or I don't get it.

There wasn't an intention to set myself apart from everybody; I think that came later once I kind of discovered that creative side to myself. A lot of it came from: “Okay, I can't afford this mini skirt that everyone has, so I'm gonna take a skirt I have and try to make it look close to what I'm seeing.” Fast forward a couple of years, high school was really when I started to try a different flavor of styles and tried to land on what works for me. I went through the grunge and bohemian phase; I went through any phase. During that entire process, I started thrifting. And I went to a high school in a very wealthy neighborhood although me and a few other kids in that school weren't from wealthy families. Thrifting was the only way I was ever going to be able to afford to keep up with what everyone else was buying. Not to say that I came from nothing, I had a good upbringing, but I just didn't have extra funds to go spend $200 on a pair of jeans.

So I thrifted and started cutting up and recreating my clothes. I got made fun of and bullied a lot for it. And you know, somehow stuck with it even though most kids would probably just be like: “Oh shit! I'm not conforming. Okay, I should conform.” But I think I liked that sense of rebellion against my classmates who made fun of me. I developed this mentality of just doing what you know. Because you've got one life, and if this is how it is, I may as well wear what I want. And, as much as I love fashion, and I will probably pursue it for the rest of my life, you know it is just clothing. It is an expression of who we are, but it's not everything.

It’s so interesting to even talk about style or fashion in this moment because it just feels so removed from the minutiae of our lives; It was something I had to reappraise at the start of isolating. For you, what were you feeling when COVID started?

Those first two weeks when my city went into lockdown, I felt a very strong sense  of —  and I hadn't felt this in a really, really, really long time — community with my friends and creative peers. Honestly [before], there was a lot of hopelessness because there was, and still is, no answer if we're all going to be okay

But, I eventually really felt a really strong sense of: “We're all in this together.” And we really were, regardless of my friends that are my age or older or family members. I think we all adjusted fairly quickly, and I'm thankful for it. I think in a sense, it  has definitely made me less self conscious of things I would have been more concerned about before. Like, looking a certain way all the time, because there is that pressure — being that I work in the fashion industry and I'm a woman. 

There was definitely this sense that our movements and mental well-being would be reduced to a sclerotic state because of COVID. To my chagrin, there was almost this advent in communication with each other. How did the manifest with you and your community?

So oddly, it's been strangely therapeutic using FaceTime, which I never would have thought would have happened.  I think that is maybe just personal to me — I can't really speak for my friends —but we have all kind of said like: “Wow, I'm so much more comfortable just FaceTiming someone now.”  I never would FaceTime [anyone] before. Especially in my city, as much as we put everything out there, we’re also — in a sense —  private and hold back because we're fearful of other people's expectations and opinions on us.

There is kind of a gate in front of everybody, but, ironically, I think [FaceTime] just made it easier to talk and be a little less self conscious and have some real conversations. And maybe that comes with age, I do think it's really coming with just the timing of where the world is at right now. 

There’s something there I want to touch upon that you talked about; The solace we found in home, it feels, turned into a level of introspection. And that became the catalyst to us being a bit more averse to the superfluous ebbs of the internet. Could articulate on how you saw that form?

I think for once, most — if not all — Instagram users were all in the same boat where we all didn't know what was going on. We all felt a certain level of unsureness in the world and in our own personal futures. And I think, on a very human level, that was very relatable and I saw a lot of people kind of take a second to step back maybe rethink, “You know, today's post on Instagram is gonna be a little bit more real. I'm going to talk about how I’m actually feeling.”  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for everyone to be honest on Instagram; I think there are some people that use it as an outlet, like a very public diary. But that doesn’t mean I'm about to tell you every single detail of my life, because it's personal and I like to allow that space to keep certain things private.  

That's why we saw a lot more authenticity coming through in the last several months because we all could relate. Nobody was traveling. Nobody was able to show off. Nobody was shopping. And there's no place to flex. Like, you're in your living room, how much flexing are you gonna get? This really humbled a lot of people, and the beauty that I saw with those I follow from Vancouver was that people were outwardly pursuing creative careers or work. People finally had the time to pursue things that they've been putting on hold. That was really exciting for a lot of people to be so honest with their audience. And regardless of if it was a fashion piece or not, they, on a very personal level, were sharing it with the world. So, that was the silver lining. 

