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18. Meet Fiber Artist, Designer & Small Batch Studio Owner Joy Mao – The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast
Patterns & Designers mentioned
Ada’s bag plans: Klum House Naito Bucket Bag Kits and Pattern
Nicole mentioned the Love You Sew Christine Sling
Joy Mao’s details:
Tik Tok @byjoymao
Ada: Before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?
Nicole: No, because yeah… My sewing space and my work from home space are in the same room. And since I recently started this job, I had equipment from my old job that I had to take back and so I was working on setting up the workstation side of that got it and as I was cleaning that, like all the stuff that I didn’t need to get rid of, or donate ended up on the sewing table. So currently not functioning. But I do hope to start something for fall soon. I’m feeling a bit lost in terms of what to do next for the sewing project. But if it’s okay, I’d like to talk about the fabric behind me.
Ada: Yeah, what does it say? If that’s sewn words on it, right?
Nicole: It’s words and I generally don’t like things with words- like my sister, if she’s listening to this will laugh like stuff like, like a home decoration, like live laugh, love. Like, that’s not for me. But
Ada: you mean you haven’t seen the ‘My favorite season is the fall of the patriarchy’ that someone’s been embroidering on stuff.
Nicole: I see. Well, now those that you’re talking about, like the hand embroidery, those,
Ada: I think they’re doing it on machine, it’s for sure on a machine actually, like now that I think of the pattern.
Nicole: I guess I’m thinking more of like the stuff that you’d find at TJ Maxx, which I love TJ Maxx, but like you know, that has like words on it. So this fabric, it does have words on it. And it’s from So Creative Lounge which is a black women owned sewing studio located outside DC. And they have sewing classes, but they also design their own fabric as well as source fabric. But this print is called Birthright, and it’s inspired by the first youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s poem, The hill we climb. For our listeners, it is a maroon background with white and magenta words. So it is all fully print words. And the way I have it hung right now is, birthright is sideways but this is the selvage edges top to bottom here. But there’s words like fierce love free purpose bold, so it’s inspired by that. And the poem, The hill we climb is the one that she had read at the Biden Harris inauguration in January. So when I saw that they were releasing this, I thought it was really beautiful. Before we started recording, I actually really listened to her presenting the poem at the inauguration. And I felt emotional listening to her words and their delivery. And if you haven’t had an opportunity to get to know Amanda Gorman, or even just listen to this poem, I highly recommend it. So I am burnt out on things like printing and taping. And that’s how I’ve been looking at buying a large format printer, which is not going to happen.
Ada: Or like you notice here first,
Nicole: yeah, no, no, it’s not going to happen, maybe. So I’m going to take a look at my Big 4, what I already own, and hopefully make a shirt dress from it. That’s what I’m hoping this has been on my radar for a while. But again, I’m a bit I feel a bit lost in terms of what to do next. So I hung this up as inspiration and hopefully motivation to move forward with that project.
Ada: Wait, so you’re gonna make a shirt dress out of that fabric or you’re gonna make a shirt dress, different fabric.
Nicole: I’m feeling shirt dresses right now because I’ve never really owned a shirt dress that I like. I’ve been recently inspired by some folks on Instagram to check it out. And there’s like a big four pattern or two that I already own that I’ve seen people make recently so this is a candidate for a shirt dress I should do a wearable toile from other fabric of course I say of course like I tell all the time. But because this is special fabric, you know, I think I’d like to do something and make sure that it fits well. But will they still have this in stock? I pre ordered there as it first came out because I was like this is amazing. The colors are fantastic. And like, I get the feels when I read or listen to this particular poem. So I’m not a poetry person. Like I’m not that I’m like, but it was great. So what are you working on? Ada?
Ada: Oh, now I’m thinking I have to buy this fabric because my sister is a poet. She has been published in poetry anthologies. Poetry. I don’t know what the word is. It’s escaping me right now. Right. But yeah, it could be a cool one. Because we both sent Amanda Gorman’s posts back to each other and we really liked her Met Gala. Interpretation of Lady Liberty. Yeah, if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend. Some people were calling it a cosplay but I don’t know if I would call it that she had makeup with jewels on it on her face to kind of complete the look. But I digress. I am also not working on anything. In particular, I am actually waiting for my hardware kit from Klum House. So Ellie of Klum House was our guest in Episode Seven I’ve been following along, she had been working on a new bag called the Naito. And it’s a bucket bag, it’s basically round bottom cylinder with an adjustable strap. That’s really cool in terms of like making the bag very wearable and practical. And so yeah, that one, when it came out, I was very on board with it, I realized when I was looking at her supplies list that I don’t have all the tools, so I bought the toolkit, but I do have a lot of fabrics that would already be suitable. And so instead of buying the pre cut version with the whole maker kit, and it’s like I should just, I really need to start using some of this heavier fabric, especially because you can use Canvas on bags and some of that like, you know, thicker, heavier fabric that’s great to bring out for fall winter, but also great for bags, and I have a lot of old jeans that I want to upcycle and repurpose. So the hard work is almost here. And I’m thinking through my options on the fabric choice and lining fabric and all that stuff. So that’s kind of where I’m at, but nothing that I’m like currently selling in my machine have kind of been in a similar like, reorganization rut.
