Joanna: The Baking Lawyer

This is story 5 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

Joanna may be a lawyer by profession, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t get down in the kitchen. For the most part, she’s a self-taught baker who enjoys making baked goods for all the people around her. Baking is Joanna’s happy place. When she first meets people, she tells them that she bakes and they’ll usually reply with, “Oh, me too!” But Joanna makes it a point to clarify no, she “baaaaakesss.” She humbly admits that her baking skills are not quite up to par with professionals, but her improved skills throughout the years has put her baked goods well passed just good enough to eat. In other words, Joanna is not your regular-shmegular “I bake for fun” out of the store bought box baker.

Joanna’s introduction to baking started at a young age. She remembers being in the kitchen around 6 years old, helping her aunts bake bread for the family. Her Aunt Carmen and Aunt Lilia sparked Joanna’s baking curiosity since they were always baking and would try their best to incorporate Joanna in the process. Aunt Carmen baked traditional pastries like dinner rolls, chiffon cakes, and butter cookies. Aunt Lilia was more adventurous with her baking and took it upon herself to watch the Food Network channel and bought tons of cookbooks to switch it up. Joanna has fond memories of measuring out the flour for their recipes and playing with the dough right before they popped it into the oven to bake.

Joanna was about 8-9 years old when she baked by herself for the first time. Her cousin used to make lemon cupcakes with her sister and the whole family loved them. So Joanna was inspired to try out her own lemon cupcake recipe. In the end, the cupcakes were edible and “nothing too special.” But her parents wanted to encourage her to bake more, so they hyped her up and overexaggerated how good her lemon cupcakes were. She realizes now as an adult what her parents did, but at the time being 8-9 years old and baking solo for the first time, Joanna took the compliments proudly!

For the most part, Joanna considers herself a self-taught baker. The most education she has for baking and cooking were 3 years of summer classes. She attended these classes from around 9-12 years old during the summers. Joanna’s mom put her in a lot of extracurricular activities growing up, and baking is the one hobby that stuck with her. She continued on with baking even outside of the class, and it seemed to be her leisure activity by choice. Her fondest memories growing up wouldn’t be the act of baking or cooking, but watching her family and friends eat and see what she had made for them.

“Of all of the activities that my mom put me through when I was young, mind you, I was a nerd, I had piano, violin, art classes, extra classes for random subjects over summer, baking was the one that really stuck,” Joanna shared. “It was something I would want to do even if no one asked.”

When Joanna was young, she always wanted to bake, but she also always wanted to be a lawyer. When she graduated with her bachelor’s degree, she asked her mom for advice whether she should go to culinary school or to law school. Mom’s advice was to go for the profession that is more financially secure, and the obvious answer was to pursue law school. Joanna believes her mom’s advice was due to the Filipino-Chinese culture – thinking baking and cooking is a natural hobby that does not need formal education. Especially being from Cebu, Philippines, where the market is “thrifty” compared to Manila. So, Joanna took her mom’s advice and went on to law school.

Joanna wasn’t bummed that her mom encouraged her to go to law school because she always wanted to be a lawyer anyways. She knew that her other love, baking, would always be there and it just depended on her to make time for it. When Joanna first started law school, she didn’t have much time to bake since she had to read so many cases, books, laws, and study. But she would make it a point to make time to bake for special occasions like her parents’ birthdays. She’s the kind of person that likes to plan ahead, so she would throw her future self a bone and made sure she always had ingredients ready at home so whenever she would have free time, she could bake right away. Joanna graduated from law school in 2021, prepped for the bar exam, and now, she’s officially a lawyer!

“I didn’t have to sacrifice my time for school for baking because baking wasn’t something I had to do, it was more of something I could do during my free time,” Joanna said.

To get her to where she is today, Joanna would just kept tweaking a recipe until it was to her satisfaction. She usually follows recipes from online or cookbooks. What she usually tweaks is the sugar content, since she grew up baking for diabetics, and with time, makes the recipe her own. She will try a recipe 3 times, and after the third time, if she can’t crack the code, she respectfully throws in the towel on that recipe and admits that she can’t make it. This doesn’t happen too often because Joanna already knows her niche, cookies!

Joanna’s all time favorite thing to make are cookies! Cookies are her personal favorite, and tops her love for cakes and cupcakes. She jokes that there’s something about cookies that have a special hold on her that other baked goods will never have. Joanna believes it’s due to the fact that a cookie is already complete in itself – no need for extra icing or fillings, has the perfect amount of sweetness and flavor, and there’s no beating the texture of being crispy and chewy all at the same time.

Joanna is very particular when she’s motivated to bake. She literally has to set the mood for herself for the atmosphere to be just right. She needs it to be a calm place, and doesn’t want anyone to bother her. Joanna doesn’t like when people watch her or talk to her when she’s baking, so she prefers to be alone. She truly enjoys her calm, quiet, solitary time to herself. Joanna laughs that she will play music in the background, which is the only noise that is acceptable in her kitchen! And when she’s in the zone, she’s IN THE ZONEEE. So much so that she knows her favorite part about baking is the mixing process. To Joanna, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching the batter or dough transform into another texture – wet to dry, crumby to smooth, vice versa.

Joanna is known for different signature baked goods depending on who you’re talking to. Her friends adore her cookies, while her family and other relatives go crazy for her buko pie. “Buko” in Tagalog translates to coconut, but it’s a “young coconut,” meaning it is still green and not fully matured. Currently, Joanna is only taking orders from people she knows. Her friends have recommended her to other people for special cake projects, but she hasn’t accepted those kind of commissions just yet because 2 tiered cakes are a bit too complex for her, but she hopes to one day take them on. For now, she just showcases her work mainly on Instagram stories and the occasional post on her profile. She laughs that it’s probably better that way because her tiny oven can’t handle that many commissions at a time!

There are times when baking goes according to plan, and then there are times where everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. When she was younger and things didn’t turn out the way she wanted in the kitchen, she would end up crying. Now as an adult, she gets really mad, to the point where her whole day would feel ruined. She will avoid anyone that would ask or bring up the topic of her recent kitchen disaster. But when everything goes right on a recipe, Joanna has about 10 minutes of bliss and awe. But she admits that the bliss is very short lived, because after that, she’s back to scrutinizing everything she should’ve done to make it faster, more efficient, or overanalyzing every detail, looking for a “mistake.” It’s true that the biggest critic is sometimes yourself.

The pros to Joanna being so hard on herself, is that she always finds the best process, a new technique, and learns something new that will help her in the future, especially when it comes to decorating. She gets her inspiration from Instagram, Pinterest, and really enjoyed Christina Tosi’s Chef’s Table episode on Netflix because she was the most relatable – baking, cookies, nothing too fancy, and lots of colors. Her creativity is always tested when it comes to decorating because there’s so many possibilities that one can create. So to narrow it down, Joanna always tries to go into it with a goal of what to design – preparing a picture, watching YouTube videos to see how to make those designs, and everything else that comes with prep.

“When it comes to the actual recreating of the design, it’s really something else, so many other factors you have to consider – heat in the Philippines, stability of the icing, color palette, piping skills,” Joanna shared when it comes to decorating with a plan. “So I’d really have to think on my feet when things don’t go according to plan. I would just adjust and adjust until I would actually get the hang of it.”

The Philippines’ heat makes it very challenging to decorate. Joanna describes it as a nightmare for an at home baker. There’s so many things to consider when you’re baking and decorating in a really hot area. Not only do you have to work faster because the heat of the environment, but the baker radiates their own heat as well – the warmth of their hands when they’re holding the piping bags. The heat also effects laminating dough and takes a longer time. And a big issue with the heat is how fast some ingredients spoil from being in rooms without air-conditioning.

Joanna finds decorating pies to be the most challenging to decorate. Again, the heat in the Philippines factors into the result of the products. So for pies, it can really be a guessing game of how to get it right. It’s either the dough is too cold, which makes it difficult to roll out and work with, or it’s too soft and shrinks in the oven and considered “overworked dough” which then needs to be rested. Decorating has tested Joanna’s patience in every way, and the thing that she has learned while decorating in the Philippines is to have lots of patience and versatility.

