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Earlier this year, I was able to bring one of my dreams come to life by visiting production in Guatemala and learning about the country’s rich culture and heritage. While walking the colorful streets of Antigua and visiting artisans around small-towns near Lake Atitlan, I was astounded to see the strong Mayan influences in the day-to-day lives of the Guatemalan people. With every interaction, it made me realize how grounded Guatemalans were to their values and stuck by them despite the challenges that the country had faced in the past several decades.

One of the artisans that I had visited was Don Francisco who I noticed had a string of corn hung outside the walls of his home. After asking around and doing some of my own research, I found out that corn represents a “sacred grain” that Mayans believed God used to create man and woman. Besides being an integral part of their diet, corn is symbolized to be quite literally the way of life for Guatemalans. It is no wonder why much of the vibrant artwork that I had seen while touring the country incorporated themes of harvesting corn as a symbolic way of celebrating life.

Another visit to a small town near Lake Atitlan was just as heartwarming to see as artisans were dressed in brightly-colored clothing in form of a loose blouse and a skirt. Mayans used to weave their own textiles back in the day and it is said that each village had its own “traje” or indigenous clothing which still is worn even today. Unlike many cultures that may only wear traditional clothing for special occasions, many Guatemalans wear their “traje” as part of their daily life. It was endearing to see our artisans, Martha and Lucas dressed in their respective “traje,” talk so passionately about their craft which they had held on to from generation to generation. Unsurprisingly, many of their weaving techniques such as backstrap weaving, date back to Mayans from 1,500 years ago.

As I watched them use the traditional handloom to weave these intricate textile patterns so meticulously, it made me realize that they were actually trapping their own essence into their body of work. All the duffel bags in SOULITUDE Meraki collection contains a piece of our artisans’ soul and serves as a tribute to the Guatemalan heritage and their proud Mayan roots.

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On March 17th, all fifth avenue stores had to close due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, that was also the day when my contract with MaxMara as a visual merchandiser ended abruptly. I came to New York City around two years ago to pursue my Master’s in Global Fashion Management at FIT, with the hopes of landing a full-time job with a major fashion house. Before I could even fully celebrate my graduation earlier this year, I had to pack my belongings and head back home to Taiwan in a matter of two weeks. From that day on until the end of March, I cried every single day because I knew that I would have to start my life all over again. Even worse, I knew that finding a job in Taiwan with a decent salary would not be possible where people are overworked and underpaid here.

After a gruesome two weeks feeling uncertain about my future and feeling depressed about having to go back, I decided to take control of my fate. During this time, I started learning video editing tools and began to work on my platform called, “Bai Yu.” I wanted to share my knowledge of the fashion industry and my personal experiences as an international student, so I began to work on presenting this content digitally via YouTube and other social media networks. I also knew that I would want to partner with other digital creators so that it could be a mutually beneficial partnership. This past September, I held my first ever panel discussion on teamwork with other talented individuals which got sold out within days. Besides Bai Yu, I am also a professor and now preparing courses to teach supply chain fashion management here in Taiwan. All my students are professionals from other industries so it will be challenging to ensure they follow along. To help prepare, I am using my access to FIT databases and even my old notes to help me prepare content for my classes. As challenging this year has been, I am glad to say that it has been a full circle journey being able to apply my learnings to my various endeavors.

As frightened as I was about coming back to Taiwan and not being able to find a job, I have found that I am busier now more than ever! I am constantly trying to find time to work on my website, to create videos on YouTube, to prepare for the classes I teach, or to manage my social media networks. I would say that I am not 100% satisfied with myself yet but I wake up every day so that I can accomplish my list of goals. I choose to wear multiple hats so that I can never experience losing my job like I did on March 17th.

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I am a Southern soul and a hopeless romantic, originally from Alabama, and now living in this big city with big dreams. I’ve always been someone that likes to appear to have it all together but to be honest, I am just now becoming into the person that I am today. I used to feel like I needed to have everything planned out about my future and now I am coming to the realization that I don’t. I’ve been trying to cope with being comfortable in my own skin. During this entire year, I have had a lot of time to self-reflect about my creative abilities and thinking of ways to formulate them into something a little more concrete. Even though I have a great job and I love the company I work for, I want to do something of my own eventually. Amidst all these creative ideas spinning in my mind, I feel torn about figuring out where my definitive home will be for me to execute them. “Will New York City be my forever home?” is a question that is constantly on my mind.

I find myself missing my family back in South, but I also love New York and the person I have become here. A lot has happened around me this year, but I feel very blessed that I have been able to stay afloat. I have realized the importance of relationships and intimacy in a way that I never did before, like seeing a friend and being able to give them a hug, a peck on the cheek, or even shaking someone’s hand. Living alone in quarantine has made me jump on the bandwagon of Facetiming my family more than ever. It has also kept me on my toes when it comes to accomplishing my dreams. I have this constant fear of failing whether its professionally or taking a personal leap of faith in the ideas that I have for my business. I know I am young, but I am at a point where I want to build a foundation with someone. I want to be able to find true love and my “happily ever after.” I’m scared of not being able to find that and living alone for the rest of my life, but I am hopeful in my journey.

I wake up every morning because of this fear of failure. My big idea is to be able to create a platform, “Just - In - Tyme” (a pun off my name Justin), and promote upcoming talent within arts/entertainment such actors, singers, and dancers. Even though I can’t host any events live due to the pandemic, I am in the process of creating a following via hosting virtual events. Hopefully, it will allow me time to strategize for bigger events in Spring if things open again. Until I find my “happily ever after,” I know I have every reason to wake up and strive for it.

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