Nicole: Yeah, can I have two things to follow up with. So I saw that bag, and I thought it was really cool that it was inspired by like a toolkit, like a toolkit roll,
Ada: you just shoot up into a bag.
Nicole: It’s so cool. Because recently I’ve just been a little bit less organized and like all the places I need to go, especially since I’ve been traveling, I’m like I need pouches for my bag like it because it just feels like stuff was floating around in my bag. And so I’d really in you know, when I’d started my new job, but when I saw that I was like slots for everything. I’m into it. And so I have looked at that. And I think I do like the idea of buying the hardware and ditto, I’ve got lots of material so I’m thinking I did maybe yesterday or the day before take a look at that. And yeah, I guess I could go buy a mallet but like why not just have it all sent in once I don’t have to worry about having what I have. So cool. I can’t wait to see what you make. And just my follow up is I’m cheating a little bit because I am thinking about something there is a project that like I was looking at last night and this morning, and it’s a new pattern from I Love You Sew. Okay. Christine from I Love You Sew is a bag maker and bag designer, and she has really great content, you should definitely follow and check her out. She released a new Christine sling Ada, I was fangirling about this pattern with you because it could also be a fanny pack.
Ada: Mm hmm.
Nicole: And so I did I actually won in a giveaway — one of her IG giveaways but I ended up buying hardware from her because I was like, I could buy hardware. But I you know, I would rather just have the designer tell me what is what will work for this. And again, I could go out and buy like fun fabric but I’m like, Well, no, I do have a lot I need to work with. I have a stack of jeans that my husband, we talked about this on a different stack of jeans. Yeah, yes, he’s got a lot of colors that regrettably don’t fit him. But, um, so yeah, I’m excited about that. And I think the only thing that’s missing are zippers. But what’s really nice about the instructions I found was that I was reading the instructions to see what I needed. And little things like exactly which interfacing is recommended helps me out a lot I feel like because you’ll see on pattern that’s a medium weight interfacing, and then I look to see I’m like, there’s like 50 different you know, and some say feasible some say not and I just am not knowledgeable. I’m not as comfortable in my knowledge to know like, oh, medium weight interfacing, I’m using this. Yeah, I need this one, this one and this one. So I ended up just like buying a lot of different interfacing as I need it and then I’m garbage at organizing it and I was thinking this morning I’m like I don’t I don’t know which one is which. So Cristy and the instructions that recommends this type of interfacing or this type of zipper are really specific and for someone who is just entering into Bag Making I found that to be really helpful. So the Christine’s sling it’s like it can it’s not quite across body but if you can, you can lengthen the strap to make it a crossbody. It’s supposed to be you can wear it like in the front or on your chest or like mid back like the cool kids wear fanny packs. You know I’m talking about I do that
Ada: and I keep cool. It’s just like, it’s so cool. Like, actually, it’s just more practical to have it in the front. And then you can unzip this way instead of unzipping by your crotch, like that’s a little, it’s a little awkward, like if you’re going to buy a coffee, and you’re like, Yeah, I don’t want to like I’m at the out window outside, trying to order coffee. And it’s like weird if they can’t see what you’re doing with your hands anyway, might be overthinking this. Because the fanny pack I have I found at the Goodwill bins. So I think it was like all of $1 If you weigh it.
Nicole: So it was designed to be worn like that. But you know, whatever strap you use, you can wear it however we want. But I’m pretty excited about it. So I just wanted to share that as a potential project. And the sling actually launched, like three days ago, three or four days ago. By the time this comes out, it’ll be a little bit older. But yeah, I’m really looking forward to that.
Ada: Yeah, Cristy also did like a recent, just building off of that, before we get into the real subject of this episode, Cristy did an Instagram reel where she showed how to quilt either real or faux leather. And so to get that like quilted, puffy look. And so she showed you how to do the sandwiches and like how to get it out with a quilting ruler, and then how to actually like use that piece of quilted fabric, which I thought I was like, Oh, that’s so cool. Like, I did not realize that that is how they get that kind of quilted look. I mean, obviously that’s how it’s achieved when you like make clothing out of it. But we don’t necessarily quilt the piece of fabric, before we use it in a pattern, we would go through the whole pattern or most of it and make a big badass piece or a big sleeve piece, quilt that and then assemble it or assemble an quilt depending on what you’re doing. If you’re doing real quilt, you’d obviously baste it and then quilt and then bind. But I thought it was so cool to kind of like think about it in that way because you’re just changing the order of the steps to make it more useful for the thing that you’re making.
Nicole: Looking forward to it.
Ada: Same. So we are really happy today to have a special guest on her name is Joy Mao. And she is an artist, designer and maker whose work has just been super inspiring to everybody in the collective. But also, I’ve been secretly following you for a while. Get into why, but we will let Joy tell you all about herself and her work. So hi. Welcome joy.