With all those challenges and road blocks, Joanna still manages to push out beautiful pieces out of her kitchen. Her favorite edible creation she has ever made was a birthday cake she made for her grandma. She made a main cake and tons of cupcakes for everyone else with flower decorations. When they were all displayed together, it looked like a garden. Joanna was so proud of what she created, especially since it was the first time she did a flower arrangement cake and cupcake duo.

One day, Joanna hopes to open her own little baking spot, but the thought of it is still intimidating to her. She knows that going down that route will be a lot of investment and competition. A big part of her wants to have a small shop at home which would lessen the costs of having a storefront and would keep the investment to equipment and labor. Realistically, Joanna knows that having a bakery by just word of mouth means that the products have to be amazing to compensate for the fact that the products are not always readily available. She doesn’t think that that’s too far fetched given that her aunt has given her the best compliment that she has ever received to date. Her aunt always tells her that her pastries taste better than a friend’s, who is a professional baker and went to culinary school.

Joanna appreciates everyone that has supported her on her baking journey. Her aunts were her first teachers and introduced her to the baking life. They would encourage her to sell muffins to their employees for snack, and she would bake every Saturday. Her parents, relatives, and friends have been her faithful customers and consumers of everything she made. One of Joanna’s cousins used to have a restaurant and would buy cookies from her every weekend so she could sell it at her shop. This encouraged Joanna to keep doing what she loved.

Joanna laughs and says that baking has taught her how to be really good at math. She does pretty good at math and attributes it to her love of baking because of all the fractions and measurements that go into baking a simple recipe, but also the conversions if you want to make more than one batch or downsize. But of course, baking has taught her how to be patient. Joanna describes baking as a guessing game where you’re unsure if the product is good or not until the very end. Unlike cooking, you can’t really taste and flavor as you go.

Ironically, Joanna tends to shy away from making Filipino baked goods. She doesn’t know if it’s the technique or the ingredients, but she just can’t seem to get it down. There is one exception though – her buko pie! But other than her buko pie, Joanna admits that she’d rather buy Filipino baked goods because she humbly admits that her dupes can’t compete. However, she is super motivated to learn more about Japanese and French baking. She admires how Japanese baking is very complex presentation wise, but flavor wise is very subtle and complete, while French baking is very complex and full of butter!

Joanna mastered her signature baked goods with consistent practice and the drive to keep creating for leisure. Her advice to anyone out there trying to get into baking or is feeling discouraged after trying different recipes is this “It’s really a matter of practice. The first bakes are not necessarily the best unless you fall under the exception. There are moments of disappointments and tears but do not let them sway you from doing what you love.”  

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

The Unexpected #101

Wow. I literally can’t believe that I am writing this. This is blog post #101! And to be completely honest, I’m writing this blog post as I take a break writing blog post #100. I’m having hardcore writer’s block, especially with so much pressure of being the 100th post and all… I feel like Spongebob when all he has is the word “the” on the page. I need to just step back and work on something else for a minute before I drive myself mad. Like I said, I can’t believe I’m writing this -blog post number 101 – partly because I can’t believe I have made it past 100 posts, but also because #101 was never meant to exist.

I’ll explain…

First and foremost, THANK YOU to all of my readers who have been following my writing up until this point. From everyone that’s been tuning in every Monday since day one, and all the readers I have picked up along the way, THANK YOU. It means so much to me that people really take the time out of their day to read a story of mine. That might sound dramatic as hell, but it’s true, I’m super grateful for all of the support I have gotten since deciding to write consistently. Whether that be liking my posts, sharing my content, commenting, even sliding in my DM’s to tell me something privately – I appreciate it all. I am truly humbled; to have started at a consistent “0 views” stat, to be where I am today.

101 blog posts also marks the 2nd anniversary-ish (a little over) of me re-starting this blog. In 2019, I found myself in the thick of my post-grad blues. For the longest, my goal was to revive my LoveYourzStory blog ever since I made it in 2016. I dreamt of the day that I would have the time and energy to maintain a blog and post consistently. However, I always found an excuse to delay it – it was either school, not enough time, or simply because I was lazy as shit and didn’t want to put in the time. All reasonings were valid. I had strong motivation to re-start my blog in January 2019 as a New Year’s resolution, but when the time came, I didn’t have the confidence to do it. I pussied out real quick. But it was always in the back of my mind.

From January 2019 to when I dropped my first post in July 2019, I worked myself up about getting the ball rolling. I was too hesitant, and honestly, a little embarrassed. I knew for the first couple of posts, months, maybe even years? – nobody would really care about what I was doing. I cringed at the idea of pouring my heart out and sharing my personal stories on the internet just to get no views and no feedback. But I knew I had to start somewhere. What really made me take the leap of faith was honestly being so deep in my post-grad depression and feeling so completely lost. I felt like a straight loser honestly. Here I was, proclaiming myself as a writer, shit, I even got the degree to prove it. But on paper I had no experience outside of my college courses.

L O S E R.

P A T H E T I C.

W O R T H L E S S.

D E P R E S S E D.

C O N F U S E D.

D E S P E R A T E.

That’s how I constantly felt from January 2019 until I dropped that first blog post in July 2019. I figured I had nothing to lose, I was already at my lowest. I couldn’t have been more right. I was tired of saying and wishing that I could do all these things, but lacking motivation and confidence to actually fuckin do it. I started giving myself tough love. How did I expect to get anywhere with writing if I literally did nothing? How did I expect to reach my dream of being a published writer if I was too afraid to put myself out there? I was tired of making excuses for myself. I was tired of feeling unaccomplished. I was tired of waiting for something to happen.

I decided “fuck it,” and just rolled with it. I knew I had to start somewhere. And I knew it would take a long while until people would take notice of my work and actually tune in. But the longer I waited, the longer it would take for me to see results. This is something I really had to do for me, I had to face my reality – how bad did I want this? I no longer had school as an excuse for not having time. Yes, I had a full-time job, but for me, I knew my writing career wouldn’t stop at SFSU. I had to just start.

My predictions were right – in the beginning I was met with little views and almost no feedback. But I continued to push out blog post after blog post every Monday anyways. I knew it would be a slow start, but mama didn’t raise no bitch. I didn’t know where I wanted to take this blog, but I knew that I couldn’t get discouraged too early on. But I definitively had my moments. There were times where I felt like I was putting in a lot of effort, time, and energy that I’m not getting paid for, for nothing. Not entirely for “nothing,” but that I was writing and nobody was even reading. I used to doubt if what I was writing was even worth reading. I still have those moments sometimes, where I feel like what I’m doing is pointless because nobody will read or even care. I start to doubt myself and what I’m doing when I let my insecurities get the best of me. But I never thought about stopping the blog cold turkey.

I’ve had so many hiccups and road blocks throughout this process, and most of these inconveniences are because of my damn self. I’ve had my moments where I posted blog posts past midnight, not even technically “Monday” anymore. I fell into the bad habit of starting blog posts the night before – sometimes even the day of. I put myself under so much pressure and stress to get the blog post out, promising myself that the next week’s blog post would be done in advanced to prevent a situation like that. But, being the annoying ass that I am, I procrastinate and put myself in the same exact position I was in a week prior. It’s a bad habit that I’ve been trying to nip in the bud for the last TWO YEARS!

It wasn’t until recently – literally the last 6 months – that I started to really try to throw myself a bone and have the post done at least by the end of Sunday so I don’t stress out about it the day of anymore. It wasn’t until the LoveYourzStory X My Small Business series that I started to think ahead. Of course, I dreamed of the day where I would have completed post after completed post just cued up ready to be released every Monday. I always wanted to have my posts mapped out months in advanced as I learned in my social media class, but that’s just not that easy when I’m trying to balance everything under the sun. Ever since the small business project, I’ve gotten a lot better about finishing posts before Monday comes around.

