Desiree & Vinson: DIY Home Renovations

This is story 3 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Vinson and Desiree are a semi-newly engaged couple that bought their first home together in October 2021. The couple both transitioned to fully remote work during the pandemic and felt the struggle of their 1 bedroom apartment. They didn’t have much room, talked over each other in meetings, and their rent was only going to go up from there. It has always been a dream of theirs to buy a home, and with the help of their realtor and loan officer, their offer was accepted on a fixer upper home in Rialto, CA. It was anything but an easy journey from beginning to end, with a lot of twists and turns and unexpected expenses.

Vinson and Desiree wanted to document their journey of being “broke millennials,” renovating their home on a budget. Their Instagram page, @GenerationBrokeAF, was created mostly as a joke, but mainly as a way for them to document their progress on their new home. They officially got the keys to their home in January 2022, and ever since then, home renovations are all they eat, sleep, and think about. Vinson and Desiree knew that buying a fixer upper home meant that they had to put in a lot of work, especially since they would be DIY-ing the home mostly themselves to save some money. But they knew it would be worth it because they’d be literally creating and DIY-ing their dream home together.

“We also have an uncle that is a contractor who has helped us tremendously and taught us how to do things ourselves so we can save where we can,” they shared. “Between the two of us, Vinson is very hands-on and handy, builds and rips things out, etc. Desiree is more artistic vision, tying in our styles from before to after, etc. Together as a team it works and it’s been a fun, challenging, scary, exciting journey turning what was once the ‘ugliest house on the block’ into our ‘first dream home.'” 

Being homeowners was always something they wanted in their future. Desiree decided to take the first step and got pre-approved first. Then they got pre-approved together when they decided it was a journey they were going to embark on as a couple. Once they started the home buying process, they realized that it was do-able. They knew it was not going to be easy and things were going to be tight, but they felt ready for the challenge.

Vinson and Desiree didn’t know what they were getting themselves into, but once they started the process, the only choice was to keep pushing forward. However, they did have a list of things their future home must check off before they even considered it. The couple knew off the bat they wanted a single-family home rather than a condo or townhouse to avoid HOA fees – a payment that must be paid to cover the building’s maintenance like fitness centers, repairs, paying for the staff, etc. Being in a safe neighborhood was also a must so they could walk their dog, Bruno. And they knew they wanted their future home to be in an area that was up and coming with a lot of development and new growth in the near future. Vinson and Desiree wanted to be close to freeways and shopping centers – basically not in the middle of nowhere. With all of these standards, the couple had to find a home that fit their price range.

So, their shopping journey began. The two looked at so many properties every weekend with their realtor for about 4 months. Every weekend they were booked back to back for viewings, and sometimes that even spilled into their weekdays as well. Vinson and Desiree started to feel very discouraged as first time homebuyers because the market was hot around late 2021. The pair was getting out bid left and right, but they had to stay on their tight budget. They didn’t budge on the number they had in mind, and kept their realtor in the loop. He didn’t sugar coat it when he knew Vinson and Desiree didn’t have a chance with a certain property.

When Desiree got news that she was going to be transitioning to full-time work from home, it changed the game. Now, the couple didn’t have to worry about work commutes, so they started looking at other cities which were not possible before. Vinson was gone visiting his family the weekend Desiree found their home’s listing on Trulia. It was a Saturday morning and Desiree sent the listing to their realtor to see if they could squeeze in a viewing in between the other appointments they had booked for that day. They had an appointment to see their house later in the afternoon, but were already in the area after finishing up a viewing at a new build community, so they decided to stop by earlier. Call it divine intervention, but Desiree so happened to run into the previous owner who was fixing his motorcycle in the driveway. They started talking, the start of a strong rapport.

“As soon as we walked in, it was UGLY,” Desiree said remembering the first time she saw the inside of their home. “It was dark, they had stuff everywhere, there were punch holes in the wall, missing vanities, practice flooring in the living room, a poop green carpet – it did not show well at all. But I saw the damn potential – the huge backyard, the vaulted ceilings, the natural lighting, the location, the neighborhood, and LOVED it.”

Looking back, Desiree believes it was a good thing that Vinson was away that day because he would have hated their home. Even Desiree’s family who was with her that day were skeptical of the house because it was so ugly and “not for the faint of heart.” Still, Desiree saw the opportunity to make the house their own, and somehow convinced Vinson that it was a good idea to put in an offer. Their realtor also reassured them that they had a really good chance this time around because the house didn’t show well. And most importantly, they met the previous owner by chance. This worked to Vinson and Desiree’s advantage because they later discovered that they were not the highest bidder on the home, but because the previous owners had met her in person and liked her, they accepted their offer. Their home was the very first official offer they couple had ever put in.

It was hard for others to see the potential in their new home. But they knew that this was the best shot they had in investing in a home for themselves. They knew they were willing to put in the work, time, and sacrifice into something they wanted to be theirs. For Desiree, she felt all the emotions realizing they finally had their own home – scared, overwhelmed, excited, nerve-wrecking. While Vinson felt like it was a surreal moment because they were unable to live in the house once they started renovations. They wanted to do a fixer upper DIY home one day, but they never expected it would be their first home. Still, they feel privileged to be able to thoughtfully design their home. The whole renovation process has been so awesome to see because they see their hard work come to fruition.

During their homebuying processes, people, including their realtor, would tell Desiree and Vinson that “the house chooses you.” Now, they see the bigger picture of how everything happened the way it was supposed to, like deciding to just drop by hours before their actual tour time to check out the house. Had Desiree not gone, she would’ve never met the previous owner and believes they would’ve just been another paper application. And they thank Vinson’s dad for that divine intervention. When they first started the homebuying process, they lost Vinson’s dad to stage IV pancreatic cancer. So they always feel like they have a guardian angel on the other side to give them that helping hand right at the perfect time. Vinson’s dad also had an amazing tool collection, which the couple is using to build their house. It’s a comforting feeling because it feels like his father is building the house with them.

When they bought the house, they couldn’t move in immediately. They wanted to make the house their own and knew they had to start renovations. Vinson is a natural handy man, but doesn’t have a professional background in construction. However, his parents bought a fixer upper in 2015 that they gutted and rebuilt. It was a longer and bigger project than their home. During that time, Vinson observed a lot and started to help the construction workers and his parents during the building process. Because of his past experience with renovating houses, Vinson was confident gutting his own house as well. He’s also very detailed and does a lot of research before starting a new project in the house, so he somewhat feels like he knows what to expect and look for. And when he doesn’t, he asks Desiree’s Uncle Johnny, their general contractor of their home.

“Vinson and him work really closely together and because we are family, Johnny allowed us to have a more hands on experience with the renovation,” Desiree explained. “To this day he teaches and advises both of us, but especially Vinson, on whatever needs to be done so that Vinson can get hands on experience and Johnny can tackle the more difficult things that Vinson doesn’t feel comfortable doing, like anything electrical. It’s been awesome having him just a phone call or text away as a resource.”

Desiree and Vinson had a general vision of what they wanted their house to have. They both wanted a lot of light and wanted to renovate and design in a way that made the space feel bigger. But you never truly know a home until you’ve gutted it and see what you’re working with. They look to Instagram and Youtube for decoration inspiration and DIY hacks. And the open houses didn’t stop when they bought a house, the couple still enjoys going to open houses for more ideas on how to remodel their home. They like to go in different houses and imagine how they would remodel it if the home was theirs.

If buying a house taught the couple anything, it’s how to compromise. Desiree and Vinson fought and disagreed a lot from demoing the house to decorating. When they’re at a standstill on a decision, they ask a third person to tiebreak it. The other option is taking turns on who gets the final say – if someone got one thing, they’d have to compromise somewhere else in the house. Vinson wanted shaker style cabinets and doors throughout the house, which was more expensive, so Desiree was not in favor. Vinson got that compromise along with the decision to add extra lighting to their original plan. On the other hand, Desiree won more on the design, like the lighting fixtures, the size of the counters and bar area, and the color scheme of the house. They laugh that compromise is still a struggle to this day.

Before they officially moved in, Vinson and Desiree would work on their home on the weekends after work. There would even be times where they had to research or manage logistics while on the clock during work. Renovating their home took all of their free time. For 9 months it’s all they could focus on – it was the topic of every discussion, the only thing on their minds, and literally the only thing they could do since they were on a strict budget. And no 2 days of renovation ever looked the same. One day you’re determined to find materials at the best price, another day you are physically working non-stop the entire weekend, and another day you have no choice but to sit and wait for things to arrive.

It was Desiree’s idea to start their Instagram page, @GenerationBrokeAF. The running joke was the couple was too broke to do anything. After buying the house, they found themselves having to miss out on a lot of social events, stopped going out to eat so often, and really having to buckle down on saving money. On top of that, all of their free time went to the house, so the change of lifestyle had them feeling super left out. They got tired of explaining why the house was taking up so much of their time, and felt as though the people around them didn’t really understand how deep into it they were. So, they started the page to share their journey with family and friends, but also document the memories to look back on later. Seeing their journey through Instagram finally had those around them understand why they were so MIA. Desiree tips her hat to Vinson for demoing the house almost entirely by himself.

“It’s awesome for us to look back, compare the before and after photos, and see how much we’ve accomplished,” Desiree shared. “When we’re in it everyday, it’s harder to see the progress. We really wanted to show the REAL behind home buying and renovating – it’s ugly, sweaty and expensive but that the sacrifice is worth it. Also, we make it a point on our page to reiterate that it takes a village of support to succeed and that it’s okay to accept help and normalize it.”

The most difficult part of their journey so far is the money and patience. Vinson and Desiree feel like it’s a constant outpour of money, and once you begin the process, there’s not really a choice but to keep going. On top of feeling like all your money is just being funneled into one place, you feel like the process is never ending. They describe the process of rebuilding a home as “painfully slow.” It took a little over 9 months for Desiree and Vinson to make the house even livable. And in those 9 months there were a lot of unexpected things with the house that came up: termite damage, ticks, broken AC system, broken water heater, dead rats, etc.

Still, Vinson and Desiree try to save where they can. They started to DIY as much as they could, and admit that they don’t really know what they’re doing and have to go down a rabbit hole of research – mostly YouTube and other DIY-ers on Instagram that are also sharing their journey. When their vision for a certain part of the house proves to be too pricey, they’ve learned to achieve the same look for less money rather than changing their vision and opting for the cheapest option. Their most important relationship is with their contractor, Uncle Johnny, because he has the connections. A tip they have is: spend more money on durable materials for higher traffic areas in the house, but use less durable items for less traffic areas. You can achieve the same look for way cheaper if you realize what will be used more and what won’t.

Their home renovation process has really forced them to think outside of the box, especially since they’re working with a limited budget. It has tested their creativity in many ways. Sometimes what they wanted initially is not possible, so they have to pivot their idea around the skeleton of the home. For their kitchen, their original plan was to knock down some walls to make the area feel more open. But the walls they wanted to tear down were too load-bearing and would cost too much money to do. So they decided to make small tweaks like strategically picking their color scheme, extending the wall partition to a counter bar, and widening the door opening about 23 inches, which achieved the open kitchen feel they desired for a lot less money.

“We also had a coat closet downstairs, and the door placement ran into the garage door and the half bath door!” They shared remembering what they had to work with. “It was very tight. So what we ended up doing was just walling off the wall to that closet, and moving the door to the other side and turning it into a pantry for extra storage. It was a small, easy, and affordable change but made a huge difference in the house design.”

There were moments where the journey was super rough, but Desiree and Vinson knew that quitting was never an option. From the beginning they knew that buying a home meant all hands were on deck, they were tight on money and literally had no choice but to follow through even if they were showing signs of fatigue and regret. Stopping was never in their cards, especially when they have a whole village behind them backing them up. They want to emphasize how they didn’t do any of this on their own. The obvious person that they are so grateful for is Uncle Johnny for sharing his knowledge and tips with them. But the support continues to pour in from everyone in their lives. From their realtor and mortgage lender who made it possible for the to say they’re homeowners, to their moms who have supported them emotionally when things got tough, financially when unexpected expenses came up, and physically when they made sure they ate and let them stay rent free during the renovations, to their friends being understanding of the process and not guilt tripping them, to aunts and uncles sharing discounts and design ideas, to cousins showing their support, to neighbors looking out for the house while they’re away, their list goes on, and they are very thankful.

Buying a home and renovating it taught the couple a lot. The most important thing they’ve learned is how to compromise with each other. They have been together for 7 years, so patience is a must when you mix home renovations with your relationship. Their typical dates now consist of home improvements around the house. Desiree and Vinson had to learn how to manage their emotions with one another, especially when they were hungry, tired, sweaty, dirty, and frustrated from working on the house all day or having another unforeseen mishap occur. Desiree and Vinson also stress the importance of taking your time – though the journey may be long, in the end it is worth it. They’ve learned not to rush the process because it will just result in wasting your time because it has to be redone, and it wastes your money because you have to account for more materials.

And Desiree and Vinson know what it’s like first hand to wait and be patient. It took about 9 months of them working on the house every weekend and during some weekdays to finally move in. They just recently moved into their house! They admit that the house still has a lot of things to be done still, but it’s more than enough for them to live in – finally! The couple is so thrilled to finally be able to enjoy their home, which they’ve worked so hard on for the majority of 2022. They don’t think their home improvements will ever be completely over. They know that their home will always require maintenance and it’s an ongoing project, but now they feel confident to tackle on whatever projects that their home will need in the future.