But within silver linings, I think we have to also consider the privileges we are afforded. Though I was a bit more free, I found myself realizing I’m relegated to a circumstance that others can’t access. So, I’m curious, what did you learn about your own privilege during this time?

For me, the privileges have been observed when COVID started. Being in Canada, there were a couple of weeks of being unsure about finances, but we were given an emergency fund. And that in itself, I knew was really lucky and a blessing. Also, I didn't lose my job, I was temporarily let go. But, I remember immediately being excited to be able to have time to work on projects, as my day job gets in the way. Then immediately I was like: “Wow, I’m so lucky because I have a ton of people in my life sitting at home struggling to figure out what they can do.”  And that's always been a privilege of mine since I graduated high school. 

COVID was a good reminder of the privilege I have to be able to pursue my career, and in the last month, with all the information circulating in regards to the BLM movement, it's been a healthy reminder to me as someone who's mixed that I have a privilege in not having to face issues that other Black or indigenous people have to face. I’ve thought I faced racial issues, and I do, but not to the degree of my friends and people I consider my brothers and sisters.

So, it’s a lot of layers of privilege, and I grew up in a family that was very much like: “You have to survive and look out for yourself because no one else is gonna look out for you.” It was like family is better than your friends any day. Although I appreciate that, I do hold that close and keep in mind that there's a lot of things I don't agree with in regards to how my family thinks.

I’ve just learned a lot growing up being a girl who is mixed, tiny and weird, and it’s something that my parents maybe didn't experience or have to deal with.They grew up in a different generation where you didn't acknowledge these things and just kept going. But I believe you can always find a silver lining, and the fact that I'm able to find a silver lining during a time like COVID, I think being able to see the positivity through all this is also a privilege. Because that means that my mindset is geared towards seeing the light, and I know there are people who just absolutely cannot, due to their own personal experiences, mentally, physically, and anything else that they've faced. I feel lucky, regardless of what I've been through, to still see that.

Honestly, the privilege never ends for who I am, and I think that's why I'm still community based and do like to give back. Because one, it’s the community that has shaped me and given me the platform to pursue my dreams on, and two, money — whether it’s a great way to put this or not — it does make the world go around and is one of the best ways we can contribute. 

In recognizing your privileges greater, what became of the formation or reconsideration of what your values were?

During this time, I've had to be alone a lot more than the usual, which I think a lot of people obviously we're facing. Eventually that “unchosen" alone time became my chosen alone time. And I've noticed in the past couple of weeks since things in our city have started to open up and we have been able to socialize a bit more, I'm not feeling as intrigued by the idea of socializing. For me, having that time has allowed me to not only think about what I want to do with my brand and life, but, as well, it has made me really consider my values as a person -- not to mention how I’m going to continue to build on my values upon everything that I've been putting out there so far.

I think that's important and again a privilege because I don't think everyone necessarily has the mindset or ability to think about it in that way. I don't want this to come across that I'm thinking of myself on a pedestal like: “Oh, I have the mindset to think like this.” But what I'm saying is that I feel lucky that -- through my own experiences, my age, and the people I surround myself with -- I've been given the ability to think a little bit further than just the clothes we wear or the things we need in our lives; you know, surface level stuff. I’ve really thought about my future. Like, I was talking with my best friends the other day about how covid has allowed us to think more about the things that we’ve kind of let slide in the past. Things that would've taken me two years to develop and kind of figure out about myself, I feel like I've figured out in two months, given all this quiet, focused time. So that in itself, I consider it to be extremely valuable.

And how were you considering placing those values deeper into your work?

I really pieced together these feelings that I've had about the work, fundraisers, community oriented programming, or our modeling agency [Times Agency], I realized that I want to do my best to be a good person and share that energy with the people I surround myself with. If I'm going to live this life then I want to put my best self out there and my best energy and  intentions. For me, that involves helping my friends and making the community stronger — in ways that I have the ability to do. 