Not only did the LoveYourzStory X Small Business series push me in the right direction to be finished with my posts in a timely manner and map out what posts would come next in terms of groups of 10, it also built my confidence to reach out to others and connect with my followers and viewers. I always wanted to interact with my followers and do those type of posts where you ask your followers to tag people who would be interested, but I always feared that nobody would participate. On a whim, I decided just to roll with it. If nobody participated, then so be it. But if people were interested, it could be a dope series to release. To my surprise, I got a lot of feedback, tags, and leads. I couldn’t believe it. It gave me confidence to think of other series that I could do that would feature different people and different topics. I love how I can tell my story, but also be that platform for other people to share their stories as well.

But to be completely honest, around the end of 2020, I really had plans to shutdown this blog after blog post #100. For the record, it wasn’t because I was over it, or because I didn’t want to continue, but because I have more passion projects that I want to do in terms of writing. Taking on another passion project task to my already heavy work load just made me feel like I would definitely be spreading myself thin. I was hard set on stopping this blog cold turkey at 100 posts. I thought it would be a great dramatic ending to say goodbye after 100 consistent posts. I have other writing projects that I intended to start in 2021, but given my procrastinating history, of course that has been delayed. I put so much time, energy, and thought into all my blog posts, that sometimes I feel like it takes away from my other goals that I have in writing. That was my reasoning. It was time to say goodbye, not because I wanted to, but because I just didn’t have the time to juggle everything.

When I consulted those around me, some agreed that 100 would be a great last hoorah, while others suggested I dial back on how consistent I post, just so I still post consistently but on a less regular basis. At the time, I still decided to stop at 100. Nobody could say anything to change my mind. It was what I was going to do. Yeah, it would be a bittersweet moment since I would go on to pursue another goal, but it’s what needed to be done to free up my time to focus on what I need to focus on next. My decision was made around the time I was releasing the Small Business Series (Blog posts in the 70’s).

However, when the Small Business Series ended, and it was nearing closer and closer to 100, I started getting cold feet. The countdown was starting. It made me a little sad. But again, I truly believed it was something I had to do to continue one with my plans. I started to think of what my #100 post could be and focus on that. I thought long and hard about what would serve as the last banger. Since the reviving of this blog, I have been so open and vocal about my body positive journey and views. The small business series was so successful that I really wanted to test my luck and see if I could push out another series before I shut it down. Again, the feelings of doubt, insecurity, and fear of putting myself out there and looking dumb crept up again. It’s like the cliché angel and devil on my shoulders. One telling me to go for it and take that chance, the other telling me that nobody would want to participate, it’s not a great idea, and I’m going to make myself look stupid on the internet – since I have tried to do polls and interactions in the past that kind of flopped.

As you can tell with my previous posts, I decided to go for it, collabing with my high school friends, Missdirected.art, who are great photographers with amazing creative visions. And I am so glad that we decided to take that leap of faith with each other. My heart was bursting with so much joy when I found 9 other individuals who wanted to share their story and be a part of this project. It’s always that initial stress of “will this pull through, or will this fail,” that gets me. When I finally saw it start to take a turn in the right direction, my heart fluttered with love and excitement. I wanted to do something like the Body Positive Series for some time, but never thought that it could be reality. You never really see that you’re checking off the boxes of all the goals you previously set for yourself until you take a step back and realize – oh shit, I’m here, I’m where I wanted to be X amount of time ago.

My partner never thought it was a good idea to stop the blog after 100 posts in the first place. Even when I suggested maybe dialing back, posting bi-weekly. Maybe the occasional post every month, or when something that inspired me really came up. His stance was always the same: why slow down the blog when I’m finally at a place where I’m getting some traffic. My argument was the same: because I have a full time job, I have other projects I need to do, and I just can’t do that while maintaining quality content every week. But when I started to see the Body Positivity Series coming together – in the process of interviewing people and seeing who would be a part of it, I started to have a change of heart.

For all my “How I Met Your Mother” fans, I literally felt like that one episode where Ted wanted to break up with the girl he dumped (on her birthday) a few years prior. Ted had all the reasonings to break up with her again, but when it came down to it, he could only think of all the good things about her and good memories. That’s how I felt about my decision. I had my mind made, but as blog post #100 came closer and closer, I felt myself retracting my decision. I started thinking of all the good that could come from continuing the way I have been.

I asked myself: “Do you feel like you did everything you wanted to do with your blog?” And the answer was no. The series that I’ve done and collabed with others really made me realize my potential and all the other possibilities I could do with my platform. I wasn’t ready to shut LoveYourzStory down. There are still a lot more stories to tell and share. I don’t know where this blog will take me, or what it will be like even 1 year down the road, but I do know that for the time being, this is one of my projects that I need to continue to water and nurture so it will continue to grow. I originally wanted to shut down the blog after 100 posts to start and focus on other passion projects and goals. Now, I have to find a way to balance both. I feel like in a way, I’m testing myself yet again: Marinelle, how bad do you want this?

With that question lingering in my mind, I bought my website. So, with that being said, cheers to 100+ posts, and thanks for reading blog post #101 – the post that was never meant to be.

Dreamer

What’s the one thing you’d never do and why?

This prompt had me stuck for the longest. But to answer it plain and simple, the one thing I’d never do is give up on my dreams to be a published writer. It seems like a very reasonable thing to uphold, but as I navigate through my young adult life, I have come to realize that this is not the case. Not everything has a clear cut answer or obvious road to follow. However, what has always been important to me is being true to myself – even if my life choices don’t make any sense to anyone else.

When I came across this prompt, I discussed it with my partner back and forth for about 30 minutes. To him, this question was easy to answer. He started listing all the things he would never do, but it was more so things he’d never do in the literal sense. For example, I could easily say I would never do hard drugs, be a basketball player, spend $50,000 on a collectible item, I’d never kill anyone, and the list goes on. Those are definitely things I know I could never do, but I wanted to dig deeper. My partner laughed and was like, “oh what, you’re gonna say something like: I’ll never give up” ? We laughed briefly about how cliché that phrase is, but I paused in reflection. I sat on the prompt for over an hour, while he played his game on the phone with his friends in the kitchen. When he plays, I usually try to write some paragraphs on my upcoming blog post. However, he came back in almost 2 hours later, and I had my laptop open with basically nothing typed out except the prompt you see quoted at the top.

“You’re going to make fun of me but… I think I am gonna write about not giving up,” I said exhausted with the writer’s block I faced that night.

That phrase, “I’ll never give up,” is so broad. That’s part of the reason why we mocked the answer originally because it’s so cliché and opened ended. That phrase is so overplayed, and usually whoever is saying it is bullshitting, not being honest, and just saying it for fake motivation, to have people view them in a certain light, or I don’t know what. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that that statement is entirely true when it comes to my writing career. Don’t get it twisted – I give up on a lot of things – people, projects, some ways of thinking, etc. That’s why I was so hesitant to write about “not giving up.”

But when I narrowed it down to not giving up on my writing career, I knew that this is something I’m already living by in my every day life. Growing up, my parents never tried to push me into any field of their choice. They gave me the ultimate freedom to pick what I wanted to go to school for and find my passion on my own. I was taught that at the end of the day, I have to live with my choices, so I should pick the career I want. So since I never had that pressure from my parents, thinking of all the “what if’s” I could be when I grew up was forever changing. I definitely have the dreamer mentality.

Sometimes though, I will admit, I feel like my dreamer mentality can be a little naïve and too hopeful. But I feel like those feelings are present because I don’t know the end result yet – will I achieve what I want to do as a writer, or am I all talk? The post-grad blues hit me really hard in 2019 because I had no idea what route I wanted to take after graduation. I knew I wanted to write, but all the places I applied to just didn’t spark passion in me. I felt like I was settling. And getting rejection email after rejection email for jobs I wasn’t even crazy about was even more depressing. I felt so lost and confused, but 2020 really showed me what path I should take. I wasn’t ready to retire my passion projects and write under a company. And even though it didn’t make sense to others, my decision made sense to me. In the midst of a pandemic, I set my mind to a writing plan. And I refuse to give up on it. At this point in my life where I don’t have a family of my own, and I have the time to put myself and my dreams first, I’m going to do it.