As for their Instagram page, Desiree and Vinson still plan to use it even after the major renovations are done. They’ve found it hard to keep up with posting content on the page because the couple is not big on posting much on their personal socials either, but they’re working on consistent content to continue sharing their journey. They’re excited to share more of their smaller DIY projects, and it has motivated them to come up with a list of projects they can continue to work on.

For Desiree, her favorite before and after in the house is their kitchen and pantry closet, while Vinson’s favorite is their master bathroom. There’s so much work that went into each room that most people won’t even know or notice, but that makes the end product that much more satisfying for them. But now that they’re finally moved into the house, their favorite part is finally being able to hangout with friends and family again. They love that they can invite family and friends over for dinner, game nights, movie nights, or even no reason at all but to just hangout – this is what they envisioned and waited so long for.

Vinson and Desiree want their readers to leave with this:

“We’re literally just two young adults in this stupid expensive overly inflated housing market trying to get our foot in the door,” they said. “We had no idea what we were doing but we knew we wanted to own. If we didn’t take the risk by just calling our realtor and having a conversation with him about what was possible and what our next steps should be to be able to own for the first time, we wouldn’t be here. We didn’t even think it was a possibility so soon! We also are very blessed with the village of support we have. We hope our story at least inspires other young millennials to know it’s still possible to be a first time home buyer in this shitty market and it’s worth the risk and sacrifice if you have the opportunity. We are paying less than what we would have in a two bedroom apartment. Our home value has increased 24% since we purchased 10 months ago, and we think once appraised with the renovations it will be much higher. There’s no way we could have saved that much paying for rent where we get no return. Fixer uppers are kinda fun and we hope to be able to get into real estate and flip one day! Vinson loves it and might even consider doing more contractor work on the side as a hobby. Don’t be intimidated with fixer uppers! It’s crazy what new floors and paint can do, if you can see past what’s in front of you.”

Lex: The Multidisciplinary Artist

This is story 2 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Picture of Artist, Lex, with one of her paintings

Lex is a Los Angeles / Bay Area-based Afro-Latina artist. Her talents range from digital art, drawing, designing posters, and so much more, but her preferred medium is painting. Her art is heavily inspired by her culture. Being a Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan woman, Lex’s goal is to uplift and inspire women of color with her artwork.

“I have been exploring art mediums since I was a little girl, I was always known as the ‘artsy kid’ at school,” Lex shares. “Art has always been a way for me to express my inner voice and it’s a calming meditative activity. I am passionate about bringing art into my community to uplift voices…”

Lex’s mother always encouraged her to take art more seriously if it was the profession she was trying to get into. So she started to get serious about her craft. When she was a sophomore in high school, she tried to take AP Art, even though she knew it was only offered to seniors. But Lex tried to shoot her shot anyways and spoke with the AP Art teacher. She explained that she didn’t want to wait that long to hone in on her craft, so the teacher suggested that Lex apply for a scholarship program that would allow her to utilize her time where she could still learn art at a higher level until she was a senior. She is so grateful that she made the decision to talk to the AP teacher because she ended up applying to the scholarship program and getting in.

This wasn’t a typical high school course. In fact, it was actually a college course at Otis College of Art and Design. Different art professors from around Southern California and other universities would teach high school students art. These classes taught high school students the basics and fundamentals of different art techniques. Lex remembers working with acrylics in the class, and has used those skills to this day. The course touched on different styles like figure drawing, portraits, drawing, body proportions, architecture, shadows, and perspective. Lex was completely open to whatever the teachers had to teach, even if she was more interested in some lessons more than others, she knew that everything taught was for her benefit.

This is a scholarship program meant for those that take art seriously and are dedicated to learning more. This is because it’s a course that takes place during the weekends. For 3 semesters, Lex spent her Sundays at Otis for 4 hours. She remembers trucking her art supplies and portfolio back and forth to class every Sunday without fail. Lex never missed a class because her parents wouldn’t allow it, but also because she never wanted to. She was totally immersed in all the new techniques that she was adding to her art toolbox. The course never gave a grade for any project. Instead, they would get critiqued on how to improve or do better. It was an experience she was so grateful to be a part of, because it expanded her artistic knowledge.

After being in the scholarship program for 3 semesters, Lex was finally able to be in the AP Art class at her high school. Even though she transferred high schools, she is still grateful for the art teacher at her old school for introducing her to the scholarship program. It really made Lex more focused her senior year, and her last year of high school was dedicated to building her portfolio and strengthening her techniques. To this day, many years later, Lex still looks back to her earlier projects from high school for inspiration. She likes that she can improve an old idea, make it come to life in another way, or digitalize it with the new skills she knows now. For her, her old work is inspiration to keep creating because she can always go another direction with it.

“I’m going back to them and trying to think how I can make them better in the way that I do digital art,” Lex explained. “Or even my paintings now, I’m like, ‘Okay, that was a nice idea, but how can I reform that into something better?‘”

Her freshman year of college, Lex mentally laid out her options on the table. She wanted to pick a major that was more technical but still allowed her to be artsy. Lex entertained the idea of graphic design because she knew she wanted to do something creative in the long run. She was inspired by the idea of all the different work possibilities that graphic design could offer. So she searched up if San Francisco State had a graphic design program, and to her luck, they did. She applied for the program on the very last day and got in.

It was stressful at first when Lex took her very first graphic design class. At this point, she was so used to physically creating art. She felt as though she had mastered acrylics and was always trying to find new materials to practice on. Anything she got her hands on, she would experiment with it. Now, it was a different ball game. Lex wanted to be on the same level as her peers who already had knowledge on graphic design. But her peers were very supportive – reminding her that she’s there to learn, and never to fear because YouTube will always help you out! With that, Lex was excited to learn more about digital art and totally immerse herself into her major. Throughout her college years, Lex would do her best to juggle being a student, having jobs, and working on her own art side projects outside of school assignments.

Lex is the first in her family to pursue an artistic profession. Before she went to college, her parents’ vibe was very supportive. They knew how passionate Lex was about creating art, so they encouraged her to learn and practice as much as she could. When she got to college, her parents were a little worried about her decision to pursue art, but only because they had the typical parent reaction to their child pursuing something outside of the medical or law field. But they have always came back to the same conclusion – as long as Lex was passionate about what she was pursuing, confident about her work and in herself, and knew what she was doing, she had their full support. They didn’t know too much about design, but they genuinely felt like it was a good choice that if she were to study art, San Francisco is where Lex should be.

And the Bay Area is where Lex remained even after graduating college. She jokes that she still feels some type of way about referring to herself as a “Bay Area-based artist,” because she wasn’t born and raised in the area. She grew up in Southern California and considers herself an LA-based artist because of it. Even with 6 years living in San Francisco under her belt, Lex laughs that she doesn’t want Bay Area natives coming for her because she respects and loves the Bay. She does find herself traveling to SoCal often to see family, friends, and attend art events, so she is very much so equally a LA/SF-based artist.

For Lex, representation is everything. Her art gravitates towards her feminine energy. She absolutely loves painting women of color. Lex appreciates all the love and support that she receives from women who resonate with her work. This is really important to her because the margin of women in art galleries are about 3% of the total, leaving the other 97% to men. So she makes it a point to represent the women of color who are not represented in the art scene. Lex loves to paint women with really curly hair. Her Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan roots shine through her pieces. She knows that women of color will only make it in mainstream media if women of color continue to push out content of women of color.

Lex likes to sell her stickers and her prints at any art event she can attend. She appreciates that she can showcase her art in that way. She always tries to attend art events mostly in the Bay Area or SoCal because she wants to be a part of the artist community. Her friend, who is also an artist, will send Lex information on any art events that she knows of, and together the 2 friends will apply. They’re always finding new events through word of mouth. Her goal is to meet new creatives and surround herself with like-minded individuals. Being around creatives and other artistic people inspires her to keep creating as well.

Lex goes against the grain in many ways as an artist. She doesn’t sell her art with the hope and intention that she blows up and can turn it into a big business one day. Instead, she creates when she wants to create and makes sure that she enjoys the process. To her, quality over quantity is the key. Lex knows that there are people out there that will take her work seriously, she doesn’t have to try too hard to get people to recognize her work. If people resonate with it, awesome, if not, then it doesn’t. For those that do appreciate her craft and ask for custom pieces, Lex is always happy to take personal commissions.

Lex is aware that commissions are not necessarily what she would want on canvas, but more so what the other person wants. She has her own style of painting that attracted the customer, so it is “hers” in that sense, but at the end of the day it’s the customer’s vision and opinion that matters. This is why Lex makes sure that on top of commissions, she is also working on art for herself. She did a commission for a family friend where she did a family portrait with simple shapes. This inspired her to start a new series trying to capture the essence of family and what that looks like to different people.

Her series focusing on families is inspired by Africana art, using simple geometric shapes, a lot of color, and minimal details. Lex’s vision was to grasp the meaning of family and togetherness, emphasizing that family looks different to every person. To Lex, your family and those you choose to surround yourself with makes you who you are. Your identity stems from your family roots. Family looks different to everyone, whether that be your blood family, friend group, or even a pet. Who you consider family is a reflection of yourself. She has posted some of these paintings on her Instagram pages, @graphixbylex & @mythirdeyee.

“I find creating art as my meditation,” Lex said. “I find so much joy and confidence in it that sometimes I stray away from posting every art piece on the internet because of harsh criticism, people /companies stealing your ideas, or setting an expectation that if I post online – it will gain ‘this amount’ of interaction.”

In the past, Lex tried to keep up with social media algorithms to promote her work. As an artist, of course you want your work to be seen, so it can be easy to get lost in the rules and restrictions to make sure your account is successful. Instagram is Lex’s social media platform of choice, but after a while, it stressed her out keeping up with the different tips to essentially stay relevant. All the algorithms made Lex feel as though social media forces creatives into posting a certain way and fit into the same box to gain followers, and that was something she was not okay with.

Lex decided a while ago that she wasn’t going to stress herself out with all the tips and tricks to be more “visible” on social media. If she were to abide by those standards, she feels as though her creative process would be rushed. She doesn’t like the pressure of feeling the need to post every 3 or so days to stay relevant. Instead of promoting creativity, it restricts creatives and becomes chaotic. It starts to feel like a mandatory action, which takes the enjoyment out of the process. For Lex, it’s quality over quantity. She enjoys taking her time creating and doesn’t let the idea of views get to her. Instead, she uses social media as a tool to showcase her work that she’s most proud of, nothing is ever forced.

She knows first hand the struggle of wanting to be totally immersed in her craft, but knows at the end of the day she has bills to pay. She took on a job during the pandemic and felt as though it took all of her time and energy. Lex didn’t really have much of a summer, didn’t have time to travel, and then also got COVID which resulted in a time period of huge creative block. She wanted to have time to create for herself like she used to, but had to find a balance in her life to make that possible.

On top of that, 2022 brought on a lot of changes. After she lost someone close to her, her motivation to create was non-existent. Lex knew she had to focus on her family at the time, so gave herself grace and patience. Lex thinks the most important thing as an artist is to remain grounded. She didn’t force herself to create during the difficult times in her life, but instead chose to do things that made her happy. Lex finds solace being in nature, sometimes literally grounding herself like taking naps in the botanical gardens when she had a chance. She takes time to recharge by allowing herself to take breaks, go to art museums, and talking with family and friends to spark that interest again.

A big goal that Lex hopes to achieve on day is being recognized in Art Basel. Lex describes it as an event where they highlight artists in the community and sell their paintings. She would love to be recognized in that platform, not for the clout or attention, but because it would mean that people resonate with her art at a higher level. Lex wants people to know how much representing her culture means to her. She wants to represent women of color in her work until she doesn’t have to say she’s the first / only Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan woman to do XYZ. She thinks it’s so important to make roots in the communities that she’s a part of, so you’ll always find her supporting women of color, going to art events up and down California, and being invested in the community. She is also part of the reason why SF State has the Afro-Latiné Club.

Another personal goal that Lex has is to open a program for children in the next 10 years or so that is art and science based. This is something that her and the person she lost earlier this year would talk extensively about. Lex is very passionate and motivated to get that program running and focus on the 5th grade level. Growing up, Lex wasn’t a science person, but believes that had she had access to it at a young age, it could’ve been a possibility. There are not many programs that focus on science and art, so she feels that this is something her community could benefit from. It’s important to her to funnel back that love, support, and inspiration back into the community.

Lex’s creative journey has not been an easy road. She has dealt with her fair share of ups and downs: dealing with art block, having to go to school while balancing 2 jobs, feeling the pressure of posting consistent content online, and losing family members along the way. Life has thrown her many curveballs, but nonetheless, she still chooses to use creating art as her favorite form of meditation.

Elena: The Sewing Queen

This is story 1 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Elena flaunting the dress and decorations she made at her Barbie themed birthday party!

Elena is known for her kawaii style and homemade outfits. Her life motto is to, “always be cute.” So it’s no surprise that her outfits are anything but basic! Elena strives to be different and takes every opportunity to showcase her creations to the public. Her love for sewing could be attributed to her maternal grandmother.

Elena was 7 years old when she sewed for the first time. When her grandma would visit from Mexico and stay with her family for a while, Elena noticed that she would always be working on a project. Her grandma would mostly hand stitch and use her sewing machine. Curious Elena would always ask her grandma what she was working on, and with time, her grandmother offered to teach her exactly what she was doing. In the Mexican culture, sewing is geared more towards women, so Elena’s grandma didn’t feel the need to teach her brothers. However, Elena strongly believes that sewing is a skill that everyone can benefit from.