What I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks in my city with the amount of protests and marches that are going on, people are doing things that I have not done myself which is like lead some of these marches, lead some of these protests, and really speak up on their own experiences for their own people. That to me is like next level. It makes me feel like: “Okay, I'm doing good, but those people out there are doing the better work.” And I appreciate that so much about them.

At the end of the day, my values really lie in wanting to make people feel heard, wanted and important in their own way. I think communication is key when it comes to — and I don't know if that lives under values — wanting to send a message to anybody over any topic you're discussing. I think that's how we can kind of live a bit better is if we just communicate with each other on the level that is grounded. In the last couple of weeks, I unfortunately had a lot of my white friends message me very ignorant messages, and it's really hard not to take it personally, and it’s also very labor and emotionally intensive for me. I was surprised. Because one, I didn't have the education or the knowledge of what I had experienced in the past as being emotionally depleting; I just never thought about it. But during that time where people would message me aggressively, either disagreeing with a post I made or being ignorant in general, I always tried to be the bigger person and just remain calm and eloquent in the way that I may point out the flaws in their arguments — without taking it down a level to like calling someone a bitch or asshole. Like, I'll say it to my friends behind closed doors. I'm still human. I’m still 25. I still have those words in my head. It's hard to be the bigger person sometimes because it is easy to get angry. It's really easy to flip out on the level that these people who are messaging me are on. But, what good is that going to create? There's already so much hate and anger in the world and I don't want to be contributing to it. Especially because the messages I have received are very little on the grand scheme. 

While there is that side of the internet that is quite contentious -- it never goes away -- I’ve been left in awe and inspired by the extreme level of empathy I’ve seen extended. Not to mention, we’ve seen social media really showcase its ability to galvanize folks together. 

I agree, I've definitely been shocked by the humanity, but I mean that's on me for doubting it to begin with. I think we also had reason to doubt it. The Internet, a majority of the time, is a vicious place whether you are looking for it or not. It's surprising to me even in the last month the turn that our generation has kind of sparked on Instagram. Of course there's still the Tik Toks and silly videos; those are necessary as we need that entertainment. You need that surface level entertainment to wind down from all the seriousness. 

But at the same time, our generation is so much more informed than our parents' generation, due to how connected we are and how much we can share. It's a beautiful thing. I hope that this continues — I think it will — but I do see the feeds going back to normal. And I've been part of that as well. At the same time, I'm holding myself accountable to continuously — not only through instagram and through sharing posts  — to find petitions and donate. Everyone is doing this which is honestly 10 times better than it was a month ago.

I’m having conversations with my friends who I never thought would be even open to having these conversations. I've been so pleasantly surprised by the group I surround myself with. And in order to see a change in the world and in the bigger scene, we have to start with our little network of people that we know in our day to day lives in order to spread that. I don't see enough conversation about that going on Instagram. I am surprised by people I thought would never want to get political (I’m using air quotes). I’m seeing a lot of friends who never ever voiced anything on Instagram, other than dumb memes, which I appreciate always, starting to get vocal. And my friends who are influencers have been using their platform as a space to not only post on their story but post to their grid. And I also see Instagram influencers not doing that, and I don't want to stay to each their own because as a society, we all have a responsibility — especially right now — to continue discussing these issues at hand. But I do think there's a lot of hope within my community of people and those on the internet I follow.

One thing I’ve noticed from following you is that you’ve been secretive about Tams -- besides the bags. How do they fit into the larger context that is Tams?

Instagram is a blessing and a curse. The thing that makes it difficult is obviously the instantaneous part of it. You put something out there and say: “Hey, this is my new design,” and suddenly you're just pigeonholed in whatever that singular post is. But what people need to realize, just like ourselves in our day-to-day lives, ideas develop and they hopefully become a bigger and better version of themselves — just like we try to be as individuals. The Challah bag is something I originally intended to make very unisex design, very simplistic — in the sense that it's not complicated. Obviously it looks complicated and it does take a long time to make, but there aren’t a bunch of gizmos attached to it. It is just a simple bag. I like the simplicity of it and I only want to continue, as I put out more designs, to put that forward. 