Joy: Hi, thank you so much, guys for having me. It is an honor to be here.
Ada: For listeners who may not be familiar with you, can you please introduce yourself?
Joy: For sure. My name is Joy. Now. I am a Chinese American artist and fashion designer originally from Shanghai, China. I am now based in Brooklyn, New York. My practice uses fashion design to understand how we relate to ourselves to other people and to our world. I currently work as a freelance designer while also running a small batch fashion studio and brand called Join Now.
Nicole: So we’re so happy to have you here joy can you tell us about when you learn to sew? And how did you learn?
Joy: For sure. I actually learned to sew in college, which feels like a long time ago. It was during my first year I had a roommate who was really involved in the theater department. And she was going around recruiting people to help out with costumes. And I thought that would be fun even though I had no idea how to so I signed up to work on the costumes for whatever production she was a part of at that time. And I learned how to sew in the costume department. And I think at first it was just like we would go to vintage shops and like Goodwill and buy garments, and then we would alter them. But that’s the first time I learned how to use a machine. First time I thought about pattern making and cutting and just fabric in general. And I think there was kind of a moment where I realized how transformative garments can be, especially in a theater setting where you know, actors actresses are donning garments. And that completely changes the way that they move and exist both for themselves and for the audience. So I think that experience totally changed the way I think about clothing. And it was just magical. I fell in love with the idea of clothing as something that can shape our behavior. And then on top of that, I think learning how to sew really, you know, I fell in love with the physicality of it as you guys probably do, too. You know, just the fabric, the pressure, the heat, the steam, like everything about it. The physical nature is so gratifying to somebody who loves working with their hands.
Ada: And you show that you identify as Chinese Americans. Thank you, but can you tell us more about how your identity intersects Whether you’re selling,
Joy: yes, I am Chinese American and I sew which, you know the podcast exactly, yes, it sounds like such a simple statement. But it’s actually quite a bit to unpack. And I think I’m also in the process of like trying to understand what that means for me. Because New York and you know, there’s in the EU, in the US, there’s such an interesting relationship between Chinese immigration and garment work. And in New York, in particular, the garment industry was largely built by immigrants. And there was a wave of Chinese immigration starting in the 60s, that was really influential in the way that New York built its, you know, everything, its garment industry, its fashion scene since then. So I think this is something that I’ve been studying a lot more closely since my involvement with the WoW project in Manhattan Chinatown, which we can talk a little bit about later. But basically, I did a residency there this year as their artists in residence, and the project that I did was largely involved in understanding the relationship between Chinatown and New York’s garment industry. And at the beginning of the residency, I was kind of outlining my research goals for the project. And I had a bit of a lightbulb moment where I realized, Oh, my goodness, this history of like Chinese immigrants working in the garment industry, I’m actually a part of this history simply by virtue of being who I am and doing what I do. And I felt that because of that, I not only had the interest but a responsibility to understand that history and allow it to inform the work that I do.
Nicole: So we will definitely go back to the WoW project. But I wanted to look more broadly at your career path. So you’ve, you’ve had an interesting journey as a fiber artist, and slow fashion studio and brand. So can you tell us about your path so far? And also, where do you hope to be in the future?
Ada: Also, you weren’t studying sewing when you learn how to sew in that theater department? How does one go from that to where you are now?
Joy: I know it feels like such a winding journey. And it’s a long story. And I feel I’m going to try to you know, cut it short for y’all. That essentially even though I’ve always loved making things with my hands and crafting since I was a little girl, I didn’t discover sewing until college. So I think the perspective that I had at that time when thinking about that new craft that I was learning about was really, it really shaped the way that I think about crafts now, at the time, I was in college, and I was studying what was essentially classic philosophy and literature. And I wasn’t super involved with theater department. But as a costumer, and as a student designer for some fashion shows that the school would put on, I really felt, I think I felt deeply involved with the process of making clothes, everything about it. But at the time, I really didn’t know that much about the fashion industry. I was never really a fashion person. I didn’t think too consciously about the way that I dressed myself or that people dressed around me. But I loved clothing as like an object that supports people’s lives. And I loved thinking about how it relates to people. So when I graduated, I actually got a job in advertising in San Francisco. So I moved to San Francisco. And I decided that I would you know, work while also on the side try to like understand more about the fashion industry. But I think the first few years in advertising were pretty challenging. You know, right out of college, were working long hours was a new city, new industry. I definitely spent the first two to three years completely just immersed in work. And my interest in fashion and design just kind of fell by the wayside. And it wasn’t until I met this gal named Melissa. Shout out to Mel, I love Mel. She was my coworker at an advertising agency. She and I really connected over our love of certain types of clothes and certain types of fabrics. And she encouraged me to start sewing again. So I really, really love what happened then because I I made a pair of pants for Melissa for fun. And one day she was wearing these pants out in her neighborhood. She lives in the Mission. And there was a store at the time called Voyager which was managed by this amazing kind of magical woman named Marta. And she was the buyer there and Melissa and her had a lovely friendship. And they were just chatting and Melissa was wearing these pants that I made. And Marta asked her about the pants. She was like I love those can I get in contact with the designer to possibly make some for the store. So Melissa connected us and long story short, I ended up making some pants for the store. And then a little bit later Marta and invited me to design a capsule collection for Voyager, which was over the moon about. And I agreed for sure. But I think that the next few months were kind of like madness, partially because I was still working full time. And overtime. And partially because I also only kind of understood how to make clothes. Like I’d work with commercial patterns before, and I knew how to sew on my machine. But when it came to designing a collection, you know, everything from sketching, to pattern making to actually producing, I had no idea what I was doing. So while working, I was learning those things, teaching myself sketching, taking classes for pattern making, watching a lot of online videos. And one thing led to another. And I ended up being able to make a little collection, which we put up Voyager, and it was very successful. And it was just such a heartwarming experience the whole thing, I just loved every step of the process. So I think after that experience, I was kind of like thinking, Oh, I was feeling a real pull to commit more time and energy to furthering my understanding of the industry and my craft, and just trying to figure out if there was a place for me in the fashion industry. So another miraculous thing happened where I had a friend in New York, who sent me this program at Parsons in fashion design. She was like, I think you should move to New York.