The first project that her grandmother gave her was to embroider a flower. Her grandma drew a simple flower with leaves on a piece of cotton. Elena did her best to follow grandma’s pencil drawing and sew right on top of it. She remembers feeling excited about sewing independently because she knew the next step would be learning how to cross stitch. Why did she want to learn how to cross stitch? Because one of grandma’s cross stitch pattern books had an elephant wearing a party hat that she was dying to make. Making that cute elephant was definitely one of her goals, but she knew she had to master her basics first. With time, Elena eventually went on to make that elephant she so desperately wanted to make!

Young Elena proudly showing off her flower embroidery

From there on, Elena’s love for sewing grew. Her mom taught her how to use the sewing machine for the first time when she was 13 years old. Like her grandma, her mom would use her sewing machine for little projects here and there. Elena remembers all the times her mom helped her make Halloween costumes. She would participate in sewing up different parts of her costume, which gave her a sense of pride. Halloween is one of Elena’s favorite holidays and takes it very seriously with her outfits – a holiday meant for her creativity to shine.

By the time Elena was in high school, her interest in creating clothes for herself was at an all time high. The first garment she ever made was a strapless dress for her Senior Project. The Senior Project required all seniors at her high school to work with a mentor to learn a new skill. After learning that new skill, a final paper would have to be submitted. By this time, Elena was confident using the sewing machine, but didn’t know how to make a pattern and put it all together. Her mentor was a tailor who made men’s pants. Pattern making has been a skill she has continued to use ever since.

“He never really did womenswear, but he knew the pattern making basics, so together we made a very simple strapless dress with a sweetheart neckline and a straight short skirt,” Elena shared. “It was fun to create and made me feel confident about going into fashion design.”

When it came to choosing her major in college, Elena thought long and hard about what she’s passionate about and what she enjoys doing. Growing up, her mom always encouraged her to pursue a career in the medical field, specifically nursing. Elena didn’t quite know what she wanted to major in, but one thing she knew from the get was that she definitely wouldn’t be getting into the medical field. It took her a while to really sit and think about what route she wanted to take in college, but it all really boiled down to what she enjoyed doing on her free time.

“I took time to think what I like to do, and I landed on that I like to make things,” she said. “I say this vaguely because I did all types of crafts growing up: hand stitching, painting, paper crafts, corsage making, you name it! But overall, it was always me creating with my hands. But when I laid it all out, it all came down to fabrics being my most used medium of choice. This made it clear in my mind so I was able to choose and pursue fashion design!”

Elena and her models rocking her outfits for the college fashion show

Her parents were very unsure of her decision to pursue fashion. She understood that it’s typical for immigrant parents to want their children to pick “good” majors so they can get a job to make good money. To her parents, fashion design wasn’t a stable or profitable field. Even during her time in college, major already declared, her mom would voice her concerns, asking her daughter what she planned to do with a fashion degree. Being a good sport and knowing her parents were just worried, Elena would brush it off and jokingly troll them back saying, “beats nursing!” The disapproval and low-key shade continued on post-graduation, when she was on the hunt to find a job. But one thing about Elena – she is confident in every choice that she makes. She knows that at the end of the day, the only person that needs to be happy with her decisions is herself. Luckily, with time, Elena’s mom learned to be more supportive of her style and passions.

Elena’s style is anything but minimalistic. Everything she wears, creates, and showcases on her body are big, loud, colorful, and over the top! Elena describes her personality and style in 3 words: Kawaii, Camp, and Maximalism. Kawaii is the Japanese movement of everything and anything cute. This can be cartoon characters, pastel colors, bows, and anything adorable! Camp is self-exaggerated, not serious, and of course, fun! Elena achieves this style by wearing fun / odd things like birds in her hair, fun purses like a LEGO brick, and anything that is whimsical! Maximalism is doing the most at all times! To Elena, “More is always more!” If it’s not colorful, fun, loud, over the top, cute, or an attention grabber, Elena is not interested!

Elena has never felt insecure about showcasing her creations in public. Her favorite thing to do is wear a new design that she completed in public. She loves seeing people’s reactions when they compliment her and she confesses that she made it. Elena gets so happy when strangers and those around her admire and appreciate her work. Deep down, she also hopes her creativity inspires someone else to try sewing! Elena radiates confidence wherever she goes in whatever she wears. What’s important to her is that she dresses for herself and her own enjoyment. She doesn’t care what people think, but if they love it, even better!

Her style also comes with obsessions. Her current obsessions are Barbie and Baby Yoda. But just because these are her current obsessions, doesn’t mean she has forgotten about her past ones! The truth is, Elena never gets over anything that peaked her interest. She may have a couple of obsessions at the moment, but it just gets added to her list of things she’s in love with. When something from a past obsession comes up, Elena is reeled back in and enjoys it all over again. She keeps her long list of obsessions as inspiration to create. Though Elena has categorized her style in 3 main categories, her style could also be broken down in the different “eras” of her life.

In high school, Elena’s obsession was all about Rock music. Her all time favorite band was the band HIM. Anything the band members wore, she would do her best to find a piece that looked similar. In college, her Kawaii obsession started because she decided to watch all 200 episodes of Sailor Moon her Freshman / Sophomore year. She watched the show here and there as a kid, but never watched it in its entirety. Sailor Moon was her gateway into the Kawaii community. It definitely influenced her style completely, though she found it easy to adopt because her childhood obsessions were Sanrio and Pokémon. Post-College – Now, Elena’s current obsession is Drag Culture. It all started when a co-worker asked if she was keeping up with RuPaul’s Drag Race. She had watched earlier seasons, but fell off. She told her co-worker that she would re-watch them, and since then, the rest is history.

Elena on stage at The Warfield with Bianca Del Rio, wearing their matching Flames Dresses

“One of the best designs I made for an event would be my recreation of RuPaul’s Drag Race S6 winner, Bianca Del Rio’s Flames dress!,” Elena said when asked what designs she was most proud of. “I made it to wear at her ‘Not Today Satan’ tour stop in SF. At the meet and greet, she was so impressed that the copy was so good – she makes all her own drag outfits – she ended up inviting me on stage at The Warfield for a picture and everyone at the sold-out show got to see it!”

Now, Elena’s style is heavily influenced by Kawaii and Drag Culture. It fed into her love for Maximalism and Camp. The mutual love for RuPaul’s Drag Race got the 2 co-workers to have a friendship outside of the work environment. They would go to Drag shows in the city on the weekends and go see Rugirls, as well as other local talent. Some specific queens that have inspired Elena are: Bianca del Rio, Naomi Smalls, Bob the Drag Queen, Aquaria, and especially Valentina. Fashion wise, Valentina is what Elena strives to be. Through online and real life events, she has managed to fully immerse herself in all the styles she loves.

It’s safe to say that Elena has a very particular style and draws inspiration from so many sources. Her style is so playful, quirky, and unique that dating wise, it may be challenging to find someone that matches her style to a T. That was the case when she met her boyfriend, Sam. They shared in interest in video games on the Nintendo, but other than that commonality, the 2 lovebirds came from different backgrounds and styles. She describes their styles as polar opposites. Elena is all about coordinating outfits, and the very first time her and Sam matched was for a date to the Museum Of Ice Cream. She did a western pink look and made a matching bow tie for him to wear. Even though what he was wearing wasn’t anything flashy, he felt that it was a bit much and didn’t want to draw any attention. But with time, he saw how much dressing up meant to Elena and has learned to not only appreciate it, but go along with it.

Currently, Elena is balancing out her side passion of sewing with her current job. Her job is so flexible Post-Covid because it’s hybrid – work from home and in office. Now that she has some days of working from home, Elena finds herself working on garments during her breaks. She even found her rhythm noticing that she prefers to do work at night and projects during the day – a concept that would’ve never been a reality pre-pandemic.

One of Elena’s favorite pieces she made in college, Pop Tart Dress!

Generally, a simple design that she has done before or has the pattern for can take anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks to complete from beginning to end. If it’s a new pattern or something she hasn’t made before, it can take anywhere from 2.5 to 3 weeks. This all depends on multiple factors – when the garment is needed, if she has to get materials, how complicated it is to make, and if there’s anything going on in her personal life. If the project is for an event, Elena is very focused on sticking to the schedule to get it done on time, but if it’s a regular garment for no special occasion, she’s more relaxed getting it done. Elena is always working on a project, researching a project, or finding inspiration for the next design.

Once a garment or project is complete, Elena likes to give herself a mini break in-between. During this time, she is thinking of what to do next. This includes doing the research, looking up references, inspiration photos, and more. She admits that there are times where her mini breaks from project to project can be longer than her usual 1 – 2 weeks. Before the pandemic, Elena doesn’t recall a time where she had full on burnout with her projects. She remembers using the high of finishing a design to motivate her to start on the next project. Now 2 plus years into the pandemic, her creating fatigue is more apparent. After her Barbie themed birthday party, where she designed her dress, props, and goodies, Elena found herself in a rut. For 2 months she struggled to get in the mood to sew. It was to the point where she couldn’t even get herself to be in her sewing space at all. The burnout was really stressful, but she chose to focus her energy on other things that brought her joy, like journaling, playing Pokémon, and spending time with loved ones.

“I felt like if I spend the energy somewhere else, eventually I’ll get back to a clearer mindset and sew,” she said truthfully. “It took a while, but I can say that it did help, although I can still feel its effects. Now I’m just trying to find a better way to pace myself in projects to avoid burnout in the future… So, I do my best to rest in between projects but always try to keep something in mind.”

A common question that Elena gets asked often is if she plans to make her side passions a full-time job. In college, she did have an Etsy store where she sold her handmade hairclips, but eventually she had to close it down when school and work piled up. She thinks pursuing her creative passions full-time would be fun and exciting, but at the moment, she loves her job way too much to leave at this time. For the time being, she plans to continue to create mainly for herself. However, she is always down for a fun request. She doesn’t take custom requests often, but once in a while she will take up alterations, costume help, table centerpieces, and other fun crafts. The first time she made garments for someone other than herself was when 2 of her best friends graduated college. They asked if Elena could make and design both of their graduation dresses – she was a bit hesitant at first because she was so used to creating for herself, but in the end was glad she took on the projects because they both turned out beautiful.

Elena’s loves for creating doesn’t just stop at clothing. She will take one off commissions like making center pieces for parties or making corsages. She says that if she didn’t do fashion in school, she would’ve loved to pursue party planning or wedding planning. Themed parties have always been something that interested Elena, even at a young age. She would beg her mom to get the whole shebang at Party City – the matching plates, cups, napkins, tablecloth, signs, and anything that came in the full set. Recently, she even made all the decorations, props, and her outfit for her own birthday party. Of course it was focused on one of her current obsessions – Barbie! Parties hold a special place in Elena’s heart, and she always tries to perfect every project that she takes on.

Handmade dress on her cousin’s Ultima Moñeca

“Recently I did a Quince dress for a Build-a-Bear Dino for my cousin’s Quinceñera!,” She shares passionately. “Traditionally during the party, a Quinceñera is presented with ‘La Ultima Moñeca’ aka ‘The Last Doll.’ It is to signify that she is no longer a little girl and is now an adult who doesn’t play with toys. I let my cousin pick a stuffed animal from Build-a-Bear and I created a 1 to 1 dress based on her Quince dress!”

Social media is an important tool for Creatives to share their work. Elena confidently admits that she likes to promote her Instagram as if she has thousands of followers – even though she has yet to reach 1,000. Instagram is her platform of choice, and she uses it to showcase most of her projects. She makes it a point to post a new outfit when she wears it out and describes the process and inspiration behind the piece. Elena also likes to implement Instagram Stories to show the step by step process, then she posts the finished process as a highlight on her profile. She has taken a crack at Instagram Reels as well by pairing her videos and photos with songs that go with her theme or that has inspired her when making the piece. Elena has tried streaming herself sewing on Twitch in the past and loved that people were chatting and asking questions throughout the process. She hopes to start streaming again this year.

With all these ideas and future plans, Elena can’t put her finger on just one specific person that has supported her throughout her journey. She considers everyone in her inner circle to be someone who has been in her corner. She knows that everyone on the sidelines are rooting for her every step of the way. These people include her youngest brother, Jason, her close college friends, her “Babushkas,” her boyfriend, Sam, and of course, her grandma.

Elena’s advice to other creatives is: Do whatever makes you happy! As long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing, it will all be worthwhile. Her advice for fashion creatives is to remember to always make clothes for you. Elena wants fashion creatives to keep in mind that they are dressing either themselves or their ideal client, so if someone isn’t on board with what you create, it doesn’t matter because you’re not designing for them. She remembers that that’s the advice she had to follow in college. Fashion design made her happy, and she didn’t feel the need to explain to others why she chose this route.

Many creatives are usually asked, ‘are you able to make money off ‘Insert craft here‘?'” Elena said. “And I get it, especially if that is to become your field of work, you want to be able to make a living. But to me, the true goal is to make yourself happy. Pursue your craft and passions for self-happiness and fulfillment, with that money will follow.”   

Elena’s motto and goal in life is to always “Be Cute.” Through her style and designs, she wants to serve campy cute, maximal cute, kawaii cute, spooky cute, and any and every category of cute that there is. As a creative, her brain in constantly thinking of the next thing to create, and she is embracing every step of the way.