And another thing, when I talk about accessibility it’s price point. I’m making everything — for the most part — on my own. The bag sits at currently $200, which is my best I can give in order to profit and also put money into the materials and everything. But I've had people reach out, you tell them the price point, and you don't ever hear back, and it's all understandable. I'm that person, too. I made this a price point that I would even have to like flip-flop back-and-forth about. Because these days, I don't drop a ton of money on most things. I thrift everything I wear or I get it from work. I rarely go to any store and buy anything new, and that's just a personal thing. But seeing people message me and seeing that they really want something — to me at least — that is Tams, it’s inspired me to create a second bag that is at an affordable price point.

It's definitely opened my eyes that this bag is great. A lot of people can afford it but a lot of people can’t, so how do I give people a piece of Tams? I said this earlier, money makes the world go round, but I also know money comes-and-goes. For what I'm doing this for, it is really fulfilling for me — just on a creative level — to be able to pursue this. So if I make a big that is $100, someone can have a piece of Tams, and that connects back grade seven and seeing people connect their identity to a brand. That’s what I want to be able to do.

On a sustainable level all the fabrics I've used so far are dead stock. They’re already sitting on shelves, not being used, and generally are at the end of roll, or a lot of the time I thrift them. I'm not looking at this point to do the mass production thing. And something I have been able to consider during all this COVID alone time, I went to four years of fashion design and technology and we were very much taught that there's a system in place already and you're going to go get hired and then you're going to follow the system of how the fashion industry works. But I almost have to question the system for myself and my brand. Not necessarily go against it, but more so, why do I have to follow seasons, why do I have to follow trends, and why do I have to follow the notion of mass production? Because as we know, that is not the sustainable way to produce clothing. It's great that it's a conversation that’s gonna probably take our lifetime to really see a big change. But, just like any topic you discuss, there are 50% who are for it and 50% who are against it. So, I’ve been questioning like: “Okay, I'd love to be the next Marc Jacobs. But if I'm going to be the next Marc Jacobs how can I sustainably do that?” And that means cutting back on the amount that I produce and maybe cutting back on the amount of fabric I buy in order to remain within that sustainable quota. I'd rather take a loss than take a hit to my ethos.

So during this contemplation period, how did you start to think about what Tams could be moving forward?

I was lucky enough that I was very aware of what I wanted to achieve for Tams prior to  COVID. One of them being, I want to hire my friends. That’s always been really important to me. I realized a year out of university, when I started paying more attention to what was going on in the world, how little I felt I was able to help because I chose a career that wasn't a necessary endeavor. I wasn't a doctor saving lives; I wasn't a therapist helping the brain. I chose — honestly in a very selfish sense — that I wanna do fashion. I wanna do creative things because it just fulfills me.

So, It really did start making me think how can I use my talent and passion to add something positive back into the community. And gain, it's money that does help the community, but also, the idea that I can hire my friends and pay them as time goes on and either get them out of the job that they hate going to or have them make that extra side cash. That has definitely always been on the table for me; I think COVID has just given me more time to really sit with that idea, plan it out, and think: “Okay, how are we going to build this, what is that timeline looking like, and what details do I have to start paying attention in my own production process that I will then have to share with someone who's never had any experience in the fashion industry or in cutting and sewing fabrics?” So, how do I be a teacher to the people that I want to hire? Because it's all well meaning to say, “Yeah, I want to hire my friends,” but at the end of the day, if I can't communicate to them clearly and fairly what I want to achieve and what I want to see from them, then I may as well not hire my friends and hire someone who has experience.”  But as easy as that would be, I think bringing your friends along for the journey and the ride — if they're willing — is something that I've always wanted to achieve. 