Joy Yeah. And I was reading the description for the program. And it’s essentially a one to two year program made for career switchers. So somebody who either already has a bachelor’s degree in something else, or is just trying to get into a totally different industry, and it’s designed to fast track people into the fashion industry. So it teaches you the basics of construction, as well as basics about the industry. And I was like, Oh, that’s perfect for me. You know, like, I’ve been a working professional for a few years now. And I don’t know if I could commit to like a four year degree to go, you know, do a BFA in fashion design. But something like this seems like a great way for me to kind of get my sea legs in a new industry. So my husband and I moved to New York for this program. And I ended up i think i Yeah, the program took me a year and a half. I graduated in December of 2019. So a semester early. And I basically spent every semester like interning, taking all the classes that I could and just like learning as much about the industry as I could. And when I graduated in 2019, I expected to go into the industry in a very specific way, you know, like start as an assistant designer somewhere, like continue to build experience, maybe work on joy now on the side. But then COVID happened. Yeah, it was like the beginning of 2020 happened. And suddenly, I think the industry and everybody in the world suddenly felt like things kind of shift. And everybody was thinking about, like, how this is going to change the world. So I think for me, like, you know, we talked a little bit about the knitting that happened during this time, you know, like learning new skills, and just like reflecting on everything that’s gone on in the past few years. I think that the pandemic really changed the way that I think about my involvement in the industry. It forced me to prioritize the things about fashion that I really love, and the things about making clothing that I really love. And it also forced me to make more projects for joy now. And that’s one thing led to another and that’s honestly how I got led to the WoW project, which is, you know, the residency project this year has definitely changed the trajectory of my career in a way that I am so grateful for. So you never know what’s gonna happen. And it seems like a long and winding journey, but I’m grateful for where it’s led me.
Ada: And speaking of the WoW project, so you were there and and for listeners who don’t know the WoW project is also based in New York and New York’s Chinatown. Joy was part of their artist’s residency from February to July of 2021. So, before we get into what you did and kind of your experience there, can you tell us about the WoW project and maybe a little bit about what you did with your time with them?
Joy: Yeah, the WOW Project is an amazing arts and activism organization located in Manhattan Chinatown. It is housed at a historic family owned porcelain shop called wing on wool, which has been there since like 1890. So one of the oldest operating shops in Manhattan Chinatown, and they are now on their sixth generation of the family. Oh, yeah. And the store is run by their fifth generation owner who’s named ma loom. amazing person and the whole family, the whole family’s incredible and their history is just such a beautiful record of, you know, the history of Chinese immigration to Manhattan. So the WoW project I actually have their bio pulled because I don’t want to misrepresent their amazing, intentional mission. I’m just gonna read it to y’all. The WOW project is a woman, non binary, queer, trans-led community-based initiative that works to sustain ownership over Chinatown Manhattan’s future by growing, protecting and preserving Chinatown’s creative culture through arts, culture and activism. And every year while project invites one artist to take residence in their studio, which is at 26 Mott Street, actually in the basement of the store, which used to be an old barbershop, it’s very cool. And every year, there’s a theme that the artist responds to. So this year’s theme was about grief and grieving in honor of Qing Ming Festival in April, Tomb Sweeping day. And the theme was asking the artist and the community to reflect on how the community has come together during this time of upheaval, and of loss. So heavy theme for this year, but it’s been a heavy year. And when I was reading about the theme and the residency, I actually immediately thought of a conversation that I had had with my grandmother at the end of 2019. It was actually the last conversation I had with my grandmother because she passed the following day. Yeah, sorry. Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, I miss her a lot. But um, I think back to that conversation with her a lot because it, it, it really shaped the way that I thought about this year, this year, and this project and my work. So at that time, my grandmother’s memory was kind of fading. And she was talking to me on I was like sitting next to her next to her bed. And she was asking me where I was living now and what I was doing. And I told her I was in New York, I just graduated from fashion school, I was going to be a fashion designer. And I was really interested in making clothing that meant something, both to the people that make them and the people that wear them. And I think I don’t know what happened. But she suddenly sat up and she was like, Well, I hope you’re not throwing away your scraps.
