I have to admit, I’ve had a really hard time finishing this blog post (even though it’s only my second one). Trying to see my JANA LAM journey through the lens of love has actually made me revisit some tender and painful times; a couple of which I can’t even really go into depth on. However, after writing this I have a little more clarity on the role love plays in my life. I’ve gained insight on how complicated and diverse love is, even just in my small world. Love is not always straightforward and perfect; it’s not unkind, but it can still be traumatic and shattering, and depending on how you deal with it, it will set you back or push you forward.
This short sort-of story is a little peek into how love has moved me not only in my personal life but in my professional life as well. Love links everything and I know for sure if I didn’t have these loves in my life I probably wouldn’t be where I am, doing what I love.
Of course I need to start with the people who made me and raised me. My mom is almost literally an overflowing well of unconditional love and support. No matter what I do, I can always count on her to be encouraging and nurturing and to try to help in any way she can. She is the one who created the pattern for my first bag, who gave me a sewing machine, who taught me how to sew the pattern, who came over at night when I was struggling to get it right, who continued to sew the new patterns of bags that I couldn’t do at all. . . She not only gave me her love of fabric, she also gave me hundreds of yards of her own actual fabric. If you have one of my clutches or bags from before maybe 2014? chances are that the lining is one that came from my mom’s closet. That is what I would call the epitome of homemade love.
If my mom is an overflowing well, my dad is a pretty tightly lidded one. He and I have many issues that we don’t see eye to eye on and I’ve put up a quiet resistance to him for most of my life, refusing at times to accept his methods and ideas about certain things. It’s taken me some time to realize that although it may be beyond his capacity to show affection outwardly, the more subterranean ways in which he has shown his love for me has played a huge role in shaping my life. He has always been exacting, critical and stern, expecting me, it seemed, to excel at everything I did. But he showed up to all my softball games and track meets, standing off to the side somewhere by himself, arms crossed, silently watching. At the time his presence may have been more intimidating than reassuring, but now I know it was how he showed me he cared. And when it came time for us to go off on our own to college, he swerved from repeating what had happened in his past. My Popo and Goong Goong were both doctors and they had the expectation that he would follow in their footsteps. Even after he graduated from law school they told him to then move on to med school. It would have been easy and not unexpected for him to pressure me and try to push me the way his parents had, but he didn’t. He accepted me for who I am and always urged me to, if not follow my heart, at least to find what I was good at and pursue it. He has continually surprised me through the years with the ways he backs me up. When I decided I wanted to create my own screen-printing studio of sorts he didn’t hesitate to build a large printing table for me and let me use their garage as my workplace. I don’t even remember him ever asking how I was going to incorporate this hobby into my life, he just let it ride. . . He’s not the person to jump up and down and applaud, but his quiet approval means way more to me.
At 23 I found love. When we met I was a little bit wild, dancing without a care it seemed, from one night to the next. I did actually care a lot about my future and my (lack of) career, in fact, I was really concerned about it from the moment I graduated from college. But New York City was an adventure that I wanted to take full advantage of. So it was that I brazenly pushed myself into Josh’s life, taking him by the hand and making him dance with me one spring night. He told me a few hours later that he had never met a girl so confident before. I laughed it off but his words came back to haunt me months later when he questioned why someone like me would let herself get stuck in such a terrible dead-end job (at a tissue box making company) Why couldn’t I use that same tenacity I had used with him to land myself a job that was at least a little bit more suitable? His love was straightforward and sensible from the get-go, a calming force to my impulsive heat. And for some reason, when he gave me advice I actually listened, and that was not something I was used to doing. His love was quiet, logical and kind and it was like I knew in my heart and my gut that it was good for me. But he also never pulled me back from things I really wanted to do, even if they may have been out of the blue, or not made much sense to him. When I told him I was quitting and going back to school (to art school) just 10 months into my first and only job in San Francisco (where we had moved a couple of years after we met) he didn’t even flinch. Even though I don’t think he really even had much of an inkling that I would want to work in interior design, he supported me and my decision completely. I needed to take that frightening leap, and I’m not so sure I would have if he was not a pillar in my life.
When we moved back home to Hawaii (for me, after 11 years away, for him 14) it was bittersweet. I had missed my mom and dad, I had missed the ocean, the mountains, the flora and fauna, the perpetually sunny days. . . but leaving San Francisco meant leaving my friends, and leaving them really felt like leaving a piece of my heart behind. Josh and I had decided to leave the east coast for San Francisco in part because I didn’t want to move to outside of Philly where he was and just insert myself into his world, but also because San Francisco was home to a few of my really close pals. In high school I enveloped myself in a tight knit group of 15? bright, bubbly, noisy classmates . I’m pretty outgoing, but amidst a stronghold of Leos and other blazing extroverts, I definitely didn’t have the loudest voice. That was fine with me. After feeling ostracized and alone in middle school all I wanted was to blend in and wrap myself in the security blanket of a fun set of friends. The PAC, as it were, became that for me; my blanket, my loves, much of my identity. Throughout college and beyond, that blanket, though it got smaller and thinned out a little, remained a constant in my life. So when it came time to physically leave some of them again, I struggled with it a lot. . .