This is a little off topic but that's the reason I started the agency  [Time Agency], as well.  Because I knew that was going to give my friends a platform, a job and paid gigs and the ability to pursue modeling, photography, or styling in a way that would keep them safe from people that would take advantage of young people. So, I want to be the company that doesn't take advantage of my friends and I want to give them a safe place to come and be themselves, but also get work done. And I think in time, that will be a learning lesson in itself to find the balance between being friends and being someone's boss, so to speak. That’s been the ethos that I've always wanted to achieve with Tams, and I've had time to really sit and think about how that's gonna work. That’s down to how do we really communicate and teach people of no experience that they're capable. I want to give them that ability to know that they are capable. And whether they stick with me for the next year or 10 years, they can see the value in themselves. I love my friends, but a lot of them pigeonhole themselves and have the idea they're not capable. I see that they are, but you know people are self-conscious and insecure and that can get the best of them. I want to be the person in their lives that makes them believe.

What about your design language? It isn’t so apparent, so I’m curious what that will appear as. 

I think if we're talking about the product itself for Tams, I want it to be accessible to everybody. And as I educate myself more and continue to create items that I want everyone to have, I mean accessible not only from a certain price point but also accessible to people who have things that hold them back physically. I obviously have the privilege of not having to deal with something like that. So, about a year and a half ago when I started thinking about Tams, I came into contact with someone who had a disability. Just being around, it really made me consider something I'd never had to face because I didn't have anyone directly in my life that had a disability. And so for me, I started looking at adaptive clothing, and Tommy Hilfger, of all brands, has an entire line of adaptive clothing, and I think that is something that I want to have ingrained in Tams — without having to really even say it. 

And this is just my opinion and will develop over time, something I held over the last year and a half is that things that we’re using marketing-wise, diversity, adaptedness, it's great that we're highlighting that and it should be highlighted,  but, at the same time, why is it just not built in? Why is it that everything else is built in? Like, why is it that now when there's a gender neutral line we have to like make it this big deal—  I appreciate that it's a big deal because that wasn't in existence before — but I almost want to get to the point where it's just fluid. And I hope what I'm saying is coming across in a disrespectful way to those people who are dealing with disabilities. From a marketing perspective, it is really difficult to see brands jump on these trends and jump on the idea of diversity or the idea of adaptiveness and gender. It’s almost used in a way to be like: “Hey, pat us on the back for literally doing what should have existed before.” And I'm guilty of it too because I never considered it until I had to sit and meet someone who had a disability. 

With Tams, I hope to eventually get to that point, and realistically that takes time, a certain amount of financing to back the materials, and a ton of research. It’s not just what I think but actually speaking to people who are in those positions so that I really understand what is missing for them in the fashion department. And that's another thing that I found through my research into adaptive clothing is that it exists but it's super unappealing clothing. Through my research, a lot of the brands that existed were targeted towards seniors. So there wasn't a lot of space for people within my age demographic or younger to have clothing that suited their personal taste. That’s where these brands overlook. Yeah, this kid might be in a wheelchair and hold their body differently than others, but they still have Tik Tok, they still have instagram, they still see what's happening, they still love whoever the coolest, latest celebrity is, and they see what's trending.  They want it just as much as the other 14 year olds. I think being able to hopefully in time create clothing that is accessible is something that I really want to be at the core of what Tams is. That’s why I haven't really voiced any of this over instagram because I want to fully have that idea developed before I really make an announcement about it. 

In discussing privilege, I think COVID has also shown us that there are communities that were greatly affected more than others. You’re quite altruistic, have you become more aware of the areas where you want to serve?

100%, yes! I honestly can't take credit; It’s the people in my community that have been continuously sharing information, outside leading these protests, and working very hard to educate the privileged folks, like myself. That’s something I've been considering more-and-more in the past month. Not to say it wasn't a consideration before, but I’ve been very aware of what was going on and wanted to help and wanted to be hiring my friends, women and BIPOCs. That was always something I wanted to make sure was at the forefront of my company ethos.