Elena happily posing for another photo

Reaux&Co

Before there was a “Bay Area Collection,” a “Vibes Collection,” an “Established Collection,” and so forth, Reaux&Co was merely a dream tucked safely in Pricilla’s heart. Since a young age, Pricilla knew she wanted to be her own boss, and she had everything planned out on how she would achieve her goal of owning and designing her own clothing line one day. So how did Reaux&Co go from just being thoughts and ideas jotted down on Pricilla’s phone to becoming a full blown business with over 1,300 sales and being sold in 2 physical store locations in just a little over a year? It started with an acceptance letter to FIDM, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

Pricilla was so thrilled that she got accepted into her dream college. Going to FIDM was always the plan she had set for herself. She loved designing clothes – cutting and sowing fabrics on the dress form and letting her mind run wild with what she could create. Her mom had other plans though. Due to the cost of tuition, her mom encouraged her to go the junior college route instead. Pricilla was devastated, she was certain that FIDM was her next step after high school. Still, she took her mom’s advice and went to San Francisco City College. She didn’t resent her mother for encouraging her to go to a junior college, but she was still headstrong about FIDM. She couldn’t let it go, and in turn, it made her lose her drive to go to school.

“I wouldn’t say resentful, but definitely stubborn,” Pricilla said remembering how she felt when she appeased her mom by going to a junior college. “I just had my mind set on it for so long. So when it didn’t happen, I was just so disconnected from even wanting to go to any other school. Even though SFCC had a fashion course and major, which I did take a couple of those classes, I was stubborn and wanted it how I always envisioned it.”

While in community college, she found herself very unmotivated. She had no idea what she wanted to do, or what she was even interested in outside of the fashion route. Pricilla started to feel like she was just going to school because it was something she was supposed to do because that’s what’s expected of everyone right after high school, but it wasn’t something she really wanted at the time. She decided to stop going to college and start working instead. Of course her mother wanted her to stay in school, but her mom also understood that she was an adult who could make her own decisions. Therefore, Pricilla believes her mom didn’t feel personally responsible for her dropping out. FIDM or not, going to school was her choice.

Pricilla felt really stuck in life. She didn’t know what direction to go, what career move was next, or where to even start. And then, she had her “saving grace,” her son, Ronin. She discovered soon after he was born that he was the push she needed all along to pursue her life-long dream of being a business owner. Pricilla knew it was finally time to put all of her marbles in her small business idea because she couldn’t afford childcare and had to find something she could do while still working from home and tending to her son. It only seemed right to name her clothing brand after the person that motivated her the most, Ronin. She took his nickname, “Ro,” and decided to put a spin on the spelling. She liked how aesthetically pleasing “Reaux” looked and rolled with it.

“He just made me look at life from a whole different perspective,” she said, revealing why having her son was so eye opening. “When you become a mom you really feel this weight of wanting to be so much better for this other life you’re now responsible for. I was so stuck before I had him, in terms of what I wanted out of life and the direction I should go in. After I had him, I knew I just had to go for it, for what I always wanted.”

Pricilla was very hesitant to launch Reaux&Co because she didn’t know how people would react to her line. She admits that her self-doubt was just her overthinking it, being scared to fail, and just overall being too hard on herself. After all, she has had these collection ideas in her phone for over a year before Reaux&Co actually launched. She already had the ideas, she just had to finalize her business. But Pricilla knew she had to start, and start it soon, because it wasn’t about just her anymore, it was about Ronin. She even went back to school the same time she dropped the brand as her back up plan and safety net.

Representing the Bay Area was so important to Pricilla, that she decided to have her first collection drop be the “Bay Area Collection.” She is so proud to be from the Bay Area, and wanted to capture that in her clothing line. To her, there is no place like the Bay, and only those that are from here know that. She loves that there is nothing like the Bay Area culture, and really wanted to project that vibe in her first collection and brand as a whole. Luckily, Pricilla never had to go to her backup plan because Reaux&Co‘s launch was a hit! She advertised the “Bay Area Collection” through Instagram and gave teasers on what products she would be selling. Instagram was a great tool to help get word around that she was going to launch Reaux&Co.

From there, Reaux&Co took off. The brand is known for their matching and personalized clothing items for parents to match with their minis, specifically moms. Pricilla knew that she wanted to focus on clothing for moms and their minis because it’s what she liked as well. She is forever matching with Ronin, taking full advantage of it now since she knows he won’t want to match with her forever. That’s how she gets most of her ideas – she thinks about what she would dress Ronin in, and tries to put her own spin on things. Her “Vibes Collection” is especially popular for their mom tees and crewnecks, and she plans on dropping more “Mommy & Me” lines soon. She knows that matching clothes is a customers favorite on Reaux&Co for sure.

Pricilla was so happy that Reaux&Co was doing well. In the beginning, she was so worried about how people would react to her small business, and to her surprise, she suddenly had supporters and customers that loved everything she dropped. So much so, that she had a copy cat. Her “Mom Vibes,” clothing is very popular, it is one of her best selling items. So Pricilla was shocked to see another small business using the exact same font, wording, and shirts as hers. She couldn’t believe that her original idea was being copied, but took the higher road. She knows ultimately, there is nothing she can do about other businesses imitating her products. She takes it as flattery, but knows that she would never try to purposely copy another small business’ work. Reaux&Co does use other brands in their clothing, and Pricilla knows that that’s when things can get a little tricky.

“I know it’s a thin line some brands walk when we use certain logos of high brands like YSL, LV, Nike etc.,” she said. “You just really have to make it your own, and put your spin on it.”

And customers have definitely loved Pricilla’s spin on those high end brands. What surprised her going into the business is the tremendous amount of support she gets from acquaintances and complete strangers. She has met and built relationships with a lot of her customers who have supported her business venture. She also didn’t expect to connect with so many moms through Instagram. Some have reached out to Pricilla, telling her that she inspired them to go for what they want, that she was that “push” they needed to just get started. And Pricilla appreciates those moments because she looks back to the tine where she was in that exact same position.

“It still blows me away to be honest,” she said when asked about people she doesn’t know personally support her in everything that she drops. “I have strangers I don’t know in real life, that will support each and every collection and for that I am so thankful for. The support is everything to me.”

The support she gets from her customers motivates her to come up with new ideas and not be so hesitant with creating. Pricilla explains the process of dropping a new line as hard, but still fun. Most of her ideas come about when she thinks about what hasn’t been done or what she hasn’t seen for kids clothing yet. She knows what will set Reaux&Co apart from other clothing lines is how much they can stand out. Reaux&Co‘s goal is to go against the grain and be the leader at creating trends, not follow them. And when she gets that idea, the next step is to create a mock up on the computer, and make a physical sample. If she likes the physical product, she will take high quality pictures of every item in that line, on models and by itself. Pricilla stresses the importance of marketing, and building anticipation for your drop. This means posting teasers and countdowns 2-3 weeks before you intend to drop the line so your customers can get excited. The last step is to drop the items and make them live, crossing your fingers and hoping it’ll do well.

Thankfully enough, Reaux&Co‘s experience with dropping new lines has always been fairly successful. That means Pricilla is making trips to the Post Office about 5-6 days a week. She’s made friends with all the employees at the Post Office at this point, since she is such a frequent customer. Shipping has definitely been an issue since COVID. When the pandemic hit, Pricilla noticed that that’s when Reaux&Co really started to take off, about 3 months into launching the business. She admits that she still doesn’t completely know why that was – more time for people to be on their phones, being at home with extra time, making a conscious effort to support small businesses during a pandemic – whatever it was, she’s grateful for it because Reaux&Co started to flourish. That meant more shipments with many delays. With COVID, the postal services are delayed and that means a headache for trying to get things delivered and shipped on time.

During these times, Pricilla can get overwhelmed and discouraged, but has never thought about calling it quits. She understands that there are some things that are just completely out of her control, and the best thing she can do is to just stay organized. Things can get hard, like shipping and getting the wrong number of products, but she knows that at the end of the day, it’s all part of the job. She pulls herself out of that stressful funk by allowing herself to take time to rest. Pricilla will do activities with her son, like taking him to the park, order food, and spend quality time with him to get herself out of that hectic headspace. It’s all a balance.

And Pricilla admits that sometimes there isn’t much of a balance when you’re trying to be a full-time mom and full-time business owner at the same time. There are times where she has to work while Ronin is watching Cocomelon, eating his lunch, or going down for a nap. Most days she will set aside time for Reaux&Co so she can give her son her undivided attention. She is a one woman show holding down her business, but she appreciates that there are so many people that help her outside of the business to make sure she has time to work. And staying organized, making sure everything has a place, and ordering from her vendor in time is all a part of keeping the balance and making her life easier. Especially since she does all the creating at home.

All the hard work and the struggle to balance being a mom and her own boss is starting to pay off. Pricilla is starting to see the fruits of her labor, putting in her all into Reaux&Co for over a year. She has seen over 1,300 sales, and is selling her brand in 2 physical store locations. Haven Kiyoko Kids reached out to her to have her clothing be carried at their location. She is especially grateful for Kirsten for seeing the potential in her then small brand. The second store location came to her as a referral from a family member who knew the owner of a shop in Oakland, and now Reaux&Co can be found in “E14 Gallery.”

Reaux&Co‘s goal for 2021 is to continue to reach and connect with more people. They are pushing to try to have Reaux&Co be in another physical store location, and overall just want to keep making improvements to give their customers a great experience. Pricilla hopes to have her own store one day, for that is the ultimate dream goal. And she would want to carry other small brands in her future boutique, as others have done for her. She doesn’t put too much pressure on the idea, and knows that this is an end goal that will take time and hard work. In the meantime, she continues to pray on it.

Pricilla wants her customers to know that she was a mom who decided to go for her dream. When she didn’t attend FIDM, she found herself lost and having no sense of direction. She envisioned her school and career to go one way, and couldn’t reroute her plans when things didn’t go the way she had hoped. Ronin was that saving grace for her. When she had her son, she knew that she had to do it not only for herself, but for him. He was now her reason and motivation to go for her dreams. Without the Ro, there would be no Reaux&Co.

Her advice to other small businesses in her field is to stay creative and stay true to yourself – when people know and see that you’re authentic, they will notice and gravitate towards your business. Pricilla is excited and hopeful for what’s to come for Reaux&Co. She wants her customers to know that they can expect more unique lines for themselves an their minis. Pricilla is content knowing that so many mothers have found happiness, inspiration, and fashion through her small business. What started as just ideas on her phone, quickly turned into her empire in a little over a year. And she knows that she wouldn’t have made it this far without the people that continue to support her and Reaux&Co.

“Thank you for believing in us!” Pricilla said on behalf of Reaux&Co. “Thank you for always showing so much love and support with each collection. None of this would be possible without the support. Every like, share, repost, and purchase means the world to me, truly. We will continue to deliver as long as you will have us. Thank you so much for being here.”

KA.LE’A Creates

Ever since Janelle’s daughter, Kayla Kale’a, was born a little over 3 years ago, she found herself doing a lot more “Do It Yourself” projects – especially decorations. For Kayla’s baptism, 1st birthday, and 2nd birthday party, Janelle made all of the decorations by hand. She described the process as tedious and time consuming since she had to cut everything one by one. Still, she did it every time because she knew her local party stores didn’t have the aesthetic she wanted. She was never completely satisfied with the items sold at party stores, and really loved the idea of adding personalized touches to her daughter’s decorations. After Kayla’s 1st and 2nd birthday party, Janelle finally decided to invest in a Cricut. She knew that she wanted to customize all of her daughter’s parties and milestones going forward. And it was also a long time coming since Janelle wanted a Cricut since Kayla was 5 months old!

The Cricut has been the new must have item for every DIY fanatic. But what is it even? And what’s the rave about? Janelle describes the Cricut as a machine that makes very precise cuts. It cuts through different materials exactly how you want it – and in bulk. Some Cricuts can cut through materials such as thin wood, acrylics, leather, fabric, and other materials. It can also be used as an engraver. Janelle says it’s like a printer, except it doesn’t print, but it can draw and write for you if you have the specialized pens. The crafter would design their designs on the Cricut’s app, where it would soon come to life. Basically, the Cricut is every crafter’s dream.

Playing around with the Cricut can also get a little expensive. To be good at something, one has to practice. For the Cricut, practice means using materials for trial and error. Janelle confesses that she still makes a lot of mistakes, even though she has had it for a good amount of time. She is still learning about her machine and how to improve or use different techniques. So she doesn’t consider herself a “master” of the Cricut just yet. She watches a lot of YouTube videos and tutorials to learn more about it and expand her knowledge. Little did she know that her love for crafting would soon turn into her small business, KA.LE’A Creates.

When the mandatory Shelter in Place was in effect, Janelle needed a creative outlet. She started her Instagram craft page to post and show what she created after purchasing her Cricut. She had no intentions of making her craft page a business page because she didn’t want to invest so much time into a small business. She also didn’t think that she would sell that many things. But to her surprise, a lot of her friends reached out to her, offering to pay for customized products. So, around June 2020, with the pandemic showing no signs of letting up anytime soon, Janelle decided to making her craft page into a business. She was worried that, like many others, she would be left unemployed or furloughed. With some encouragement from her brothers, boss, and best friend, Janelle finally decided to really invest in her business, and KA.LE’A Creates was born. They reassured her that her creativity could get her far if she really tried.

“Luckily, my job and income wasn’t affected by the pandemic,” Janelle said. “However, it did suffer in terms of clientele for a little while, leaving me with just a little extra time to do crafts on the side.”

Janelle named her small business after her daughter, Kayla Kale’a. Janelle knew from the beginning that she wanted to somehow incorporate her daughter’s name in it, and she came up with the name and tagline KA.LE’A Creates – create hapiness. In Hawaiian language, the word “Le’a,” by itself means, “joy, pleasure, and happiness.” This is why Janelle decided to separate her daughter’s name and break it up into two parts so the word “Le’a” was isolated. It seemed like the perfect name for her small business because crafting really does bring her joy and happiness.