Nicole: That is not the way I thought, yeah.
Joy: Me neither. I was like, she was like, You better not be throwing away your scraps. Because if you collect enough, then you can make Bai Jia Yi. And I was like, this is the first time I’d ever heard that term. So I was like Grandma, what is Bai Jia Yi. And she explained that Bai Jia Yi is a type of garment that’s customarily made in provincial areas of China. It roughly translates to 100 Families Robe. And she said that in in provincial areas, communities would often come together, especially when a newborn child was born, to donate scraps of fabric to their newborns family, and then the community would construct a quilted garment, usually a jacket or a robe for the newborn, as a way to represent the community’s blessings and protections for that child, which I thought was just such a beautiful idea. So when I was reading the WoW projects theme, and about, you know, community coming together during a time of crisis, I thought about this conversation with my grandma and the concept of Vijay, where you like take a physical thing, and you transform it with a community to build something that represents hopes for the future. So my proposal for the WoW project was to invite the Chinatown community to donate scraps of fabric and to work with them to construct a big representing the community’s blessings. So it was a simple idea. And when I started the project, I had no idea what the final garment would look like. Because, you know, it largely depended on what kinds of fabrics we got, who wanted to be involved in the project, and just how that process would unfold. And what was really amazing was that actually, it became so much more about the process than about the final product. You know, everything from research to pattern making to cutting and sewing like every stage of the process, the WoW team supported me by connecting me with different community leaders, resources, information fabrics, and it develops so organically and in collaboration with the community that I think the result is much more beautiful than I could have imagined. I think the most gratifying part of the process was that I got to work with a cohort like an intergenerational cohort of retired Chinatown garment workers, ranging from age 19 to 73. The age range. Yeah, yeah. And we were able to work together across, you know, two or three months, different studio sessions where we were working in the studio together, and on different stages of the process. And basically, what we ended up making was we designed a quilted top layer for the beige, ie the robe that has 150 pieces. And they interlock to create, basically at the street map of Manhattan Chinatown, as well as the street map of Manhattan’s Garment District. And we wanted to use this as a way to talk about the history of Chinese immigrant garment workers. And, yeah, it took a long time to cut all this. But while we were doing that, we were sharing stories about our experience in the garment industry. And we were identifying the exact street like cross streets where those experiences happened. So what we ended up making was a record of sorts of our storytelling and the time that we shared together, because we marked all those locations with beads, after we had quilted the top layer. So I, I really wanted this the final garment just to be a sort of capsule of those stories, as well as a kind of touchstone to have these conversations with the community about our history, our shared history of garment labor, and how it informs how we move forward with the craft and the legacy that we have.
Nicole: There’s a long pause there because I am spellbound by the story, I think, sometimes on this podcast, you know, I just want to sit and listen to. So thank you for sharing that. I’m just Yeah, blown away by the beauty of your experience with your grandmother. And then the heartbreak of losing her. But how it also informed you know, this amazing project, I want to save our listeners the typing noises that I would be making, because I wanted to google it right away. Like I wanted to look at exactly Oh, it’s
Ada: Yeah. So I also, as you’re explaining it, I was thinking like quilting. It’s not just for old white ladies, not old. I’m not trying to generalize here. But like, I think, especially for people of color, women of color in the online sewing world, the quilting world in particular, both online and in person can seem daunting, and not necessarily welcome to us. And so to hear you kind of go back and reference what your grandma must have seen from like even before her or because the concept of bogies is not necessarily new. Right, quilting can be for everyone from different cultures. And I think it’s just beautiful that that is kind of how your story for this piece came together.
Nicole: And we’ve talked about it like I’ve just said, like, I’ve not related to quilting in any way. Because I’ve always had this perception about what quilting is and in a lot of ways who it belongs to. Obviously, that’s informed by the information and the people who would do it I say that one episode, like the loudest voices, the loudest and most visible voices. So the WoW project, you know, putting this practice out. But yeah, but I want to learn more. And it’s just a really beautiful practice. I’m running. I’m out of words. I’m out of words, just because I’m like, I’m thinking about it. And so I look forward to taking a closer look at it. And I think so You alluded to the fact that the theme of grief is something that everyone universally is experiencing right now during this time. And you know, this podcast, we’re talking about an evergreen topic. But of course, it’s also a time capsule of sorts for what’s happening in the world and 2020 and 2021. And hopefully, we’ll come out of it soon. And we know that the pandemic has had a massive impact on Chinatown’s all over the world. And since you were able to spend so much time with the WoW project, can you share a little bit about what you saw happening in New York’s Chinatown over the last year, year and a half?
