Can you tell us about your background?
I was born in San Francisco to Chinese immigrant parents. Our family moved back to Hong Kong when I was young, which sparked my love of travel and appreciation for other cultures. Later, I studied fashion at the Parsons School of Design in New York, and worked for brands including Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters for 12 years.
What led you to start Love Is Project?
Back in 2008, I took a three-month sabbatical to volunteer in Rwanda, connecting my creative network with causes to help fundraise for non-profit groups dedicated to orphans, genocide survivors and gender issues. That’s how the worlds of fashion and philanthropy started merging together for me. After leaving corporate fashion in 2012, I started an organisation named The Supply Change to create more partnerships between global brands and artisan groups. The original Love Bracelet was born out of these collaborations.
During one trip, I was chatting with two women on a flight to Moscow about the topic of love. This conversation led to a personal project in 2014, where I’d take photos of people who’d share with me what love means to them while wearing the bracelet, which then became a social media campaign. I later pitched the idea to American Eagle Outfitters, and it led to a US$250,000 order for the bracelet and created 400 jobs for Maasai craftspeople.
When trying to evolve a traditional craft into something new, it’s easier to iterate the concept into small items. A bracelet also occupies prime real estate on a person. It’s highly visible and can lead to interesting conversations about its backstory. Moreover, it is light and the sizing is adjustable, so it’s giftable and easy to ship. From a business perspective, it makes sense for me to focus on the idea of creating iterations of the Love Bracelet inspired by different cultures and traditions.
What qualities do the women you work with share? How do you meet them?
Many of these women are very resilient and they want a better future for themselves and their children. They all have pride in their culture and dedication to their families and communities. The initial contact usually happens quite organically. They’re either people from places where I’ve lived in before, like Kenya and Indonesia, or affiliated with non-profit groups that I’ve researched for past projects.
You’re releasing a photo book called The Greatest Love Story Ever Told on Valentine’s Day 2020. Tell us more about it.
The book was conceived as my journey around the world with the Love Bracelet, but has since become a compilation of photos that define love from the perspective of 19 photographers from many different places. We need more positivity in the world, and I hope this project shines a light on the power of love, and how this bracelet serves as a vehicle for a bigger conversation. We’re now working with 750 women across Kenya to produce the bracelet. The initial success there has helped fund the launch in Indonesia, which then took us to Ecuador. These countries became the starting points of the Love Is Project not only because of my connection with them, but also because they’re all located on the equator, symbolising the connection of love around the globe.