Even though Janelle loved crafting, she still had a lot of doubts about starting a crafting business. She started to doubt her creativity, and the thought of being her own investor really stressed her out. She went back and forth on the idea, thinking it wouldn’t be worth it to pursue a crafting DIY business. Janelle does admit that she gets discouraged very often – almost every week – but she doesn’t want to throw in the towel. She just wants to keep on learning and improving. Like the rest of us, Janelle wishes she had more time in the day – more time to focus on her small business, to perfect each project and task at hand, each item she customizes, and each original product drop. She humbly acknowledges that there is always room for improvement.

“I know that with each product that I put out, that there will always be something I can do better,” Janelle said, explaining how she mentally prepares herself for ups and downs that comes with being a small business owner. “I try not to take each negative feedback to heart, and use it more as a way to learn how to do things better.”

Janelle first advertised her customized products on her personal Instagram. She was pretty successful getting customers through her personal account because it helped in letting her followers know what she was selling and what she could create. Her best friend, Anthony, who is also a small business owner, helped promote her products in the beginning. Others started reposting her content as well, helping spread the word that Janelle was the girl to go to if you wanted a customized product. During COVID, a lot of people have made the conscious effort to support small businesses more, so Janelle has definitely felt all the love.

Janelle was surprised by not only the amount of support she got from family, friends, and strangers, but other small businesses as well. She was surprised when larger and well known small businesses would reach out to have customized products made. From there, Janelle got a glimpse of how tight-knit the small business / crafting community is. She was surprised and happy that other small businesses trusted her and her craft to make items for their own small business. Making products for other small businesses also helped get KA.LE’A Creates’ name out there to people she did not know personally. She has completed many orders to date, but her favorite ones to do are for other small businesses because she is supporting them and hooking them up with a cheaper price. She loves that she gets to help others in her community and witness them grow – as a business and as a person.

Her initial prediction that nobody would be interested in customized products proved to be wrong. When Janelle first started KA.LE’A Creates, her most popular items were her decals. Then she started advertising her customized reusable masks, and those became the top item. As she dropped more and more content about personalizing different things like keychains, water bottles, cake toppers, clothing, etc. – she started to see that there wasn’t really a top #1 popular item. It was always changing depending on what people wanted, and what time of the year it was. If a customer had an idea for a customization that has never been done before, Janelle would take it on and see if she could do it.

“I can customize a whole lot of things, whether it’s clothing, party decorations, drinkware, I’ve even made stencils for someone to paint their shoes with,” Janelle said, thinking of all the personalized items she has done since opening KA.LE’A Creates. “Customers generally inquire about specific items they’d like to get customized and I try my best to see if it’s doable before turning them down. And most the of the time it’s doable.”

Janelle expected that the holiday season would bring in a lot more business for KA.LE’A Creates, especially since she was dropping her personalized snow globe ornaments. And she was right, she was booked and busy with orders. Majority of the orders she had over the holiday season were mainly gifts for others. After all, customized gifts are very thoughtful and are fun to keep as keepsakes. She felt so grateful that people were doing their holiday shopping and buying from KA.LE’A Creates, as she had doubted how far she could take the DIY craft business in the past.

Getting a decoration order for a wedding was the cherry on top for Janelle. After so much self-doubt in the past, getting the wedding order made her realize how far she could really take KA.LE’A Creates if she really tried, put her mind into it, and gave it time to grow. Janelle was so happy with how the wedding decorations turned out, and her coworker was thrilled with the end results as well. She has so content knowing that she could help her coworker out, since COVID ruined a lot of the original plans for the wedding already. Janelle felt so honored that her friend trusted her to make decorations for her big day.

As much as she loves making her customers’ visions and crafts come to life, Janelle has a couple of ideas herself. Her last “big drop” was her RYM (Respect Your Mother) collection. At first, she wanted to make a “mom tee” clothing line. The more she sat on the idea, the vision for her first clothing collection kept evolving. She wanted the first line she dropped to be a mom tee, but also a PSA about Mother Nature. Janelle and Kayla would take daily walks and they would see used masks, gloves, and other trash on the street and in parking lots. That’s where Janelle got the inspiration to go in the direction of “Mother Nature,” still a mom tee, but with multiple meanings. The RYM line was the perfect combination of everything Janelle embodies – being a mother and also thinking about how she can be more eco-friendly.

Besides having full-time job and having her own small business, Janelle is a mother first and foremost. She wants her customers to know and remember that she is a full-time working single mom, and juggling all these things can get pretty crazy. On top of all the madness, she is moving her and Kayla back to O’ahu, Hawaii. Janelle wants her customers to keep these things in mind when she doesn’t reply to DM’s or order requests as quickly as some would like. She is trying her best to balance everything out and is still learning how to multi-task her day job, small business, and practicing self-care, while still putting her daughter first. She realizes that it is very likely that she can get some orders wrong, so patience and compassion is all she asks.

“I want to be able to enjoy my craft, but when people are persistent and think that their orders will be done once it is placed and the next day they’ll have the item, it gets really stressful,” She explained.

Because she’s so busy, Janelle really has to plan out her schedule. She has always been a planner, so knowing that she is going to do on a week to week basis really helps her stay organized. When Janelle is working on orders for KA.LE’A Creates, it is most likely taking place during Kayla’s naptime. She really values her time with her daughter, especially working a 9-5 job. If Janelle gets home and Kayla is awake, she will spend quality time with her until it is time to put her down for bed, and then she’ll fulfill orders, working out, cleaning, or anything else that needs to get done. She wants to give Kayla quality mother daughter time because she doesn’t want her daughter to think that all she does is work – working a full-time job and then coming straight home to work on KA.LE’A Creates. Especially since an item or several items she works on can take anywhere from 2-3 hours.

Janelle’s advice to other crafters and small business owners is to stay organized. Especially for those who are parents, Janelle stresses the importance of keeping everything neat and tidy. Everyone can relate – starting off very organized, and little by little things start to pile up, and you’re faced with a huge mess. That’s exactly how it went for Janelle, as orders started coming in, things started compiling, and she found herself in not only a cluttered living situation, but mentality as well. When she would see how unorganized and disheveled everything got, it made running her business stressful and took the fun out of it. She lost a lot of time for herself and Kayla when things started to get unorganized, so now, she really relies on keeping everything in line.

For the time being, Janelle is keeping KA.LE’A Creates as her side hustle that brings her a lot of happiness and creativity. She would love if her small business could one day be her main source of income, but she is sticking with her career goal in Human Services. Janelle laughs and says that KA.LE’A Creates will remain a side hustle until she retires – which she doesn’t plan on doing anytime soon. So until she retires, you can find her working on her crafts after her little one is asleep.

Janelle and Kayla are back in O’ahu after the much anticipated big move. While they’re settling down and unpacking, Janelle is very hopeful for 2021 and where she can take KA.LE’A Creates. She still plans on continuing her small business from Hawaii, after she settles down in her new home and job. She is keeping her fingers crossed to open back up and take orders again in February. Janelle has a lot of ideas brewing, and she can’t wait to capitalize on them. Her RYM collection did better than she expected, and she is excited to work on dropping more of her own gear and clothing. All the love that she received in 2020 motivates her to keep going with her small business. Janelle loves that it keeps her creative juices flowing, as she finds crafting very therapeutic and relaxing.

Being a part of the crafting community is what touches Janelle the most. She has participated in a handful of giveaways, some where she reached out to other small businesses first, and some where they reached out to her. When small businesses reach out to her to participate in a giveaway, they will usually offer to pay for the items. But Janelle usually donates her item as a way to support other small businesses and their followers. Especially during COVID, she is glad that she has found a community that welcomed her with open arms, since she believed it would be the complete opposite going into it. Her love of crafting has opened the door for making connections with others, and supporting other small businesses.

“Going into it, I first thought that there would be so much competition, but really it’s not about competing for customers,” Janelle said. “Since I opened, other craft shops that have found me have been really helpful and supportive in so many ways. It makes me really proud to be a part of this craft / small business community. It just goes to show that we all love to help each other out, especially during these times.”

Artistry By Dre

Andrea’s goal for 2020 was to be published in a magazine by year’s end. That goal was fulfilled this past November when her makeup look landed the front cover of PUMP Magazine. This is a huge accomplishment for Andrea and puts her freelance makeup business, Artistry By Dre‘s, name out there in the makeup artist world. Her love and passion for makeup is finally getting the recognition she once dreamed of. It took Andrea a lot of trial and error to get Artistry By Dre where it is today. She had a few bumps in the road, but has used those experiences to learn, grow, and perfect her craft. This is the story of how Andrea got her foot in the makeup industry.

Andrea has always looked up to her mother for many different reasons. Makeup is definitely one of those reasons. Her love for makeup originated from years of watching her mom getting ready. She would look at her mom with awe, and it inspired Andrea to test her creativity as well. She would do her makeup, then eagerly run to her mom’s room to show her what she created. This gave Andrea the confidence to start practicing on friends and family. She started offering makeup services when she was about 17 years old, roughly 8 years ago, her senior year of high school. People would come to her for proms, homecomings, and other special events.

From there, Andrea’s love for being a makeup artist grew. She decided to start her business because she was extremely passionate about creating new looks. She lived for her clients’ reactions when they would see themselves in the mirror after she was through. For these reasons, Andrea had little hesitation about starting Artistry By Dre, because at that point, she was already getting booked with makeup appointments. She started an Instagram page to showcase her work, and people were reaching out to book her for their events as well. It only seemed right that the next step would be to make the business official.

“I wasn’t hesitant at all, it honestly happened pretty organically,” Andrea said. “I knew I loved what I did, and I was invested in learning more about the industry.”

When Andrea decided to pursue makeup professionally, her mom supported her from day one. Her mom always tried to encourage her to try new looks, push her creativity, promote her work on social media, and be her number one fan. Although in the beginning, Andrea’s mom was a little worried at first because she thought pursuing makeup professionally meant that Andrea was going to stop with her college courses. After reassuring her mother that she would still be going to school and getting her degree, her mom was relieved and gave Andrea her full support. Andrea also had the support of her family, and didn’t receive any negative feedback. She knows she is fortunate that her family was so supportive, since it’s not so common for family members to be entirely on board when starting a small business. She believes her family was more inclined to support her dreams and business because she always had another job to be able to support herself and Artistry By Dre.

With her family’s support, Andrea was ready to totally immerse herself in the makeup industry. And with the help of her aunt, she got her first opportunity to do makeup for a bridal party when she was just 17 – 18 years old! Her aunt has a salon in South San Francisco, and had asked if she was available to do makeup for a bride and two of her bridesmaids. Andrea couldn’t believe it. Her excitement was through the roof, but she was equally just as nervous as she was excited. Especially since this was the bride’s big day, it added more pressure on Andrea to deliver. She didn’t want to mess up or have the bridal party not be happy with her service. When she finished the bridal party’s makeup, they were so happy with the end results. That day Andrea made the most money in 1 day of doing makeup. Their reactions energized her spirit to continue with her art and become a professional makeup artist.

For the next couple of years, Andrea continued to do makeup services for others and showcase her work through her Instagram page. Her dream has always been to be a MAC makeup artist, so when she finally had the opportunity to showcase her skills, she went for it. Unfortunately, her interview experience that day wasn’t a great one. The woman interviewing Andrea seemed very cold and uninterested in what she had to say. The entire interview Andrea felt as if her heart was in her stomach the entire time. She had a gut feeling that the interviewer wasn’t going to hire her, but she put on a professional face and attitude and got through her interview. A few days after her interview, she followed up with the manager to get an answer or any feedback on how the interview went. The manager told Andrea that the person interviewing her that day had said she, “had the MAC look and artistry, but not the personality.”

“When I heard that, I felt like a dagger hit me in the chest,” Andrea said remembering the only time she ever felt discouraged as a makeup artist. “My dream of being a MAC makeup artist wasn’t in the cards for me. This didn’t discourage me from continuing to pursue makeup. In fact, I used that as a fuel to become a better artist. I realized that I didn’t need to work at MAC to be a great makeup artist. I already had the artistry and skills they had.”

Sometimes, it takes closing the door on one chapter of your life to continue on to the next. Andrea realized that after she left her retail job almost 4 years ago. Quitting her job at Nordstrom was one of the best decisions she made for her makeup career. At her retail job, she wasn’t allowed to take personal makeup appointments. But when she did have an appointment at her counter, the customer would have to buy products, and the makeup artists couldn’t accept tips or money for their service. This was extremely discouraging for her as a makeup artist. She felt as though everything was focused on selling, and that wasn’t the route she wanted to go with her makeup career. So, she interviewed at Makeup Forever as a freelancer and got the job on the spot. She put in her two weeks at Nordstrom and felt from that moment on, she chose herself. She was finally able to have a flexible schedule and work for Makeup Forever and for herself whenever she wanted.

Working as a freelance artist for Makeup Forever lasted for about 8 months, but eventually, Andrea moved on. Her current job allows her to have weekends completely free to do makeup. Sometimes, she will even pick up clients after work if she has the availability. She finally found a schedule that aligns with her needs and wants. After quitting her retail job is when she really started to take Artistry By Dre more seriously. Andrea started researching the next steps on how to become a certified makeup artist, purchased quality products for her kit, watched videos and took classes to learn different techniques, built a website, and made business cards to give out. Andrea was finally able to fully focus on Artistry By Dre and network with others.