One thing I will say – I’m for sure a procrastinator, but this is a writing promise I made to myself that I intend on keeping. The thing that I’ve noticed about myself and my habits is that I suffer from really motivated highs, to lazy uninspired lows. Because of this, I can lag on passion projects and the things I have in mind. Given that information, I don’t want to put pressure on myself to produce because it will take the fun, enjoyment, and therapeutic aspect away from writing. Instead, I have been more forgiving with myself, knowing that I have set goals, but keeping in mind that I will have better weeks than others. Keeping consistent motivation without getting burnt out is still something that I struggle with. But I’ve come to terms that my writing dream to be a published author is something that I am only doing entirely for myself. I’ve always said that in my lifetime, I will write a book and be published, and I know that is something I have to do for myself. That is my biggest life goal right now. Not even saying that I have to be a successful or well-known author, which would be nice, but my goal is to just produce from the heart. I don’t care if I sell 5 copies, I just want to prove to my damn self that I put my mind to something and did it, that I wasn’t all talk, and I wasn’t too scared to do follow through.

This kind of reminds me of my college days. I was motivated to graduate and get my degree, but I also took my time. I was still a full-time student, but I refused to take 5-6 classes at a 4 year college just to finish faster. I had my eyes on the prize, and knew I would get there, but did it on my time. Not lagging, but not drowning myself in responsibilities. And I see myself taking that same approach with my writing career. I know the end goal, I want it, I’ll get it, but on my time. I set goals for myself – like posting blog posts every Monday, but I know that if I want to get ahead, I need to start writing more. I’m giving myself time limits, but at the same time know that if I don’t get it done when I want to, it’s okay, because I know I will still make it happen.

The dreamer mentality is a huge reason why I idolize J.Cole so much. Hearing his story through his music, though our journeys and dreams are different, the passion and want is the same. I relate with his journey, especially feeling like you’re in the sidelines trying to get known and make a name for yourself, feeling like you have shit to say that’s worth listening to. I hope I never lose sight of my inner dreamer, and I continue to go for my writing goal for myself. “I’ll never give up,” is so cliché, but I know I’ll never give up on my dream to be a published author.

BUSSDOWNMAMÍ

When Normaje “Nana” had her son, she really saw her love for party planning come to life. She wanted to do the most for all his parties – everything from the food, the decorations, and the dessert table. Nana’s auntie has always inspired her to bake because she was always in the kitchen baking new items and trying out different recipes. After witnessing her aunt bake for years, she decided to try her luck in the kitchen as well. She wanted to have her son’s dessert table be a certain way, and places she checked out just wouldn’t have what she wanted, or was over her budget. Anticipating and planning her son’s parties was around the time Nana noticed that she was getting more and more into baking. She had no idea that her love for food would one day turn into her small business, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ.

When Nana would showcase her son’s dessert table on social media, a few people would keep a mental note of her aesthetic and talent. When her friends started to have kids, they would reach out to her to cater and set up their dessert tables. When others started to notice her passion for party planning and creating different desserts in the kitchen, Nana started to think that maybe she could turn her hobby into another source of income to get her little family into a better position. People were inquiring about her dessert tables, and she would post the finished look on social media. Suddenly, she was known as the girl to go to for desserts and all things “party.” But like any small businesses owner, the self-doubt started to creep in.

” I was so hesitant!” Nana said remembering how nervous she was to announce her small business to the public. “I was afraid of what people would think, and of course the outcome. Would my stuff even interest people? Would I even get any clientele? So many questions ran through my head until I was like, ‘you know what… what can I possibly lose?'”

And just like that, the Bay Area native became the owner of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, LLC. Nana describes BUSSDOWNMAMÍ as a one-stop-shop for events. She offers services for dessert and food catering, dessert tables, custom gifts, and more. If you faintly remember BUSSDOWNMAMÍ being referred to by another name, you have definitely been a faithful follower! When Nana first started to offer her services, she was offering dessert tables, party decorations, custom gifts, and a few minimal desserts such as chocolate covered strawberries, rice krispies, and Oreo dishes, to name a few. When she first started, her business was referred to as #DIYMAMÍ. The name came as a joke to mock her mom, who would always hashtag “cookingmamí,” in all of her Instagram posts. When Nana branched out and started introducing food plates and items, her friends would refer to her and her food as “NewNewsBussDown.” Being named two different entities became complicated and a little confusing to outsiders. So, she decided to ditch one name. Instead of letting go of one name completely, she decided to merge the two.

Nana started taking actual orders under BUSSDOWNMAMÍ around 2018-2019. She was originally known for her desserts and sweet treats. But customers couldn’t help but reach out to see if she would be serving the plates she would post her on social media. Nana has always been a huge foodie. In 2018, she really started to take an interest in cooking. Back in the day when she had Twitter, she made a thread of food, and the first dish she attempted to make was a shrimp boil. She looks back now and laughs that her and her husband were at Boiling Crab or Ray’s practically every weekend. Nana took a crack at it and was surprised how delicious her shrimp boil turned out. The success of this dish encouraged her to try out other foods – especially foods from fancy places that would cost an arm and a leg to dine in. She branched out to cooking steaks, well known side dishes, and dishes from other cultures. Now, her husband refuses to eat anywhere that he feels Nana could do better. There are times where they order from restaurants and he just gives her the “I told you so,” look, because they’re not satisfied with the meal.

BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s Quesabirria tacos and Birria Lumpia are one of the most popular items on her menu, so it’s surprising to learn that initially going into the business, Nana had no plans on selling food plates. People kept reaching out to her about the food she would post on social media, so she thought she would just give it a go. Her first pop up was a huge success, and she was glad that she decided to test it out. Nana figured that offering food plates as part of her services would be a step in the right direction. Since her main goal was to become a one-stop-shop for events, it only made sense that she include food catering to her long list of services. She’s glad that she listened to what her followers wanted instead of just going the route she had originally envisioned, because offering things outside of dessert is what made BUSSDOWNMAMÍ take off. She listened, and she received.

Even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is a one-stop-shop with a lengthy menu, not just anything makes the cut. Nana still has a process on how a food item makes it permanently on the official menu. All of her food experiments get posted to her feed or story, and then she waits. If she gets multiple requests and inquiries, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ will do a trial run to test out if it sells and what costumers think of the new item. If the dish is successful, it earns a spot on BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s official menu. Nana loves that her business is an “all in one” business, because it gives the freedom to switch it up with her items without having to worry about ruining her business’ certain aesthetic. But despite her extended menu, there are still certain items that the business is known for. Dessert wise, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is known for their Banana Cream Pudding and Gourmet Caramel Apples, and food wise, it is hands down their Quesabirria and Birria Lumpia. When Nana hosts pop-ups, these desserts sell within minutes, and her Quesabirria and Birria Lumpia preorders sell out within the same day posted.

With items selling out the same day of announcing a pop-up, Nana is always buying ingredients in bulk. To maintain a system where every costumer gets the freshest products, she has to keep a close eye on her inventory. She keeps note of the amount of everything she purchases and what can be reused for the next pop-up, and takes into consideration what won’t last because it’s perishable. And it only makes sense that BUSSDOWNMAMÍ has two fridges to make sure everything is properly stored and ready for pop-up day. Other items like boxes, other packaging items, and back stock are stored at both pick up locations.

It took some time for BUSSDOWNMAMÍ to organically grow its clientele, but word of mouth and the power of social media worked in their favor. Now, Nana has costumers reaching out to her and placing orders that she doesn’t even know in real life. When she gets direct messages from accounts who have 0 mutual friends or connections, it’s a good feeling because it proves that how she is advertising her products are interesting those who she doesn’t know personally. It means BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is set apart from other small businesses doing similar work. But with growing popularity comes the concern of safety during pick-ups. Nana always makes sure to double check Instagram pages, ensure payments went through prior to pick up, and makes sure her business is “well protected.” Overall, Nana has faith in humanity, and welcomes orders from strangers.