Joy: Definitely. I was really grateful to be able to spend time there with the WOW family during this time because I think it was particularly challenging for everyone in the community. The impact was definitely palpable in the way that it showed up, you know, economically, socially, culturally. At the beginning of the residency, which was in February of this year. I was commuting to Chinatown and I definitely noticed a lot more shuttered storefronts, fewer people on the streets. It was cold also But it was also COVID situation. And in the WoW project, it was their first year kind of navigating the pandemic with the artist residency. So a lot of their initiatives had to transition online. And part of our process was figuring out, like, how do we transition programming online? And if we are going to have people in the studio together, like how do we make sure that safe everyone ventilation, masking, social distancing, etc, especially because we were working intergenerationally we have to protect our elders. So I think that with everybody that I encountered, during that time, there was a shared feeling of isolation, you know, people who hadn’t seen their loved ones in a long time, some people who had lost lost their loved ones. So it was a really heartbreaking emotional climate just to navigate and be a part of, and, and, of course, there was the impact on people’s jobs in the work, you know, people losing their jobs, trying to figure out how to make ends meet. And then, on top of that, there was the tide of anti Asian hate crimes. And I think that was something that the community was directly feeling, you know, it was showing up in day to day life. There was a period of time where, like, we would greet each other in the studio and in the store by you know, making like checking in on each other, like, Are you safe? Like, you know, how is this last week, week then for you. And then there, we would say goodbye by, you know, wishing each other a safe commute. So, you know, the ways that the community was responding to what was happening was very real. But I think that starting in the summer, there started to be a kind of a change, you know, starting in like, May in June, and the streets got busier, I noticed that the boba lions got longer.
Nicole: To me, so real,
Joy: real, yeah. Especially on weekends, like realizing it out the door. That, you know, there was more life in and around Chinatown and live events started returning. And at the end of the residency in July, we were able to have an opening reception, to invite the community in to see the Bai Jia Yi and talk to me about the process that we had all shared there. And it just felt like just a change, you know, from what had been the prevailing feeling of that year so far. So I think everybody is feeling a little bit more hopeful for what’s to come. And I think the most important thing is that we were able to have each other during this time to kind of weather it together.
Ada: And your residency, I know, we’ve been kind of like talking about a downer. But your residency of the WoW project and the collaboration that you had with Lorraine, in particular, were also featured in Porter magazine, the online magazine, I believe, it might have a print version as well, from Net a Porter. So can you tell us a bit more about that experience with shooting for the article and being interviewed? Yes,
Joy: it was a wonderful experience. And the story for Porter was curated by Cameron Russell, who is a model and activist whose work in the climate justice space I’ve been following since my time at Parsons, she actually reached out to me on Instagram. I was over the moon. To hear from her. She reached out to me on Instagram saying that she loved the work that I did as well, especially in conjunction with garment workers. And she wanted to invite me to be a part of a story that she was curating about caregivers at the intersection of fashion sustainability. And I remember I really love the way that she framed it, you know, caregivers, the perspective of care, because it really speaks to a kind of effort and work that people do in garment work, which is often ignored. You know, it’s often women’s labor. And this kind of labor is actually so crucial to just sustaining life. So I was really glad that she was emphasizing that and she was inviting me to come to the shoot with somebody that I cared for. And I picked Lorraine. So Lorraine Lorraine loom is the fourth generation of the wing Anwar family. In addition to having decades of experience in the garment industry as a pattern maker and technical designer, she is a daughter, mother and a grandmother. And during my residency at Wow, she was really instrumental in helping me at every stage of the process because she’s so experienced. She’s such a lovely person. We shared a lot of time in the studio together. And I think she also really showed me what it meant to care for people like in the many ways that we often do but don’t think about don’t say, and I learned a lot from her So I thought it would be really wonderful for us to go to the shoot together and to, you know, kind of think about the ways that we care in our work. So we went to the shoot, which was on an alpaca farm, one hour north of Manhattan. My goodness. It was so cute. Yeah, so we the shoot was Yeah, at the alpaca farm. And we met some amazing women, because Cameron invited women who are all kind of like doing similar caregiving work, but in their disparate communities. And the shoot was really lovely, because everyone was Super Down to Earth. Everyone was so kind. And it really felt like we were in community with one another because of our shared appreciation of the work that it takes to care for people and their communities. Lorraine and I were not used to being photographed, so we were extremely awkward. And the photographer kept telling us like, Hey, you You in the back there? Can you be less stiff? But I think everybody actually did an amazing job of making us feel welcome. And the photos and the story we think turned out really amazing. And we just felt grateful to be included in this company of really incredible women.
Nicole: That sounds like a lot of fun. Did you get to pet any alpacas?
Nicole: I would have been like, put this in my contract, there must be five strokes of an alpaca head.
Joy: It was a hot day, and mostly they were huddled under a tree in the shade. And I was like, yeah, they got it right.
Nicole: Fair. Fair enough. And in your interview, you said, quote, a question that I want to carry forward into upcoming projects is, how do we make clothes in a way that supports the lives of the people who both wear them and make them and coat? And, quote? What would it look like to operate from a place of mutual care and quote, now, is there anything that you would like our listeners to do in response to these two questions?