But life after the move happened fast. We shipped ourselves back to Honolulu in June of 2010. We got married in August and by November my new name also became the name of my new business. In a way it was good. Whereas just a few months earlier my future was uncertain (being that my chances of finding a job in interior design with the economy in a rut had been wobbly at best) and seemingly slow-moving, giving me time to stew on being separated from my friends. With the creation of JANA LAM I had something all-consuming to throw myself into. I worked from 7 in the morning to 2 in the morning most days. I was either printing until past sundown or ironing, cutting and clicking endlessly away on my sewing machine. My new husband and my parents were the only people I really saw most days. NOTE: It’s so easy when you start a business to become so fully immersed in it that you think it’s the only thing that matters. Only when I developed an eye twitch and a thumb injury and slept through the majority of my best friend’s bachelorette weekend did I recognize that not only was I maybe pushing myself too hard and running myself into the ground but I was also painfully in need of human contact!
But if you asked my mom to describe me, she would use the word “determined.” In the early days of JANA LAM, I was fiercely stubborn and set on doing almost everything on my own (with the help of just my mom). I thought I could just work my butt off for...ever. But one day she handed me a slip of paper with a phone number on it, and I relented and called, nervously. Enter Nele, the fiercely talented German goddess that sewed so fast it would make your eyes spin. She brought me back to the land of the living and opened the door for others to come in. But before I knew it Nele had moved away, the incomparable Jacqueline had taken over and then a cute, quiet girl named Kellie showed up at the front door with a heart heading her resume and I knew it was love. She was the first and last person to interview for the screen-printing position. Though it killed me to relinquish it, screen-printing was something I had to hand over. My belly had grown too big to push and pull the squeegee properly.
At the end of 2012 a couple days after Thanksgiving, Lyon Oliver Lam rocked my world, though he was extricated into it carefully not pushed forcefully like a wild beast as his name might suggest. We brought him home and where once I had been lonely, now I was never alone and my heart had expanded so much that I thought it might burst daily. The love I felt for him wiped out any notion of love I had ever had. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so overwhelmed by what I felt for this tiny human, checking him over and over again at night just to make sure he was breathing. For some reason because in essence he had been saved by the nurses and my doctor who delivered him via c-section (his umbilical cord was wrapped around his head) I could not get over the immediate fear that he would somehow die, and it would be my fault.
Thank goodness Lyon was an almost comically easy baby but the transition to my new life was not. Perhaps fortuitously, the giant glass sliding doors that separated the JANA LAM studio from our living room were stuck and refused to close. So there I was just two weeks postpartum, trying to balance being a human milk machine and continue operating my little factory with nothing much to separate the two. I was still navigating through the aftermath of birth, shell-shocked, exhausted, vulnerable and exposed. Just getting from one day to the next felt like a struggle I wasn’t equipped to handle.
From what I remember during this hazy time, I broke down fully only once (though I’m sure I had many mini freak-outs in those first few weeks and months). I still remember that moment in time vividly; walking outside to the edge of the driveway completely drained and completely distraught. I was ready to give up. But even though it felt like I had reached the bottom of my despair there was something inside me that would not give in and quit. Again, I’m a stubborn and very determined person. I don’t like the idea of being beaten or overcome by anything. But beyond that there was this baby. For this little human I would do anything. For this little human I wanted to be the best mother and the best person I could possibly be. I knew for me that meant moving forward and doing my absolute best to keep my dream alive, so maybe one day he would be proud of what I had done, and know that I would be there for him, supporting him in whatever he chose to do in his future. So I just couldn’t back out, not like that. When Lyon was around 3 months old I reached out to Megan, my classmate at the Academy of Art University, knowing again in my heart and gut that it was a pivotal move and that if she would come work with me, my business would be changed forever in a fantastic way. It was.
Tia came on at the same time too, making me laugh and showing me how to work smarter, not harder on the daily. And who can forget Melissa, who joined us 3 months after that and was the most kind, reassuring presence, always reminding us to be good to ourselves. In that crazy haphazard mishmash of ink, fabric cuttings, rulers and pincushions, KK, MeMe, TiTi, YaYa, and RiRi (the indomitable Irina) as they became known to Lyon, set the foundation of sweat, hustle and love that is my brand.
Cut to present day where life is still hectic and overwhelming and now I’m piloting with not one but two little humans in tow. I don’t know what the future holds for Jana Lam or JANA LAM, but I do know that whatever path I/we choose to go down it will be one led with lots and lots of love.
Jana Lam is a Honolulu, Hawaii based design company that focuses on products and accessories for an endless summer. Lam's beach front home once served as the production house of her handmade in Hawaii line of one-of-a-kind, hand-printed and sewn apparel and home accessories. In Fall 2017, printing and production move out of the home studio, and the Jana Lam Studio + Shop was opened in Kaka'ako.