But don’t get it twisted, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s success was not an overnight thing. It took a while before she started to get the traffic she is so used to now. Nana didn’t come right out of the gates selling out every week, even though that’s what her followers are used to seeing now. It took a lot of hard work and trial and error to get BUSSDOWNMAMÍ to where it is today. She went from being booked once a month to being booked months in advance. The progress was slow and steady, but in 2019 she started to see that she was starting to get booked 2 weeks in advance. 2020 is when BUSSDOWNMAMÍ really started to gain popularity and blew up. She saw her calendar being booked sometimes even months in advance, and she couldn’t believe it. Nana never imagined that her small business would be this busy. And she’s proud to say that she got herself and her small business to this point. Even though she started a few years back, there were very few businesses on social media that she could use as a reference and learn from.

” It was all trial and error,” she explained. ” It took time to figure out what worked vs. what didn’t, how to properly market, and understand the market / what interests / draws people in.”

For the most part, Nana keeps her personal life completely separate from her business. She does have a full-time job at Kaiser, and loves that she can balance out BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, a full-time job, going to school, and being a mother all at once. It’s her biggest flex because she knows that being a young mother is usually looked down on, and she is happy to say that she is holding it down for her family at 23 years old. And she admits that sometimes she surprises herself with how much she piles onto her plate. She believes in the power of hard work and dedication, and knows that if she wants something to be successful, she needs to put in the time and effort. One thing Nana doesn’t do is make excuses or feel sorry for herself. Her attitude screams, “keep your eyes on the prize,” especially since she has a family to provide for. To be successful, at the end of the day it comes down to how bad do you want it? And Nana has no issues putting in the extra time and work, because she believes a person will find time or make time for things that are important to them.

“My business is my baby!” Nana said, explaining how she finds the time for BUSSDOWNMAMÍ despite her busy schedule. “If it means coming home after a long day at work to spend a couple more hours to contribute to the success of my business, then so be it. We are all dealt a deck of cards, some have it better than others. Needless to say, it’s ultimately up to you and what you choose to do with the cards you are dealt. Anybody who wants something is going to go for it, no matter how it played out or what it comes with. I’m just grateful to have such a supportive husband and easy going son that I’m able to get what I need done.”

And the grind doesn’t and won’t stop, because Nana has no plans of slowing down. When asked if she would ever leave her full-time job to pursue BUSSDOWNMAMÍ full-time, she broke it down plain and simple. Her small business means everything to her, it is her creative outlet, her baby, her biggest flex for her and her family. As her business grows, it only gets harder for her to meet the demand of orders. Even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is so successful and is selling out constantly, Nana will never put her family in a position where they have to sacrifice or question if they’ll make enough to cover the bills for the month. She understands that some people have the opportunity to quit their full-time job to pursue their dreams, but she also sees that those aren’t the cards she was dealt. She prioritizes her family and their well-being, and even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is successful, and she bets that she could probably make a living entirely on her small business, she prefers to keep her full-time job. Her job in the medical field provides her and her family with great benefits and sets her up for the future with a retirement plan. Nana’s mentality is simple, if she can manage both a full-time job and her small business, why not continue with both?

When people think of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, they think of Nana, the one woman show doing it all! But Nana really stresses the importance of her husband helping her fill in the gaps when needed to maintain a smooth flow of the business. Her husband helps her run errands, do pick-ups, and even helps throw down in the kitchen if needed. She is thankful that he can keep her grounded when she is folding under pressure, which usually results in her not speaking very kindly to him in the moment. Her husband doesn’t hesitate to stop what he’s doing to tend to a stressed out Nana to help a lending hand. And when it’s food sales and pop-up days, her family really steps in to help her with the whole process. They have come up with a system where they all have a certain task to tend to without her having to ask or manage, which is a great help on those chaotic days. She is so grateful that she has her husband and family that tolerate her breakdowns and attitude when she’s under pressure.

Even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ has seen a tremendous amount of support and sales, Nana still has her moments where she feels overwhelmed and discouraged. She has been doing this for years, but she is not prone to making mistakes. There have been many times where she has had hiccups on the day of pick-ups and gets overwhelmed with frustration. There are times when the “baking gods” aren’t on her side when she has a large order to fulfill, or her chocolate isn’t the right consistency it usually is, and other bumps in the road on prep days. What keeps her going and not just deciding to give up right then and there is knowing that there are people on the other side of those orders that are counting on her to execute what they requested. Times likes these, Nana has to take a deep breath, keep working, and remind herself that she has to deliver to her customers.

In September 2020, Nana’s grandpa passed away, and she lost all motivation to cook, bake, or tend to her business. It got to the point where she couldn’t complete a task without getting anxiety or having mental breakdowns. The passing of her grandpa was something she was not prepared for, and it turned her world completely upside-down. During this time, Nana thought it was best to take a break from BUSSDOWNMAMÍ until she was up for it again. She canceled orders that were pre-booked in advance because she mentally could not handle it all. Nana admits that canceling orders is very out of her character, since she goes above and beyond to deliver to her costumers no matter how tired, busy, or booked she is. But she had to put her mental health first to give herself a break and a time to mourn. She took a few months off of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, and the whole time she questioned if she had made the right move. By this time, so deep into the quarantine, there was so much competition that Nana was unsure if her customers would return back after her break. When she got the courage to start back up again, her clients picked back up from where they left off.

“The thought of the market being so competitive and questioning if  people will still order from me after being gone for so long raced back and forth in my head,” Nana said. “But my first pop up back, my clients did not fail to prove to me why I continue to do what I do. With that being said, I’m just honestly so so so blessed to have such solid and loyal client base. They are the ones who truly keep me going with this entire business.”

Since Nana started BUSSDOWNMAMÍ prior to the pandemic in 2018-2019, she definitely had to switch up her pop-up dynamic because of COVID. Her family and costumers’ safety is so important to her, and she doesn’t want anyone to be at risk. Because of COVID, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ has cut down on their pop-ups. But as the pandemic persisted, Nana had to come up with a new routine to ensure that she could serve her clients, but at the same time keep everyone involved safe. Clients are required to use electronic payments for orders, must be wearing a mask, and must remain in their vehicle for pick-ups. Since Nana also works in the medical field and is handling food, she gets routinely tested. By following these protocols, Nana hopes that it brings her family and costumers some peace of mind.

“I had to put a lot of my plans and pop-ups on hold,” Nana said on behalf of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ. “I wasn’t able to operate as often as I was and that overall just kind of set me back. I know it’s easy to just keep selling but I have a family to protect and wouldn’t want to put my family in any position to be exposed.”

COVID also brought some other hurdles. When COVID hit, Nana started to see a lot of new Instagram businesses starting up. Suddenly, there were a lot more strawberry dippers, dessert pages, and food pages. At first, Nana felt some type of way, she felt that she put a lot of hard work into BUSSDOWNMAMÍ years prior to the pandemic, only to see competitors show up at an alarming rate during COVID. She had to remind herself that this is just a part of the business – there will always be competition. Nana quickly got over it, and realized that the pandemic hit people differently, a lot of people lost their jobs and the government isn’t being helpful with resources and financial assistance. She realized that she never knows what a person is going through during these tough times, and isn’t bothered by other businesses selling similar food items, because at the end of the day, “everyone can eat!”

“With a successful business, it’s going to get competitive, and you have to learn to adapt and understand that,” she said. “I’m the type of person that doesn’t like doing the same things others are, that’s why I’m just ultimately so thankful that I shaped my business to be a one-stop-shop so I don’t do just desserts or I don’t do just food, so it’s definitely a huge perk being so universal.”