Joy: Well, it’s definitely a big question that’s going to be guiding my work in the years to come, if not the rest of my life. I think that the way that clothes are currently made and consumed is a hot topic right now, because of the devastating impacts that it has on people and the environment. There’s so much waste in the fashion system, and so much exploitation and manipulation. And I think that the systems of capitalism and industrial manufacturing have definitely worked to separate the worlds of fashion and style and consumption from the world of labor and production. And it’s completely twisted our sense of value, as well as our relationship to our clothes. So I think that what I would invite all of us to do and myself included, is to just kind of reflect in our own ways on how we think about value. And how we use clothing as an entry point to examining that way we think about value. Because how we think about that really impact directly impacts the communities that we live in and participate in. So even asking questions like wearing, how does clothing get made, what kinds of clothes are being made, like we are inviting ourselves and others to think about how we make choices from the point of view of care. And can lead us to make choices and do actions that have a real impact on the way that we live.
Ada: So transitioning out of kind of the WoW project, thank you for that brilliant summary of your work with them and kind of the ongoing community and care that we can cultivate out of that story and kind of applying that to our own lives. I’m curious, because well, Let’s center it back more on you a little bit, you announced coming out of the residency that you had a new project called chores of which I can kind of sneak a peek behind you. Can you tell us a bit more about this project and the significance of it and maybe what our listeners can expect from it?
Joy: Yes, Chores is one of my favorite projects that I’ve developed to date, I think, because of how it ties together a lot of things that I’m interested in and a lot of things that I love. And how it began was that in the thick of COVID quarantine I impulse purchased a lot of vintage chore coats from an antique dealer who’s based in Japan. And at the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with them, but I knew that I love the chore coat as a garment. It’s a very functional piece that was designed I think postwar during World War Two to basically just allow people to have something protected and comfortable. To wear for doing everyday tasks. So I love just that idea of a garment that’s made for that reason. And I, I saw that they were in great condition. And I knew that I could do something to breathe new life into them. So one day I bought them, they just had been sitting in my closet for a while. And then one day I was going through my closet, cleaning it out. And I came across this one garment I had forgotten about, which is actually right behind me. It was an old smock that I had thrifted back in my college days that I had used as a painting smock to protect the garments that I had under it. And across like 10 years of just painting on and off like it’s collected, these paint splatters all down the front and the sides and the sleeves. And I remember looking at it, and just realizing that it was a beautiful record of the work that I did. You know, it bore these stains and these scars as a way to record, like the work that goes on behind the scenes. So I was really inspired by this. And I thought that the chore coat project or what I did with the chore coats could be a way to celebrate the work that goes on behind the scenes. So I developed a pattern of embroidery, which references the stains on my painting smock and I applied them to the chore coats. And I wanted each chore coat to have its own pattern of embroidery to kind of celebrate its individuality. Every chore coat is different. Like the fabric is slightly different. The proportions are a bit different. They’re all vintage, so I didn’t know what I would get. But they’re actually all in great condition. Each one has its own pattern of embroidery. And then further along in the project, I actually invited my childhood friend whose name is Shaina Yang to collaborate with me. Shaina is an architect. And she’s also an amazing writer. And we’ve known each other since we were 12, maybe, you know, in middle school, we lived across a little stream from each other in Shanghai. And back in the day, we would hang out for hours like I would draw and she would write and we would dream about one day kind of working on things together. So this is kind of an opportunity for us to combine our separate crafts, and kind of meditate together on the shared experience of like practice and work and the labor that goes on behind the scenes. So for every coat in the collection, there’s the stitching that I’m doing, and there’s a poem that she’s writing. And we’re working in tandem, allowing our crafts to inform one another, so that every coat will have its own kind of like craft attached to it. And there’s 18 coats total in the collection, I’ve decided to divide them up into three sections of six. I completed six for summer recently, and I’m going to be working on the remaining 12 over fall and winter of this year.
Nicole: So then, will is the collection live? Or will you be releasing them all at once?
Joy: I am going to be releasing them in three groupings. So summer is already released.
Ada: And they sold out before I could get to the website.
Joy: Yeah, really quick. I’m really happy with how people are responding to the project. I think that you know, folks who have been messaging me on Instagram have been saying that it’s really like, nice to have work recognized in this way and recorded in this way. And I was like this is exactly what I want to do is to just celebrate that kind of labor, which is unseen. So yeah, there’s going to be two more groupings. I’m hoping to get the fall grouping ready for mid November. And then the winter grouping. I’m aiming for January or early February of this year.
Nicole: So folks should be following you on Instagram too, to make sure that they’re in the know about any interested in this particular collection. But yeah, that sounds like a really beautiful project and like everything, I want to take a look more at it and the combination of the garment itself and in a poem, you know it is beautiful. I think that’s really special. Thank you so much. Yeah, so I do want to talk about your signature piece which is called the dumpling top. I’m wearing my dumpling top today. For listeners it is a really beautiful pink color and a very soft and the most luxurious feeling linen that I’ve ever really felt. I think I mentioned this in a previous podcast, like you know, when someone said linen I was like nah, that’s not really for me linen is scratchy and weird and I don’t like it and my grandma would hate the wrinkles that it produces. But when I received this top, I was like, This is amazing. It’s soft and beautiful, and a really unique design. So can you please tell us about this piece and how you designed it and the process for creating each one?