Networking with others meant that she had to be more consistent with posting content on Artistry By Dre‘s Instagram page. She made her business Instagram page back in 2014 to showcase her work and services. However, she did her first paid advertisement about 2.5 years ago when Instagram introduced the business feature. To test it out, Andrea paid for the option that wasn’t too expensive, but would showcase and advertise her work to about 7 thousand people for a span of 5 days. Her page got a lot of engagement from that ad, about 1.2 likes and 200 followers. Running the ads has proven to be a successful tool to bring in followers, makeup lovers, and potential clients. Most importantly, the exposure leads her to collaborate with other creatives.

With Andrea fully focused on her business, and her posts making its way around the internet, Artistry By Dre started to take off. With all of her research, practice, and training, Andrea was confident in her artistic ability. When you become your own boss, it’s easy to lowball yourself, or have others try to lowball your services. Andrea found this especially true when she started freelancing. It surprised her that many people try to negotiate prices. What she, and many other makeup artists, want the public to understand is a lot of time and money goes into being a professional makeup artist. They take classes to learn different techniques, they purchase makeup and proper sanitation products, not to mention the costs of keeping their websites running, upkeeping their kits, traveling to your destination, or renting out a studio or booth, etc. These expenses are usually “out of sight, out of mind,” to others. Andrea admits that she used to get bothered when people would try to negotiate her prices, but she learned to remind herself that her work is worth the price for the quality of work she offers and her skillset.

“When people try to negotiate my prices, I explain why I set my prices to what it is, and if I’m not in their budget that’s okay, but my prices are non-negotiable,” She explained. “I stopped getting upset and told myself that my work is worth the price and there are people out there that will appreciate my artistry.”

And there definitely are plenty of people that appreciate Artistry By Dre‘s services. She is the busiest around proms, homecomings, graduations, and wedding season which is summer – mid-fall. It slows down after, then picks back up again around the holidays. But because of COVID, Artistry By Dre was definitely impacted. Because of the lockdown and mandatory Shelter in Place orders, she lost many wedding appointments and other special occasion jobs. For the first couple of months of Shelter in Place, Andrea felt as if her business was at a standstill. She decided not to take any clients until the re-opening in mid-June. But still, Andrea was hesitant to open up her services again because of how close she gets to someone’s face when she does their makeup. To reassure herself and her clients, she took extra safety and sanitary precautions by receiving a Barbicide COVID-19 Certification – an online course teaching infection control in salons, spas, barbershops, etc.

Ironically, despite the pandemic, Artistry By Dre has been getting booked to do more photoshoots and collaborations. For every photoshoot she does, she is exposing herself to more opportunities to meet photographers, models, stylists, and other people in her field. In fact, networking and collaborating is what led to her first magazine publication. She had just finished a photoshoot when she started talking to one of the models. They talked about their goals for their business, and Andrea shared with her that she really wanted to do more print work and be published. She referred Andrea to Alex, the model that would be on the cover of the magazine. Alex asked if Andrea would like to be a part of the project, and now Andrea has a published magazine to show for it.

“I could not believe that I was finally getting the opportunity that I have been asking the Universe and God for,” Andrea said looking back on her greatest accomplishment of 2020. “I told myself that this was the first of many big opportunities and it was time to grow in my artistry and push myself out of my comfort zone.”

And this was definitely out of her comfort zone. When Andrea first started doing photoshoots, she was a little hesitant to meet up with photographers and models she didn’t know. Just for that alone – the fact that she didn’t know these people personally. In the beginning, Andrea would bring her cousin along to shoots and sessions, to be sure that she had somebody she knew and trusted near by. Now a days, Andrea shares her location and the details of where she’ll be with her boyfriend, mom, and cousins when she is with a new photographer, model, or collaborating team. She shares her location with them on her phone, so if she’s at a new location, they know to hit her up. She makes it a point to call and text them after she is done with a shoot so they know that she’s safe and okay.

These collaborations and photoshoots have opened a lot of opportunities for Andrea and Artistry By Dre. The photoshoots she does are mainly to build portfolios for those involved – the models, the photographer, the stylist, hairstylist, and makeup artist. Other times, they shoot for product launches and content creation. Not only does she get to build her own portfolio, have new content to post on social media, and be around other creatives – she also gets to make new connections and network with those in her industry. When a creative wants to collaborate, one person will reach out to those they want involved. If Andrea wanted to plan a photoshoot, she would be in charge of the location, reaching out to photographers, models, stylists, and hairstylists, and explain the mood board. When she plans the shoot, she is in complete control of what the mood and vibe will be. When someone else is planning the shoot and they ask her to collaborate, it is her job to make their makeup vision come to life on the model. Photoshoots gives her a chance to be creative and push boundaries as an artist.

“I try to do 3-4 collabs each month so I can have photos to post on my social media, but also stay up on the latest trends and challenge myself to try new techniques and makeup styles,” She said.

When Andrea isn’t part of a photoshoot, she tries to find different ways to keep creating. She follows a lot of makeup artists on social media to use as inspiration. She uses her Pinterest account to create mood boards for future looks and projects. Andrea admits that when she is playing around with makeup on herself, she rarely knows what look she will end up with. She lets her brushes do the work, and doesn’t restrict herself from experimenting with different colors. Usually, she knows what color palette she will be using, but then end result is always a mystery. Even if she pulls images to recreate and use for inspiration, she always tries to add her own creative spin to the look. Andrea likes to look at her past makeup looks to see how far she’s come. If she ever tries to recreate a look she has done in the past to see her progress, the look always turns out differently than the original because she remembers what she struggled with when doing that look. She will try different techniques that she has learned since then to try to approach the look differently.

Andrea’s goal for Artistry By Dre in 2021 is to build on all the success and accomplishments she made in 2020. She wants to really invest in her business by upgrading her website, do more content creation, adding more to her current services, and doing more production work like commercials and campaigns. Andrea already got a head start in expanding her services before 2020 ended. She surprised herself when she started offering press-on nails. When COVID hit, her nail tech moved away, so she started doing her own nails. People started messaging her about them, so she created a poll asking if people would be interested in buying. Overall, she got a pretty positive response and decided to roll with it. She doesn’t know how long she will offer her press-on nails, but she’s going with the flow and doesn’t plan on discontinuing them anytime soon.

Andrea knows that everything she wants will come with time. As for right now, she is enjoying the full time job she has that allows her to continue with Artistry By Dre, and plans to keep her makeup business her side hustle. She will transition Artistry By Dre to full time when she adds services that will bring in consistent clients. Having her own studio is something she is already putting out into the universe. She already offers classes for those who want to learn how to apply makeup, but dreams to one day open up her own school. She dreams of one day opening a makeup school where she teaches not only makeup artists, but people who want to learn to do their own makeup as well. Andrea knows that it will take time and will be an investment, but she knows that’s a top goal of hers.

Andrea started off as a self-taught makeup artist. She takes so much pride in what she does and wants her customers to know that when she’s working with them, she listens and caters to their beauty needs because she wants them to feel their most beautiful and confident self. Her goal is to have all her clients have full confidence in her ability to deliver exactly what they want, and exceed their expectations. Artistry By Dre would not be where it is today if Andrea never put her work out there. Her advice to other artists is to not be afraid. Don’t be afraid to put yourself and your work out there, and most importantly, don’t compare yourself to other artists. Andrea describes the makeup industry as very competitive. She thinks it’s very important to be kind to others and keep it professional. There will always be other makeup artists who support you, and unfortunately, there will be others that want you to fail.

“I want to promote women empowerment and to keep hustling and manifesting your goals into reality,” Andrea said.

And she’s doing just that. One of Andrea’s favorite makeup stories to tell is when a friend of hers, who is a couple years younger, reached out to her to interview her for an assignment. Her friend was in makeup school and the assignment was to interview an experienced makeup artist. Her friend revealed to her that she was the reason why she chose to pursue makeup. Andrea had no idea she was inspiring others with her work. She felt so honored to be that mentor for someone else. You never know who you’re going to inspire with your work.

“My message to those that have supported me along my journey is thank you all for the encouragement, every referral they have sent my way, and the overall love I have received,” Andrea said. “Each interaction has uplifted me and shaped me into the makeup artist I am now, and I’m super grateful for it all.”

Past Lives

I’ve walked passed this quote a couple of times before finally snapping a photo. Everytime I walked passed it and read it in my head, my mind would wonder. What does this mean? What is this for? All I knew was that it made me think for interpretations, and it sounded deep. You know me, always trying to find meaning and the bigger picture in things. I told myself that I would take a picture of it when I finally came to a conclusion on what I thought it meant. After walking past it many times, and still not really knowing, I snapped a picture anyways.

I started thinking of the quote in its literal sense. “Past lives.” That has always been something I’ve wondered about. I grew up Catholic, raised to believe in a Heaven and a Hell. But I feel like I believe in a mix of different beliefs from different cultures and religions. The thought of having “past lives” has always been intriguing to me. And I believe it to an extent, but simultaneously believing in an afterlife. Which I don’t know how both could be achieved at the same time but I still believe in both. Not necessarily a “Heaven,” like I was taught to believe, but an afterlife in some shape or form.

I grew up on the Montel Williams show – don’t even ask why I was in 2nd grade watching that grown up shit when I should’ve been watching cartoons – I guess I’m an old soul. Anyways, a guest he would have once a week on his show was psychic, Sylvia Browne. She claimed to have psychic abilities that helped her talk to people that have passed, could tell the future, was super into astrology, and all this stuff that I’m totally into. You know, the stuff that’s highly debated, and it’s either a hard yes you believe in it, or no, that’s a load of garbage. I believed, and I was such a fan of her readings. There was one time where Sylvia read a person in the audience, and said in a past life, they were shot and killed in war. Sylvia told the audience member that their birthmark is where they got shot. I thought that was amazing – how a detail from a past life could be reborn into the next lifetime.

If past lives really exist, I find myself thinking of what my past lives were like. On some Avatar the Last Airbender shit, I think about what burdens and downfalls my past selves have been through, and how I’m trying to redeem myself in this lifetime. If pastlives are a thing, I wonder what I was like. What are the similarities? What are the differences? What were my stories? Watching Avatar the Last Airbender, and seeing Aang connect with his past lives made me want to learn more on the subject. I know it’s a cartoon, but Aang had to understand his past and their past struggles to understand how to go about things in this lifetime. It explained his grief, guilt, and motivation to save the world. I wonder what I’m trying to achieve in this lifetime.

Sometimes I believe that reincarnation is another way of finding peace, and until you reach that peace, you will keep being reborn into the next life. I don’t know, I have a lot of theories. And I am content and cool with knowing that I don’t know everything. The goal of being at peace and coming to terms with oneself is a theme that I don’t take lightly. People carry around so much emotional baggage, whether that be guilt, trauma, anger, pride, the list goes on. A huge part of me believes that whatever you don’t come to terms with or make peace with in this lifetime, you’ll repeat in the next life until you deal with those emotions and resolve whatever it is that is keeping you earthbound.

Another theory I have is that there is no Heaven or Hell. Those that have passed on are still “around,” and roam as they please. But those that did not make peace with their demons are earthbound and repeating either their death, or whatever it is that they can’t move on from, until they can let go and come to terms. I’ve watched a lot of ghost stories on TV, and it seems like the people that have passed on and are “haunting” an area or person and don’t mean harm, are just really lost souls who need help getting to the “other side.” It’s crazy to think of that scenario – that unfinished business in your lifetime can follow you and restrict you from an afterlife.

If I’m being totally honest, I don’t really know what I believe more than the other. If people can really find each other through multiple lifetimes, that’s a beautiful thing. You know when you just click with someone and feel like you’ve known them for a while but you just met? But who can really know. All I know is that if past lives really exist, I hope I’m lucky enough to find people I love and connect with in this lifetime in the next lifetime. All this pastlife talk was the first thing that came to mind when I was trying to find the meaning of this quote. But then I thought harder.

Past lives doesn’t always have to be dying. It can be the life you used to live, but now don’t. We go through different stages in life, and some characteristics remain the same, but other times we leave completely different people. Like people who have had addiction problems but now live a completely clean life, people who used to be players but suddenly settled down, people that thought negatively but switched their inner voice to only speak peace, etc. “Last night was the last night of my past life.” That speaks volumes.

It reminds me of the story I posted about my weight gain and body positivity journey. There was a breaking point in my journalism night class where I told myself, “Enough. I can’t live like this anymore. I can’t go my whole life hating the body I’m in.” That night was the last night of my past life. I left behind a part of my life that was dark, negative, and self-loathing. A lot of people feel this way during nasty break ups and toxic relationships. I’ve had my fair share of trash people enter my life. But the moment I said enough and closed that chapter, I knew that life wasn’t for me anymore.

I’ve been the listening ears to so many friends that let people from their past mess up the current life they have worked hard to build. I’ve also been there and done that – with friendships, relationships, sometimes even with family. I’ve learned that it’s okay to let some people stay in your past. And no, them hitting you up doesn’t mean it’s a sign haha. But for real, when you see patterns in people, situations, and attitudes – and you finally realize you don’t want to be a part of that – let it go gracefully and carry on. Letting stuff go and letting things stay in the past can be very emotional and sometimes even traumatic. But I feel like there’s so much inner peace that comes with deciding to move forward and let the past become the past.