Nana admits that she felt some type of way in the beginning, but that quickly changed. She laughs and says it’s because she’s an Aries and gets over things quickly. She knows that other businesses popping up will ultimately not affect her business, so it shouldn’t be any of her concern. In fact, Nana welcomes other small businesses to reach out to her. She loves to connect with others and come together as a community to collab and do giveaways. When she is completely booked with orders and costumers inquire about wanting to order, Nana will refer them to other businesses that sell similar items. And these small businesses refer BUSSDOWNMAMÍ as well. Nana appreciates that she and other small businesses help each other grow and succeed by being supportive and keep word going of the other business. She hopes to work with more small businesses in the future.

BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s goal for 2021 is to keep growing and try new things and techniques. She wants to gain more clientele, gain more knowledge, and step out of her comfort zone. Nana hopes to have more availability so she can cater to all the customers that want to try out her food. One day she hopes to open up a physical location, and hopes to do that in the next couple of years. In the meantime, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is taking orders through DM’s and emails because her order forms are currently under construction. She plans to launch her official website and order forms hopefully by the end of February. Nana’s advice to other small businesses is something she found on social media.

“I seen this post a couple months or maybe a year ago that changed my perspective indefinitely and I know others can probably relate as well: ‘When you feel discouraged about your business idea because there’s so many people around you doing the same exact thing, go to the grocery store & look down the bread isle. Same idea 15+ companies selling the same exact thing!‘ Everyone can eat!”

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.”

Kapwa Baking Company

Faye remembers it fondly – using a big fork to mash all the ripe bananas that were in a huge white plastic bowl her mom handed her. Smashing the bananas was Faye’s special job every time they made banana bread, and she was happy to do it. Her mother would eyeball the recipe, adding a splash of milk, mixing in flour and sugar, and somehow getting it perfect every time. Making banana bread with her mom are the earliest memories Faye has of baking. And now with her own children, Faye has passed down the banana smashing torch to them – remembering how excited she would get to help her mom in the kitchen.

Growing up, she had always watched both of her Lolas cooking, and her parents were pretty nifty in the kitchen as well. Faye has always felt like baking was always in the “background” of her life, and didn’t realize at the time how much baking meant to her. With time, Faye saw it clearly – baking was her passion that lit a fire in her soul. With the help of her husband, Ryan, and COVID, Kapwa Baking Co. was born. And now, Faye and Ryan are serving classic Filipino desserts, selling out almost every time, while balancing their full-time jobs and raising their 3 children.

It has been a journey to get Kapwa Baking Co. to where it is today. The business was formerly known as Bake Me Happy SF, but with the help of COVID, it took on a new look, menu, and name in 2020. Faye shares her small business’ story, but Kapwa Baking Co. is so much more than a business to her. It has been her dream for years, and her and her husband are finally laying down the foundation of their business. Her goal is still the same – to one day have a café or bakery where she serves her regulars their usuals, a place where the community can gather and enjoy her delicious food. This is why she named her business “Kapwa,” the Tagalog meaning for “community / neighbor.” She was 9 years old when she left the Philippines for the US, and the desserts she offers are some of her favorites that remind her of home.

“My family moved here when I was 9, so I was still pretty young,” Faye said. “But I was old enough to have some concrete memories from the time time I spent there. I admit, a lot of my memories revolve around food haha!”

Ironically, the baking dessert connoisseur’s dream growing up was to be a dentist. Faye’s mom had a dental practice in the Philippines, and for as long as she could remember, she wanted to be just like her mom. Faye wanted to make that dream come true, so she went to college to pursue being a dentist. At the time, she didn’t even think twice about baking and owning a business. She continued with her studies, but found herself spending every break – before and after school – in the Culinary Department’s library. Every time Faye stepped foot in a bookstore, she would go straight to the cookbook section. She wanted to learn more about everything and anything related to desserts and baking. And when she wasn’t reading about food and baking, she was watching it on the Food Network.

Faye knew that she probably loved baking more than the average person, but didn’t give it much thought, other than being a hobby she really enjoyed. Baking was a stress reliever for her during her high school and college days. Faye would bake cookies pretty consistently, and just give them away to her classmates in college. When she started becoming aware of her new found passion in baking, she still continued with her original plan – she never switched her major to pursue the culinary arts. Faye has no formal culinary or baking training – everything she has learned has been through cookbooks, Food Network shows, other cooking channels she would religiously keep up with on YouTube, and of course, trial and error. She is 100% self-taught and humbly acknowledges that she is learning new techniques and information everyday.

“I never really looked at the underlying interest I had in sweets and desserts,” Faye said reminiscing on her college days. “I spent a good chunk of my college life working towards a career that I thought was my dream. In the end, I finally realized that baking and creating fed my soul and that it was what I was most passionate about.”

So, Faye fed that passion when she could. She felt as though baking and creating desserts was just the natural path for her to take. Her very first official “order” came from her dad. He ordered a Shako chocolate cake. If you look it up, a Shako is a cylinder shaped military hat that has embellishments and pompoms and feathers coming out of the top. Faye’s dad took her to get all of her materials to make the Shako cake, and she felt a little overwhelmed. At that point, she had only worked with American buttercream. In the end, she completed the chocolate Shako cake – decorated with fondant, a Styrofoam feather pompom decorated with royal icing, and edible gold dust for the embellishments. This tough first order of hers really opened her eyes to all the different mediums she could use in her dessert making. She started researching all the different ways she could use edible decorations and mediums.

From there, Faye started baking cakes for her friends and family’s birthdays or for special occasions. And usually she would give the cake as a gift. With time, she started experimenting with cake pops, personalized sugar cookies, macarons, and other small desserts. Faye jokes that the time she spent in the Culinary Department’s library finally came in handy! But it wasn’t until she had her son that her business started to slowly take form, about 8 years ago. This is when dessert tables started to gain popularity for being the highlight of parties.

When Faye’s son had his 1st birthday, she wasn’t working at the time. They couldn’t really afford to pay someone to make the anticipated dessert table, so Faye put her baking skills to the test and made all the desserts herself. Friends started to ask about all the desserts that were at the party, so Faye gladly started to take orders. A couple years later, Faye and Ryan welcomed their daughter into the world, and that’s really when the ball started rolling. They started their first small business, Bake Me Happy SF, where Faye catered desserts for birthdays, parties, showers, weddings, and any occasion that required treats.

Kapwa Baking Co. has been an idea that Faye and Ryan sat on for some time, but never pursued. It wasn’t until they took a trip to Portland 3 years ago that re-sparked their interest in having a small business that they could one day have a physical location for. When they were in Portland, they were inspired by all the mom and pop shops that they saw. Still, Bake Me Happy SF was doing well, and they were content with what they were doing for the time being. That all changed when COVID hit. When one business fell through the cracks, another business was born.

Faye admits that COVID and the Shelter in Place orders were the catalyst for starting up Kapwa Baking Co. It was the push that the needed since a lot of events that Bake Me Happy SF had were canceled due to the pandemic. Faye and Ryan had no choice but to pivot their business. That’s when the couple decided that Bake Me Happy SF would change into Kapwa Baking Co. Faye closed down Bake Me Happy SF ‘s websites and Instagram account since she was no longer going to offer the same desserts as she used to. Faye was very hesitant when they were going to launch Kapwa Baking Co. because she didn’t know how her followers would receive it. Her dessert menu was completely new – serving classic Filipino desserts, and some with a new twist, like her Pastillas Milk Jams. Since these were products that were different from what Bake Me Happy SF was originally known for, there were some doubts about how successful the new menu and business would be.

“The first week of our launch, I was fully prepared to only receive 1 or 2 orders from family members because our first product was something completely new,” Faye said.

To their surprise, Kapwa Baking Co. launched successfully! They have only been in business for about 6.5 months, but have already received so much success and support. They consistently sell out of their items, and can get booked pretty quickly. The max amount of orders that Kapwa Baking Co. can take each week varies based on Faye’s work schedule. She works as an administrative assistant at an elementary school, and even though there are no kids present because of the pandemic, COVID has made the job more demanding. There are weeks where they sell out pretty quickly, and that can be due to the limited orders they can accommodate, and then there are weeks where they can take a lot more orders because her work load isn’t as bad. It really all depends from week to week.