But being able to see it now and see my own friends — not through a stranger on social media doesn’t — makes it more tangible and real, and it really has made me consider who I want to hire and and who I'd want to have as my talent — whether they're taking photos or modeling or being sent promo. Besides all the business jargon, it's important that I not only donate consistently a percentage of sales to organizations that are within my community — because I have always said that it starts within your own community before you scale. But for me you, every fundraiser I've done has been Canadian-based or Vancouver-based, and I think the last several weeks is showing me that I need to take what privilege and resources I have and share that with — especially in Vancouver — the indigenous and black communities that exist here.

I'm still educating myself, so it will be a big learning process for me, and I'm very lucky to have friends that are willing to continuously share their side and their story and their learnings, which I definitely see as labor and emotionally intensive for them. Because I know they're not just telling me, they're telling everybody who continuously asked them. So, if I'm exhausted from like four DMs over the last four weeks, I can only imagine how exhausted they are from four every five minutes. For me, I'm really starting to think about it on the front burner and no longer on the back burner. The thought has been: “Yeah, when I get the company running then I’ll figure it out.” It’s like no, now is the time to think about and lay the foundations for that sort of work I have in mind.

There’s one thing I’ve always really kind of stressed on myself: Work has to be paid regardless of how little money I'm gonna have left over. Obviously budget, you know be realistic with it. This is something I've always told my models when I meet with them and I want them to be a part of my agency: Money is a conversation that's always on the table. I'm not gonna skirt around it, and neither should they; their value is beyond their face and looks. And unfortunately, we’re in an industry that doesn't value that even if it's a company that says they do. And as their agency we're always going to tell them exactly what they’re making prior to a photo shoot happening, so they know what's going on and there are no surprises. Because at the end of the day, that's their face not the agency’s.

I bring it back to money constantly because money is always on the table. And I think in regards to hiring and paying people and making sure the people in my community — the indigenous and Black community — I need to get more involved in it.  I do want to make a point to hire people that have been turned down from jobs based on their race.

So, with Vancouver opening back up, what is your outlook on the city, community and yourself? 

If I focus on the community I surround myself in, I want to hold myself accountable and my friends, and I think that happens through our own research. Also, I've noticed the value of conversations, mainly with my white friends. My friends and I, who are minorities or mixed or BIPOCs, I really appreciate them because we already have a deep understanding without having to explain it. Versus when I have these conversations with any of my white friends, there's a lot of like re-explaining that isn't built in because they haven't experienced it. And I think as exhausting as it is, those are conversations I want to continue to have. I don't want to drop this new mentality; We all have to be more forthcoming with each other. I want to dig beyond the surface layer conversation that most friends can have. 

For myself, I want to continue to educate myself on indigenous people and their struggles within Vancouver specifically but also Canada as a whole. And again, this is something I've always been aware of and learned about throughout the years. It's really easy when it's not your own personal experience to see it and then move on, and I don't want to continue to have that mindset. Honestly, I kind of put it this way to a friend the other day, I was like: “I feel like I've been having a 25 year long ignorant nap.” 

Mainly, I want to see more accountability, not only for myself but also from my friends, the companies we work for, the companies we buy from, and our family members. I just want to continuously keep having this conversation. I don't wanna see that end just because stores are opening. 

I think this summer is going to be very different because there is still a lot of caution felt throughout the community right now. None of my friends really want to go out to any bars or patios, even though they are open. I have a really good feeling that the summer is going to be more about friendships and the group and less about big scale socializing.

So before we end this, is there anything I may have missed or you want to leave us with?

You know, these are all the questions I wish people would ask more often to designers because it was really well thought out. The main thing that anyone who sees this interview should takeaway is that we all have the ability to educate ourselves; we can always change. It’s okay to accept our flaws from the past if we continue to educate. And I think that's the main thing I'm seeing right now: People are really afraid of admitting. There are wrong doings and it's not gonna be an easy thing to face them. But if you can, then we can move on and become better people. (laughs) This is totally veering off from anything that has to do with my brand or anything, but at the end of the day uh your personal ethos has to matter the most and the rest is all the cherry on top. So, that’s all I would say.

Written by, Jamier Boatman-Harrell

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