Sometimes our past can haunt us. I know I felt that way for certain situations – where I felt like what I went through defined who I was as a person. I felt as if my past would drag me down, and the negative I’ve experienced was my story. But fuck that. My story is forever changing. Your past doesn’t define you. It helped shape you into who you are, but what you were doesn’t have to follow you into the new life you want to live. Sometimes I even refer to the past me as “me in another life” because sometimes it really does feel like a whole lifetime ago. You step back and you see how far you’ve grown. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not, but that’s when you need to take accountability and self-reflect on what parts of you needs healing.

What Will Make My 2020 Meaningful

“What do you need to do by the end of the year to make this year meaningful?” -Wordsmith Deck

When 2019 was ending, my goal for 2020 was to get a job in the writing/ journalism industry. I wanted to finally put my degree to use. That was one of my biggest fears – graduating and not using my degree. I know that’s not uncommon, a lot of people graduate with a certain degree and end up in completely different fields. And that is completely fine. But for me, I wanted to make sure that I gave it my all in the industry, and I know that meant starting from the bottom.

The running joke of journalists is that the money just ain’t there, even though the field takes a lot of dedication and passion. When I was still in school, it seemed like a lot of the professors and professionals that came in to talk about their experience as journalists had to put work above personal life to be successful. This was always something that worried me because I always knew I wanted a family, but I also wanted to be successful in writing. It seemed ironic that the girl who is so set on staying in the Bay Area got into a field that literally calls for travel and possibly living in different places in the world to be successful.

When 2020 started, I was motivated. I started getting my resume together and applying to journalism jobs. When COVID-19 hit, I used that time to apply to many entry level positions. I was applying and applying, but getting nothing but rejection email after rejection email. It was disheartening. It sucked because the positions I was applying for weren’t even what I was passionate about. It seemed like starting from the bottom to get experience just meant being a corporate sellout for a while until I have some experience under my belt. Not only was I getting rejected, but I was getting rejected from jobs I wasn’t even excited about. Finally, during the shutdown, I got my first follow up email that wasn’t denying me. In fact, they wanted to move forward with me and sent me some more information to reply back to where they would see if I was a fit.

It felt so good. My first non-reject email. May I remind you, I didn’t even get the job. But not getting denied after what seemed like 50 rejection emails was a fresh of breath air. This job could be a 1 hr drive with traffic from where I lived. But with public transportation, it was almost 1.5 hrs one way. It wasn’t even worth it. And it wasn’t even something that I was passionate about. I want to write with purpose and tell stories, but this job would’ve had me writing replies to people on social media under the company’s handles. There was nothing wrong with the job, but I felt like my passion was on the line for the price of getting my foot in the journalism door. And that wasn’t worth it to me. But, it still felt good to know that atleast a company was interested in me. Before this point, I was feeling super incompetent and pathetic. I had the degree, some experience, but nobody wanted me.

I felt a lot better knowing that I could’ve had a “journalism” entry level job if I wanted to. That email gave me hope and encouraged me to keep trying. By this time, COVID was all over the news. We’ve been shutdown for a couple of weeks. 2020 was not looking like how I planned it would be. If I thought it was hard to find a journalism job before COVID, how much more with everything shutdown? People were losing their jobs, businesses were closing down, unemployment was at an all time high – this didn’t seem like the right time to get a new job. The shutdown time kept getting extended. By this time, more than a quarter of the year had passed. My goal was for me to get a journalism writing job in 2020. I felt like my time was running out.

Then, my current job proposed an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up. The new living situation would be at least a 2 year commitment to my current job. I felt like if I took the offer, I’d be taking the “easy way” out, and I’d be prolonging my writing career. I didn’t want to put my dreams on hold. But like I said in my previous post, I decided to pivot. Applying to all those entry level journalism jobs discouraged me because it seemed like they had nothing to do with what I wanted to do with my writing. I know everyone starts from the bottom and has to work their way up, but at the rate I was going, I felt like the journey was going to take a long time, and the experience I would be getting didn’t even seem relevant to my end goal.

I took the offer and decided to commit to atleast 2 more years at my current job. But in doing so, I promised myself that I wouldn’t let writing fall through the cracks. Since I graduated at the end of 2018, I used 2019 to just take a breather. I also felt like I was stalling, because I feared rejection and also didn’t know what steps to take to get to where I wanted to be. I didn’t see it at the time, but all those entry level irrelevant jobs made me realize that maybe the traditional path isn’t my path. And maybe it was supposed to be this way… Or shit, maybe I’m just telling myself all this to make me feel better. But all I know is, with how America is handling COVID-19, with no luck in landing an entry level position, feeling some type of way about how I’d feel unfulfilled at most of these entry level jobs even if I did get it, and then having the once in a lifetime opportunity living situation on the table, I knew it was all thrown at me for a reason.

I decided to pivot. I changed my whole plan when I took that offer. But I feel like it was a better plan than my original. I came up with a solution where I can still be the manager at the preschool 8-5 and feel fulfilled as a writer. Like I said, this situation opened my eyes and made me think – Maybe the traditional route isn’t for me. I decided that I’m going to use these next 2 years (or more) to spit out all the passion projects I haven’t pursued yet. If not now, then when? That’s the phrase that kept popping up in my head. It’s the same feeling I felt when I decided to post on this blog consistently over a year ago.

If I do all the passion projects that I have up my sleeve and they’re unsuccessful – 1. Atleast I know I did them and tried. 2. I did it all the while being a responsible adult and working a whole ass full-time job. 3. At least I’ll never have that “what if” in my head. 4. I’ll be proud of myself regardless if they’re successful or not because I know I did it for me as a personal goal and 5. I’m content with the fact that I followed my heart and took the unfamiliar path. And if I try all these things that I’m passionate about and nothing comes out of it, that’s okay too. Then I’ll just pivot again and consider the traditional route. But until then, my passion projects are my goal – and honestly, they always have been.

Just starting those passion projects will make my 2020 more meaningful. It sounds like a small step, but starting is always the hardest part. There is so much more I want to do in writing, this blog is just 1 passion project out of many. I really thought my 2020 was going to be a flop year. But it has really proven to be a year that has challenged me and forced me to grow. Because of the events that transpired this year, I had to re-evaluate a lot of my plans. And now I’m excited to follow through with those plans and finally get started on all the ideas I’ve had since college.

It’s one of those things where you have every detail thought out in your head, and the only thing you have to do is start. You already have the idea, how you’re going to execute it, you did your research, and now it’s just on you to get the ball rolling. I sat on the idea of me posting consistently on this blog for years before I actually went through with it. And now, here I am over a year later, and I don’t remember what it’s like to not post every Monday. I know I am capable, and I know the time to make moves is now.

Getting started by the end of the year on my other passion projects will set the tone for the next 2+ years. After such a rocky and stressful 2020, I’m happy I’m finally settling down and starting to make moves in the right direction again. I was so confused and stressed about what path I would take for almost half of the year. I’m excited to take those baby steps to start. And hopefully, I can stop and smell the roses with this journey because I feel like I always forget to do that. I’m always overthinking, stressed, or worrying about something. It’s nice to finally be in a spot in life where I can take a step back and realize life is pretty great right now.

At the start of 2020, I had completely different goals. Now, towards the end of 2020 (holy shit, I can’t believ it’s almost the end of 2020) I have a completely different vision of what I want to do. I feel so much more content with my decisions, when not too long ago I would’ve reacted the exact opposite and stress. I’ve said time and time again that I believe what’s meant for me will happen in due time. For once, I’m excited to start my passion projects, not scared. I’ve been talking about them for so long, it’s time I stop talking and start doing. I will really look back and see 2020 as the year I got the ball rolling. I’m content in knowing I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.

Tui and La

Tui and La, your moon and ocean, have always circled each other in an eternal dance. They balance each other. Push and Pull. Life and Death. Good and Evil. Yin and Yang.” -Koh, The Face Stealer

Avatar the Last Airbender is hands down my favorite cartoon of all time. The first episode aired when I was in the 4th grade, and the show concluded when I was in 8th grade. I religiously watched the new episodes when they first aired, and watched reruns during the off seasons. It is such a good storyline, and anyone that knows me knows that I’m a die hard Avatar fan. In school when we had Book Fairs, I bought anything and everything Avatar. And even as an adult, I still try to watch the whole series from beginning to end every other year. I’m not exaggerating when I say that growing up watching this show made me a better person and helped shape me into the person I am today.

I bet some of y’all who aren’t Avatar the Last Airbender enthusiasts are probably thinking, Calm down, bitch. It ain’t that serious. Let me explain. The fact that this is such an inspirational and well written show is one thing, but also taking into consideration that it aired and came out when I was at an age and time in my life where I was the most impressionable is another thing. When you mesh those two aspects together, you get a die hard fan. I was always a Nickelodeon kid growing up, so this show appealed to me already. But by episode #3, “The Southern Air Temple”, when Aang found Monk Gyatso’s skeleton surrounded by skeletons of Fire Nation soldiers, I was completely sold that this show was gonna be the shit. I could tell this wouldn’t be a regular kid’s cartoon.

Talking about the 4 elements – water, earth, fire, air – has always been something I was interested in. It gives me horoscope vibes, which is something I’m a fan of as well. It has a very spiritual aspect to it, and I loved how they represented each nation by showing their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing each nation’s history and backstory made the show that more interesting. It gave the storyline a sense of “We is greater than I,” when you learned how each nation was responding to the war. Especially a war that has been going on for a century at that.

The Water Tribe’s people are strong-willed. Even though the Southern Water Tribe was small, they still played their part in helping end the war by gathering all men that were of age, leaving Sokka to be the “man” of the tribe. In the show, they explain why the Southern Water Tribe is so scarce. After the air nomads were wiped out, all water benders from the Southern Water Tribe were imprisoned, leaving the village small and benderless. Then a couple decades later after rebuilding, all the men of the tribe headed off to battle. This left the Southern Water Tribe very vulnerable – leaving behind the women, elderly, and children. That is why family and loyalty are very important to Sokka and Katara.

The Northern Water Tribe was grand, stuck to it’s old traditions, and was way more developed than the Southern Tribe. The Northern Water Tribe is gorgeous. Their city is basically a winter wonderland. As beautiful as it is, the Northern Water Tribe values their traditions and elders. Katara, a forward thinker and the only water bender from the Southern Tribe, found it impossible to conform to the Northern Tribe’s ways of living. She was unaware that being female meant that she could not learn how to bend for self defense. Her only option was to become a healer like the other girls / women in the Northern Water Tribe. Because of Katara, the Northern Tribe started to loosen its grip on their old ways. In the show, they described the Northern Water Tribe as a nation that has kind of “minded their business” and stayed out of the war for as long as possible, and only entered it because they housed the Avatar while he mastered water bending.

The Earth Kingdom of Ba Sing Se wants to be the Northern Water Tribe so bad. In the way that the Northern Water Tribe was not included in the war / was unproblematic in a sense. But, Ba Sing Se is anything but that. The people and refugees that enter Ba Sing Se are expected to forget the life outside of the walls. Within those walls, the war does not exist. It is not spoken of. It is prohibited. This great Earth Kingdom is just a facade. Inside those walls, you see systematic oppression at its finest. Though Ba Sing Se is corrupt, those that come from Earth territories are tough as nails. Just like earth, they are rugged, strong, and grounded. Each member of Team Avatar represents their nation so well. And Toph does not disappoint. She is a hard worker, has a tough exterior, and blunt.

In season 1 episode 16, “The Deserter,” the great firebending master, Jeong Jeong, thinks of his bending as a curse. This is a different viewpoint we get from someone in the Fire Nation. Before this, every firebender we were introduced to has been proud and cocky. Jeong Jeong states that fire only brings destruction. And we as viewers are meant to feel negative feelings towards the Fire Nation. But as the series goes on, we begin to see that fire is like a “little heartbeat”, and only in the wrong hands is when people should fear it. In the 3rd season we get a glimpse into the Fire Nation world. Even members of Team Avatar have their reservations about entering the Fire Nation and how they view its people. By the 3rd season, we are introduced to a few characters from the Fire Nation. Some are very die hard Ozai supporters, but a lot of them are regular people.

And that’s something that Aang really struggled with when he was deciding Ozai’s fate. His Air nomad beliefs were telling him that even though Ozai is a horrible person, at the end of the day he is still a human being. I admire Aang’s way of thinking, and I think if I were to choose to be from any nation, I believe the Air nomads would fit me best. They are detached, free spirits, that value life. The monks really seemed to preach about forgiveness and being content and happy with yourself.

I really like the spiritual aspect of Avatar. The concept of “past lives,” has always intrigued me. I feel like I strive to be spiritual and wise, and just the thought of having someone guide you from your own shared past is pretty cool. It’s interesting to see how each Avatar handled their role in their lifetime. From Avatar Kyoshi, to Avatar Roku, to Aang – completely different personalities, but have the same duty and shared past. I loved when Aang would take trips to the Spirit World, because he always discovered some new piece of information, or got visions of the future. I really feel like there are people from the other side that are trying to guide us, whether that be loved ones that passed away, or our own past lives.

A reoccurring theme in Avatar the Last Airbender is struggle. Every character in the show has battled their own demons, outside forces, problems that weren’t even inherently theirs to begin with, etc. And that’s what made this show so real. Seeing every character’s struggle to be a better them. From characters feeling incompetent, hopeless, fearful, proud, shameful, disgraced, to hopeful, content, proud, and accomplished.