Kapwa Baking Co.‘s menu includes: Pastillas Milk Jams, Ube Monster Bread Pudding, Ube Cheesecake Fudge Brownies, Ube White Chocolate Cookies, Cookies and Cream Bread Pudding, and their most popular item – the good ‘ol classic Pastillas. Pastillas are a milky sweet candy that’s very popular in the Philippines. The recipe Faye uses is the same recipe her sister taught her over 10 years ago. When her customers drive by to pick up their orders, their pastillas are soft and fresh. Around the holidays, Faye was selling out of their milk jams because people were buying them to give as gifts. And usually one person will order on behalf of other people like their coworkers, family, and friends, and Kapwa Baking Co. will be greeted with a hefty order. This isn’t something Faye and Ryan complain about, though. They are just happy and grateful that their products sell out and that a lot of people enjoy them.

It’s definitely a blessing to have your products be so popular and selling out very often. Because of the business’ success, Faye and Ryan are still trying to find the middle ground of balancing Kapwa Baking Co. , their 9-5 jobs, and spending time with their 3 children. COVID has brought its own level of craziness to her full-time job, so Faye does all the work for Kapwa Baking Co. after hours. It is chaotic to say the least, but Faye thanks Ryan for having her back, because without him she wouldn’t be able to manage it all. Their daughter has commented on how busy her parents have been, and how they aren’t spending as much time together. Because of this comment, Faye has made a point to have “break” weeks where they don’t take any orders so they can have quality time with their children. Thankfully, her two eldest children are very helpful and self-sufficient, and love to help their youngest sibling, so when it is time to get down to business, all hands are on deck.

And that is exactly what is needed on baking days. That is the most chaotic time of the week – when it’s time to make and bake all the orders that came through. Faye does prep work throughout the week, like measuring out ingredients, prepping packaging, and tiny steps that can be done ahead of time. But all the baking and food preparation are done the night before the pick ups / deliveries. It may get crazy, but Faye does it to make sure that her customers have the freshest products from their company. Faye handles all the bookings, communications, and baking, while her husband, Ryan, handles the packaging aesthetic and deliveries. They have been meaning to find a time where they can have official “business meetings” between the two, but haven’t had the time to pencil that in permanently yet. For now, the flow and balance that they have now is working well.

There are days when Faye feels discouraged, exhausted, and like there aren’t enough hours in the day, but it has never gotten to the point where she feels like throwing in the towel. Faye admits that there have been a handful of nights where there were some tears and a lot of frustration because things didn’t go as planned. She deals with it by letting herself feel the emotions, but letting it go after. Faye knows that for the time being, she has to hustle to get Kapwa Baking Co. to where they want it to be. There are days where her full-time job drains her and she is overwhelmed with her “to do” list, but she knows that this business has been her dream for a long time, so she has to push through those difficult days. This mentality is part of the reason why Kapwa Baking Co. is so successful.

Faye has also been successful when advertising her small business online. When they were planning to launch Kapwa Baking Co., Faye made an Instagram and Facebook account for the business. They have gained a lot of their followers through friends and family sharing their page and posts. Faye recognizes that this is why Kapwa Baking Co. has been so successful – because of the support of friends, family, and customers sharing their content online. Faye makes it a point to add a personal touch to what she posts on the business’ Instagram and Facebook page because she doesn’t want to just post their menus from week to week. She tries to switch it up and have that personal connection with those who interact with the business page.

The positive feedback that they have been getting from customers and those around them is what surprised the couple the most. The support that they get from other small businesses is very heartwarming and encouraging. That’s why Faye’s advice for other small business owners is to support one another. This builds connections and awareness of other small businesses, especially during a time where small businesses are most at risk. She believes that supporting other small businesses will shed light on what’s important – raising up the community, her “Kapwa.”

“We are also looking forward to working with many many other small businesses and doing our part in raising our kapwa business owners up,” Faye explained as she went into collabing with other businesses.

When Bake Me Happy SF turned into Kapwa Baking Co., they revamped their whole menu. Faye was inspired by her favorite desserts and foods that she ate when she was a kid living in the Philippines. Their very first product, Pastillas Milk Jams, were inspired by her favorite candy – pastillas. Instead of having the pastillas in candy / solid form, the Milk Jam can be served on top of bread, ice cream, or even by itself! Faye and Ryan do a lot of experimenting with flavors and testing their recipes. Taste testing is Ryan’s primary job, and though they let their kids in on the tasting fun, they are aware that anything sweet is good to them! So, they will sometimes ask friends and family to taste their new treats. For now, their dessert menu is centered around them taking their own spin on traditional Filipino desserts and food.

Faye laughs and says she wants her customers to know that she is “extremely shy and awkward.” She wonders if people at curbside pickup notice how “awkward” she can be, but wants people to know that despite her shy demeanor, she loves to meet new people! A lot of their customers are friends, or friends of friends, or somehow know a mutual connection, and Faye enjoys building friendships with those who buy from Kapwa Baking Co. There are times where she is very hard on herself, and is working on celebrating her own victories, since she loves to celebrate others’ victories.

Their goal for 2021 is to partner with more local businesses and possibly expand to Farmer’s Markets. Faye wants to dedicate more time to Kapwa Baking Co. so she can consistently take more orders. They are really hoping that opening a physical location will be in their cards somewhere down the line. It has been Faye and Ryan’s dream to one day open up a brick and mortar for their small business, and that’s where the conversation always leads to when they talk about their dreams and goals. Faye loves that she has her husband’s support through it all. She describes him as her #1 supporter, business partner, and all around helper. This is their dream, their goals are aligned, and they are keeping their eyes on the end goal.

“That’s always what it came down to – to own a place where people can come together, share their talents, and enjoy our treats,” Faye said. “A place where people came in as strangers and left as family, where we would know our customers by name and serve them their ‘usuals.’ We wanted a place where we could feature other small businesses and their hustles, hold open mics and art shows for local musicians and artists. Hence the name we chose… Kapwa.”

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.”

Blooming Bouquets By Caro

Pre-Covid, 21-year-old Caro had a very busy schedule. She is currently a 4th year student at Cal State East Bay pursuing a teaching career as an elementary school teacher. Caro juggles being a student, an elementary school librarian, a high school cheerleading coach, and now, being a small business owner. Her small business story, like many others, started in quarantine. This is the story of Blooming Bouquets By Caro.

What started as a quarantine hobby, quickly turned into a new found love and side business. Caro first started making “poster bouquets” as gifts for her family and friends. She played around with the poster bouquet idea in the beginning of quarantine and rolled with it. Caro’s parents were impressed with her floral creativity and encouraged her to start selling her poster board bouquets to others. She started to buy more materials and vinyl to add sticker messages at the top of the bouquets to make them more personalized. When Caro first started selling her floral arrangements, it conveniently launched around graduation season. She got flooded with orders, which was overwhelming since she just started the business. Graduation season came and went, and it was very successful for Caro’s first go. But, as quickly as the orders came, with time, it started to die down. Caro was no stranger to this feeling, for she had been in this situation before.

It turns out, the poster bouquets wasn’t Caro’s first time dipping her feet into the small business world. Blooming Bouquets By Caro was her second small business, the first was her false eyelash business that she established in 2018. When the false eyelash business started trending, it became more competitive to stand out from the other sellers. Caro started to feel burned out from the eyelash business, and suddenly she started to feel like selling eyelashes was something she needed to do, and not something she wanted to do. Caro was worried that her bouquet business would die down like her lash business did, and that made her doubt how far she could take Blooming Bouquets By Caro.

“I had mixed feelings about it dying down,” Caro said, remembering what it felt like when her lash business started to simmer down and how that experience caused doubts for her bouquet business. “I felt like I wasn’t passionate about the business anymore. It felt more like a chore than something I wanted to do. However, because it died down, I was discouraged to work on something new.”