Joy: Definitely, I made my first dumpling top back in 2018. While I was still living in San Francisco, and still working, I wanted to create a garment that really highlighted the fabric, and also created little to no waste from a pattern making perspective. And that was also comfortable and joyful to wear. And the shape came out very serendipitously, like I was just folding and draping and playing with the fabric tying it moving it around my body. And I think when I realized that it was essentially a dumpling.
Ada: It was stoked.
Joy: So I think at that time, I remember making it in at least two different sizes and proportions, and then taking them to work with me, and asking my co-workers who had different body types to try it on. See how they felt. And I remember everybody loved them. They were saying things like, Oh, it’s great for hiding my food baby.
Nicole: It’s true. Can you verify
Joy: is great, yes. And it worked really well on people with different proportions and body sizes and shapes. So I think with everybody’s notes, I kind of made a few tweaks to the proportions and refined them and the dumpling was born. And so you know, it’s become a signature piece, because of how versatile it is. And I think that these days, I basically just make a small batch of dumpling tops whenever I come across the right fabrics. So in your case, Nicole, when I saw this linen, I thought my gosh, it is both luxurious and light. And it is smooth. And like it has texture, but it drapes, you know, the right fabric means that it’s like the right fiber, the right weight, right drape. And for me personally, the right sound is really important. The way it moves. And you the way you hear it as it moves is really important to me too. So I think right now, my idea is that in the next few batches, I’m only going to make them with found fabrics. So think fabrics that have been donated, thrifted or deadstock. And then whenever I have time, whenever I come across the right fabrics, I’ll make a batch of them the way that you also make dumplings. I think, to me, the dumpling top is really an ode to the simplicity and the wholeness of the humble dumpling. Which to me is also a symbol of community nourishment. And I think it’s a way that I want to celebrate these very tender ways that we care for each other.
Ada: Add on that dumplings, at least I guess like in the Chinese sphere of influence have like symbolism in other things like during the New Year. I think it’s a symbol of money. That is all about like the you know, bringing it back to capitalism, but prosperity prosperity Yeah. Um, but I think it’s beautiful that it kind of ties all together and the dumpling top looks beautiful on both of you. unrelated question, but kind of related. What is your favorite kind of dumpling?
Joy: Oh, gosh, that’s easy. It’s hands down my grandmother’s wantons which are actually in the shape of an ingot style, which is, you know, the old school Chinese money.
Ada: We’ll post it I’m sure in the show notes. I understand.
Nicole: Is this the one that you shared on your Instagram?
Joy: I shared my grandmother’s recipe, which is an ad for her adaptation of a classic Shanghainese wonton which I think the key ingredients are always pork, shrimp, and chai, which is called shepherd’s purse. And it’s a type of leafy green that actually I don’t know if it grows here, but you can find frozen in a lot of Chinese supermarkets. And she honestly her philosophy for dumplings, which I think was clear also in her idea of don’t throw away your scraps, is just use what you have, you know, so it’s just whatever ingredients are available, you kind of throw them together and through the process of putting in your effort and your love, you create something nourishing to share with the people around you. So I think that her dumpling represents a lot of care and love that I want to carry forward and everything that I do.
Nicole: That’s beautiful and sounds tasty. We’re all getting hungry. So we’re so grateful to have spent time with you today. Joy. Thank you for being here. My last question for you is where can listeners find you and support your work?
Joy: You can find me on Instagram and more recently on Tik Tok, and By Joy now, yeah, I’m learning how to do the video thing right now I think Tik Tok is mostly just videos with my cat, but I’ll get there eventually. You can shop the brand at joymao.com. If you guys like what you see, you know, drop me a nice note or share with your friends that really does a lot to support small creators these days. Thank you both for having me on the show. It’s been really lovely to connect with you guys on Instagram. That’s honestly the best part of Instagram is to be able to meet folks like you in the community and help you know, hype each other up and support each other. So I’m really grateful for all of your encouragement and support and your time, you know, means a lot to me, and I love your podcast. So thanks for having me.
Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian SOS collective podcast next week, you can join us for a look at the history of the sorry and its significance. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Ko-fi. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and will allow us to get back to our currently all volunteer team and our superstar guests like joy, who all worked so hard to provide you with new content every week. The link to our coffee page is ko-fii.com/asiansoascollective and you can find the link inour show notes on our website and on our instagram account, speaking of , check us out on instagram @asiansewistcollective. That’s one word Asian Sewist Collective, and you can also help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends. We would also appreciate it if you could rate review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts, Pocket Casts Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
Nicole: All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website that’s Asian so as to collective.com and we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments or even voice messages if you want to be featured on future episodes at Asian so as to firstname.lastname@example.org This episode was brought to you by your co hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Mariko Abe produced by Eileen Leung and edited by Henry Wong. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian so as collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.