Redemption is another theme we see in the show. I joke all the time that I strive to be as wise and level headed as Iroh, but I’m still at my Prince Zuko phase of life – where I’m just trying to find my own way and make my own path. Oh, and also being a grumpy asshole at times. Being the Firelord’s son has always had Zuko conflicted. We see that at a young age, Zuko has always been the empathetic and more compassionate in comparison to his psychopath little sister, Azula. Zuko has always struggled with what’s right and what’s wrong. But he has always had Iroh to guide him and be the positive “father figure” rolemodel in his life.

Talks about true evil versus good and war also seemed way too real. There’s a lot of similarities in Avatar the Last Airbender and even The Legend of Korra that I can see translated in modern day American history. It’s pretty creepy. I feel like I can write so many different pieces about Avatar, so this post will just graze the surface of why I love it so much. And now that it’s on Netflix, I feel like so many people have rewatched it and fell inlove with the series all over again.

This show has meant so much to me since I was in 4th grade. And since forever I always wanted to get Tui and La tattooed. I debated on getting Tui and La, the 2 dragons, the lotus game chip, the 4 elements, even the big glowly black and purple cosmic Aang that carried actual Aang into the Avatar state. At one point, I thought about it so hard that I didn’t even want the tattoo anymore because I exhausted myself searching hashtags of other people’s tattoos. But finally, I said “fuck it,” and for my 25th birthday I decided that this indecisive girl was going to commit to something for life!

Tui and La, the moon and ocean spirits, gave up their immortal lives to live amongst the humans in the physical world. They took on the appearance of koi fish. It is when Aang is meditating and focusing on these koi fish that he enters the Spirit World. Commander Zhao’s plans to capture and kill the Moon spirit puts enemies and friends on the same team. Here is when we see that Iroh has no problem choosing between good and bad even though he is Fire Nation. Iroh speaks about balance, and how everyone, not just the Fire Nation, needs the moon. Without it, the whole world would fall out of balance, and it would cause havoc on the world.

The “eternal dance” that entranced Aang, as he slowly saw the two fish turn into yin and yang, stuck with me. That season finale was so powerful to 4th grade me, and watching the series to this day still gives me chills. For my 25th birthday, I decided to gift myself Tui and La for life! Hoping that it reminds me everyday that life is a balance. Also for my 25th birthday, 1 of my best friends made me an Avatar Aang amigurumi! I’ve been suggesting to her for a long time to try to make an Aang one, and she surprised me with it, and it’s even better than I imagined.

For those that know me, it’s not even a surprise that my first tattoo ever had to be dedicated to Avatar the Last Airbender. ☯️

ProjectGiveBack

As Ebony’s 2 year commitment for “Teach For America,” was coming to an end, she debated on what to do next. She started the program after graduating from Georgetown in 2017, and Teach For America randomly placed her in Houston, Texas. The program gives a teacher the opportunity to work in low-income schools for a minimum of two years. After that two year commitment, an education grant is given where the reciever can further their education by getting their Master’s, PhD, etc, or use the money to pay off loans.

Getting her foot into the teaching world was so random – or so she thought. Initially in Georgetown, they threw her in a teaching role to teach STEM to kids. After all, she loves kids and enjoyed science, so she rolled with it. Ebony even wanted to be a teacher when she was younger, among other things. She recalls her big tent that opened up to reassemble a classroom and playing “teacher” with her cousin, Asia, in the livingroom.

“I want to be a teacher!” She had said. Actually, it was between teacher, doctor, or hairdresser, to be exact. When she was told that teachers don’t make that much financially, Ebony scratched that dream and headed onto the next, as young children often do. But yet here she was, almost 2 decades later, taking on that same dream. After graduating from Georgetown and committing to 2 years with Teach For America, Ebony found herself packing her bags in D.C. and heading to Houston, Texas. She even called up our 8th grade teacher to ask for some advice and tips on how to take on the teacher role.

After teaching a total of 2 years with middle schoolers, 1 year teaching 7th grade and the other year teaching 8th grade, Ebony realized something. She realized she loves working with kids. She enjoys getting to talk to middle school-aged children and have deep conversations with them. And she has a yearning to help those kids that need her. But, she realized she didn’t want to teach anymore.

Being a teacher in Texas opened up a path for Ebony to realize what she really wanted to do. She wanted to get into social work to help middle school-aged children. Why? Because she noticed that she enjoyed taking on the “school counselor” role more than teaching infront of 30 students. She interned as a school counselor but came to find out that the teacher, school counselor, administrator roles are too closely intertwined. She wants that separation of roles. Ebony wanted to be the listener, the helper, the resource giver, just not the teacher. And by first being a teacher, she saw parts of the education system that she believes needs some work.

Ebony wants to find a way to bring social work and school together. She hopes to be that bridge because she sees a lot in the education system that is broken. She believes that schools perpetuate the criminal justice system by having certain policies and protocols when there is an incident. Zero-tolerence policies make certain incidents go straight to the police instead of handling it within the school. This is where Ebony thinks “we need more than just school and education.”

Ebony gives the example of a student coming to school with a knife. If this child is caught with the knife, zero-tolerence policies will get law enforcement involved and give them a set consequence regardless of what the reason for carrying is. This child’s commute to school might have them pass through a rough neighborhood, and for their own protection they carry a knife to feel safe. This child would get the same consequence as a child who brought a knife to fight someone at school. Instead of knowing the back story, and coming up with a solution, Ebony feels like these policies just punish rather than help. Instead of giving consequences to children who didn’t have violent motives, consequently schools should ask “what can we do to prevent this? Buddy systems? Add school bus routes? What can we do to help?”

“I would want to work with schools to lessen their relationship with the criminal justice system, as well as work with kids who are involved in the criminal justice system,” Ebony said. “Sometimes when they have a record, they are not able to get into college, or not able to get a job.”

Being surrounded by middle school-aged children for 2 years made Ebony notice what a vital time it is in their lives. Not only does she have experience with this age group, but she knows that this is the age where the students are aware of their emotional and mental well-being, but still moldable. Ebony explains that when students get to high school, they’re already beginning to be set in their ways. Providing help and resources to children as early as possible is her main goal.

Teaching children with behavioral problems and having to refer them to social workers and other forms of help, made Ebony want to follow up on these children. She always wondered if they’re okay and wants to be there for them emotionally. It was then she knew that the teaching route wasn’t the path for her. Instead, teaching led her to a career choice that would make her feel more fufilled. Being a social worker for middle school-aged children.

Her options after her 2 year obligation for Teach For America were to either continue teaching or go down a different path. Ebony decided to use the grant money to further her education and go back to school for social work. The school year ended, and Ebony started taking classes at the University of Houston. And then, COVID-19 hit.

All of Ebony’s classes switched to online, and she found herself back in California to be near her loved ones. Sheltering in Place gave Ebony a lot of time to rekindle some of her old hobbies. In middle school, we had “exploratory.” We got to pick different classes every quarter – from karate, to card making, to theater, to cooking class. We got 4 classes to pick out of the year. In 6th grade, Ebony took the knitting class, which lasted a semester instead of a quarter. She quickly fell inlove with it, and in 7th grade found herself in the Knitting 2 class, which also lasted a semester. But she didn’t stop there, in 8th grade she took Crocheting for another half a year. She preferred crocheting over knitting because it was quicker and she could work faster.

When Ebony moved to Houston, she crocheted here and there, but very occasionally. Now with Shelter in Place, and back home in California, Ebony was looking for something to do to be productive. Her cousin, Asia, started crocheting during Shelter in Place and was posting all of her cute outfits that she made. From tops, to shirts, to swimsuits, Asia was making and modeling her products. Ebony got inspired to start crocheting again, and tried to making her own clothing as well.

Ebony started to crochet tops for herself, and they came out “alright.” She didn’t really like following the shirt pattern, because it required 100% focus. However, she did like the idea of crocheting blankets because it’s something she can do mindlessly. She made a blanket and gave it to her mom. Her niece really liked it and wanted one for herself, so Ebony gifted her a blanket as a graduation present.

Soon, Ebony had ideas of selling her crocheted blankets and giving a portion of the proceeds to an organization to give back to her community. But, she was very hesitant to make her blankets for sale public because she feared no one would be interested. On top of that, she wanted to give back but didn’t really want to give the profits to an organization and not know where the money would be going to. She wanted to know exactly where the funds were headed.

That’s why Ebony decided to start her own scholarship, “ProjectGiveBack.” This scholarship will be given out to Black women, high school seniors pursuing college. 40% of each blanket sale will be put into this fund, until Ebony distributes it out sometime before the start of the new school year of 2021. This way, she knows exactly where and to who her funds are going to.

Part of the reason why Ebony made this scholarship for Black women only is because of a class she’s taking. It’s her Women’s Issues class where a lot of their discussions focus on intersectionality, and how being a woman and being Black further oppresses black women. Especially with all the civil unrest going on in America right now, Ebony believes Black women aren’t getting as much attention when it comes to racism and police brutality. So she wanted to create a space where Black women feel acknowledged and supported.

With her teacher background, Ebony definately wants to highlight Black women who are going to college and continuing their education. Black women are one of the growing populations of college educated people in the United States, and Ebony wants to celebrate that. She truly believes in the importance of education and how higher education can bring about social change as well as social mobility. By setting up her her own scholarship, she has control over who recieves the money and knows exactly who it’s helping. She wants Black women to feel included and like they have something “just for us.”

So with that goal in mind, Ebony decided to sell her crocheted blankets for real! She told all of 5 people (her parents included) that she was going to start selling her blankets and starting her own scholarship. For the longest time, Ebony debated how she was going to reveal her idea. She wanted to make atleast 10 blankets for inventory before dropping the big news. But then she started getting self conscious. Will anyone even buy? What if it flops? She initially wanted to have an Etsy page where she would post the remaining products that didn’t sell. She waited, she prayed about it, she came up with more ideas. All her planning went out the window and she just posted her post on social media after praying and having an influx of ideas. She took it as a sign. She didn’t have a goal. She was content with “let me put this out and see what happens,” mentality. She posted her post – pictures of her with her beautifully crocheted blankets with the caption that followed:

So I have been super nervous to post this but God told me to have faith so here it goes 🤷🏽‍♀️ 😊…

I have decided to use my love for crocheting to give back to my community: college degree-seeking black girls 👩🏽‍🏫. I will be selling custom, handcrafted, super comfy, blankets and…the best part is…40% of the profits will go towards college scholarships for Black girls👸🏾. I believe achieving a higher education can provide kids with unmatched opportunities, insights, and experiences and I hate that money is one of the many obstacles in our way. So, while you are cuddled up in your blanket, rest assured knowing that you are also helping a young Black girl’s dreams come true. Message me if interested in purchasing a blanket (the last three images are for sale) or placing a custom order. Baby blanket prices starting at $80 & regular size throw blankets starting at $100 (plus shipping &handling)

Stay tuned for more products, scholarship details, and opportunities to directly donate to the scholarship fund👩🏽‍🎓👩🏾‍🎓👩🏿‍🎓

She clicked the “post” button and went on a run with her mom at Lake Merced. Ebony’s Instagram notifications were set to “off,” and she didn’t have the Facebook app installed. Little did she know her posts were blowing up. When she finally looked at her phone, she was shocked by the mass texts she was getting. All of her friends were texting her about her blankets. She had no idea and didn’t expect it to blow up as much as it did!

In the first 48 hours of dropping her posts on social media, Ebony had about 10-20 custom orders and sold out on all the pre-made items. She was so grateful for the responses and support she was receiving. She initially planned on giving the scholarship to one winner, but she received so many orders that she plans to give to atleast 2 Black female high school seniors who are about to go to college. She wants to post the women who win the scholarships so buyers can put a face to who they helped and where their money went to.

Ebony stresses that in no way is this scholarship going to be something that a college student can live off of for a semester, but more so, a little extra spending money. She wants it to act as a crutch, where a Black woman in college doesn’t have to worry about some bills, doesn’t have to pick up that second job, and doesn’t have to miss out on the college experience.

Whoever wins this scholarship will have to answer the essay question, “How do you give back / how will you give back?” And in no way is this money restricted to any particular thing. Ebony wants this money to be used for whatever the winner’s desires are. Whether that be paying for books, going towards rent, but even using it on the full college experience. What does she mean by that? She has had her fair share of silly college stories. One of which, includes her and her friends renting a car to drive to a liquor store to meet 50 Cent. She wants these young Black women to experience the college life to the fullest. And they might be crazy silly ideas now, but those memories last. And usually those fun and unforgettable nights costs money. Especially for those going to college away from home – she wants to ensure that you have some type of safety net to fall back on.

Ebony is excited to see what the future holds for her small business. Right now, she is taking all order through social media only, and you can place your order by DM-ing @smileitsebony. Maybe “ProjectGiveBack” will expand to selling other items, she’ll maybe have other crocheters join in on the project, or she may just have a direct link where someone can donate straight to the scholarship. Right now, her ideas are running wild and she’s so open to all the possibilities.

Ebony has been coping with everything that’s happening in the country with crocheting. She doesn’t want this hobby to stop after the pandemic is over. She balances out her mental health with staying busy, following activist accounts, but also mental wellness pages. In the midst of chaos, Ebony’s scholarship is a breath of fresh air. Some people support for the cause of helping a Black woman continue her education, and some people buy for the product. Either way, Ebony is content with either reason, because she knows at the end of the day that money is supporting a Black woman getting an education.

“ProjectGiveBack” is definitely in it’s infant stage, but she is hoping it is something that can get bigger and evolve. And if it does, she’ll be giving back to her community and those around her.

“I identify as a Black woman, and I wanted to address those Black women who are out there, who have done the work already, they’re in college already,” Ebony said. “I want to ensure that they’ll have one less thing to worry about.”