This was also challenging since Caro had an overlap of both businesses running at the same time. Even though they were both running concurrently for about a month, Caro still felt like her time was being divided. The bouquet business was taking more of her time because she wasn’t getting as many lash orders as she used to. It got to the point where Caro sometimes forget to send out some lash orders because she was so busy with Blooming Bouquets By Caro. She knew her time and efforts were being spread thin by keeping both businesses open. She had to pick which business she was going to continue to nurture, and which one she had to drop.

After graduation season came and went, with very few bouquet orders following, Caro decided to close down Blooming Bouquets By Caro for personal reasons. At this point, her bouquet business was only up and running for a little over a month, but she had things going on in her personal life that she needed to tend to. Initially, Caro had no intentions of re-opening Blooming Bouquets By Caro when she first closed it down. But, she would be scrolling through her Twitter feed and would see amazing bouquets from people across the country, and she felt as though those kind of bouquets weren’t easily available in the Bay Area. Caro thought her poster board bouquets were pretty, but she always felt like there was something missing. Caro took a big step and invested in different materials and created a whole new look for her bouquets, and decided to re-open the business in August 2020.

“My friend once told me, ‘If you want to start a business, you must be the person to start the trend, not follow it,'” Caro said.

Caro started to advertise Blooming Bouquets By Caro‘s new revamped look on her personal Instagram. When she first started the business in June, she had made a business Instagram page for her products. When the Instagram page first started, a lot of her followers on the business page were mutuals to her personal account. She first advertised her new business on her personal account so her followers would follow and support Blooming Bouquets By Caro. But Caro’s real success came from Twitter. She had no idea that a couple of her tweets would go viral, giving her more exposure, admirers, and most importantly, business! In just one night, she gained over 1,000 followers. Her DM’s were flooded with people wanting to place orders. Even people from out of state were trying to place a flower order! Because of her tweets exploding overnight, Caro had to create a booking link to be more organized with her availability.

“I believe using the captions ‘My next customer could be on your TL,’ or ‘A simple retweet can bring my next customer,’ really allows people to realize how a couple of clicks can make a big difference when supporting a small business,” Caro explained. “Even if the person retweeting it isn’t planning on ordering, some of their mutuals might be.”

After her tweets went viral, it seemed like Blooming Bouquets By Caro boomed overnight. Because of her booked schedule, she decided it was time to discontinue her lash business because she wanted to focus on prioritizing her flower business. A “slow” week for Caro is 2 – 4 orders. But she doesn’t let those slow weeks get to her. Since the flower business was her second business, Caro was already prepared for the downs of starting a business and being your own boss. During her slow weeks, she reminded herself that it’s okay to not be busy all the time, and to look at it as an opportunity to take a breather. She does have “slow” weeks, but lately, that has not been the case. She is learning to appreciate those “breather” moments since she usually has 2 – 3 orders a day, Tuesdays – Fridays, with 1 – 2 orders on Saturdays. That usually means frequent trips to the store.

Caro finds a way to balance out being a student, upholding her new business, and shopping for her products, all the while maneuvering through a pandemic. But she doesn’t let the stress of her school semester interfere with her work. The amount of orders isn’t something she complains about. Caro is just so grateful that her small business has grown so much in such a short amount of time. Since Blooming Bouquets By Caro is based in her home, she doesn’t have enough space to hold all the items and inventory. She is constantly ordering more supplies and going to the flower wholesale stores 3 – 4 times a week. She makes individual runs for orders that are coming up within the next 2 days. She wants to make sure her clients are getting the freshest flowers possible, even if that means putting miles on her car.

With how far her business has come, Caro remembers an embarrassing moment from the earlier stages of her flower business. It was during the time where she offered mason jars with her bouquets. One of her clients had bought a bouquet to surprise his girlfriend with. Caro was eager to give the bouquet over, and while handing it to his girlfriend, the mason jar fell and spilled all over her. Luckily, the client and his girlfriend didn’t react badly, they were super nice and understanding. Caro felt horrible, but there was not much she could do but offer to fill up the mason jar with new water. It was definitely a learning experience. And a short couple of months after that incident, Blooming Bouquets By Caro was booked for her first wedding event. She couldn’t believe that a bride trusted her to make her bouquets! Caro started the business in June 2020, and closed it down a little after a month, re-opened the business with it’s new makeover at the end of August 2020, and by mid September 2020, was booked for a wedding.

“I always saw my goal to create wrapped bouquets for special occasions, however, I never expected a bride to trust me with her bouquet for her special day,” Caro said remembering how she felt when she got booked for her first wedding event. “It was definitely a shocker to me and made me feel proud of how far I’ve come in just a short amount of time. I went from making poster bouquets to actual bridal bouquets.”

Blooming Bouquets By Caro has yet to experience being open during Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, but Caro has a feeling those holidays will be her flower business’ busiest time of the year. Most of the time though, Caro doesn’t ask her clients what the occasion is. It’s only when her clients tell her themselves is when she knows what she’s making a flower arrangement for. People gift bouquets for many reasons, some that are not so common. Caro has even made bouquets for a couple of “girlfriend proposals.” What encouraged Caro to re-open her business and give her bouquets a makeover, was the fact that she knew flowers are always going to be something someone needs for any occasion. She believes that when her tweets went viral, some people only shared and retweeted the post to give a “hint” to their significant other.

Caro is always trying to find new ways to stay creative, especially with her business gaining so much popularity. She tries to be on the lookout for new wrapping colors, offer more add-ons, and other options for her clients to choose from to customize their bouquet orders. When she first started out, she only had butterfly decals to add-on! Caro recommends that her customers check out her highlights on Instagram before messaging, in case any of their questions could be answered there. After using the link in her bio to select a date and time pick up, her and the client go over all the details and color scheme of the bouquets. Sometimes, the client may have the option to go with the theme of the specific month. When December came, Caro was very excited to showcase her “Jolly Bouquets,” that featured her “Winter Wonderland” and ” Merry Grinchmas” bouquets! 2020 was truly just the beginning for Blooming Bouquets By Caro!

In the future, Caro does plan on applying to credential programs and getting her Master’s, and plans on her flower business to remain her very passionate side hustle. Before COVID, Caro was very busy with her school, work, and personal life. But she knows that when things get “back to normal” after COVID, and things start to open back up again, her small business will still be here. She is very adamant when she says that Blooming Bouquets By Caro isn’t going anywhere, even if that means adjusting her availability when things get back to normal. What started as a pass time and hobby during quarantine, unexpectedly turned into a new found passion and new opportunity for income.

Caro admits that if it wasn’t for COVID and the mandatory Shelter in Place, Blooming Bouquets By Caro wouldn’t even be a thing. It never crossed her mind to have a personalized flower arrangement business until she started playing around with the idea during Shelter in Place. Without the mandatory Shelter in Place and social media, her business would not be where it is today. She thanks Twitter for giving her the most audience exposure. Scrolling through Twitter and seeing amazing bouquets that weren’t local was also the push Caro needed to re-open her business. She really had no idea that 2020 would be the year she launched a very successful small business.

“Honestly, if it wasn’t for Shelter in Place, I would have never thought to start a bouquet business,” Caro explained. “This all started as making gifts for loved ones, to now being booked every week with people who trust me on making an arrangement for their special occasion.”

Blooming Bouquets By Caro has challenged Caro with her patience and her time management. Starting a second small business made her realize all the ups and downs that come with the process. But at the end of the day, she has grown very passionate about her business because she loves seeing her clients’ reactions when they receive her bouquets. Caro’s advice to others is to go through with their ideas and to not let other people or past experiences stop you from testing the waters. She was hesitant to start her flower business because her lash business died down. She was afraid that her bouquet business would fail. If she had never taken the leap of faith, she would never have gotten to experience all of the success that Blooming Bouquets By Caro currently has. She thinks it would be amazing if, with time, she is known as the “bouquet girl.”

“If something doesn’t seem to work out or you feel like your business doesn’t match you personally, it’s okay to shut that one down to open a new one,” Caro said, reflecting on her own experiences. “It’s a time to experiment and find your passion!”